The modeling industry is a business based on looks and first-impressions. Your photos are usually seen by agents and clients long before they ever see you in person (if you ever even get that chance), so it’s essential that you have a strong modeling portfolio.
Your modeling portfolio is essentially your resume. It should have everything you need to make a good first impression and showcase what you can do. It’s a continual work in progress and isn’t something that you ever stop working on, as it will develop and broaden along with your experience and career. However, there are a few “must have” images that should always be in it to make sure you’re giving the agents/clients what they need to see.
In this post I go over some basics on where to even start with building your portfolio, as well as some must have images to include.
Determine What You Need
Before you just jump right in and book a bunch of photoshoots or throw different images you already have together in a book, take a moment to determine what type of photos you even need in order to make a strong portfolio. If you have an agent, luckily they will do most of the work selecting what images to put in your book. If you’re freelance, just getting started, or needing to do a major update, you will need to do a little research to figure out exactly what kind of images you need.
What many new models don’t realize is that not all modeling markets will require the same style of photos in a portfolio. A New York model’s book is going to look vastly different than a Midwest model’s book because the clients in these cities are going to be looking for different things and the type of jobs you will be booking will be different. Your photos should reflect the type of modeling you’re going to be doing, whether it’s commercial/lifestyle modeling or more high-fashion/editorial modeling.
The best way to figure out what the vibe is in your market, is to look at local agencies websites and see what their current model’s portfolios look like. Are they super moody and editorial, or more commercial and lifestyle based? Also look at the different clients in your area and what kind of ad campaigns they have. Once you get a feel for your local market, base your own portfolio images off of that. If your market is commercial (hello, Midwest), don’t fill your portfolio with heavily styled editorial style images. Even if they’re amazing, they won’t book you jobs in your area.
Don’t Build a Portfolio Before Signing
Unless you’re planning to be a freelance model, do not spend a lot of money or do a bunch of photoshoots before getting signed to a modeling agency. New models often think that they need to have a professional portfolio filled with photos before approaching agencies, but that is actually not the case at all. Simple snapshots (digitals/polaroids) are all you need in order to submit to agencies. They don’t want to see any professional photos in the beginning, and they’re not going to expect you to have a full portfolio when you’re just getting started.
I would highly suggest meeting with agencies first, then if you get signed, work on building your book. The agency will most likely have a specific way they want to market you, so you will want to make sure your images reflect that. You don’t want to go through the process and expense of putting a book together only to have the agency not like any of the images and request you to start all over. Some instances do come up where an agency is interested in you but it is not quite ready to sign a contract, so they may ask you to do a ‘test shoot’ to see what your potential is in front of a camera. The agency will have specific looks they want you to achieve during this shoot, and these images usually end up being the start of your portfolio.
Less is More
Many models make the mistake of putting too many photos in their portfolio. Between 6 to 20 photos is appropriate for a modeling portfolio. You never want to do more than 20 because no client is going to take the time during a casting to look through that many photos. You definitely want to focus on quality over quantity, so don’t include any subpar photos just because you feel like you need to have more images in your book. This also holds true for tearsheets. Only include them if the image is a great one, not just because you want to brag you were in a publication.
You also don’t want to have the images in your book be too overly styled. The whole point of your portfolio is to showcase YOU as the model, not what you’re wearing or trying to sell. You want to make sure you’re not lost in the wardrobe or have too much makeup on to distract from people seeing you in the image.
This also goes for photoshoots in general. In the Midwest, it’s common to do a lot of TFP (trade for photos) shoots, especially when you’re just starting out. While this is a great way to get experience in front of the camera, you really need to make sure you’re being selective on who you shoot with and what type of images you’re getting from that shoot. It’s much better to shoot with less photographers and have really great images, than to shoot with a bunch of photographers and have a lot of sub-par images floating around.
Show Your Range
The images you choose to put in your portfolio need to show a range of facial expressions and emotions. Don’t be a one trick pony and have the same facial expression in every photo. Again, this is where it is important to know your market and what your target client audience is. If you’re in a commercial area, you want to make sure you have many different photos showing your smile and an all-around happy vibe, not all serious and moody images. You also want to have a variety of different settings- some images done in studio and some out on different locations.
