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  • Writer's pictureRuss Tierney

Your first modelling portfolio. Do you really need it?

Blog by Polly V - I'll add in some bits in italics as we go so you have my perspective too - Russ

Entering the modelling industry is a dream for many boys and girls, sometimes as early as they learn to walk and talk, sometimes in their early or late teens. There are the ones who strive for it, work out for it, diet for it, and make it their ultimate life goal. Then there are the ones who happen to stumble upon it one day in the local Starbucks (or some other half-funny, half-cheesy scenario - It's not unusual for a photographer to just take a shine to someone's vibe and image on a whim, that's how the last model i shot got in to it!).

Whatever your modelling story might be, there is inevitably the moment when you have to face the question “Do I need a portfolio?”. Many people will tell you many different things, and all of them will be partially right or wrong. You can’t go wrong with a portfolio, that’s for sure, but do you always need it? – not necessarily.

Believe it or not, this was her (she wished to remain anon) first ever shoot!

In this blog we’ll take a look at both sides of the coin, and try to figure out if having a modelling portfolio is worth it.

When deciding to go into modelling it’s very important to be realistic about yourself and your goals, and decide on the type of modelling you want to do from early on. If you’re petite, you probably won’t be looking into high fashion, but there are fantastic opportunities for beauty, hair and glamour. You can try to get signed by an agency or do it on your own as a freelancer.

If you have the measurements to do fashion modelling, then an agency, or even a personal agent, would be best. Freelancing into the fashion industry is borderline impossible as competition is fierce and it really is about making the right connections. - I think most commercial opportunities are offered out to agencies, if not because that's what is expected from reading text so has become the norm. I'm actually in the middle of putting a product shoot together for a client using freelancers... but then then i've never worked the same way as most :)

If you’re going freelance you most definitely would need a portfolio. Remember you’ll be competing with agencies employing multiple resources, and other equally determined models.

Your ideal portfolio should be a mix of 10-20 photos focused on the styles you want to do. Do your research first – find inspiration, ideas, poses, and decide on what you need to showcase. Practice your facial expressions and your poses in front of the mirror. Discover which poses work, and which ones don’t. Read – and I really cannot stress this enough – read even more. Know the styles and history of your chosen modelling field. This way you’ll know what potential clients will be looking for or what has been showcased so much that everyone is sick and tired of it so it won’t stand out.

Amo Mann

Once you know what you want in your portfolio, it’s time to find the right photographer. You want someone who is experienced working with variety of models and in variety of styles as your portfolio will need to be versatile. Ideally you want someone whose work has been published, and/or has been working for years so they can give you valuable advice in the studio. Their studio should also offer a mix of settings so your portfolio can relate to an array of clients. Last but not least, look at their reviews and what other models are saying about them. As it will be your first professional shoot, you'll want someone who is easy-going, relaxed and open to experimenting and repetition – until you get the shots you need.

After you’ve found the perfect photographer, it’s worth considering hiring a MUA (a 'make-up artist' to us mere mortals) and a hair-stylist for the day, as they will help you work quickly and really elevate the quality of your shots. Even if you have hired MUA and hair stylist, always take precautions and bring a makeup bag, and some hair-styling tools and products to the set. No-shows do happen, and you don’t want to be risking your whole day by not having a plan B.

Having a portfolio-building day as an aspiring freelance model is a fantastic way to create some outstanding looks, experiment with poses and expressions, and gain understanding of the industry and its expectations. - photographers have probably seen it all before, while it's understandable to be nervous, enjoy the experience and try not to be too inhibited with emotions and poses, even Kate Moss will have (and still probably takes) plenty of funny, silly and 'not the one' images. In the digital age with memory pretty cheap, the 'bad ones' can be easily pushed aside and forgotten about, but as long as you follow direction of the photographer (they know what the lighting is doing in any given pose), you too can experiment, between you you may hit on some real magic. Personally I do love a smilie happy and laughing natural shot... the model doesn't always agree, but I bet their family will instantly see their personality in it. You may also have to be prepared to learn that that something you don't like in terms of a characteristic expression in your self that you live with daily, may be the shining light that someone see and wants from you.

This was Lucy's first shoot too I believe.

If you’re going for high fashion, and you’re trying to get scouted by an agency, then you don’t necessarily need a full portfolio. A couple of clear headshots with minimal makeup, and a full body shot should be enough to get you through the door.

Of course you could still benefit from using a professional photographer for these clear shots. The correct lighting and a high-quality camera will make a simple image outstanding. Most of all, your application will look more professional, and if your images are of a certain quality as opposed to selfie camera shots, you could potentially be ahead of the crowd already.

Remember that in all modelling, but especially in fashion photography, it is not about “looking pretty”, it's about conveying emotion and creating a believable character. While the photos will be featuring you, they won’t necessarily be about YOU. Even if your goal is to be agency scouted, a portfolio building day can help you gain confidence in learning how to add to a setting with just your body posture, or how to make a product or outfit stand out; even with a simple facial expression it could bring so much to an advertisement.

Finally, believe it or not, a portfolio day can actually help you figure out if modelling is really what you want to do with your life. While the industry seems so glam, and posing looks like a great, effortless way to earn money, you might be surprised to find out it’s not that easy. You’ll have to change clothes quickly, stand/sit still for long periods to get your makeup and hair done (beauty at a commercial level can be painstakingly boring as well as you barely move and the lighting is tweeked around each pose for the perfect shot), then change poses every other second while revisiting a pose again and again until it works out perfectly. It’s definitely not easy, and even four hours can be extremely tiring. It’s not a shameful thing either if at the end you realise you really can’t do this on repeat day after day. But that’s why having a trial is so worth it.

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