How to reach foreign galleries?
Start with awards and Calls for Submission:
Before submitting your work to the award, check out previous winners, see who is on the jury list - don't just mindlessly submit you latest favorites everywhere
After you are accepted take part in group show by nonprofit gallery to build up your resume. Later same galleries will be your primary contacts to land a solo exhibition.
Approaching commercial gallery is more tricky for 2 reasons. First, they get hundreds of submissions every day, so cold email probably won't get noticed. Second, if they pick you, they will spend a lot of time and money building a market for your work, so they really need to be sure you will stay professional as well as creative. To start a relationship with commercial gallery pay them a personal visit, prepare good questions about the current show and about the artist, be humble, smart and have your portfolio on hands.
For the reasons I mentioned above I think to reach a foreign commercial gallery you need to be well represented and have a stellar resume because you can't make a connection in person.
How did you get your first professional project?
Well, it depends on what you define as professional. My first paid portraits I got through Vkontakte after publishing some of my work. Later I added google advertisement that helped me to get more clients then I could handle.
My first look-book for a brand I got through working with the designer on one of my editorials first.
Owner of my biggest brand campaign, shot in Mongolia, I met through a friend (designer who had some work represented in owner's boutique). We worked together on a few smaller photoshoots locally which helped us to build trust and be able to plan an ambitious project.
I would say in general, if you don't have enough clients yet, do some free work, but do it with enthusiasm and professionalism, be humble, be prepared and sooner or later you will get your golden opportunity.
Working with model agencies
My history with model agencies started when working for Slava Zaitsev agency and model school in Moscow. I mainly did small model workshops on posing and individual sessions. In Switzerland I worked with several agencies including Options, Kaizen, Fotogen, Time and Liane Models. In Boston I already knew what I want so I picked the best agency - Maggie Models to work for my own project and I worked with other agencies (Dynasty, Model Club) as clients. Here are some tips I learned along the way:
- It's very hard to make a living doing model portfolio photoshoots if you are not working directly with an agency. With agency you will have a day every couple of weeks or month when you will work with most of their new models - 10-12 one hour shoots a day, normally agency-paid. It's much simples then finding models one-by-one, also young models are not able to pay a good fee.
- It's better not to mix business with personal projects inside one agency. The reason is, if you are shooting with an agency for fee and then asking for some models for free for your project it's a short way to miscommunication. That's why I pick one agency exclusively for creative relationships (know one of the agents well, can request almost any model, will be sure model knows my work) and the other agencies I treat as clients. From time to time I will have a model from another agency on my editorial shoot, but it won't be through the agency
- Speaking of my editorials, I scout models both from social media and through the agency. If I have a big fashion shoot with huge team, I would go with the agency because I know that models will arrive for sure, will be professional and with Maggie even will know my style. However I can't expect that it will be more then another assignment for them, that's why for more artistic projects I involve models from my social media, someone who knows me and my work and who will treat the photoshoot as the rare opportunity she hunted down for herself.
- Almost forgot, if you new to this, you have 3 entry points to the agency. If you used to work with a model who joined the agency recently, you can ask her to promote you a bit and help you to connect to other models (that's what I did with Slava Zaitsev agency). Otherwise you can send your portfolio to one of the scouts or assistants and tell you are willing to do some tests with new faces for free - it's most certain way, but it will be tricky to start selling after. Last one, if you are confident and have good portfolio, you can contact one of the leading agents and ask for the opportunity to come in and present your work - treat it as a job interview it is.
Feedback, constructive criticism, social media
“There is always someone who will do that for less..”
Yes, but that's how the market always worked in photography (at least from the start of digital). You can market yourself as the cheapest or the best (at least the best available). If you go for the first option, it never works because someone will say "I will do it for free" (and rightfully so, it's an opportunity for them to learn and build the portfolio) so if you compete based on the rate only one can't make anything at all. When you competes in quality+rate you will start to do better, and then when you are know and picked for your vision - you are set. It's just a price of a very low entry barrier - you don't need to study for 4 years like engineer or 10+ as doctor or even several months as developer - you just need to buy a camera to start calling yourself a photographer