In the modeling industry, having the strongest photos in your portfolio is the key to booking jobs, signing with agencies, and more. Not always do we have the means or the funds to pay hundreds of dollars to shoot with top tier photographers, but that doesn’t mean you have to settle for mediocre work. Something I’ve learned is that time waits for no one, and sometimes when you want something done you have to do it yourself! I’m going to give all the details and tips on how I set up my own test shoots as well as the journey I’m on to build the strongest portfolio.
1. DEFINING THE TYPE OF MODEL YOU ARE/WANT TO BE
This is the first step, and the most integral part in developing your portfolio. There are several different types of modeling—whichever field you wish to pursue will determine the type of photos that your book needs. Are you a high fashion/editorial model? Do you want to step into the fashion commercial modeling field? Maybe you’re more of a sports and fitness model. Once you define this, the portfolio building process will be so much easier. Also keep in mind that the photos in your book need to show diversity if wish to work in multiple modeling fields.
2. CREATE MOOD BOARDS/FIND INSPIRATION IMAGES
Once you’ve identified the type of modeling work you want to pursue, now it’s time to figure out the photos that your book needs and how to execute them. What I like to do is go through model portfolios on agency websites, and create mood boards of the images I’ve found that are cohesive with what I’m trying to emulate. Whether it’s the styling in the photo, the model’s poses, or even the location—whatever inspired you is what you should include in that mood board. Tip: I use Pinterest to create my mood boards. I organize the the Pinterest boards by shoot. See below for the mood boards I’ve created for the two tests I’ve just completed. My book needs more outdoor shots as well as more editorial style photos for the type of jobs i want to book, so I compiled images that correlate.
3. FIND A PHOTOGRAPHER
Start by making a list of photographers that you’re interested in shooting with and then start reaching out. Some photographers offer free test shoots while others can charge up to hundreds of dollars. I’ve done both, and I’ve found that it is sometimes beneficial to pay for shoots if it’s something you can afford—consider it as an investment into your career. A few strong photos can last in your book for years. But, in the event we’re being budget friendly, definitely connect with some photographers who do free tests for trade. From there, start the process of building the shoot. Work as a team to share inspiration and communicate ideas. Also, ask the photographer for their opinion on what work your portfolio needs for some extra insight.
4. LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Do you want to do an outdoor shoot? Maybe your portfolio needs more studio work. Make a list of possible locations for your shoot. Often time the photographer will provide a studio space and will help with finding a location. If I’m shooting outdoors, I like to shoot on either a day that’s a little cloudy or during golden hour when the sun isn’t as strong. If I’m doing a studio shoot, I love using a light grey or white backdrop. It creates a clean, classic editorial feel.
5. CREATE OUTFITS
Unless wardrobe is provided by the photographer, you are going to have to play both model and stylist and bring your own looks to the shoot. Based off of the inspiration images you’ve collected try to craft outfits from what you have at home, or you can do buy/return from a store. If your shoot is going to be high fashion/editorial then styling is really important. Try a structured two-piece pant suit. Style a funky dress with a pair of edgy combat boots. Tip: I use Zara campaigns for easy inspiration. If you’re adding more fashion commercial work to your book, you can keep your looks rather simple. Think Gap campaign—a simple tank with a pair of jeans. For anything fitness related, a sports bra and legging set is perfect.
6. TIME TO SHOOT!
You’ve gathered your inspiration, you’ve coordinated your looks, location, and photographer—now it’s time to shoot! For test shooting, it’s best to keep your makeup natural and light so clients can visualize the real you and see where you can be placed. When shooting, stay confident. Get warmed up, put on your favorite playlist to get you hyped. Focus on your strongest angles, and as long as the photographer is shooting, don’t stop moving. Movement is key—be both structured like a statue and graceful like a ballerina. It has taken me YEARS to get comfortable with posing and movement, but practice makes perfect. Check out some of my latest work from the test shoots I created with my boyfriend!
The idea of planning and creating my own photo shoots has always been daunting—having to find locations, create looks, and coordinate everything always seemed a little nerve wracking. But once I sat down, got inspired and really planned everything out in full, the shoot ended being executed exactly how I wanted and it gave me the confidence to start doing it regularly. The process is time consuming, but it’s really fun to get creative and watch your visions come to life. You need to invest time and dedication into your career, make it happen!
I hope this post was helpful! I was once that aspiring model who was lost and confused on the art of the portfolio, searching the web for articles with proper insight on how to get started. My goal here is to provide as much help and inspiration as I can. Thanks for reading and following along on my journey!