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Modeling Portfolio 101

As a model, your portfolio (aka ‘book’) is one of the most important tools you have for marketing yourself. Modeling is a first-impression business, and 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 portfolio.

Knowing your portfolio needs to be strong and knowing how to get it to that point though are often two very different things. In this post I’ll go over the basics to a great portfolio to help you gain a better understanding how yours needs to look.

A modeling portfolio, at its very basic form, is the collection of 10-20 photographs that show the model’s range and ability as a model. These photographs are what gets submitted to clients to get work.

New models often think that they need to have a professional portfolio filled with photos before approaching modeling agencies, but that is actually not the case at all. When you are first starting out as a model, it is not necessary to already have a book of professional photos. Simple snapshots (digitals/polaroids) are all you need in order to find out if a modeling agency is interested in representing you.

I would highly suggest meeting with agencies before starting to build your portfolio, as the cost of hiring a photographer & printing the images can be quite expensive. They also may have a specific category they want you to focus on (more commercial or editorial) so you will want to make sure your images reflect that. You don’t want to go through the process & expense to put a book together only to have the agency not like any of the images and request you do another shoot. 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. These images usually end up being the start of your portfolio.

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. You also need to include a variety of photos, such as headshots and full-length photos, as well as some done in studio and out on different locations. You should also have a mix of color and black & white images throughout your book.

The very first image in your portfolio should be your best headshot that accentuates your facial features, followed by your best full body shot that shows off your proportions and body type. 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 of your book 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 model tearsheets if you have them. You also want to be sure to have a good smiling shot somewhere in your book. Clients want to see your smile, and more specifically, your teeth. 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.

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.

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. The 10-15 photo range is the sweet spot. You definitely want to focus on quality over quantity, so don’t include subpar photos just because you feel like you need to have more 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.

Portfolio image sizes usually range between 8×10 - 9×12., with 8.5” x 11” being the most common size. Many agencies have portfolio books with the agency’s logo available for purchase, but if you have multiple agencies and want to use the same book for all of them, you can buy a standard black leather-bound portfolio at most art supply stores or online.

Now, in the digital age that we are currently in, many models are using digital portfolios as well as printed portfolios. If you are signed to an agency, they will always have a digital version of your portfolio on their website. While it’s always good to have a printed one handy when going to castings, in a pinch you can always pull up your agency’s website on an iPad or Tablet to give to the clients to look through. 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. You best bet is to have a photo album on your iPad/Tablet specifically for your portfolio images, as well as having your physical book.

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. Your portfolio will be in a constant state of “work in progress” and should be updated every time you do a photoshoot. Just like you as a model, it will evolve and improve with your experience, and it’s always quality over quantity!



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