Your portfolio is your visual resume; you should never leave home without it. Well, at least you should never go to a casting and not bring it with you. Typically when you walk into a casting call, after waiting your turn and making a brief introduction, a client will take a couple of minutes to look at your portfolio and make an immediate assessment of your skills. Your portfolio gives them an idea of what you look like in different settings, different make up, different hair, and different wardrobe. Your body of work tells more to your story than what can be said in person.
The opener of your portfolio should be your best headshot followed by the next best photos in the bunch. After you’ve gained a bit of experience, make sure to include a few more headshots that show different hair and make up looks, as well (for men, the make up part might not apply). For a model who is interested in getting various types of work, a minimum of a full body shot fully clothed, a fitness shot, and a swimsuit shot are good to include in your book. You might also want to include photos that are taken both indoors and outdoors, a few black and white photos, tear sheets, and runway shots if you have them.
Remember, a client wants to be able to envision you representing their brand. It is easier for them to do this if they have examples of you in settings that are similar to their vision. Of course, there is no way for you to cater to every potential client but having the shots mentioned above is a great start.
A general rule with modeling portfolios, regardless of what you include, is that it’s about quality not quantity. If you do a shoot with a great photographer and end up with ten awesome shots, don’t put all ten pictures in your portfolio unless they show you in different looks. An example of this would be if you got great swimsuit shots as well as great fitness shots from that photoshoot, only include one photo from each look. In fact, the fewer photos in your portfolio, overall, the better.
As you gain more experience, you’ll want to replace outdated and sub par photos with your more recent stellar snapshots. Really, you shouldn’t have any average photos in your book at all but as you grow, your work will get better and photos that once looked great to you will eventually seem inadequate.
While you’re still gaining experience it’s best to have a dozen or less pictures to show. Once you’ve collected enough great photos, 20 should be your ideal maximum number. You’ve only got a few minutes to impress the casting directors so make those few minutes count.
Do What You Want
Only one photo per theme is necessary, to start. This does not apply if you want to focus on one type of modeling, however. If you want to be a swimwear model, for example, you should incorporate multiple swimsuit shots in different settings into your book. Just don’t include photos of any type of work you do not feel comfortable doing. If lingerie and nude work are not for you, not only should you not put those types of photos in your book but you probably shouldn’t even take those photos at all. Of course, that is all up to you but remember in this digital age, photos of you taken by someone else can end up virtually anywhere.
Keep It Simple
Don’t try too hard. Start with photos that show the real you. Don’t worry about extravagant hair and make up, in the beginning. Unless you stumble upon an opportunity in which you can have professionals take care of styling for you, or you happen to be an MUA, hair stylist, and/or wardrobe stylist yourself, wear what makes you feel comfortable in your own skin. Your confidence will show in your photos and that spark you have will speak to the camera.
Professional casting directors can instantly tell the difference between a seasoned model and an amateur, especially when it comes to photos. This is not to scare you but, rather, to encourage you to practice posing and seek guidance before spending any money on photoshoots. The last thing you want is a book full of contrived photos that make you appear to be more of an aspiring model than one a client should hire. Of course, if you are doing trade shoots, that is your chance to get real-time practice and hopefully your photographer(s) will be able to give you pointers while you are shooting.
Find Your Inspiration
If you need ideas on what looks to shoot, check out a few of the top modeling agency websites (such as Ford, Wilhelmina, IMG, Next, Elite an so on) and browse their models’ portfolios. You may not have the resources to get shots that are as professional as those you see online and in print but they will be a good starting point in creating a great port of you own.
Get the Right Book
Industry standards vary depending on your market but a safe bet is getting a portfolio that is 9×12 or 11×14. Tearsheets are typically printed on paper that is 8.5×11 so if you have these to include, your book should be a minimum of those dimensions but not exceed 11×14. I use a book that is 9×12 and it has worked for me both in the local market of San Diego as well as in the fast paced city of Los Angeles.
Whatever the size of your book, make sure your photos are placed neatly. If you don’t have access to a 9×12 printer try printing your photos on card stock at FedEx, trimming the edges with a paper cutter, then taping them in the center of black paper. You want your book to be orderly and professional.
A client wants to know that you can be more than just a pretty or handsome face. A designer wants to be sure that you can make his clothes look good from various angles. And a fashion show coordinator needs to see that you can give just the right amount of attitude at the end of the runway where photographers are waiting to catch you in the season’s hottest fashions. But because you are really only in front of a casting director for a few minutes, they need more than just the snapshot they’ll take of you right then and there to be confident in hiring you.
To better your chances of getting booked, make sure your portfolio contains only your best print work as well as shows your versatility. Of course, if you are only interested in doing fitness modeling then that should be your focus. But even a fitness model will get more work if he isn’t just a one trick pony.
Photo Credit: Lola O Photography