So you want to start working as a model? Amazing! To land that first modeling job, you’re going to need an awesome modeling portfolio—also known in the industry as your book—and comp card. We’re here to help you get started!
How Modeling Portfolio Books and Comp Cards Work
A model portfolio book showcases your talent and range as a model by displaying a variety of styles and looks within your genre.
A model composite card—or, as they are usually known, comp card—shows your best, most recent shots, alongside your measurements and modeling info (height, eye color, any special skills, etc.). You will need one full body shot, one from the waist up, and a close up of your face, as well as both profiles with your hair up or held back.
Already Signed With a Modeling Agency?
Your modeling agency will help you build a model portfolio book before they start sending you out on castings. The costs of the photoshoots and photo printing is usually arranged by the agency and covered with the assumption that you are an investment that will pay off for them. When you start booking real paid modeling jobs, a chunk of your pay goes towards your agency debts. You should never sign with an agency that asks you for money upfront!
Not Signed With a Modeling Agency Yet?
If you’re trying to get signed, you’ll need a killer model portfolio book and comp card to get those first key modeling jobs and, hopefully, sign with a top modeling agency. Let’s get started!
Determine What Type of Shoots Suit Your Look
There are many different types of models; what makes a model successful is knowing their strengths and capitalizing on them. You should be realistic about what type of modeling sub-industry you fit into, and focus on building a model portfolio book that resembles jobs you are best suited for.
If you have cheekbones and facial features to die for—but you’re curvier or shorter than the average runway model—you’re probably more likely suited for booking make-up brand campaigns or swimwear/lingerie, as opposed to high-fashion runway shows.
Alternatively, If you’re 5’11”, lean as a gazelle, and can stomp a catwalk with flair, then high-fashion runway shows could be your calling. Other modeling genres include commercial modelling, plus-size modelling, swimsuit/lingerie, fitness, and glamour.
Best of all, casting agents are broadening their talent horizons more and more these days, casting older, plus-size, and more unique-looking people for jobs formerly reserved for more traditional-looking models. Winnie Harlow just became the [first ever model with vitiligo to walk in the Victoria’s Secret fashion show. Lauren Wasser is an amputee that lost both her legs to toxic shock syndrome and gained a career in editorial modeling. Madeline Stuart has Down Syndrome and is only going up in her modeling career— she just walked the runway at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week. Don’t have a unique trait, disability, or look that could set you apart? Your authentic self is good enough. There’s been a major shift towards street casting in recent years, as ordinary people are being plucked from the streets and cast into fashion campaigns and lead movie roles.
As long as you photograph well and know how to work the camera, you could make it as a model! Now, let’s move on to actually producing those all-important comp cards.
Nail Your Digitals
Your digitals, or digis, as they are often referred to by models, are the most important part of your model portfolio book, and the building blocks of your composite card. Your comp card will feature a four-photo collage of your digitals, with your height, measurements, and contact info/representation printed at the bottom. These images are meant to showcase the most real, fresh-faced version of yourself—what you’d look like when you walk into a room for a go-see, i.e. a casting session.
They’re also the easiest to produce! All you need is a friend or family member with a digital camera. (Don’t have anyone to help? It’s so easy, you can do it yourself.)
Shoot your digitals in natural light with a neutral background close to a window, or even outside against a brick wall. Never shoot in direct sunlight as it will cast unflattering shadows on your face—stand in a shaded area close to sunlight.
The setting should be neutral and natural, never an artificial set or staged backdrop.
Wear casual but form-fitting black pants and a black top, or jeans (no rips) and a white tee. Avoid loud accessories or bright nail polish.
For women, heels are a must! Keep them simple, and three inches high. You want to highlight your physique and show off your height.
A bare face is ideal for digitals, but if some minor touching up makes you feel more confident in front of the camera, go for it. Curl your eyelashes, powder your nose, pop on some lip balm, and pinpoint conceal that zit that’s taking the spotlight away from you. Even models get bad hair and skin days! It’s no biggie.
Shoot one extra set of digitals in swimwear—this is to target those specific jobs, and to show off your body and any tattoos if you have any.
Never digitally alter your digitals! This can be misleading for casting agents. Leave the Photoshop and filters out of it; your natural beauty should shine through.
