I’ve seen a lot of portfolio advice given to photographers on how to choose items for their portfolio, but not much for models. As I was browsing Model Mayhem a bit this morning and seeing some things that frankly horrified me a bit, I thought I’d talk a little bit about it.
Photographers have it a bit more easy. Advice like “break it up into subject areas” and “don’t have too many pictures of the same person in a row” is easy to follow if you have a large body of work that includes a bunch of different models, styles, or types of photography, but if you’re a model you’ve got one subject to work with…. you.
So what do you do to give prospective photographers or agencies a portfolio of images that will make them want to work with you?
First, a quick disclaimer: I’m not part of a modelling agency and have never worked with one, and my own portfolio most likely breaks all these rules, so take this all with a big grain of salt… do as I say, not as I do and all that.
However… I’ve been working with local models for a number of years and looking at photography critically for a decade, and I know what I like and what I want to see and don’t want to see. Please keep that in mind. I’m also looking at this from the point of view of models and photographers collaborating in Time For Pictures (TFP) shoots to move themselves towards a full time career in the industry.
The Big List of DON’Ts
Sometimes what to not do is easier than what to do. So lets start off with a quick list of DON’Ts.
- Ignore your friends and family. They love you and support you and think all your pictures are good. Cheerleaders are awesome to have, but can be poor judges when critical decisions need to be made.
- Avoid “cliche” images. The shot on the train tracks. The guitar between your legs. Dear heavens above no selective color!
- Not images that show off more of the photographers artsy skills or post processing skills than you. The artsy shot where just your eye is turned into a pencil sketch is cool, but it’s an ad for the photographer, not the model.
- Pictures with your boobs, butt, or any large amount of skin visible will accumulate likes, comments, and attention. Unless they show a side (pardon the pun) of your modelling that’s valid, you’re just exploiting yourself, and will attract the sort of low rent Guy With Camera (GWC) that will want to get you to shoot nudes in the woods and (in general) not give you any sort of return. If you want to have “numbers” (likes, views, comments), this is how to do it. If you’re wanting to go into nude modelling or the adult industry, this is how to do it. If you want to be a legitimate model, put the sort of quality images of how you want to be seen out there.
- Avoid more than two images from the same series if possible. Even 2 is too many. Having 5 images from the same shoot with you in the same outfit, pose, and only minor variations in your expression or position are no good. Same goes for the same image in color and black and white. Make a choice.
- Avoid shots with more than you in them if possible. Shooting with another model is awesome. Having the other model outshine you is not. Imagine if the shot was the first one that an agency saw of you… would they know which model they are supposed to be looking at?
- “Selfies” are bad. No matter how good your self shot in the mirror is this is not something to include in a portfolio. I have seen way too many shots taken with a bad camera phone, in a bathroom posted as a “portfolio” picture. Shots like this are no good and scream “I’m not serious and just needed a picture to upload”.
- Leave the “cute” pictures on Facebook. Sticking your tongue out. Caught halfway through a sneeze. Cute does not equal portfolio.
- Pictures that don’t actually show you, like an artsy shot of just the top of your head, or your feet. If it’s not something that would let you be recognized, why bother putting it in a portfolio?
- Make sure your images are rotated properly. Clicking through a portfolio and coming across an image that’s taken in portrait but displayed in landscape makes me think that the model doesn’t care enough to make sure their images display properly.
- Don’t just crop yourself out of a group shot. Use pictures that are actually meant for the portfolio, it’s easy to tell if it’s a cropped version of a picture of you and your friends at the Canucks game, or a snapshot of you talking to your horse. If it’s not a modelling picture, don’t use it.
Ok, that’s enough negativity, lets move on to some short and simple DOs and general advice.
- Quality beats quantity. This is the most important thing. Don’t pad your portfolio with crap because you think you don’t have enough pictures. I’d rather see 5 amazing shots than 30 mediocre ones with 5 amazing ones mixed in. If you’re questioning if you should put a shot in or not, you probably shouldn’t.
- Show a variety of poses. Versatility is good, 15 shots of you in the same pose with the same smile and the same head tilt isn’t.
- Same goes for different looks, if it applies. Photographers and agents might be looking for a steampunk look, or a 50s look or a modern vogue look, if it applies to what you want to do, try to mix it up (while keeping with the first rule of not padding with crappy pictures) if you can. Have some sitting standing lying headshots, 3/4 shots full body shots over the shoulder shots and one with a bird. Ok, maybe not that last one.
- Tailor your portfolio for the types of jobs you want. Want to book jobs doing high fashion shoots? Dress for the jobs you want, and in this case it means putting images that reflect what you love doing. You’ll find you will connect not only with the photographers doing the images you like, but your genuine enjoyment will show through.
- Respect yourself. If you’re wanting to be a serious model, think about what you’re putting out there and if it’s being true to yourself. Yes it sounds like something from America’s Next Top Model and it probably is. It shows in the pictures if you’re respecting yourself.
- Last but not least, use good quality images. It’s easy to tell if the picture is from a point and shoot or cell phone camera. You don’t need to hunt down someone with a $40,000 camera, but portfolio images don’t come from cell phones.
Some questions and answers in response to the imagined reaction to the above advice.
“I just started modelling and I don’t have any pictures that aren’t cell phone self shots.”
If you don’t have a friend who has a camera and some knowledge of lighting one of your friends has one. If not, resources like Facebook, Craigslist, or similar can be used to find someone who is willing to do a TFP shoot with you to create some images. The photographers I know in my area of the Lower Mainland of beautiful BC, Canada are very sympathetic to models just starting out and more than willing enough to help you get started. Be smart about it. Always meet a new photographer in a public place first and then always go with an escort, family member or friend for at least the first shoot, no matter how nice they seem. It’s just common sense.
“These are the only pictures I have.” or “I’ve only worked with one photographer so far, and this is all I got from him.”
Remember what I said about quality over quantity? It still holds. If you only have one decent image for your portfolio, put that one image in there. People tend to assume things occur in groups. If your one image is a blurry picture of you and your cat taken by candle light and all I can see is your arm, I’m going to assume that the rest of your pictures are similar. If the one shot is a bam amazing image, chances are that I’m going to assume that you’re a busy person and have a ton more of the same quality images waiting to be uploaded but haven’t yet.
Don’t fall into the trap of “padding” with the black and white versions or the 5 that are all almost the same and you just can’t decide which one is best.
I really hope this helps someone out there. I see so many beautiful models on the modelling sites who have just terrible images in their portfolios and it makes me sad that maybe one of them is missing a life changing opportunity because they are making some simple and easily fixable mistakes with the images in their portfolio.