Shooting your modeling portfolio is the most important thing that you will do as a model. Hopefully you make it to the cover of a major magazine some day, but without an amazing modeling portfolio your career will never get off the ground.
PLEASE don’t make the mistake of rushing ahead and getting a bunch of really cool and creative photographs of yourself. That is NOT what makes a great modeling portfolio.
Here are 15 common questions and my advice for how you can create a killer modeling portfolio:
1. What is the most important thing I should consider before I start my portfolio?
Unfortunately, you don’t get to pick the jobs you will do. The industry picks you and the clients will decide if you are right for any given type of modeling. Be sure to do your research and be honest with yourself about where you fit. Being realistic from the very beginning will insure that you don’t waste time and money and will hopefully limit the chances for rejection.
2. Do I need to work with more than one photographer?
In a perfect scenario – YES! In reality – NO! Modeling agencies tend to encourage new models to work with multiple photographers to build their portfolios so that the book contains a variety of looks and also so that the model gains the experience of working with different photographers’ personalities and working styles.
Of course this can become extremely expensive for someone who is just starting out. As long as you choose a photographer that understands the need for variety and different looks, you can build a very effective portfolio working with just one person.
Be sure that your portfolio contains a selection of pictures that show you at your best, show your range of emotions and your ability to portray different characters.
3. How do I pick the right photographer?
Start your search at Google and look for “commercial advertising photographers” in your area or the closest major city. These are the photographers who shoot pictures for advertisements -the same advertisements that you want to be in. They understand how to create photos of you that look like they should be in ads.
4. Should I use a modeling agency’s photographer?
NO WAY! NEVER! If a modeling agency is asking you to shoot your portfolio with their photographer, they are probably just interested in your money. If you do some research, you will probably find out that their “photographer” is not a full-time professional and is probably being paid an hourly fee to take your photos. In other words, the pictures suck and the modeling agency will make a ton of money from your photo shoot. This is a very legal, but morally inappropriate modeling scam that some agencies take part in.
The only time you should consider an agency’s photographer is if you have asked the modeling agency for recommendations and they give you the names and contact information of a few good photographers in your area. As long as they have not told you to use a specific one and they are not asking you to pay them to set up the photo shoot, it is probably an honest list of recommended photographers.
Bottom line: do your own research. Do NOT contact a modeling agency before you have your portfolio, otherwise you simply risk making a bad first impression and showing yourself as a potential sucker to the agencies that are willing to take advantage of you.
5. Can I have a friend that is good with a good camera take my pictures?
This is a bad idea on so many levels. That friend who is good with a camera is not a professional, so why would you risk your career to someone who really doesn’t know what they are doing? A great portfolio is not just about good quality photographs, it is about the right photographs that show the right things to market you.
Another reason this is a bad idea is that someone who knows you on a personal level or even intimate level will just add to your nerves and make it more difficult for you to perform in front of the camera.
If you are reading this and thinking that it would be easier for you if you could shoot with a friend because you would feel more comfortable… that means you are potentially a horrible candidate to model professionally. When you get hired for a job, you don’t get to take your own photographer with you.
6. Do I really need a makeup artist?
YES! Shooting without a makeup artist, when you are taking the most important photos of your career is simply called career suicide!
If you need more convincing, please read: Should I hire a Makeup Artist for my Photo Shoot?
7. What kind of clothing should I wear?
Simple and basic. The photographs are trying to sell your ability to model – NOT the clothing you are wearing. The clothing is a costume that helps to make the various characters convincing.
You should stick with solid colors. Prints, patterns, and florals are a horrible idea as they will take attention away from you.
Make sure the clothing fits properly and is flattering to your body.
Don’t take my word for this – pay attention to what you see models wearing in advertisements. The majority of the clothing is solid colors.
Even if you are tall enough to be a fashion model, when you do your fashion shots – keep it simple, remember that the shots are selling you and your ability, not the designer clothing.
