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How to Start Model Portfolio Photography Business

professional model photographer displaying photo shots on his laptop to a female model client
Photography can be fun and rewarding when you work with beautiful models on exotic locations around the world creating portfolios. All models need professionally made portfolios featuring the models in various outfits and in various poses.

Most photographers who do portfolio work charge at least $1,200 for a 3 to 4 hours session.

When you just starting, you can charge $400-$600 for 3-5 hours session and more for a half-day work. The model pays separately for makeup artist and hair stylist.

The question is how do you break into freelance photography creating model composites and portfolios? You need to become knowledgeable about modeling industry and practice on your photography skills.

To start, you must have good knowledge of a DSLR camera, be able to take decent shots, and have basic knowledge of model photography.

Finding models is easy. You can get a great local model to do a shoot for free if you offer copies of pictures or put it on a CD. You build your portfolio to show to other models to get jobs and your model will have a free portfolio. This is a win-win situation if you’re just starting. Another way to start is to offer to be a second shooter for a modeling school or a modeling agency.

To become competitive in this field, you have to gain some experience, have decent knowledge about DSLR camera with 2-4 lenses and a flash, and able to take quality shot of models. You also should try to make it comfortable for the model and offer packages that work best for the model.

Learn about modeling industry and different types of modeling, such as fashion, commercial print, glamour, and so on. Try to contact several makeup artists and hair stylists; make a deal to get a better deal than if the model went to each separately. You should be able to get a better rate saving your client 10-20 percent.

Good makeup artist can charge around $150 for one look work, $350 for half a day to include giving several looks. Add $80-$120 for the hair. The makeup is done on location and the hair is done the day before the shoot. Most models know how to do their own makeup or have a friend who will do it for them.

You should do one or two head shots; one in color and one in black and white. Offer at least four body shots in 5 x 7.

Your model needs a number of looks suited to the type of modeling for which she is suited for, including:

  • Headshots: Images where the model’s face shown clearly taken with minimal makeup. The headshot should focus on the face and they usually come in 8 x 10 sizing.

    It is a good idea to do the headshot in a studio like setting where you can have total control of the lighting. You can easily rent a studio in your local area for an hour. The rest of the photos should be done on location, such as parks, beaches, old looking buildings, and so on.

    Go through various publications featuring models in poses similar to the one you plan to create. You should discuss poses with your model and provide suggestion. Most models have a good idea of how to pose, what to wear, and the outcome they want.

  • Fashion shots: these are photographs of the model wearing different outfits used for fashion models. The image should focus on the clothing. The model’s makeup should complement the outfit.
  • Editorial shots: May consists of models wearing business outfit, sport outfit, featuring model’s head and upper body. Editorial shots are for models who want to get involved in commercial print modeling.
  • Swimsuit shots: The model may need one or two swimsuit shots needed for commercial print modeling.

young female model wearing swimsuit at beach posing for commercial photo shot

Make sure to tell your model to get a good night’s sleep and stay away from alcohol. You model should be prepared for the shooting. You need to discuss the different poses and outfits she need to bring with her. All of your location shots should be done early in the morning or late afternoon. Avoid mid-day when the light is harsh.

Your photos need to show your model in different outfits and in different locations. The standard size is 8 x 10 inches. Other sizes include 5 x 7, 9 x 12, and 11 x 14 inches.

A typical modeling portfolio contains about 6-20 shots depending on the experience of the model. Choose only the best photos that make your model look professional. If you want to use the photos for your own portfolio to show it to other models or to put it online, you will need to get a model release form signed. If you photograph children, it must be signed by a parent.

Portfolios come in different sizes, such as 8.5 x 11, 9 x 12, and 11 x 14. Choose the standard size and present the very best photos. Your model may also need an online portfolio website that features the same photos. The portfolio should include a sheet with contact information.

The cost of your photos if printed should be less than $50. Make sure to add a CD with the photographs.

You can keep adjusting your fees by researching other photographer’s fees for doing the same job. Pay attention to the reputation of the photographers within your area and any amenities they may offer. You may also offer portraits and learn Photoshop to edit and retouch photos.

Having a business card is a good idea. You will need one DSLR camera, at least two lenses in the ranges of 50mm to 90mm, a flash mounted diffuser, one tripod, one reflector, and a few memory cards.

The best part about creating portfolios is that you don’t have to leave your current job. Portfolios can be done during weekends.

Be aware that models frequently update their portfolios. If your client is happy with you, you will get to update her portfolios and may get referrals as you gain experience. This is a great opportunity for both models and model photographers.

By Robert Stevens – 2019 – Update 2020
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For additional articles written by Robert Stevens, see Robert Stevens is the author of How to Start a Successful Model Portfolio Business published in 2019.

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