Child modelling: 20 top tips from experts and parents
Child modelling can be a positive experience for you and your little one, developing their confidence and self-esteem, but where do you start? If you're convinced you've got a child model just bursting to get out, let Nifa Mclaughlin point you in the right direction.
I embarked on baby modelling with my daughter when she was a few months old, as a fun way to fill her first year. While my heart burst at the seams when her pictures appeared in magazines and catalogues, what I wasn't expecting was how it developed her confidence and self-esteem. Fast-forward seven years and I watched my daughter walk onto a shoot with four other seven-year-old girls. Before I'd even got my coat off she'd introduced herself and was being dealt into a game of UNO with them all. For us, modelling has been a positive experience and one I'd recommend to anyone. But how and where do you begin?
1. Do your research
To find a reputable baby and child model agency, use social media and Google, and ask mums whose children model about their experiences. Amanda Johns, owner of child model agency Grace and Galor suggests looking at agency websites, Facebook pages and the type of children they have on their books in order to help you choose the right agency. You could also contact children's clothing and toy brands to see which agencies they use for their campaigns.
2 . Be wary of fees
Most agencies don't charge joining fees, but some reputable ones ask for a yearly charge, which covers any photographs taken or admin costs. Try to visit the agency first to get a feel of it and ask to see photos of other children they represent and the kind of work they do.
3 . Don't get professional photos
All that child modelling agencies require are clear snapshots that you've taken of your tot – so ignore any small ads in newspapers offering to take professional pictures of your child. 'Show your friends the photographs you're thinking of sending to agencies and ask them for their honest opinions!' advises Amanda.
4. Don't send agencies silly shots
'We get parents sending us photos of children covered in food or wearing hats or sunglasses.
Very cute, but we have to go back and ask for clear facial headshots and a full-length shot,' says Sue Walker, founder of child model agency Kids London.
5. Agencies take on all ages
'Agencies are always looking for newborns because within six weeks they're not newborns any more,' says Amanda. Six months is a popular age because by then babies are sociable and smiley, plus they're stronger and starting to sit. She goes on to explain that 18 months to two years can be a trickier age as children hit the terrible twos and can find it harder to take direction. But if your child is a little older (and therefore more mature) but still looks younger, you could be popular: 'One little boy on our books who is doing well is a year old, but fits six- to nine-month-old clothes, which works well,' adds Amanda.
6. Choose an agency that's near you
One thing that's guaranteed is if you've spent three hours on a packed train getting to a job or casting, you'll arrive with a grumpy toddler. So if you have a good local agency, use them – there are child-modelling agencies all around the UK and Urban Angels even has two divisions – one for the north and one for the south. The larger ones tend to be in the bigger cities, so if you're a maximum of two hours away from, say, London, Liverpool or Manchester, that will definitely help. You also need to be prepared to travel to jobs on location – often in remote areas, so map-reading skills or a reliable sat nav are essential!
7. Be patient
It can take a few weeks for child modelling agencies to get back to you because they have so many applicants, so don't lose hope. 'We turn down lots of kids who could work,' explains Sue from Kids London, 'because we're quite selective and may have too many similar kids in one age group, so we'll suggest other agencies.'
8. Be 100% committed
You'll be ferrying your children to castings and jobs so it is vital to be punctual and organised. Also be prepared to be available at short notice. 'Quite often we get a call the night before to tell us about a casting the next day, which can be tricky to organise,' explains Lucy, mum to Evie, seven and Scarlett, five.
9. Keeping it real
'I try to make my children's modelling very down to earth,' explains Tillie, mum to Fred, five, Louis, three and Arthur, 18 months. 'They've all modelled since they were six weeks old so they're used to it. I tell them we're going to see a camera man so they understand it in their own language.' She adds that no one in the family is allowed to make a fuss of her boys when their pictures appear somewhere, as a means of keeping it as normal as possible.
10. It boosts confidence
'We live in the country,' says Bruni, mum to Digby, five, Huxley, four and Margot, one.
'Modelling allows my kids to spend more time in London, travel on trains and be in creative environments. It's exciting and makes them confident without being cocky. They have no problems going up to children they don't know and talking to them. Modelling has given them a rounded view of the world.'
Alison, mum to Ella, four, agrees. 'It's not a status thing for me, it's more about having fun with my daughter. My husband and I suffered from confidence issues when we were little and we don't want Ella to experience this. It gives her something a little different from the other kids at school.' Mum Lucy feels the same: 'It brings children out of their shyness. One day they might be in wellies and tweed in the countryside and another they're holding real-life chicks for an Easter shoot!'
