Modeling Basics


Modeling Basics: The Look

Let’s do a little Modeling 101, shall we? Here’s an excerpt from Step 2 of THE MODEL START-UP covering a few modeling basics to consider– even before your first portfolio shoot.  Take a good, long look at your selfies, people. Print clients aren’t looking for perfection, but they are looking for consistent, healthy, and well- maintained models. The word we here a lot in the ad world is “aspirational.” So… to get the job, you have to look the part. If you want to check out the book, which covers everything, it’s on Amazon now.

Okay enough pimping, let’s get to it.

Step 2 Taking Inventory: Your Look

So many girls have emailed me over the years, telling me how they’re so committed to becoming models that they’re undergoing massive transformations. Hard core diets, aggressive med-spa procedures, even plastic surgery to eliminate what they perceive to be their flaws.

This is not the way to go. Fashion models have amazingly long legs and super slim figures— commercial print models are US. We’re the Every Girl. Aspirational? Sure— but we’re not super tall or thin or flawless. We have gapped teeth and crooked noses… it’s called character and it’s awesome! Don’t change who you are because who you are is exactly what a particular client is looking for. One of my fashion model friends calls herself a “professional hanger” which I think is spot on. Fashion models sell fashion— leave that to them. We sell just about everything else.

Okay enough lecture. All of that said— having a polished appearance is important. So here are a few things clients look for when deciding on models for a print job:


Smile: White, basically straight teeth are pretty key to most shoots. The look is happy, friendly, approachable, warm. Now this doesn’t apply to every single job (i.e.: the mid-40’s guy playing a the Regular Joe construction worker) but for most product and relationship shots, clients want to see a healthy smile.

Hair: Like teeth, your hair should be in good shape. Shiny, trimmed, and a universal but flattering shade. No chunky highlights or purple dip dying. It’s a little bit of a drag when you get the urge to do something crazy with your hair and you know you can’t, but it’s the cost of doing business in this industry. I’ve worn my hair in the same basic style for years (dark brown, long, with long bangs) and while every once in a while I’ll do a little ombre or highlights– it’s always subtle enough so as not to prevent me from booking.


Nails: Short, clean, simple manicure. Always, always do a minimal manicure the day before a shoot. Just a simple trim, file, and buff (guys too!) goes a long way, especially if you’re holding a product or your hands are in the shot in any way. Most clients don’t want any kind of fake nails or dark polish in their shoots. At the very most, a natural pink manicure. Hand models go out of their way for hand and nail care. These folks usually have long, elegant fingers, no hand scarring, and lovely nail beds. For the rest of us– just keeping our hands well-maintained is usually enough.

Skin: I’m fanatic about skincare. You name it and I either own it, have tried it, used to do it, or am planning on doing it. There are three key factors in maintaining healthy skin: exfoliate, moisturize, and sunscreen. Do these routinely according to your skin type and you’ll be in fine shape. If you have scarring, pigmentation, or acne issues, see a dermatologist and get professional help. It’s costs more and it’s worth it.

Overall health: Obviously, general good health is super important as a human, but in the modeling world it’s important you look and feel the part. Exercise, take supplements, and eat well to maintain your health, not to drop weight drastically or fit into some character role you’re not cut out to play. Not everyone is, or is supposed to be a size 00.

Poise: This is a big one. Posture, speech, attitude, and overall energy you bring to the set are all so critical to your success on a shoot. Being professional and positive ups your ability to book dramatically.


For the complete, step-by-step plan on getting into modeling the right way, check out THE MODEL START-UP on Amazon. And let me know how you’re doing!

Break a leg!





Sign on the Dotted______. Acting and Modeling Terms

First off– a huge thank you to everyone who has downloaded THE MODEL START-UP thus far. Your notes and questions are awesome… I love offering my two cents so feel free to drop me a line at my FB page. Happy to help if I can. Now… back to business.

audition sheet Japan

I got an email from a young up-and-comer about a job she booked in Tokyo recently. There were a few red flags:

  • She got the job by being scouted on Facebook by a dance school. No agency, no go-see.
  • The rate was predictably low, but when this girl went to the job, she learned that some of the represented talent were getting paid triple what she was. (She was also specifically told by the recruiter to NOT network with fellow talent. Not stars, just talent–kind of weird!)
  • She was asked to sign a contract in Japanese– and she cannot read it.

