Usually when you’re just starting out as a model you’ll put a lot of trust in your agency to help you market yourself to clients. Inevitably this will include putting together a portfolio; either physical or online. Likely both.
While it makes sense to trust in the experience of experts who know the industry well, somehow agents always seem to end up choosing the “wrong” photos – at least from our point of view as models.
To be sure, some bookers might just not be very good at their job. But in most cases the lack of agreement on which images to include in your book likely arises from the fact that you may be particularly attached to certain photos for entirely personal reasons (the shoot was fun; you like how you look in the shot; it reminds you of a favorite movie…). Meanwhile a good agent will take into account a number of other important considerations that are more related to the market.
It goes without saying that your book should only contain your absolute strongest photos and tear-sheets. And that you should look great in every single shot. Yet there’s more to putting together a modeling portfolio than just selecting the best images and throwing them together any old how.
First of all, it’s worth taking a moment to consider what we mean by “best.” Best for what exactly?
Of course, the number one consideration is simply that you look good. But in order to ensure that your portfolio is as effective as possible at getting you jobs, beyond simply choosing flattering photos there are a number of other criteria you should consider when selecting work to put in your book. And as with any profession, it will help massively if you have a good understanding of your market and the requirements of potential clients.
This is where a good agent comes in. But perhaps you don’t work with an agent. Or, even if you do, you may prefer to retain a little more control over the contents of your book. In this case it’s important to understand how to optimize your portfolio for yourself.
Beyond just choosing the most flattering images, then, the three main points to consider when putting together a modeling portfolio are as follows:
Although your portfolio should of course reflect your personality and serve to highlight your strong points as a model, it’s essential that it does so in a way that is appropriate to the specific sector of the industry you are targeting.
A model who is most suited to beauty and cosmetics photography will have a portfolio that looks nothing like the one required for either a catwalk model or a model who predominately works for lifestyle advertising campaigns.
Each market requires a different photographic approach, with focus on a model’s specific features and attributes, as appropriate to that sector of the market. So for example, if your target market is a high-fashion editorial context, you may want to have a book filled with moodily-lit and highly creative photographs. Yet such images would be totally inappropriate for a model who is more suited to underwear and swimwear catalogues for example.
Similarly, a beauty and make-up model’s portfolio will likely predominantly feature shots of their face, whereas catwalk, editorial, sportswear and glamor models will all need to put more emphasis on their figure, by including many more full-length shots in their book.
And for models more specifically focused upon advertising and lifestyle editorial than fashion or beauty, your portfolio should probably also emphasize your talents as an actor by including more action and narrative shots alongside images that show off your abilities for natural-looking emotional expression.
Of course, as a model you will need to develop your own unique personal style, and stick to it; or risk confusing clients. However, some versatile models may develop a niche that extends across more than one area of the market. In order to maintain a clear identity in clients’ eyes, and avoid distracting them with images that are unrelated to their requirements, you might need to put together more than one book; each tweaked to better meet the demands of that particular market.
Despite the fact that we live in a globalized and interconnected world, standards of beauty still vary considerably from one geographical region to another. However, as these aesthetic ideals can be influenced just as much by concepts of exoticism as by local physiognomy, they don’t necessarily mean that clients want to work only with models who look like the majority of the local population.
For example, while people with blond hair tend to make up only a very small percentage of the inhabitants of Southern Europe, they nonetheless seem to make up a disproportionate percentage of the people depicted in advertising within the region. Similarly, an Asian model who has met with only limited success in their home country may find that their career explodes in Europe or the US. Or vice versa.
Clearly then, geographical region is one of the very first things to consider when putting together a portfolio as a model.
Only by understanding regional beauty standards and fashion trends can you be reasonably certain of providing the local market with what it demands.
While this fact will likely influence any decisions you may make regarding which markets to target in the first place, bear in mind that the way you present yourself and the kind of images you include in your book will also play a big part in determining how well you will perform in any given region.
As case in point, although NYC and major cities on the West Coast of the United States are highly important centers of experimentation and creativity, the reality is that the majority of the US market is located outside of these areas – where peoples’ tastes tend to be more conservative. This means that although a book full of strong, edgy photography may attract plenty of praise from industry creatives in Brooklyn or L.A., this enthusiasm may not translate into many paying jobs: simply because the target market largely lies outside of these cosmopolitan urban centers.
Generally then, a modeling portfolio designed specifically for the North American market will need to be more commercially focused than one which might bring in a lot of bookings in Europe precisely for its edgy credentials.
Similarly, with the obvious exception of Japan, in much of Asia there’s less of a culture of edgy editorial fashion photography of the kind that is commonly found in Europe. Landing jobs in the Southeast Asian market in particular requires an unapologetically commercial approach, with clean, brightly-lit and very heavily-retouched photography the standard.
Also consider the fact that photography can radically alter a person’s appearance: the way you look in one photograph can be quite different to how you appear in another. Be sure to take this fact into consideration when putting together a modeling portfolio, as the manner in which you present yourself can go a long way towards making you more (or less) appropriate for a specific market.
If necessary, you might even consider commissioning a photographer to shoot some new images for your portfolio specifically designed to appeal to a target market.
For example, in the Southeast Asian region, Eurasian models – or at least models who look passably Eurasian, regardless of their actual origins – tend to get the most work. So if you fall into this category, you would likely want to emphasize this side of your look in the images you select for your portfolio.
Understanding a fashion market that you are not familiar with can require some serious research. In order to gain a general impression of the preferences and demands of the local market, check out the websites of local model agencies, the Instagram accounts of successful models, plus a cross-section of editorial titles and campaigns for regionally-important brands. Pay close attention to those models who appear to be getting plenty of regular work, the kind of bookings they receive, and the way in which they present themselves to clients.
You might also consider putting together portfolios that are tailor-made not only for certain markets or regions, but for specific clients or jobs. Clearly this level of personalization wouldn’t be practical for every single casting or go-see. But if you get called in for a an exceptionally interesting project – say for a potentially big campaign, or for a really prestigious magazine shoot – you should definitely think about reworking your portfolio so that it is more specifically geared towards this particular client. Or perhaps even for the planned shoot, if you already have some idea of the brief.
For example, when you know you’ve been called in for a swimwear job, this might be as simple as just choosing more photos that show off your physique. Or removing the more commercial images from your book when the casting is for a client that is well known for having a much edgier look.
Customizing a portfolio so as to create the right impression needn’t involve removing any photos from your portfolio at all though. Even just changing the order in which the photos are presented can subtly alter the impression a portfolio leaves with the viewer.
The images which create the strongest impression tend to be the first and last ones that people see: the first tells people what kind of model you are, the last reinforces this image and stays in the viewer’s mind. So even if you are just starting out, and don’t feel like you have enough photos as it is, you can still make your book more suited to a specific project just by changing the sequence of images so that the most relevant ones appear right at the start and end.
Aside from adapting your book to a particular client’s needs though, just remember that the first and last images in your portfolio also need to be among your very best ones, so as to be sure to make a really strong impression.
For more tips on improving your modeling portfolio, you might also find it useful to read our guide to putting together a professional photography portfolio.
At Elytiz, our goal is to use technology to help you find your best markets and setup your portfolio accordingly. Leave a comment if you need help with that!