Building a Portfolio
As there are many aspiring models and hobby models out there who’d like to take a step into modelling as their profession or passion, but often don’t really know how to start, I thought about sharing some experiences, insights and my personal opinion, based on what I have learned during 10 years of standing in front of the camera myself.
I’d like to start modelling but I don’t have good photos
Now, first of all I recommend you ask yourself whether you’d like to pursue a career in this business or whether you consider it more a hobby or passion.
This is not to say that once you decided, you have to stick with that decision, you might as well turn your professional desire into a passion or make your passion your profession.
All I’m saying is that depending on your answer, the approach might be different.
1. If you’d like to pursue it as a career I recommend you get some good digitals (basically shots with no make-up, face front, face profile, sometimes front with a smile, whole body shots, often in tight clothes or bikini so your shape becomes easily visible) and directly apply to agencies.
But beware, getting good digitals isn’t always as easy as it sounds as a wrong angle might eff up your proportions completely and looking at them you’ll wonder why you ever thought you could apply to a modelling agency.
Believe me, I know what I’m talking about.
The other option is you check for open castings provided by your agency of choice, sometimes they offer open castings where digitals are also taken, but it’s always a good idea to already have some pictures with you.
And yes, that might mean you’ll have to invest. Check for photographers that offer sedcard (or setcard) photo shootings, they might help you get a good base to get a foot in the biz, and yes, as it is their profession, they want to be paid.
2. If modelling is rather a hobby or a passion for you, it’s not a bad idea to have good digitals, too, but this doesn’t necessary have to be the first step.
What you want to do is get some photos of you that show your versatility.
What do I mean by that? I mean that you want to get pictures of yourself that differ in style, styling, location, facial expression and mood you portray.
Maybe you’re lucky enough to have friends who are photographers or you know someone who knows someone, etc. to get some pictures that you can start with at least to register on platforms in order to find other creatives to collaborate with.
If not, you might consider paying a photographer for a first session in order to get a base.
Then you can for instance register on a platform that offers a space for photographers, models and make-up artists to collaborate for joint productions, free projects or even paid jobs.
I’d like to build a versatile portfolio, but how?
1. Even if you decided to pursue modelling as a career, registering on a platform where creatives meet or setting up a Facebook page or showing some pictures on Instagram might help you get attention from some amazing photographers that would like to work with you. If an agency accepted you, they often know photographers and you start off by shooting some free projects with them, which adds to your and their portfolio.
2. No matter whether additionally to your career or for your hobby or passion, checking said platforms for Tfp projects (free projects intended to broaden the portfolios of photographer and model where none earns money but the photographic results serve as compensation) is a good idea to get involved into different projects set on different locations in different outfits and styles and to work with different photographers who produce pictures in different looks.
3. Another option, which many don’t like to take into consideration, is search for photographers whose style you adore and whose work would level up your portfolio and then, yes, guess what, PAY THEM ! I know, unbelievable. Thing is this: Often times the top ranking photographers you’d love to work with don’t offer Tfp shoots. Or at least not to amateurs. And yes, darling, according to many people’s definition we are amateurs. So, if you really crave getting pictures from this photographer, save your money and go for it.
By no means do I say that you can’t ask them whether they’d be down for a Tfp shooting with you, please don’t misunderstand. I’m just saying that often times they do free projects either with very experienced models or with promising new faces. And whether you’re a promising new face or not is unfortunately not up to you to decide.
Should I invest into building a portfolio and if so, how much?
1. If you’re registered with an agency, they normally take care of test shoots to broaden your portfolio, so you shouldn’t pay a photographer in order to take pictures from you if your agency got you this test shoot.
Never ever should you pay for the registration with an agency or for a casting! Never ever! If you read about a casting where you should pay for the establishment of a setcard or for the photos taken by a professional photographer or anything like it, leave it, drop the idea, don’t do it, it’s not serious!