Now as a new model, this girl was doing the right thing. She was simply trying to network and get some new photos for her book. I totally get that. But that this (un)agency wanted to represent her, not giving her an English contract is a dead giveaway that they don’t specialize in foreign talent. This is a setup for exploitation. I asked her a few basic questions about why she wasn’t allowed to talk to actors on set, what the terms of her agreement were, but she had a tough time getting information from the recruiter. A bad sign– agents and bookers should be able to tell you everything you need to know about a job. In Japan, culturally generally people aren’t as forthright, but they are more than happy to give you all the information you need to make an informed choice about your work.

Whether you’re working here in Japan, or on your home turf, it’s essential you understand the basic terms you’re agreeing to. Working with reputable agents, or with photographers you know through trusted sources is so key to ensure you’re going to get proper treatment, decent working conditions, and get paid according to the agreement.


Talking about rates on set is a huge no-no. It’s like walking into your office and asking everyone with your similar job what their salaries are. It’s super unprofessional and likely will create bad blood between talent, crew, and the decision makers. Let your agents deal with the rates, and any money questions should be directed to them.

That said– in Tokyo you can be repped by multiple agents, and often those agents will submit you to the same jobs. If one agent offers you one rate, and another offers you double (for the exact same job!), you’re going to think long and hard about who you want to work with. I talk a lot more about how I deal with varying rates in the book.

Besides cash, there are a few other considerations. Often TV shoots (and some commercials) in Tokyo shoot overnight- meaning, a call time at 11pm and a wrap time around 9am the following morning. Or worse, starting at 5pm and wrapping at 2am so there’s no train to take you home. If it’s a small scale gig and you have to take a taxi or find a hotel– you have to think long and hard about these projects. If it’s worth it to you professionally, then go for it. If you’re going to fall asleep and be a wreck the next day for minimum wage… hmmmm.

What about usage? I wrote about it here... I recommend reading it and knowing the terms.

Know your contracts, understand acting and modeling terms. When you work as a model or actor– YOU are the product, the business. Protect it, and only work with those who join you in doing so. Now go gettum. 😉




Modeling 101: THE MODEL START-UP

After 9 years in front of the camera, dozens of articles and interviews, and countless emails from you guys… the e-book on modeling basics has finally been born!


THE MODEL START-UP covers everything you need to know to get started in print modeling and commercial acting.

  • Headshots (Chapter 3)
  • Model Resumes (Chapter 5)
  • Agents (Chapter 6)
  • Money (Pro-Tip 5)
  • Working conditions, social media, networking… the works.

It’s also semi-autobiographical, and I tell you a lot of the juicy stuff on how I got started and some of the situations I’ve fumbled through. It’s on Amazon and is available for 3 bucks (or FREE through Kindle Unlimited!)

Here’s to doing it right. I hope you enjoy it, and let me know if you have any questions or feedback. I love hearing from you.




Test Prep: How to Get Ready for a TFP Shoot

TFP shoots are key in building your portfolio. But just because there is no client doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put some serious effort into making it the best shoot possible. In fact, this shoot is for your book– and the images in it will likely be around for a long time, so pay attention to details and create the sharpest looking photos possible. Here are a few tips:



1) Plan ahead.

Sit down and chat with your shooter, or at least have a digital conversation with them. Use Pintrest to create inspiration boards for different looks and locations.  If you need certain shots be sure to make that known, and your shooter will do the same… then you can decide on wardrobe and makeup ideas.

Follow Cynthia Popper’s board Tokyo Shoot Board on Pinterest.

Sometimes shooters don’t know, and sometimes they do. Don’t discount a shooter simply because he doesn’t know the right lingo for fashion or makeup (though the most experienced ones will know what’s up). I had a photographer once tell me he wanted a “raw edgy look” then suggested I wear a cardigan and pants. In this case, words are failing where images need to be, so I showed him a few photos for reference and we quickly got on the same page. Communicate clearly and often in the early stage.

