Portfolio Development a beginners guide

I put together a few notes and random thoughts to share some of my limited experience with those interested. This page is open while under construction.

The Modeling Industry

So you want to break into the Modeling Industry… The Modeling Industry is a fun and exciting world! It can also have swift treacherous waters. Competition is fierce. I’m asked all the time, “How do I make my big break”, so I thought I would put a few random thoughts together. I work with two San Francisco modeling agencies. I do not proclaim to be an expert in the field but I do have some useful information for those of you interested and have the drive and dedication to do what it takes to survive and succeed in this fast paced industry.

This is a business and if you expect to be taken seriously you need to act professionally, especially if you’re the new competitor on the block! Sure, you’ll meet people who are hobbyist and awesome artist who just want to enjoy the Arts. But, it all comes down to business. It’s nothing personal.

Here is my best advice: Ask yourself how badly do you want this and how fast do you want to make it happen? Study the type of work you prefer to specialize in. Interview and hire the most talented professionals you can afford to team up with in that area. Trust me on this, it’s so much cheaper in the long run. You’ll save thousands of dollars and thousands of hours towards making your dreams come true. This especially holds true for models. No one really cares how old (or physically fit) the guy behind the camera is, the life of a professional model is short lived..

Find your niche’ There are so many different aspects, or genera’s, within the modeling industry. It is important to find your niche’ and capitalize on it. Recognize your strengths and do what ever is needed to overcome your weaknesses. (No girls, platforms shoes do not count when the client needs 5’10” fashion models.) The way best judge yourself is to look at the work of your peers on a professional modeling site. Be Professional. Be proactive. There are no lone wolves in this business! Every image you see was created as the effect of a Team Effort! Communicate with your teammates and update as needed. If a prop or location is unobtainable, one of your colleagues may have an alternative.

You need to be Judged You need to realistically judge yourself and your work. Signup up with a professional networking site, such as ModelMayhem.com, iStudio.com or ModelBrigade.com, and ask for critiques on your masterpieces. Less experience looks better when your work Rocks. Listen very carefully to the opinions of others then take a close look at their work and try to learn from it. Each team member will see issues with his or her own work, but it should be a simple compromise to select something that pleases and flatters everyone. When selecting images to post remember this golden rule, “Less is More”. You should only be posting your very best work, less than your best makes you look bad. I never use two shots from the same look on any one site – other then MySpace.

Check references on everyone! Examine their work carefully and decide if you want to be involved with something similar to “Their Style”. The world of modeling becomes very small at certain points and we all talk. We know who all of the Flake models/Photogs are and we know all of the photographers who never send CDs.

Fake Profiles: When I’m looking at a model’s on-line profile and she has listed 10 years experience, tons of brand names and her portfolio looks as though it was shot with a camera phone, I just pass her/him by and so does everyone else. We’re not stupid, we’ve paid our dues and the chances are better than not that you have listed one of my clients or a client of a friend. This, of course, holds true for photographers and makeup artists as well. Fictitiously listing brand names can get you sued.

Plagiarism goes far beyond stealing an image belonging to someone else. I’m talking about copying a concept from a magazine or a stunning image you saw on a site. It’s fine to be inspired by the works of others, but at least make significant changes, make it your own. I know photographers who do beautiful work but they painstakingly copy every detail. You’ll fool new MUAs and Models, but sooner or later everyone will be tired of it and your career is toast.

Posing: OK, so after my thoughts on plagiarism, I guess I have to admit I used to be horrible at posing. That is before a friend of mine taught me a little trick. Read European Vogue, Elle, InStyle, Maxim and Playboy. Try to adapt the poses you really like to the models you’re shooting. A Modeling Agency manager once told me “there are only 286 poses, it’s OK to reuse one” and so I do. 🙂

Portfolios: On-line portfolios are pretty simple, upload your best work and remember anything less then your best makes you look bad. If your allowed 20 images, you do not have to fill ever picture slot. Printed Portfolios: When your building a printed portfolio to show modeling agencies you should invest in the appropriate size. In this area modeling agencies want models to have a book 9″ X 12″ Photographers can go up to 13″ X 19″ in most cases, but 9″ X 12″ is still preferred. I have various books setup for different purposes including one 18″ X 24″. Wow, does that leave a lasting impression! I use Itoyo Artfolio pretension books, available almost everywhere.  I buy mine from Arron Brothers art supply for about $12.00 each. Although I have not been able to find them on their website, you can use the store locator..   Printing high quality images these specific sizes is a huge investment. Brand name regardless, make sure to use an Acid Free, Archival quality, to ensure longevity of your investment. __________———–______-__________Read More >>>


I like to create a custom comp-card style image to use as my first page since the first page is a single within the port. The first page is your most important opportunity to make a first impression on the agency. Opposite the my comp-card like to include my contact information. I will not include anything other then a single image per page throughout the rest of my portfolio. Comp-Card Similar to image left

You should show as much diversity of looks and styles as possible, fashion, beauty, mild glamour, editorial and possibly one or two art shots. Never use more than 2 Black & Whites and they should be head shots. Modeling Agencies have their own thoughts and restrictions regarding nudity (implied or otherwise) It’s probably not wise to include to much of the sexy work until your crystal clear on what the particular Agency will allow.

Photographers should include at lease two shots of the same model in different outfits and settings, so that you can prove you can duplicate your results.

Models should include shots from several photographer’s to prove the same, that your results can be achieved by others. Never include more then two shots in the same outfit/location. This is true for on-line ports as well. Makeup Artist: Include highly artist work, never B&Ws. Agencies expect to color and detail from makeup artist and hair stylist.


