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Professional Modeling Portfolios
What should a Professional Model’s portfolio look like?

The portfolio is a very important thing to a model.  Without a modeling portfolio, the model would have a very difficult time finding any work.  The model’s portfolio is probably as important, if not more important as the model’s comp card.  So what should the modeling portfolio look like and what should it consist of?



There’s no right or wrong for a professional model’s portfolio

First off, let me tell you that there is no right or wrong.  There are as many different portfolios out there as there are models.  While some agencies my try to create some consistencies for “their” models, through a common portfolio book, the contents inside those portfolio books are always quite different.  Inside most portfolios are photographic prints and tear sheets. 

What are teat sheets (for the modeling portfolio)?

In case you don’t know what tear sheets are, they’re actual pages from magazines, brochures, or any other printed materials that contain their pictures.  While the quality of the printing is usually of lesser quality than an actual photographic or computer print might be, a tear sheet shows how the picture was used in conjunction with the layout of the piece.  It shows how the image works with the type, other pictures, and with other elements on the page.  While tear sheets don’t really add anything to the quality of the portfolio, they do add the message of legitimacy and experience to the book.  It’s one thing to have a pretty picture of you in your book and quite another to have a pretty picture of you on the cover of Vogue Magazine.  See what I mean?

Most beginning modeling portfolios are made up of prints

Personally, I prefer to have just regular prints and not tear sheers in my portfolio.  Don’t get we wrong I have tons of tear sheets that are quite impressive (not Vogue), but for me, I think that the consistency of having just one format of images is preferable to having a hodge-podge of different shapes and sizes of images. 

So, if you don’t have any tear sheets to put into your portfolio because of your inexperience, don’t sweat it.  Like I said, no two portfolios are the same and you’ll find that your portfolio will be in a constant state of change as your career progresses.  So don’t sweat it…  We all have to start somewhere.  Even the best model in the world, had to have her first shoot and at one time, only had one photo in her portfolio. 

What size portfolio should a professional model have? 

So if you’re going to include tear sheets in your portfolio, then you’ll have all kinds of shapes and sizes in it.  If you’re going to have prints, you need to decide what size.  Of course, the case / book will either dictate the size of the prints or the print size will dictate the size of the portfolio.  Somewhere, you’ll have to make the decision on sizes.

Most model portfolios that I’ve seen have been for 8.5 x 11 prints and some have been for 11x14 prints.  The vast majority were 8.5 by 11.  Some have even been as small as 5x7, but those have been rather rare.

What size boarder on a model’s portfolio prints?

The next decision you will need to make after deciding on the size print you want to have, is how big a border you want to have on the prints.  This all might seem to be a little petty, but if you want your portfolio to look truly professional, you have to keep in mind all the little details.  Some of the people that will be looking at your book will appreciate your eye for details and some will not.  Better safe than sorry.  The amount of boarder on the photo is pretty much a fad thing.  To me, the bigger the actual image (you) the better.  So that means that the boarder need not be too large. 

Horizontal or vertical model portfolio images?

On my food photography portfolio, I leave a relatively large boarder.  This allows me to put both verticals and horizontal on vertical pages.  The big advantages to this are that the viewer will not have to physically turn the portfolio to view a horizontal image.  It’s a trade off.  Neither decision (large or small boarders) is wrong, there just calls that you’ll have to make.  And with computer prints as cheap as they are now a days, you can totally change your mind and reprint everything for only a few dollars.

One other thing that many people are doing with their portfolios is combining several images per page.  With computers and a page layout or a Photoshop type of program, you can combine or even montage several images into one page.  For the beginner model, with only a few images to show, this may actually make your limited quantity of portfolio pieces, appear even fewer.  And that’s not usually a good thing. 

What’s the ideal number of shots for a model’s portfolio?

Again, there is no right or wrong answer to this question.  I tend to lean toward more is better, if you can keep the quality up to a certain level.  By having more, rather that less, you are telling the viewer that you are experienced, and therefore, must be good.  Having more pictures will also give you the chance to show more variety and versatility.  The ideal number of photos / tear sheets should probably be somewhere between12 – 24.  But like I said, if you have 40 GREAT shots, show them.

What kind of shots should be in a model’s portfolio?

The pictures in a model’s portfolio have two basic functions.  The first is to impress the viewer and the second job is to inform the viewer.  If your portfolio and the pictures within can do these two things, then you’re way ahead of the competition.

The model’s portfolio should impress the viewer 

Wow, should be what your after.  The presentation and the shots should all work together to make a great first, second, and third impression.  If you want to be taken seriously as a model, your portfolio should shout that you are a professional.  The case should be clean, the pages of the book should be in good shape (they tend to scratch) and the contents should be first rate.

Show only your very best

When you’re first starting out, you simply will not have the portfolio contents to really wow your viewers.  Do the best you can with what you have.  Always start off you portfolio with your strongest image and end with your second best.  In between, have only your best images possible.  At the beginning of your career, you won’t have much to choose from and you’ll probably need to include pretty much everything you can, but as your career matures and your acquire more content, you’ll need to become more and more choosey about what you put into you book.

Some people say that clients will remember you by your worst portfolio image.  I don’t agree totally agree with that.  Some may, and some may not, but I believe that most people probably remember the MOST impressive image in your book and not your least.  You can decide on that issue for yourself.  To be safe though, keep only the best images possible for you portfolio.  Better safe than sorry. 