2)Get a MUA

MUAs need portfolio pieces just like the rest of us and often are more than happy to jump in on a test. Networking with people through Model Mayhem or other bookings is a great way to get a MUA who is down for testing. And it’s a great opportunity for him/her to play with new looks and products so if you can err on the side of creative, go for it!


3) No MUA? Keep it simple.

Keep it Simple

If you can’t get a hair and makeup person on-board, and you’re not an expert yourself, I recommend keeping makeup and hair pretty simple. Hair extensions are an easy way to add thickness and definition to hair and a camera-ready face with either big eyes or bold lips is a relatively safe call. If you try to get super fancy with art makeup and you’re not a pro… well, the results are likely to reflect your skill level, and it’s very hard to edit out weird makeup. I’m not a makeup artist. so if I’m doing my own makeup I like a nude shimmery eye, simple cat liner, and a nude or deep berry lip depending on how vampy I want the end shot to be. It’s classic with a bit of drama, and works with most looks.

Audition Wardrobe Tips

Audition Wardrobe Tips

4) Wardrobe is Key

Even if you’re doing a simple t-shirt, sexy girl shoot, you need the clothes to really be on point. So many times I see models and actors bring crap clothes to set, and I’m not talking about expensive stuff. Go to Forever 21, go to H&M for basics and thrift shops for funky stuff. Clothes should be clean (duh), pressed, and not falling apart. Some shops let you do a ‘Stylist’s pull” and buy a bunch of clothes and then return all the stuff you don’t use. I’ve done this before and it’s wonderful– the more options the better.

Don’t forget about hardware: a big necklace, cool rings, bad ass boots, nasty stilettos. If you’re doing business shots, great glasses, gorgeous pearls, a sleek handbag or briefcase.


This is so not me, but why not have fun? 🙂

5) Take Risks

I like to try expressions and looks that would be very unlikely to ever be asked for in a commercial print shoot. Ideas and emotions that are very against character for me as a Cynthia-human are perfect to play with during tests. Why would I spend the time doing that if they’ll never get used? Because it’s fun, and expands your range. New shooters help guide you too. Just go with it!

6) Details

Are your nails done? Are your teeth white? Is your hair shiny? Is your skin clear? Just like a booking, you cannot afford to skimp on these essential details. Make sure you don’t have a busted blue manicure and a bunch of hair ties around your wrist lest you look like a total scrub in a great shot that will haunt you daily for the next two years. Photos really are forever now. Make them as awesome as possible.


Have fun and show me you shoots!



5 Audition Terms You Should Know Now

For aspiring models and actors, getting a handle on the basics takes a bit of time. You want to be professional and ask for clarity,  but you also don’t want to ask questions that make you look like a total newbie either. If you’re new to the biz, you’ll learn quickly that bookers and agents are busy people (sometimes borderline frantic when dealing with emergency castings or client firebombs), and won’t have a ton of time to explain some of the finer points of the process.

Here are some terms that get thrown about quite a bit in go-sees and auditions. I’m working on a ginormous glossary right now,  so this is just a sneak peek at a few audition terms you need ASAP.

Slate: Slating is your on-camera introduction to the client or casting agent. You usually just say your name and height, but sometimes you’ll be asked other questions to see how you look on camera and to give a sense of your overall energy. Slates in Japan are slightly different than in the States– here’s a little video on how it’s done.

Mark(s): A mark is where you are placed on set, usually indicated by a t-shaped piece of tape on the floor. Multiple marks are used for moving shots, and are known numerically. “Here’s your 1… and here’s your 2.” Usually for commercials, you’ll be asked to hit certain lines at certain marks, and if it’s a multiple camera shoot, look at different cameras at different marks and different times. Working with multiple cameras is a different story— it gets super tricky. The Colbert Report’s Stephen Colbert is always at his desk, but he does multiple camera work beautifully.


 Cheating and eye line aren’t realism, but help create the overall tone in a shot.

Cheat: This means you appear to be facing or looking at a particular person, point or object, but to make the shot more visually appealing, you’re asked to angle your face, body, or eye line in a way that might not be realistic. This happens a lot with product shooting. Let’s say you’re holding a bottle of shampoo for a shampoo ad. You’ll be asked to “cheat toward camera” which means to angle both your face and the product toward the camera for a clear, straight, shot, rather than holding something and looking at it like you would in real life.