When I’m setting up my book I like to have images that compliment each other on opposing pages. I also like to have similar genera or categories so the flow runs together and doesn’t clash. You also wouldn’t want to match up Fashion with Glamour etc, etc. By doing so you could be causing and distraction from one photo to the other. As mentioned earlier, setting up a successful portfolio is a psychology trip in itself and the point of this book is to make us money, its worth every extra effort you put into it.

Be sure to keep you’re book current by adding those awesome new prints from time to time.


Modeling agencies expect a lot more from their potential models and photographers. Never use scrapbooks over the Artfolio type book mentioned above. The layout of your printed portfolio is a psychology trip in itself and critical to getting your foot in the door! In all of my books, I created a comp-card style first page. (three or four of my best images, plus all of my personal/contact information). As you turn the first page, now exposing pg. 3. and 4. I want my third and forth best images, and so no until you reach the end, I’ll save my very best (and second best) for the last two pages. – Thinking you want your strongest work to burn into their mind and that should be the last thing they see. Keeping in mind if you fill your book with crap the agency director may toss your book in the garbage in the trash before reaching your best two – last pages.   Models; Read More: So you really wanna get signed by an Agency


Model Tips – click to open/close
  • Never post webcam or other low quality photos on professional networking sites. No, that cute picture of you and your girlfriends at a nightclub belongs on MySpace. No one will ever look twice at garbage, except to send you their professional rates.. Modeling agencies feel, “if you do not care enough about your own presentation, why should we.” And they mean it too!!
  • Never edit a photographer’s work without consulting them first. In some areas (countries, states, providence’s, etc) this may be illegal under copyright laws and you could be in serious trouble.
  • Read the fine print. You should always ask for a copy of the contract and/or Model Release in advance. Read it very carefully. Many photographers are using the photos for Pay or Erotic websites to off set their costs. Always get the intended use of the photos in writing or be prepared for possible embarrassment.
  • Do not bring an escort without asking the photographer first and if you must, your significant other is the worst possible choice. You will not be yourself with your boyfriend watching.
  • Do not bring friends and expect the photographer to shoot them without asking in advance.
  • If you are a 5’2″, 102 pounds, blue eyed, blond, 36C, 24, 36 and want to only shoot Fashion, be prepared for a lot of rejection. Go back and read know your limitations.
  • Practice posing in front of a full length mirror on a daily basis. Practice facial expressions, too.

Personal Security: It’s such a shame the world is not the same place it was when I was your age, but it’s not.

  • Don’t be stupid! Check References! Search for your own references. Do not take the Photographers word for it from a small list! Please keep in mind, any person may have a personal a grudge for one reason or the other. But if four or five models all having the same complaint, it’s worth taking to heart.
  • When a photographer never leaves a Model credits or links, beware! You need to ask yourself, why does he not links the team members. Is he hiding something? And what is he hiding?
  • You need to be comfortable with your body. The term “grin and bare it” came from a breast slipping out of a dress on the runway. In this business slips happen. It’s how you deal with it that depicts your professionalism.
  • Carry Pepper Spray.
  • Carry a cell phone and make sure it’s fully charged before heading off to a shoot.
  • Call the Photographer before the shoot to discuss “details” (meeting, addresses, etc.). Give this number to a friend plus any other details you have before going to a shoot. I always let a friend know who I’m with and when to expect me home when shooting outside of an agency’s studio environment.
  • I have a model friend in the San Francisco Bay Area who likes to walk into the studio, look the place over and discuss the shots, then get her clothing from the car. On one occasion she got in the car and left because she did not feel safe. Don’t Be Stupid!
  • If you really feel that you need to bring an escort, then insist on it or cancel. You really need to trust those you’re working with 100%. If you do not it will show in the work.
  • Don’t dwell on the “what ifs”. Show up with an open mind and have FUN!
Photographer Tips – click to open/close
  • Please give MUAs and models a color version of all images, even if you only see it in B&W. I’m so sick of MUAs telling me, “it was my best look ever and the photographer gave me a pile of B&Ws”.
  • You should have some form of a standard contract explaining terms, time limits, what everybody receives after the shoot and how it is to be delivered, the image resolution (web only, or 300dpi – printable), the intended usage of the work and if model edits allowed, etc.
  • If your model/MUA did not perform to your expectations, yes, you do still owe those images! We are talking about your reputation. Do not blow them off, live up to your end.
  • Always supply a standard model release. Most photo labs will not make prints for your models and MUAs without some type of release form.
  • I come from the frame of mind that the photographer is the artist, so I always provide the themes and concepts. I love to collaborate with other creative individuals and I’m usually happier with the results. Try it yourself.
  • Respect your models personal space. I’m very detail oriented, but I always ask before adjusting her hair, clothing, etc.
  • Editing is the photographer’s responsibility. For God’s sake, at least edit out blemishes!! If you can not afford Photoshop or Photoshop Elements, try GIMP. It’s an excellent, full featured alternative and it’s free.
  • Modeling sites are for industry related networking, not Dating! If you ignore this you will be labeled a “perv” and your career as a photographer will be short lived!
  • Never make a model look Fat. If she looks Fat in a shot you took, it’s your fault! If, while looking through the view finder you see the pose is unflattering, change the pose. This is your number one concern your number one responsibility – read this bullet point again. Don’t ever forget!!
  • Nobody cares how much you spent on your education or your equipment. “We” can admire the beauty, grace and technical attributes of your work and still hold you in contempt for your lack of understanding of photography.


Makeup Artist Tips – click to open/close
Common Terms Used – click to open/close

Professional Networking Sites: MM – ModelMayhem, MS – MySpace, MB – ModelBrigade, OMP – OneModelPlace, GM – GlamModelz Magazine. and there are so many more!!