Developing modeling portfolio by Vlad Grubman /

Building modeling portfolio is tricky. If you look online there are tons of articles advising you to hire a full blown professional team – photographer with assistant, make up artist, hair stylist, fashion or wardrobe stylist and so on. Another ton of articles advise to avoid all these unnecessary expenses and just take a ton of selfies without filters and makeup and send them to as many agencies as possible. Sometimes I see this kind of advice on agencies’ own web site. How should you build your beginner modeling portfolio?

Well, both schools of thought have the right to exist. If you are agency standard – selfies wouldn’t do you wrong. The trick is – different agencies have different standards. By wholesale spamming every agency on the planet with your instagram pics you are effectively communicating that you have no idea what you are doing. As with any job – big or small, career or part time – proper planning and execution will deliver positive results. This is where having a professional photographer helps – he can help you segment types of agencies that might be interested in your type and will help you build your first portfolio to best match with those agencies.

From agency’s point of view your unfiltered images show your raw form and agency saves time and money by not inviting you for a look-see if they have doubts about you. This day and age when every girl with an iPhone and sepia filter thinks she’s a model most agencies are looking for a reason to say “no” to you. They have another 100500 models to look at before lunch time. That’s why your phone pics may not be the best choice. Neither are pictures your friend would take on his or her iPhone just because it’s a latest model.

A professional photographer, especially one that knows how to work with beginner models is a godsend for building out new portfolio. A lot of high level photographers don’t want to bother working with beginners – some because it’s not creative and fulfilling task and they can make same or more money shooting something they actually like, some because they just don’t know how (or, rather, don’t remember) to work with models that are just starting out.

Working with beginner model (regardless of model’s age) is like working with a child. They don’t always listen, they don’t always follow the instructions, they don’t always understand what you want and most of all, they almost always think they know better. Photographer, who is experienced in working with beginners would know how to overcome these obstacles, will be more cooperative and act more like a coach instead of producer. One of the main reasons to hire a photographer who is experienced in building beginner modeling portfolio is his experience building beginner modeling portfolios for many different models. Just because you are beautiful doesn’t mean you know how to model.

I’ll divert a bit. What separates real modeling from instagram modeling? The instagram modeling has a goal of building online presence, score likes, follows, comments and overall online fame. Most of instagram models don’t make a single dollar off of it. The real modeling has a goal of model being part of commercial, artistic or creative process by participating in photo or video shoots for artists, designers, commercials, catalogs, showrooms and the like. Almost all real models are getting paid for their work. Some of them do participate in TFP-based shoots as well, letting their own creative spirit out. Overall they are always a part of a larger process involving multiple creative individuals.

In order to successfully launch your modeling career you must have a portfolio. An agency may spot you from one of the zillion selfies you send out, but the chances of that are slim to none. By providing carefully built portfolio of images that feature your best features and types of modeling you are interested in you are communicating that you are taking your work seriously and agency can rely on you. Photographers and modeling web sites are full with stories of models’ no-shows for commercial and paid photo shoots, thousands of dollars wasted because model didn’t take her role seriously. These no-shows are extremely damaging to any agency’s reputation, so by showing that you had put thought and effort into your portfolio you demonstrating that you will be serious about any jobs agency will send you on. Approach building your portfolio with “this is how we can do business together”, not “look how cute I am in this pic” attitude and agency will have a lot more reasons to hire you.

One more thing to get out of the way – quality of images in your portfolio have nothing to do with the kind of camera the photographer is using. Many times I’ve been asked “what kind of camera are you using? I’ve heard you can only use Nikon/Canon/ for modeling portfolios. Do you have a professional camera?”. Hardest part of this question is not laughing in response. Of course, you shouldn’t settle for an iPhone just because photographer told you so. There is, probably, a few of photographers in US that do shoot on iPhone as a part of Apple’s marketing, but I doubt they’ll do this for beginner modeling portfolio. As long as photographer is using a decent (D)SLR camera that provides adequate image quality – it’s good enough for portfolio.

A more important question is alignment of your own modeling goals and interests (what do YOU want to model?) with photographer’s own interests and experience. For example, oftentimes I would take on a beginner model who is a professional dancer or fitness trainer to get good action or fitness photos, or an actress to get a good character impression – simply because I am interested in working on those concepts and such individuals are a perfect fit for them. Additionally, models themselves are passionate about those concepts and respond better during the photoshoot. On the other hand – using a fitness coach or bodybuilder for a romantic or glamour scene usually doesn’t work very well. It’s not what they are interested in and their posing is almost always off. Of course there are people who are more versatile, but when it comes to beginner models it’s hard to teach them whole modeling book in one photo shoot.

To wrap things up – your beginner model portfolio should be put together by the team. You will need to hire a photographer and a makeup artist, together you will be able to narrow down the concepts you want and would be able to get good 5 – 10 images from an average of 4 – 5 hour photoshoot. Since you are not working on any specific creative concept you can take care of your hair in your regular hair salon (again, after discussing all looks with the team). Your own closet should work most of the time, so you don’t need a wardrobe stylist – at least not for beginner portfolio. Make sure you arrange to have as little retouching as possible as agencies would not want to see over-edited images. Get enough of your beauty sleep the night before, show up on time and ready for work. Remember, modeling is work. The more glamour you see – the more work was put in behind the scenes.