Eye Line: Plainly– the direction you’re looking. Often when you’re asked to cheat towards whatever, you might be given a visual mark (or even a crew member will stand in a spot) to indicate your eye line.


The actor’s life: sides and coffee.


Sides: A side is a portion of a script (usually involving two characters) selected for you to read during an audition. Occasionally sides have nothing to do with the project you’re auditioning for but this isn’t common (but it does happen– not sure why?). Online castings usually have downloadable sides, or your agent will email them to you.

I’m putting the finishing touches on a comprehensive guidebook to getting work for both the American and Japanese markets. If you’re interested in getting a sneak peek– message me and I’ll put you on the list!

Break a leg!




Photoshoot 101: The Best Hair Extensions Ever

If you’ve read any of my stuff about getting into modeling, you know having range is super key. Being able to show a variety of looks grows your chances of booking work exponentially, and this makes your agency super happy, because they can submit you for a ton of jobs. Here’s the math:

Looks/Jobs=Range= Happy Agent 


Anyway– I’ve used extensions in shoots, pretty much from the beginning. In L.A., actresses always bring a “big bag of hair” to set for the stylist to play with, if they need them. They’re just a good thing to have in your set bag arsenal.


Mine were BEAT UP– I’ve washed, dyed, and torn through my old set for years, and was due for replacements, when Irresistible Me  approached me and asked if I’d like to test theirs out. I am so lucky to get review samples, but if I’m seriously going to write about a product, I always have a few questions.

Q: Are they human hair?

Because synthetic extensions are no bueno. You can’t dye, curl, or flat iron them, which, for a model, means they’re not really helpful.

A: Yep! 100% Remy human hair.

Q: Can I see the weft clips?


Weft clips are super important. If you’re investing a couple bucks in good extensions, the clips have to be heavy duty– you’re going to be putting them in and taking them out a lot, so details like weight, stitching, and hardware all add up to quality and durability. IM’s clips are the good ones… like the ones MUAS get at the cosme supply.

Here’s my real head, no editing or retouching. No idea what I’m looking at.  real-hair



I’m wearing #4 Royal Medium Brown, 200 grams weight. These are no joke– a serious luxe set of wefts, and the color matched my hair perfectly! The cool part for me is my hair is ombre right now, so when I put these in, my actual hair just blended into natural highlights.


Overall, I’m really impressed with these extensions— I’m going to wear them out this week to a couple of events and see how they hold up. As of now… I’m so ready to shoot!




Soft and Hard: Modeling Portfolio Update

What a week. If I haven’t said it recently let me just say it now: The fact that I get to live and work in Tokyo doing all of the things I truly enjoy is so beyond. I generally live in a state of feeling lucky, but this week has been especially incredible.

Three amazing auditions: a commercial, a TV show, and a movie. I feel really solid about the work I put out, which means nothing when it comes to actually booking… but still. I did what I could and honestly just feel lucky to be put in front of these opportunities. That’s the truth. Yeah, of course booking is the BEST… I’m not going to lie. One of the biggest achievements for me was actually making it to the commercial audition in Roppongi by myself (usually the agent navigates the crazy Tokyo streets) and slating in Japanese! I’ve never done it before, and now I feel like I can properly address directors and producers in Tokyo who don’t speak English (which is most of them). But slating in Japanese is another post… back to this post… portfolio update time!

My photos came back from the recent shoot I did with Ryo, Luna, and Yuki! I picked a few along with some I took of myself, and some “real” shots to show you the importance of lighting and range, as well as updating your modeling portfolio.


Here’s a screen grab– work in progress…

photo (4)

Look how important lighting is! This is a phone snap taken outside the studio– yeah I have tape on my face and my eyes aren’t made up… but lighting and retouching absolutely transform a photo.

photo (1)

I am so happy to have some moody texture shots. I immediately sent these to the agency because they are so different from anything else I have. Will they book me commercial work on their own? No, but they show range against the other smile-y, “happy girl” shots. Range is important because the photographer or producer wants to know that you aren’t just a “one-trick pony.” And if you are… say you only have one look… you had better nail it to be the specialist in that area. I’m definitely not this kind of actor or model. I have a pretty generic face– good for range but not good for character work.

modeling-in-japan modeling-in-japan modeling-in-japan

I love how 80’s this shot is. I bought that blouse for 400 yen at a thrift shop!