The second function of the model’s portfolio is to inform

Inform?  Yes, inform.  You need to remember that your prospective client has a particular job on his desk where he needs a very specific type of model.  Is the client looking for a middle-aged mom, a teen, newly wed, a college student?  Most clients have some sort of criteria in their heads and usually, it’s based on age, body type, hair color / length, race, and of course, sex.  So that means that if you’re a skinny, bald, tall, black male, your portfolio should illustrate that.   I’m not saying that you have to be showing that bald head in every shot, but when the viewer closes your portfolio, he better know that you’re bald.  Clients HATE surprises.  And an unpleasant surprise for a client can mean real problems for your career’s future.

The modeling portfolio should consist of many different crops

A model’s portfolio should consist of all three of the basic crops; the tight headshot, the waist up shot, and the full length, or body shot.  All three of these crops inform the client about you in different ways. 

Tight headshots

The tight headshots let viewers know what your face really looks like.  They should know from these shots the length of your hair, the color of your eyes, and the shape of your face.  Don’t get me wrong, the information is a very important piece of this, but it’s not the only thing.  These shots have to make you look good AND convey information.  While it’s true that you can have some really cool shots that don’t accurately show all your features, you better have a few that do. 

Model types 

There something you have to remember about this industry…  Unless you are trying to be the greatest fashion model in the world, it’s ok to just be you.  I’ve been at meetings, looking at model’s portfolios, where I’ve seen models eliminated from the selection process because they were too perfect.  Not all models need to be, or should be, perfect.  Most times, “natural” or “believable”, is better than perfect.   Remember that.

Waist-up shots

The waist up shot is a very important addition to a model’s portfolio.  The crop on a waist-up shot is close enough so that the viewer can get a good look at the face and still see much of the model’s body too.  More importantly, the viewer can see other parts of the model too.  There will be jobs when being “busty” is an asset and times when it will be a negative.  There will be jobs that require a model to be a little chubby and other when anorexic will be a plus.   The clients will want to see the waste up photos to discern whether or not you are the model for them.  The waste-up shots are close enough and still far enough away to convey information.  Most model portfolios that I’ve seen have plenty of waste-up shots.

A model’s hands

Unless you’re going to go after the “hand modeling” market, you probably won’t have any hand close ups in your portfolio.  The waste up shots in your portfolio will most likely include some with your hands in them.  That’s a good thing and you should make sure that some of the shots do include your hands.  Some of the more sophisticated clients know that what sometimes makes or breaks a photo shoot is the model’s ability to use her hands.  In many commercial shots, a model is usually doing something with her hands.  It might be holding something or using some device, but whatever it is, the shoot can become a complete disaster if the model can’t use her hands.  If you are good with your hands, you should demonstrate that in your portfolio somewhere. 

Full length or body shots

A model’s portfolio should definitely include at least a few body shots.  What I mean by body-shot, is a shot where the model show’s off her body.  I’m not talking porn here, I’m talking about information.  Probably the best outfit for at least one of your full-length shots should be a bathing suit. In a body shot, the viewer can see exactly what they’re hiring.  If body shape is an issue for the project, for whatever reason, it will give client a chance to see if you have the body they need.  Remember that really skinny or really busty, are not always good things.  You are what you are, and somewhere, somebody needs a body just like yours.  Another reason for having several full-length shots is to show how well clothes “hang” on your body.  If the project is for a clothing or fashion-related client, this will be very important in their determination of which model they ultimately hire.

Nudity

Sooner or later the question of just how much clothing a model is willing to take off, may come up.  You should probably give that a lot of thought before that question arises.  It’s totally up to you.  It may ultimately eliminate from a project or two, but if you’re more modest than greedy, that’s perfectly ok.  If you do decide that you want to lean toward the modest side, you may not want to include provocative body shots in your portfolio.  That way you don’t send the wrong message from the beginning, and that will probably keep people from asking you about the subject in the future. 

If you do decide your willing to “show a little skin”, you may want to include a couple of relatively provocative shots, but don’t go overboard in the number or the severity of the skin you show.  Many people are turned-off by this issue and it may cost more opportunities that it opens up for you. Be careful, and tasteful.

Versatility 

Ideally, your portfolio’s job is to convince the potential client that you can do the job and be the model she needs.  Well, how can you do that if you don’t even know what the client needs?  The answer is in one word…  Versatility

Besides being impressive and informative, a model’s portfolio should show versatility.  If a model’s portfolio can show her to be both “the girl next door” and a “hot sexy babe”, that will double the potential jobs that she is appropriate for.  The more different looks a model has in her portfolio, the more she’s going to work.  It’s that simple.  So it’s important, and profitable to make it a point to have as many looks as possible in your book.  Even at the cost of that “wow factor”, it’s important to show versatility.  You just never really know what the client is looking for, and the more “looks” you have, the better the chance you’ll have of being what he’s looking for.

You can show versatility in a couple if different ways…  Make sure that you have shot in your book with different types of clothing. Have some shots with mom clothing and some with kid clothing and some with work clothing.  Have shots showing different expressions too.  That’s VERY important!  In some shots be happy and others sad, and still others, be sexy.  Your portfolio should show a wide range of expressions and emotions.  Here’s a quick list.  Surprise, concentration, disappointment, lust, concern.  These are just a few of the expressions that clients look for.  The client won’t want all of them for the same job, but you just never know which they’ll need, so to be safe, you should have as many as possible in your book.

So here are my thoughts on what a model’s portfolio should look like. Your portfolio may be different and that’s ok, the really important thing is that you need to be constantly making it better and better.  Your portfolio next year should be very different than the one you have today.  And what good is a portfolio if no one sees it?  Keep making it better and keep showing it around.


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