Modeling Portfolios - 7 Essential Photos Every Model Needs

When you are first starting out as a model it is not necessary to have professional photos. Simple snapshots are all you need in order to find out if a modeling agency is interested in representing you. 

However, if an agency is interested in you, but it is not quite ready to sign on the dotted line, the agency may ask you to build your book a little bit more or work on developing your look. For a new model, this can be very confusing if they have no idea what the agency is looking for or what it all really means. 

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There are specific types of photos that agencies like to see in the beginning. Agencies like photos that show the model’s versatility and their ability to express themselves. Agencies also like to see how well the model can actually tell a story or portray a feeling or emotion in their photos. 

Here is a list of the essentials you should have in your book and tips to make them just right.

A Beauty Shot or Clean Head Shot

Modeling Portfolio Beauty Headshot
Cecile Lavabre/Getty Images

A beauty shot (fashion/editorial models) or a clean head shot (commercial models) is the first type of photo you should be concentrating on when you do your first photo shoot. 

A beauty shot is a color photograph of the model's face, generally from the shoulders up. The purpose of a beauty shot is to show the model in his or her most natural state, which allows the agency or client to see exactly how the model looks without heavy makeup or styling. Makeup, hairstyles, and jewelry should be kept to a minimum. Editorial models do not usually smile in a beauty shot. 

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A commercial head shot can be a bit more relaxed than a typical beauty shot. Commercial head shots can be shot in black and white, or color.  The current trend of commercial head shots is to shoot the model anywhere from the waist up. Commercial models can be smiling on not smiling in their head shot depending on the look they want to portray.

A beauty shot or commercial head shot should always be the first photo in a model's book.

A Full Length Body Shot

Full Length Modeling Body Shot. Alisa N. -

The next photo in a model's book should be a full-length body shot. This shot allows the client to see the model's proportions and body type. Clothes should be form-fitting and simple. Skinny jeans and a t-shirt are just fine. The model should not be wearing long dresses, skirts or too many layers as these will distract and cover up exactly what the agents and clients are trying to see.

Swimsuit Shot

Modeling Portfolio Swimsuit Bathing Suit Photograph
PeopleImages/Getty Images

If you are over 16 years of age and are comfortable doing a swimsuit shot (and you should be if you want a modeling career), then this should be the next photograph in your book.

When doing a swimsuit shot it is important to always think about the message you are sending. There is a very fine line between sexy and slutty. If you aim for a look between Lands End and Vogue Magazine you will probably hit the mark. 

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Remember that female fashion models are selling clothes to women, not men, so female models want to be sexy but not overtly sexual. Top modeling agencies never want to see you in a swimsuit or lingerie on the hood of a car or straddling a motorcycle. 

Male models can shoot in either swim trunks or boxer shorts. 

Editorial Fashion Shot (Fashion Models)

Modeling Portfolio Photos Tearsheets
Coco Rocha. Max Abadian/Elle Brazil

Now that you have a beauty shot, a full-length body shot, and a swimsuit or lingerie shot, you can have some fun. The photos in the middle of your book can be a bit more creative. This is also where you can add some tearsheets if you have them.

Try to show the agents and clients your ability to move and express yourself in your photos. Don't just stand there and pose! Jump, run, dance! Do something that is expressive and interesting. Supermodel Coco Rocha is renowned for her expressive and unique style. Do yourself a favor and study Coco Rocha and her style; if you are only half as good as she is you'll be off to a great start.

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A Commercial Shot (Commercial Models)

Commercial Modeling Portfolio Photos
Robert Daly/Getty Images

As with editorial models, commercial models need to show the agents and clients their range, and ability to express themselves in print.  Commercial modeling is really acting in print. Take photos that look like print ads in magazines in which you are laughing, crying, or upset. These are all the types of emotions that agents and clients want to see from a new commercial model. 

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A Smiling Shot

Modeling Portfolio Photos Smiling Headshot
PeopleImages/Getty Images

If you don't have a smiling shot somewhere in the middle of your book, then be sure to add a good smiling head shot. Agents and clients want to see your smile, but more important, your teeth. 

It's okay if you don't have perfect teeth, in fact, many supermodels are known for their gap-toothed smiles or sexy overbites. In one of the episodes of America's Next Top Model, Tyra Banks actually sent one of the contestants to the dentist to have a small gap in her teeth made wider! 

Commercial models don't need to worry about perfect teeth either. The agents and clients simply want to see what they are working with.

A Strong Closing Shot

Beauty Portrait
Frederic Charpentier/Moment/Getty Images

Always end with one of your strongest photos. Another great beauty or head shot that is a little different than your opening shot can work perfectly here. 

Most people only remember the very first and very last shot in your book, so make sure these shots are your strongest ones. 

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A Model's Book is a Work in Progress

The goal of a great modeling book is not to simply fill it up with a bunch of photos. A model's book should tell a story about who the model is, his or her brand, and the direction the model is heading in their career. It is much better to have three or four great shots than 10 mediocre shots. Don't expect to shoot with one photographer, fill up your book, and be done. A model's book is a work in progress, it is never finished and is always changing. Shoot with as many photographers as you can so you can take advantage of the different styles each photographer possesses; this will also give you experience working with a variety of personality types. Every time you do a photo shoot you will get better and better! Keep at it and you'll be sure to succeed!