How to Build the Best Model Portfolio
Whether you’re new to modelling or you’re well into your professional model career, your model portfolio is the single most important tool to get you work or the quickest way to be overlooked. The BEST model portfolio is one that gets you noticed and booked.
When I was running my modelling agency, it frustrated me to meet a new model who expected that signing to an agency meant they would start getting work immediately. This is very rarely the case, because time usually needs to be spent building a portfolio. So I’m going to answer the most important questions I used to get about portfolios.
1) Why do I need a model portfolio and why does it need to be the BEST model portfolio?
This one should be pretty obvious to you: Clients want to see what you can do. They may be wowed by your look in person or impressed by your conversational skills in the casting, but the only way they will really know how you look in photographs is to see how you look in photographs. Your portfolio is your way to prove to the client that you can do what you’re saying you can do. When you hand your book over at a casting you have proven three important things to a client: You can pose. You can express. You can turn up.
2) Who will see my model portfolio?
Your physical portfolio will be seen by your agent and by any casting director to whom you hand your book. Other industry professionals may ask to see it also. Really, if it’s worth showing, you should be showing it to anyone who will look at it because anyone could end up recommending you for work. If you have your portfolio displayed online then anyone has access to it and you should assume both that the whole world will see it and that nobody will see it. By that I mean don’t put anything on there that you don’t want the whole world to see (forever), but anyone who you want to see your portfolio, do whatever you have to do to steer them to it.
3) What images should I include in my model portfolio?
This is the million dollar question. The right images in your folio could see you considered for an amazing modelling job, whereas the wrong image or the exclusion of the right one could see you overlooked. For this reason I will make this the most detailed answer.
Most models know that their portfolio is what clients look at to decide whether the model is right for the client’s campaign. BUT most models don’t know what goes through a client’s mind while they’re looking at your portfolio.
Pretend you’re a client. You’re about to spend big money on a campaign shoot. You are going to commit to costs such as: photographer, makeup artist(s), hair stylist(s), wardrobe stylist, videographers, models, set designers, venue hire, transport, accommodation, producers, assistants… The production costs could run into the tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars depending on the size of the production.
Then after the images are produced, the marketing campaign begins. Brochures, posters, flyers, magazines, billboards, web… A small budget client will usually spend at least twice as much promoting the images as what they spend on the shoot itself. Larger clients will spend even more. This cost equals risk, and risk must be minimised. Which is why the client is going to choose a team they KNOW can do the job.
How do they know?
Everyone they choose will show in their portfolio something that the client can point at and say “I see you can do that, do it again for us”.
It could be a look, a pose, or the lack of a look or a pose. It might simply be that they like YOUR look or the way your hair moves in the wind or the way the light reflects on your skin or the shape of your face on that angle or… whatever. It might be something you never expect. But you need it in your portfolio. And if they don’t see it in yours they will see it in someone else’s and THEY will get the job over you.
They also want to ensure the model is reliable, so they will want to see images from different shoots, showing that the model has the ability to work with different teams, under different weather, stress and group environments.
So now you know what your potential employer is thinking when they open your portfolio, you will understand why, instead of providing you with a definitive list, I say THIS:
*** You should include in your model portfolio at least one image of any look you would like to be paid to reproduce. ***
This means you can’t complain about never getting any modelling work in sportswear (and I’m sure your squats are lower than anyone else’s) if you only have swimsuit images in your folio. I can already hear “but they can see my body from…” Stop. Is that image sportswear? No.
You should also ensure you include images that show your face (headshot) and your body shape. It’s amazing how many portfolios I’ve seen consisting almost entirely of models leaning on walls in the distance wearing what may as well be an Eskimo suit. That could be anyone, so you need to show me why I need YOU.
To assist with which looks, you can choose from some of the below categories. You may wish to include all of them, specialise in only one or two or even add some of your own.
4) How should I present my model portfolio?
If you don’t have an agency or if your agency has not provided you with a portfolio book then go online or to an art store and search for a black leather portfolio book with roughly 20 plastic display pockets inside. The pockets must be big enough to fit your 8″ x 10″ prints.
If you are compiling a portfolio for general use then you should select a good cross section of your work. Choose images that show your versatility, both in your posing and in your expressions and have a couple of headshots.
If you are attending a specific casting, you should always rearrange your portfolio to suit. If, for example, your casting is for a toothpaste commercial, they are unlikely to care about your very serious, dark, high fashion editorial pieces. Bring your smiley, bright images to the front and push everything else to the back.
Remember that more is not always more. Just because your folder has 20 plastic pockets, PLEASE don’t feel the need to fill every one if you don’t have enough work to do so. If you have ten amazing shots, do not bring down my opinion of your modelling by forcing me to view 30 lesser images.
Lastly, once you have got your best model portfolio prepared, present it with pride. As you pass it to your assessor hold your head high. Do not make excuses about the amount or quality of images. Nobody cares that there was a stone in your shoe for that shot or that your cat had died the morning of that shoot or whatever. The people looking at these images know what they are looking for, so sit there and smile while they look them over and answer politely and positively any questions they have about the images. Be prepared for questions like “where was that?” or “who was the photographer on this shoot?”.
Best of luck
Model Portfolio Photographer Melbourne