8. What kinds of pictures do I need in my modeling portfolio?
Your portfolio needs a variety of shots, including headshots and full length photos, as well as three quarter length and full length images. You should have a good balance of shots done in the studio as well as shots done on location in natural lighting.
A strong headshot is crucial. You also need a good full-length body shot in your book. This can be a tasteful swimsuit or lingerie shot done in a non-provocative way. If you prefer to not model swimwear or lingerie, your body shot could be a well-fitted pair of jeans and a tank top. The term “Body shot” doesn’t mean SKIN – it means a shot to show your figure – in other words, how you are built.
Remember to include shots that show you are the characters that you will be hired to model as. (Business, Medical, College Coed, etc.)
Don’t forget different expressions in every photo and LOTS of variations with your hair.
Be sure to read: MODELING PORTFOLIO 101 – What you need to know
9. Should I include any photos with no makeup?
Yes. Before the invention of digital cameras, these were called Polaroids. You should have a digital Polaroid of your face and also a full length body shot.
Just because they are no makeup – that doesn’t mean you should look like crap! Make sure the lighting is soft and flattering. Light from a north facing window is awesome for this purpose. Do not retouch these photos. Make sure the backgrounds are simple and whatever you do – do not make them look like a Facebook selfie!
10. How many photos do I need in my modeling portfolio?
Between 6 to 20 photos is appropriate for a modeling portfolio. NEVER more than 20.
If you are a brand new model just starting out, I would encourage you to work with somewhere between 6 to 10 photographs. Less is better – regardless of the amount of experience you have.
If you have modeled before and you have tearsheets, only include them in your book if they make you look amazing. Don’t include them just to brag about work you have done. That’s what a resume is for.
11. How large should the photos be?
Modeling portfolios range between 8×10, 8.5×11, 9×12 and 11×14 inches depending on the market where you intend to work. In markets like New York and Los Angeles, the 9×12 and 11×14 inch books are most popular. In most other markets like Philadelphia, Boston, Dallas and Chicago, 8.5” x 11” books are the most common.
Please do not think that larger photos are more impressive and will get you more work. Larger photos just make your flaws bigger. You do not want to stand out for the size of your book. You want to stand out for what is in the book.
12. Where can I get a modeling portfolio book?
Local artist supply stores and are your best bet.
13. Should all the photos be in color?
No. It is okay if all of your shots are in color. There is no rule here. It is okay if you have one or two black and white photos in your portfolio to help add an additional dimension to your book.
Just don’t get carried away because you think black and white images look cool, and don’t use lots of them because they tend to hide skin flaws. The overwhelming majority of advertising is in color, so your portfolio should be as well.
14. Do I need to pose in swimsuits or lingerie? What about Nude?
No, No and NO! There is no type of modeling that you HAVE to do to be a model. You are not required to model anything that is in conflict with your cultural or religious beliefs. It is not like the reality TV shows where they make all the models get naked. It is simply a matter of the more things that you are comfortable doing, the more opportunities that you may have. No legitimate modeling agency will ever demand that you work in these categories.
That being said, if you are avoiding these categories because you don’t think you are in the best of shape. . . you are just kidding yourself. All the clothing in the world won’t change your measurements and the reality that you need to get in shape. Models are healthy, attractive people who take care of their bodies and look their best at all times.
15. Do I need any special skills, like dancing or gymnastics?
Special skills are not a requirement, but if you have them, be sure to show them in your portfolio.
If I shoot a model who is a trained ballerina and can stand on pointe – I will definitely do a ballet photo of her standing on pointe. This is a way of showing that she has a skill that other people don’t usually have and it can make the difference in her being hired for a job that requires this skill.
Certainly you can tell people that you can do something, but talk is cheap – photographs not only prove that you can do it, but they show how well you can do it.
Take your time. Do your research. Find a photographer that you feel comfortable with and who can guide you through the process with confidence and also teach you about working in front of the camera along the way.
Remember, that your modeling portfolio is the most important set of photographs you will ever take.