Then I sent a few soft shots with my new ombre– this is definitely a look the Japanese clients love: lit-up, soft, feminine, big eyes. I threw one of these up on Instagram with the Mayfair filter for a super glowy look. These are slightly blurry, but well-lit (remember- light is your friend!) and unedited.

modeling-in-japan modeling-in-japan modeling-in-japan

And lastly– just to keep it real, here’s a shot of what I look like right now, writing this post. Ha!



Have fun with your test shoots!




When (and How) to Turn Down Acting Roles or Photo Shoots

Ultimately, if you’re prepared and professional, booking work really becomes a numbers game. You and/or your agent submits your photos and resume, you go on auditions, maybe do a few callbacks, and sooner or later you’ll be in business.

But… what happens when you are asked to do a commercial for a product or company you don’t believe in? Or are asked to do something you’re not comfortable with doing? Every actor and model has been confronted with this situation, and everyone has their reasons for wanting to turn down an acting role or a photo shoot.
Maybe the company makes something that’s unhealthy or against your personal beliefs or capacities (are you allergic to dogs? certain foods?).

Maybe you’re selected for a role in an indie film that requires nudity or simulated sex. (This one is pretty common with celebrities.)

Maybe the client wants total exclusivity for a particular industry for a set amount of time.* (Total exclusivity means you can’t shoot with other clients for a given industry. It’s common in financial and pharmaceutical industries).

Maybe, after reading the script and meeting the director– something just feels “off.”

All of the above scenarios have happened to me- in some cases I’ve talked to the directors or photographers and we worked around the issues. Others… I just had to pass on the jobs. Many famous celebrities have hard boundaries on their acting choices (example… a Hollywood writer friend told me that Kate Winslett will never take a role that requires her to use a gun). Everyone has things they don’t want to be associated with.

It’s not an easy situation- especially if your agency wants you to do the project and the casting folks really see you in the role. Or-and I hate to admit this- if the rate is REALLY good… But that said, knowing your boundaries– not the ones you can push, the ones that are truly non-negotiable– is critical in this business. In the end, if you take a job you don’t want to do, your performance is going to suffer, you’ll likely not be too happy, and in turn, the producers will not be thrilled with the end product.

The best way to avoid having to turn down work is to get as much information about the project before the audition. This can be tough sometimes– many times companies don’t disclose themselves or the details of a project until after auditions have taken place (this is especially true in Japan- privacy and lack of transparency are business norms here across the board.).

Questions to ask (if the information isn’t given):

1) What company is it for? Can you send me a link to their website?

2) What product is it for? (Many larger companies have loads of different brands and product lines).

3) Will I be shooting with other talent? Children? Animals?

4) Is there anything else I should know about this shoot?

Having a clear picture of what the project is to be lets you make an informed decision. In most cases (particularly with indie films or any dramatic work) the casting director will be upfront on any kind of potential deal breakers (like nudity or a sex scene). I’ve done some nudity, and pretty cozy work with male models and actors, but have never been casting in anything too hot and heavy. For me personally, couple-y kissing isn’t a big ask on a shoot, and artful nudity is just fine… beyond that however… I’d need to know a lot more about the project and the players before I gave a resounding yes. BUT… that’s just me.

So let’s say you’ve asked all of the questions and made an informed choice to accept a role, but then you get thrown a curveball? Whattya do?

  • If you have an agent, you let her handle it. (This is what they do!)
  • If you’re unrepresented, you need to politely and carefully talk about the deal-breaker with the director. In most cases, issues can be worked around. Never do something you really don’t feel ok with doing. It’s more than okay to stand firm on your conditions. Remember: it’s your image going out into the world– you need to protect it in any way you see fit.

So, while you’re getting your shots together and basic training underway, think about the kinds of work you really want to do, and what kind of boundaries you might have. Figuring it out early saves you and your agent a lot of time down the road and shows you’re a thoughtful performer.

Break a leg!