11. Above all, it's fun
'My kids' best shoot was for Burberry,' says Tillie. 'They had hired children's entertainers to keep them busy between shots, as well as a caterer and childminders. It was so brilliant, the children didn't realise it was work.'
Alison says her daughter Ella sees the modelling as an adventure: 'She did a shoot for Mothercare's 'Have a magical Christmas' campaign, wearing a beautiful red organza party dress and sparkly shoes in a makebelieve world! She knew it was special and I hope she' remembers it for the rest of her life.'
12. It helps in cashstrapped times
Tillie finds child modeling helps with the financial strains of family life: 'Having three boys is quite expensive so we sometimes use their modelling money to pay for swimming lessons or karate. We also once did a family shoot for a holiday brochure where we all got paid in holiday vouchers.'
Lucy had a similar experience. 'My daughters did a shoot for Boden and we got the choice to be paid in cash or Boden vouchers. We took the vouchers as it paid for their new coats and lovely suede boots!'
13. What can your little one earn?
Fees can vary widely between jobs, depending on what work they do and how many hours they work. Average wages are £40-£50 an hour, but agencies will take around 20 per cent of this for fees. Advertising and TV commercials pay more than editorial and the older a child is the longer hours they can work, so the pay is adjusted accordingly. The fees are paid in your child's name and they may also be paid for castings they attend. Sometimes (depending on the job) you get a small fee as a chaperone, and travel expenses, including petrol money, is paid to you.
14 . You'll get professional pictures
'Modelling is a nice way of documenting my children's childhoods with professional photographs,' says Tillie. 'We're all guilty of taking millions of pictures of our children on our phones, but never printing them. Our agency takes professional photos in their studio every six months, which we can keep.'
15 . Be prepared...
There's always a fair bit of waiting around on a shoot while other children are styled and photographs taken. 'Bring crayons, toys or games on your iPhone,' suggests Zjeenja, mum to Noah, four and Boaz, one.
16. ...and organised
'The phone could go at any time, so have voicemail at home as well as on your mobile and pick up emails regularly,' says Alysia Lewis, director of Urban Angels. It's useful to have a printer and scanner at home as you'll need to get work permits – all child models must be licensed by their local council from when they are six months to 16 years old. Bruni says it helps to be prepared for castings. 'I try to work out what clients want and dress the children accordingly; if it's a label I dress them smartly or if it's a fun kid's brand I put them in bright clothes.' Keep track of jobs and ask when the magazine or catalogue is out in the shops. Often you'll be shooting for Christmas in July and for summer shoots in darkest winter.
17. An understanding school helps
As well as getting work permits from your local council, those at school also have to get written permission from the school. Most schools are fi ne with this (and usually proud of the children) as long as it doesn't start to interfere too much with schoolwork. It's worth noting that the licenses take at least 21 days to process so ask the school's permission as soon as possible. The industry is understanding of this too – many castings happen after school or in holidays. 'We've done a few shoots at weekends,' explains mum Lucy. 'It helps as it means I don't need to have time off work.'
18. Off days
Sometimes children simply don't want to do what the photographer wants. Luckily, for really important shots such as magazine front covers or big campaigns, more than one child is booked so it takes the pressure off your little one having to be 100 per cent perfect on the day. The same can happen at castings – all kids have 'off ' moments. 'Rejection doesn't mean your child is not photogenic, and if you take things personally then child modeling is not the industry you should be in; even top models get rejected for some jobs,' says Sue from Kids London. 'Sometimes you can be on a three-day shoot and loads of pictures are taken, but when the catalogue appears your child isn't in it,' explains Alison. 'It can be hard to deal with, but we understand now, it's just about getting the best shot that fi ts the client's brief.'
19 . It's not all chiselled jaws and perfect smiles
'Digby has red hair and is cute,' explains Bruni. 'Clients seem to love him and he loves the work. Last week he did a TV commercial for McVitie's where he got to play with a dog all day and have his own Winnebago!
At the end of the shoot the entire cast and crew applauded him for doing so well – it's something I'm sure he'll always remember.'
Louise Jones, Range Manager for the Early Learning Centre, agrees: 'The children we end up picking are always the cheeky monkeys. The ELC catalogue is less about beauty and more about children having fun.
For our Christmas shoot a little boy had to unwrap a pair of roller skates and although he knew they weren't really his, he still ran and showed his mum!'
20. Expect the unexpected
'Sometimes I have to take Boaz along to Noah's shoot and will be asked if they can use Boaz as well,' says Zjeenja. 'This might result in a lovely shot of the two of them or even – this year – Boaz making a surprise appearance on the front cover of the Gurgle Christmas issue!'
Words by Nifa Mclaughlin.