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What is a portfolio and do I need one?

Updated: Jan 24

Are you thinking about becoming an actor or model? Are you already one but not getting enough gigs and opportunities? Or you just don't know how to make yourself desirable to work with? You need to have a professional portfolio that helps you stand out and successfully compete with other applicants!

When you apply for an office job, you usually send your resume and cover letter to the company you want to work with. For the best jobs, there can be dozens of applicants competing, so your application materials need to stand out from the crowd, be unique and eye-catching. In addition, this single-sided sheet of paper must contain your qualifications, education, and work experience. Even though you may be a perfect fit for the position, if another applicant has a better designed, more professional resume, the recruiters will not choose you.

The same thing holds true for modeling or filmmaking, but since it is a creative profession, there is no resume or written introduction, there are portfolios.

What is a portfolio?

A portfolio is like a visual resume, a collection of photos shot by professional photographers that will make a good first impression on your future employers - casting directors or agencies - and show what they can expect when they work with you. It is a must-have if you plan to get jobs on photo shoots, catwalks, commercials, and movies.

Before you start creating a portfolio, it's important to think through the following questions: what kinds of jobs would you like to get using this tool? The answer will determine what types of images you need to include in your printed or online collection. The best approach is to have photos that show you in the same setting you plan to apply for; a picture on a movie set, catwalk, or different poses to showcase your modeling skills.

The fact of the matter is your looks and features will always be the defining factors in determining the kind of jobs you get since every director and agent has a predefined description of what body type and facial features they are looking for in that specific role.

What will the casting directors look for?

First, they want to know if you are camera-ready, confident, experienced in the field, and have that natural presence that makes you unique. Second, they'll be looking for a body or face type they already have in mind - but with an excellent collection of your photos, they may change their minds. Many major Hollywood movie productions have experienced this before.

How to prepare for the shoots?

To get started, you need to hire someone who has experience shooting models, portraits, and photos in various locations. Creating meaningful, professional portraits requires different skills compared to shooting weddings, events, or sports. To find the right expert, you need to look at their portfolio. The way to choose the best provider is similar to how directors decide who to work with on their upcoming project. Besides the photographer, you need to hire a makeup artist to emphasize your best facial features and create a natural, yet camera-ready look.

Once you have the date and location set for the shoot, plan your photos. To know the posture and facial expression that best fits you, it's advised to practice at home in front of a mirror. Through this preparation method, you will make your shooting day much easier. You have no ideas how to pose? Check out Expert Photography’s list!

Prepare your wardrobe as well, and make sure it's tailored and wrinkle-free when it's time to put it on. The style of clothing depends entirely on your personal taste and the image you want to convey, so it is not advisable to start experimenting during the shoot. You can hire a professional stylist to help you plan the outfits and also have access to high-end clothes according to the latest trends that you may not have on hand at home.

What are the best portfolio pictures?

The Balance suggests that you need around seven types of photos included in your model portfolio to make sure you show every side of your talent and abilities.

The must-have portfolio pictures:

  • A headshot with a natural, almost no makeup face and hairstyle, as these can easily distract from your face. For this type of photo, choose a slight smile or even no smile at all.

  • A full body photo allows agents to get a clear picture of your body type, so it's better to wear a simple outfit for this photo - for example, a pair of well-fitting jeans and a t-shirt or tank top.

  • A swimsuit shot, which is a must if you are looking for lingerie or underwear works.

  • Editorial Fashion Shot and Commercial Shot - it depends on the job work you are aiming for. So if you want to see yourself on Vogue in a few years, you need a full glam photo of the ones already in the top magazines. It is also ideal for those who want to do commercials and catalogs, you can show your emotions in these photos.

  • Smile - they say that smiling makes everyone more beautiful, so we recommend a smiling picture of you showing your teeth to the camera.

  • A strong closing picture - everyone remembers the first and last picture in the book they just saw best, so make it pop and make it memorable!

Many agencies will ask for "digitals". Modeling Digitals (also known as “Polaroids”) are natural images of what a model currently looks like. These images were once taken on the spot with instant Polaroid cameras, (hence the name “Polaroids”), and they were taken to capture a model in simple lighting, without editing to show his/her natural appearance. Today, modeling digitals are taken with digital cameras, ideally with a white or neutral-colored background. Multiple shots of the model are taken to show his/her look from various angles, to give the client or agency an accurate representation of the model’s current look without heavy makeup or image editing.

Digital model portfolio or a printed collection of pictures?

Both options have advantages and limitations. While the digital model portfolio can be accessed from anywhere, make sure it is suitable for the most common devices (tablets, notebooks, or smartphones). While a printed portfolio can make you stand out, as nothing comes close to a beautifully printed collection of pictures, which really shape your professional image. The limitation of a printed portfolio is that because of its physical aspect, you will have to reprint it over and over again to distribute it to many agents.

You can never know who will look at your creative resume and when. If it reflects your personality and contains well-designed, natural-looking images, you just have to wait for the right opportunity for a successful casting.

Check out Masters of Light Studio's model portfolio.

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