You might tend to think “but I’m not an experienced model, of course I have to invest before I earn” and well, the approach is more than true in various fields of life, but consider this: If you sent your pictures to an agency or went to a casting and they decided to add you to their list of models, then it was because they saw potential in you. Potential to get jobs, earn money, and as they earn from what you earn, it’s also the potential money they see you bringing back. So, don’t ever pay for setting up a profile or setcard for your agency. Serious and professional agencies don’t do that. They might take a certain charge from your first fees in order to compensate the expenses they had for getting you those jobs, yes, but: You don’t pay in advance!
2. Different when you’re not registered with an agency. Of course you still have the chance to participate in free projects, but there is no one providing you options like these, but you have to find them yourself, for instance on creative collaboration websites or if you follow photographers and make-up artists on Facebook and Instagram and they are searching for a model. If you only find Tfp options that don’t really add to your portfolio because you already have a million pictures in this style or because they all go into a direction you don’t aim at, there is still the possibility to search for jobs you have to pay for, but sometimes these are special offers for a specific topic. So, sometimes you only have to pay the make-up artist or it’s just a small fee you have to pay for photographer, make-up artist and post processing. And with small fee I talk round about 80 €. That’s a mofo deal!
3. So yes, I understand that you don’t want to or can’t invest a fortune into building a portfolio, but saving some money and putting it into a well spent shooting that gets you extraordinary results, is worth it. It raises the tendency that great photographers, yes, even those ones you stalk on a daily and that mostly work with very experienced models, see you and see your potential and that you get asked by cool creatives to collaborate with them.
Does this already land you jobs where you earn a lot of money? Well, if you’re really lucky, yes. In a normal case, rather not. But it gives you the chance to collaborate with other creatives whose portfolio might be broader or of high quality on Tfp, which then adds to the attention you gain, which offers you more chances for more free projects, which eventually might lead to you getting paid jobs. (Oh, and paid jobs rarely come to you via email in the morning post, while you’re drinking coffee and painting your nails or grooming your beard, if you’re a male model, you actually have to search for them and apply. Unless you just ate a fortune cookie that serves you luck 24/7, then your inbox might explode in 3,2,1….)
So, talking from my own experience, I can say that building up a portfolio which enabled me to work with the great photographers that I had been stalking often enough before, dreaming to work with them, thinking “they will never work with me” etc., wasn’t an easy task, but you learn a lot on the way and that’s amazing, too.
I started off with having some Tfp shoots. I was lucky enough to have caught a photographer’s eye on an event who then gave me his card and asked me to come around for a free photo shoot. That was pure luxury and I’m really thankful for that. With those pictures I registered on platforms and browsed through the Tfp jobs and applied.
And guess what: I’ve been rejected a lot. Like… A LOT!
Then I saw some jobs where you had to pay, but I watched the pictures of the make-up artists and photographers working on the projects and thought “I’d love to work with them!”. Well, round about 100 other girls thought the same, so even paying for it wouldn’t give you a guarantee to be part of the project. So, I took some of my saved money and invested in different jobs of this kind. And it WAS SO WORTH IT!
I picked them wisely and did my research well before throwing my money out of the window, but it instantly raised the level of my portfolio. It’s really important to choose wisely and to consider the quality of the photos, the uniqueness of the project etc. before you invest.
We’re talking inVESTment, not inWASTEment, huh.
It must have been round about 5 photo shootings I paid for, each of them ranging somewhere between 40 € and 100 €, so yes, I invested something between 250 € and 300 € of my hard earned and saved money into great pictures of extraordinary kind back in those days.
And they gave me the chance to work with so many great photographers on Tfp later on that now I can count several Tfp and paid shootings to my portfolio, because yes, later on, I also landed jobs where I got paid.
The way wasn’t easy, but every step was worth it!
I hope my recommendations and coffee chat like rambling helped you and gave you a little insight.
Feel free to share your own experience with me and let me know if you still have questions. Let me know in the comments below, shoot me an email or send me a DM on Instagram.