Collaborate With Photographers
Now that you have your digitals, you can start using them to link up with photographers to build your model portfolio book. You can always hire a professional photographer, but, if you’re on a budget, try to arrange a TFP shoot. (TFP stands for “trade for prints,” or “time for prints.”) This is where you produce a shoot with a photographer, free of charge; you both get paid in the resulting shots. These are a great way to start filling up your model portfolio book! Here are a few tips:
Find a photographer whose work you like. You can use multiple resources to find photographers: DM them on Instagram, reach out to film/photography students, or post in local photography groups on Facebook. The more shooters you work with, the more variety you’ll have for your model portfolio book!
Send them your digitals and tell them what you have in mind for a shoot. Ask them what’s on their wish list—a new photographer starting out might be dying to shoot some editorial looks but hadn’t had the perfect subject yet. Try a new style, even if it’s out of your comfort zone! Something as simple as a wig or some glittery eye-makeup may produce a killer shot, or even reveal an aptitude for another genre of modeling.
Be very cautious—do thorough research on the photographers and their work beforehand. If you’re under 18, a parent or guardian should always be on set with you. If a photographer asks you to undress when it wasn’t discussed beforehand, that’s a red flag. A good photographer should make you feel safe and comfortable.
For more on how these shoots work, check out our guide to TFP shoots.
Get Your Professional Model Book Ready
Your modeling portfolio book, commonly referred to as just your book, is what you’ll bring with you to castings—it should have a variety of professionally printed photos of your best work, highlighting your range as a model and how well you photograph.
Here are some tips on how to create your modeling portfolio book:
Industry standard is 9x12 inches—anything a bit larger is still acceptable, but not as compact and convenient for your bag. Many art stores will carry these, or you can order one off of Amazon.
It must be black with no spiral or rings, with plastic sleeves for your photos. This makes it easy to flip through, and gives it the professional look you’re after. You can always upgrade your book to a fancier leather-bound hardcover down the road.
Curate your images carefully. Start your book with your composite card.
Ask a photographer friend—or even just a pal with a good eye and elevated taste level—to vote on their favorite shots, and put the popular votes first in your book. You want casting directors and designers to see your best work first. Often, you can’t guarantee that they’ll flip through 20 pages, so don’t bother trying to save the best for last.
What’s the perfect number of photos? Most model portfolio books have 20 pages for 40 photographs— but don’t feel like you need to fill every slot, especially if you’re just starting out. Think quality over quantity! As you get more shoots with bigger names under your belt, you can switch out old work for new.
Consider having two separate books. If you find yourself consistently getting sent out for two very different types of jobs, i.e. skincare and swimwear, it might be a wise strategy to separate your photographs by type, so that your shots relevant to the job are at the forefront when you go into a casting.
You should never leave your book behind at a go-see. You do leave behind your model comp card. That’s the one hard copy they get to keep, so have a sleeve in your model portfolio book full of them for easy distribution.
Assemble Your Model Portfolio Website
Now that you’ve got your model portfolio book and comp card sorted, it’s time to put together your online modeling portfolio.
The easiest way? Just use a website builder with cool, modern themes to create a professional-looking online portfolio in minutes. Having the perfect online portfolio is a great way to win over casting agents, brand reps, and photographers, and is the perfect complement to your model portfolio book. Cruise some other amazing model portfolio website examples to get ideas for your own online portfolio.
Another major bonus to having a flawless online model portfolio: it increases your odds of a direct booking. A direct booking is getting a print job without going in for a casting—it’s quite the compliment! It means a client loved your photos so much that they can guarantee you’ll be a perfect fit. It’s also a perk for those who don’t have agents yet; if you manage to book a job without one, you don’t owe anyone commission.
Here are a few things to keep in mind when putting together your model portfolio website:
Don’t forget to include the necessary details, like your measurements (height, bust, waist, hips, and shoe size).
Link to your social media—in this day and age, social media plays a huge part in leveraging a model’s career. Your Instagram is essentially your third portfolio! Make sure to choose an online portfolio with Instagram integration so your feed is streamed right onto your site!
Organize your shoots by type. This will help whoever’s viewing to find exactly what they are looking for.
Share, share, share! There’s little use in having an online portfolio if you don’t share it and generate traffic. Link it to your Instagram. Network with fellow creatives on Reddit and other social platforms. You can even have little business cards made up; they’re great to give to photographers and other creatives you meet when you’re out and about—you never know what connection you can make.
The catwalk awaits—good luck!
Need more tips on how to dominate the modeling world?
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