To get the best variety of images in your portfolio, it is important to work with many different photographers. By doing this, you can take advantage of the different styles each one has while also getting experience working with a variety of personality types and working styles. Every time you do a photo shoot you will get better and more comfortable in front of a camera, which will come across in your photos. Obviously, this can become extremely expensive for someone who is just starting out, so when booking your first portfolio building shoot, choose a photographer that understands the need for variety and different looks so you can build a very effective portfolio working with just one person. Many agencies have go-to photographers they like to work with for building new model portfolios, so never be afraid to ask them for recommendations.
**A red flag would be if an agency requires you to work with their in-house photographer only. If this is the case, you really need to take a look at the contract and evaluate if this is a good agency to be legally bound to. Chances are, they’re just scamming you for money.
Keep it Current
Your portfolio is a constant work in progress. It’s important to keep your portfolio updated with newer photos and more recent work experience. If you find your portfolio is lacking in some areas or missing specific key photos, schedule a shoot to get the updated shots you need. As you book more and more jobs, make sure those are included as well.
It’s also important that as a model, you maintain your “look”. Once you get signed by an agency, you will be encouraged to avoid making drastic changes to your appearance. They’re marketing your current look to potential clients, and if you change that up without letting them know or updating your portfolio images, that can result in an annoyed client and very upset agent. If you make any drastic changes with your hair color/length, decide to get cosmetic work, or get any large tattoos, that will require a portfolio update. As you age, your face and body just naturally change over time, so it’s good to make sure to update your headshot at least every three years even if you haven’t had any drastic appearance changes.
Print vs. Digital
In the digital age that we are currently in, many models have started using digital portfolios in addition to printed portfolios. Using an iPad or tablet, you can save your images to a folder on there or access your agencies website for them to view your portfolio. Never do this with your phone, as the small screen is not good for viewing photos. It also is very unprofessional to hand over your phone to a client during a casting call. While more and more clients are ok with this, there are still some that are old school and like to see physically printed images, so it’s never a bad idea to have both options!
If you don’t have an agency but need to be able to digitally send your portfolio, there’s an easy way to do this! Create a Dropbox or other photo sharing account specifically for your modeling photos. Save your images in a folder on whatever site you choose, and when an agent or client requests to see any portfolio images you may have, you can send them a link to this folder. Do not try to attach the photos individually in an email. They’ll most likely be too big to send and a potential agent/client isn’t going to want to have to download the images just to quickly view them.
Must Have Portfolio Images
Headshot: The very first image in your portfolio should be your best headshot that accentuates your facial features. You want to make sure that you can clearly see your face and avoid heavy or dramatic makeup and lighting.
Full Body: Follow up your headshot with your best full body shot that shows off your proportions and body type. Again, you want the clothing to be simple and not distracting from you as the model.
Smiling: You want to include at least one image in your book of you doing a full smile, especially if your market is on the more commercial side. Clients want to see your smile, and more specifically, your teeth.
Multiple Angles: You want to have images that show multiple angles of your face and body, so the clients can get a good idea of what you look like from all sides.
Different Looks: Avoid having too many images of you in the same outfit. 2-3 photos in the same outfit is the most you would want to use.
Often during castings, the client will only flip through the first few pages of your book, so you want to make sure you have strong images at the very beginning to catch their eye. The photos in the middle can be a bit more creative to show the clients your ability to move and express yourself in front of the camera. This is also where you can add some tearsheets if you have them.
Always end your portfolio with another one of your strongest photos. Another great beauty or headshot that is a little different from your opening shot works perfectly here. Never include runway photos or things like selfies in your portfolio. Runway shots aren’t needed by clients and selfies make you look extremely unprofessional.
Remember, your modeling portfolio is the most important piece of marketing material, and it will have a direct influence on how much work you get. Just like you as a model, it will evolve and improve with your experience, and always quality over quantity!