Working with the right photographers early in your modeling career will help you grow faster. An experienced photographer can unlock doors, teach you new skills, and help you fill your modeling portfolio with stunning, magazine-worthy shots.
But the process isn’t easy. There are plenty of wrong photographers out there.
Today, anyone with a camera and a copy of Photoshop can call themselves a “professional.” And many are happy to oversell their abilities and overcharge for mediocre results. That’s not to say amateurs can’t take great photographs; many do. But for every great amateur, there are dozens of not-so-great amateurs.
As you begin to build a professional modeling portfolio, it’s essential you learn how to recognize real professionals. Your ability to spot quality and professionalism will save you from nightmare shoots and ensure you work with only the best, most qualified collaborators.
What Does Professional Model Photography Look Like?
Professional modeling photographers are master technicians. They use light to accentuate and sculpt the body. Their photos tell stories and convey moods. They use skillful composition and framing to draw people into their photos and captivate. All of these concepts are critical in professional model photography.
When browsing through portfolios of prospective photographers, technical skill should jump out at you. The photographer’s portfolio should be full of images that look like they came straight from the pages of Vogue. In particular, be looking for:
As a model, you’re not expected to be a photographer. But a basic understanding of concepts like composition, lighting, framing and posing can help you improve on the other side of the camera. Learn to recognize what makes photographs compelling; this will help your career in a number of ways.
Convey Ideas and Stories
Modeling photographers can’t just create images that look great. They’re paid to create photos that convey ideas, emotions and tell stories. Does the photographer’s work make you feel something? Are concepts and ideas being introduced in the work? They should be; that’s a mark of a professional.
Anyone can shoot a thousand photos and then select those 1 or 2 lucky shots. Professionals though are consistent. Their portfolios feature multiple images from a single shoot; their images always meet the highest technical standards, and consistent styles are evident throughout.
A Distinctive Style
After years of practice, professional photographers develop a unique style. For example, a pro might capture models conveying distinctive attitudes, utilize lighting to create moods, or play with a particular color palette. Amateur’s portfolios are all over the place in terms of style.
Pay Attention to the Details
Photo shoots are all about the details. A wrinkled shirt, makeup that’s sloppy or misplaced lighting can all diminish the impact of the image. Professionals are detail obsessed; they ensure that each element of an image is in place.
Professionals Treat Photography as a Business
Image quality is just one aspect. Professionals also conduct themselves as business people; they have industry connections, work with talented teams of hair, makeup and lighting specialists, and pay their bills by selling commercial and fashion photographs.
They take their businesses seriously too. You won’t find many pros without a website, a long list of references or a solid portfolio. These are a few marks of a real professional:
On Set or In Studio
Professional shoots are organized. As a model on a professional shoot, you should have a clear understanding of what’s expected of you, and receive direction throughout the day. You shouldn’t ever have to stand around wondering what comes next. On shoots, professionals:
1. Bring You in on Their Vision
Photographers bring ideas and concepts to shoots. But that vision has to be accessible. Great photographers give models the guidelines they need to bring the vision to life. As a model, it’s very frustrating if you only have a vague idea of what’s expected of you.
2. Provide Clear Direction
Once you start shooting, a professional photographer gives clear directions. Sometimes they may seem overly specific, i.e. put your right arm two inches above your head. But it’s directions like these that can make all the difference in the editing process.
3. Organization is Critical
Smooth photo shoots are the result of careful planning. Every aspect of a shoot – hair, makeup, wardrobe and lighting – should come together seamlessly. Without planning and organization, a shoot can quickly become chaotic.
4. They Solve Problems
On set, the unexpected can always happen – the clouds come out, a makeup person is stuck in traffic, equipment malfunctions, etc. Professionals get creative in these situations and develop solutions on the fly.
As you search for a photographer who can help you make a professional modeling portfolio, be sure to call all of your prospects. This initial phone call will give you an idea of how the photographer conducts him or herself. Did the photographer put you at ease? Was he concerned with your goals? Did he answer your questions? Professionals are honest and straightforward; they build trust with potential clients.
Professional model photographers have experience in the fashion or commercial modeling industry. That means: They have a list of clients and agencies they’ve worked with. And their photographs have been published in magazines and print advertisements. Fashion and commercial photographers also have accessible portfolio websites. If someone’s telling you their portfolio is on Facebook or Instagram, that’s a problem.
Working with Photographers: What You Can Do
Here’s a secret: If you want to work with professional photographers consistently, you have to prove to them that you mean business. That’s especially true as a new model. Your reputation can open doors.
Professionals don’t want to work with models who don’t take their career seriously.
So how can you do that? It’s really very simple. Be on time, show up ready to work, listen to feedback and adjust, and be confident in yourself. Here are a few tips:
1. Practice Professionalism
Photography shoots are costly. Show up on time, camera-ready and be prepared to bring it. If you carry yourself as a professional, photographers will be much more likely to recommend you or want to work with you in the future.
2. If You Don’t Know, Ask
When a photographer and model aren’t on the same page, shoots can be frustrating. So if you don’t know what is expected of you, ask. Does the photographer want you camera-ready when you arrive? What’s the photographer’s vision for the shoot? Professionals should answer these questions for you, but if they forget, just ask.
3. Be Receptive to Feedback
You should welcome feedback, early in your career. Learning what you’re doing right and what you could improve will help you grow faster and correct bad habits before it’s too late.
4. Bring Confidence
Be confident in who you are and in your skills when you show up on set. Insecurity shines through in images and it can say to the photographer, “I don’t have the skills to deliver.”
Professional Photographers Will Open Doors Early in Your Career
When you’re just starting out a model, you’ll always have photographers who want to work with you. But it’s critical for your career to learn how to find only the best.
The best photographers will offer advice on how to make a professional modeling portfolio, help you understand what shots to include, and offer feedback during shoots that will help you improve. Many new models waste time with the wrong photographers. You can avoid this.
Learn to recognize quality model photographs and choose to work with photographers that conduct themselves professionally. If you do this, you’ll be surrounding yourself with industry pros who can help you build a career in modeling.