The model portfolio - myths and misconceptions
A model's portfolio - or book - is a collection of the model's best, professionally produced photographs. Family and holiday snaps do not count. Depending on where you are in your career, your model portfolio would contain photographs produced specifically for your portfolio, tear sheets (published photographs from past assignments, torn out of magazines) or the digital equivalent, or a mixture of both.
A portfolio is most likely to be online. Print portfolios do still exist. Portfolios on CD as well as Comp cards (or Zed cards) have been dropped from this edition of Wolf's Models Guide because I have not seen any for some time.
Before you spend money on a portfolio, read on to find out whether you need a portfolio at all!
Do I really need a portfolio?
Whether you need a model portfolio to get started in modelling depends on your aims. If you are planning to head for a career with one of the better agencies, you do not need a portfolio. A few snapshots are all you need.
Elite Model Management, one of the most famous agencies, among others, allow you to submit photos through their website. Their scouts will look at them for a few seconds. They make it clear that you do not have to spend a lot of money on photographs - if they take you on, their own photographers will shoot you and it won't cost you a penny. Elite - I am using Elite purely as an example of agencies in their league - require four photographs: one headshot (a close-up of your face) with a smile, one without a smile. One full-length body shot and a half-length body shot. You should not wear makeup and your hair should be natural and away from your face. You should be before a plain, light-coloured background and you should not pose. For the full-length body shot, you should wear a two-piece swimsuit. Of course, only very few are lucky enough to be taken on by a model agency of this caliber.
If you are planning to sign up with one of the not-so-top modelling agencies, you will need to find out about their policy regarding portfolios. Before you do, read the modelling scams section of the Models Guide - selling aspiring models portfolios that they do not need is, sadly, a lucrative business. If an agency wants to sign you up but requires that you pay for your portfolio, it is very possibly a scam!
If you want to become a freelance model, offering your services on the Internet through your own site or one of the reputable modelling sites, start with a few simple snapshots, similar to the ones that agencies want to see. Build a portfolio from working paid and for time. Photographers are willing to use you even if you do not yet have an impressive portfolio.
How many photos in a portfolio and what kind?
If you are one of the lucky few to be taken on by a major agency, you do not need to worry about this question. Your agency will produce your first promotional shots for you (which will not cost you anything). After that, your portfolio will consist mainly of tear sheets or, rather, the digital equivalent. For the purpose of this page we are talking about a model at the beginning of her career, either with a smaller, local model agency or working freelance.
Digital creation of images has made it possible to supply hundreds of photos relatively easily and cheaply. Quality has decreased to the same degree. I still come across aspiring models who boast about having received hundreds of images from a shoot, paid or for time. Receiving a very large number of images may make you feel important and it may impress your mates - and that's just about it. No photographer or agency wants to look at more than a handful of photographs. They do not have the time. Besides, once you have seen five headshots of a model, you know whether she has more than a single facial expression.
For a portfolio, think quality not quantity. Ten or twenty strong, unique photographs will serve you much better than fifty or 100 mediocre ones. For a beginner's portfolio, aim to have between eight and twelve images in your portfolio. Ask the photographer to put together a small selection of the best photographs from a shoot. You do not have the experience or the expertise to make that choice from a large selection. Consider the potential shots for your portfolio side-by-side. Every photograph should be different, unique and memorable. Avoid repetitive poses and facial expressions.
In your portfolio, you want a combination of headshots and half, three quarter and full length shots.
Are nude shots essential in a model's portfolio?
Not unless this is the style of modelling you want to do. Many aspiring models, who do not yet have any photographs to show, will put entirely unsuitable material on Internet modelling sites. A casual portrait snapshot, taken by a friend, is okay. A casual nude photograph is also okay (though not essential for an aspiring model without any experience).
If you submit photos to one of the good agencies, do not include any nude shots.
Where and how to get a model portfolio
You do not need a portfolio to get you started in modelling! Anyone, who tells you otherwise, wants to sell you something that you do not need. All you need are a few good snapshots. If you are signed up by one of the good agencies, they will take care of the promotional shots and you will not be asked to pay for it.
If an agency asks you to pay for a portfolio, it may very well be a scam.
If you want to work freelance, then you will need a set of photographs to get you started. Whether you start off with a few good snapshots or pay a photographer is your choice. If you do commission a photographer, do not use the one, who charges £50 (because he is no good) but you should also not pay many hundreds of Pounds.
The online model portfolio
You only need to worry about setting up an online model portfolio if you want to be a freelance model. If you are planning to be represented by one of the good agencies, this is not for you.
Many sites on the Internet offer to host your portfolio. Most offer a basic, free version and charge a small amount for something a little more advanced. An online model portfolio is the option of choice for agency-independent freelance models and probably the cheapest and easiest way to create a portfolio and attract the attention of photographers for working for time or paid work. Just don't expect agencies to take any notice.
Creating an account and uploading your images is, in most cases, a very simple process. Setting up your own website with your own website address is an option but you will probably attract more visitors if your portfolio is hosted on a large modelling site. Go for a reputable provider. See what other models have created and then try to make your pages better.
A word of warning: By setting up an online modelling profile, you can easily become a target for scammers and con artists.
The print portfolio
A print portfolio, as the name suggests, consists of photographic prints. Not so many years ago, it used to be a model's main marketing tool. Today, print portfolios have been replaced by collections of digital images.
I feel that a print portfolio today has mostly vanity value. Still, there is nothing to beat the viewing pleasure of a good quality print and you may like to have a collection of prints for yourself. You can still take it along to a meeting with an agency or a photo shoot. A good print portfolio always looks very impressive.
Common sizes for a print portfolio are 8x10", A4 and A3. You can present your portfolio as a collection of individual prints in clear sleeves or in a book (a folder) with some sort of ring binder mechanism. If you go for individual prints, you need a portfolio box (or case) to store and present them, not just a scruffy, old cardboard box. You need to buy specialist archival quality clear sleeves. Do not use the plastic pockets with punch holes down one side. They are the wrong quality and will damage your prints over time. Besides, they look cheap. Using the type of ring binder file you would find in an office instead of a proper portfolio file looks cheap.
You do not have to spend hundreds of pounds on a good portfolio folder. Manufacturers of good budget portfolio folders include Kenro and Secol. Spend just a little bit more and you can afford an up-market folder from Panodia or Prat, my personal favourite.
Aim to have between twelve and thirty images in your portfolio. Select only the strongest images - you want quality, not quantity. Nobody looks at quantity, but everyone is impressed by quality. If you have already been published, include your tear sheets (so called, because a page has been torn out of a magazine or brochure).
Use only professional quality prints in your portfolio. A photograph printed on your desktop printer, using cheap paper and budget inks is simply not good enough. Neither are enlargements from the chemists' or a snapshot taken with your mobile phone. Replace damaged or worn photographs with fresh copies.
In this section:
What makes Wolf Kettler Photographer different to the average photographer.
See examples of Wolf's work in the photography portfolio.
All about the photo sessions, services, products and prices.
Find out about modelling opportunities with Wolf.
See more photography and get inside information.