Modeling Basics: Building Your Portfolio

Every week I get email from up-and-comers looking for advice on their photos. A great headshot aside, having a variety of looks in your portfolio is obviously going to get you considered for a wider range of jobs. Depending on your look, personality, and any stand out attributes (Do you have stunning blue eyes? Amazing hair? Covered in tattoos?) You’ll want to highlight the best of what you can put in front of a client as well as the widest range of looks possible.

Core shots for any book

A conservative look…

Your loan has been approved New Headshot - Copy (2)


Shooter: Kristen Gerbert

An athletic or outdoor look…



Shooter: Cavan Clark



Shooter: Tanya Constantine

A relationship shot… (can be with an adult, child, or even an animal– the idea is showing you reacting to another being!)



Shooter: Caroline Winata


Shooter: Sam Diephuis

A creative/Vavoom shot…


Shooter: Kristen Gerbert

Other shots might be more thematic: (vintage pinup, city street)


Shooter: Loïc Nicolas

After your headshot, you want to get your core book put together as soon as possible. It doesn’t need to be expensive or fancy (though I do recommend getting a professional headshot done). Doing creative trades and test shoots with photographers is the best way to get a variety of looks from different shooters without spending the GDP of Guam on day rates. Once you get these key pieces nailed down, you can add emotion shots, character shots, behind the scenes, tear sheets… the list goes on.

Keep shooting

Getting as many frames as you can early on serves a couple of purposes. It gives you the experience in front of the camera to understand how to get the looks you or the shooter want, which makes being on set and giving the client what they want that much easier. Being able to nail the shot quickly is the hallmark of a pro and one of the reasons top models get paid so well. The quicker you can give the client what they want, the less time is wasted and the more options they have to chose from. When a 30-person crew is working on a single campaign, time is money, so being able to turn out work that’s high quality without a lot of hassle is important.

I look at a lot of portfolios for new models who are preparing to get representation. If you’d like advice on your book, feel free to message me here. I’m on a bit of a delay right now, but I promise I’ll give you real feedback as soon as I can!




Stock Photography              Acting for Models           Headshots

stockbanner How to memorize a script actor's headshots

Modeling Weight Issues: Perfect is an Illusion

I try to keep it light and fluffy here, but I want to get serious for a quick minute. I get email from girls all over the world who are thinking about coming over, or are here now trying to get work. This week, two girls have written me about their aspirations (yay!) but have also indicated that they are on hard-core programs to drastically transform their bodies or “reduce flaws.”

Listen to me. Don’t do this. Please.

Print work is not about being skinny, it’s about being healthy. You don’t have to be 5’10 and a size zero to book work. You don’t have to have perfect curves, or impeccably toned anything. Most women have enough body issues to deal with. Trying to chase some ever-changing standard is bananas.

You DO have to have energy, personality, and professionalism. You have to like yourself and accept yourself as you are.

I never write about “model diets.” Or “body boot camps.”  I don’t diet. I try to eat healthy, but I also never deprive myself. I’m not “perfectly” proportioned (whatever the heck that means) and it’s never stopped me from working.

Yes, print work is about your look, which in large part, is driven by your personality. You’re an actor in still life form. The clients who book you are not looking for statues. They want real people. So just be real. It’s far more interesting and exponentially more beautiful.

There are so many tricks productions use to beautify photos I can’t even begin to explain. I remember as a little girl, looking at photos in magazines and being just blown away at how perfect the models’ skin was. That’s because it’s an illusion. Computer tricks, lighting, makeup. The internet is awash in how the before and after shots of photo editing. If you have a birthmark, or a scar, or a tattoo, or anything the client wants out of the shot, they can edit the photo. Don’t edit yourself.

I’ve been in front of the camera for nine years now, and any time I get an audition or a go-see, I still feel super lucky. But I get shot down, passed over, and kicked in the teeth every week too. Maybe I’m too short, or too brunette, or too whatever… it doesn’t matter. You can’t take it personally because it’s not about you—it’s about the job. Changing yourself to fit some ideal “look” that changes with every casting is madness. Bring the best version of yourself and see what happens. You’ll be surprised.

Don’t let this industry dictate your body shape. And don’t give anyone the power to make you feel like you should be thinner, harder, or taller. You’re you, and that’s what the clients really want. You should too.

no makeup

If you need any advice, message me here. I’m rooting for you.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...