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Building Your Portfolio

To pay or not to pay?

When you are first starting out, paying for a professional photographer is possibly the quickest way to get good quality shots for your portfolio. It also helps get you experience in front of the camera for the future, which is a bonus. However, it may well be possible to do some professional work on a 'prints for time' basis, if a photographer feels you have modelling potential. This type of arrangement is mutually beneficial to photographer and model, and there are some great amateur photographers who are willing to work on a PFT basis and who can provide some good photos afterwards.

When not to pay: If an agency agrees to take you on provided that you pay their photographer to put together a portfolio. A good portfolio cannot be created in a single session - it takes time to develop. And a good agency will take you on if they think they will make money out of you from assignments - not from charging for portfolios.

Only ever pay if you feel sure that a photographer can do a good job - always ask to see plenty of samples of their work in advance, and talk through with the photographer what you hope to achieve through the shoot.

The Photos

To start with, a few technical shots. A good, clean head shot or two (with and without make-up) and some full-length shots to show your body.

For the bulk of the portfolio, variety is of utmost importance - the prime objective of this portfolio is to display your versatility as a model and advertise your 'look'. A collection of ten shots of you wearing the same clothes is not sufficient. You should aim to get photos by several different photographers. Every photographer has his own individual style, and using several shots from the same photographer will limit the range of your portfolio. It needs to show how several different photographers see you and how they capture your look. A selection of outfits and lingerie will also be necessary.

Another thing about portfolio work is that you need to work with photographers who shoot in the market you are aiming for. For fashion pictures you need a fashion photographer, not one who shoots portraits or weddings for example (good at that though they may be). That is also why you should be very careful of PFT offers: just because the photographer is legit and skilful does not mean you will get photos suitable for your book.

Ensure you pick only the very best pictures of you to include in your portfolio: those which show you at your best in every respect, face and figure. Be super self-critical, and do not be tempted to try and bulk it out with sub-standard pictures - they will do more harm than good because they bring down the overall quality of the portfolio, and as a result the general impression left will not be as good.

Tearsheets

Editorial work is so sought-after by models because of the prestige and the tearsheets it provides for portfolios. Of course, tearsheets are good evidence to include in a portfolio as they show the professional work a model has already done - and you get the endorsement of the brand name or magazine who published you.

Presentation

Whether you are building a portfolio in physical form or for publication on the web, presentation is important: it is the portfolio as a whole which represents you as a person, not just the images it contains. You must always keep in mind that the portfolio must have a professional appearance. You will be dealing with creative people who are very visually oriented, so if you want to be taken seriously as a professional model you must present yourself that way. And your portfolio must have a very clean professional look.

If you are producing a physical portfolio to take with you to castings and go-sees, ensure you are using a good quality album or case to contain your pictures. Portfolios come in two styles: open book (notebook form, to be carried around in a bag), and zip case (larger, with handles to be carried like a briefcase). Agencies will sometimes provide these for their models, but a plain black or dark-coloured one will do just fine. Portfolio case coverings can be made of leather, vinyl, cloth or even wood. Leather is the most durable, but expensive; vinyl is cheaper but will not stand up to as much. Cloth or wooden covers would tend to be used more for the aesthetics - to create an interesting appearance. In filling out your model book, try to use only good quality photos - in the sense of their physical quality as well as the picture itself - glossy photographs with clean edges give a far better impression to potential clients than dull, faded snaps with dog-eared corners.

Presentation is still just as important for online portfolios. A good, informative, user-friendly site will keep visitors longer - and give a better impression of you as a person - than a garish, hard-to-navigate site that takes ten minutes to load. The best online portfolios will include information such as vital statistics and a resume - links and other information can also be added. To minimise download time for the photo galleries it is often best to present pictures as thumbnails (like a photographic contact sheet), with links leading to an enlarged version.