What are Modeling Agencies Looking for in a Portfolio?



Countless aspiring models of all backgrounds are often so caught up in their dream of modeling that they don’t realize they’re not meeting industry standards. It reminds me of an episode of American Idol, where multiple contestants were choosing to compete with original songs and some of them were eliminated as a result because of poor song choice. Katy Perry actually made a comment about how when you are determined to be a musician and you’re writing your own songs, you think the songs are golden because you created them. In reality, though, a lot of times those original songs do not compare to tear-jerkers like Sia or Adele songs. The same scenario often applies to modeling, but with models of course rather than with musicians. 

That presents the question, what are modeling agencies looking for in a freelance portfolio?

Well, you’ve got to think – your freelance portfolio is the most straightforward and powerful way you can showcase your modeling potential. If agencies don’t see potential in your portfolio, you won’t make it very far. Most agencies view your portfolio before meeting you face to face, so there’s no first-time impression or opportunity to win them over with an energetic personality or an inviting demeanor; your portfolio IS the first impression. 

Showcasing photos that are realistic to your appearance is important. If you are 6’ tall, you shouldn’t try taking photos that make you look 5’9”. If you are 5’4”, you shouldn’t try taking photos that make you look 5’9”. Agencies and clients will see this as silliness and it will not be taken seriously (unless of course, you are portraying a silly character). Plus, if your photos showcase an appearance that cannot be reflected in person, clients and agencies will not appreciate that very much. 

Your portfolio is not meant to showcase the talent of photographers, makeup artists, or how sexually appealing you can be. Modeling photos are used for entertainment, and agencies want to see that you can portray a character other than yourself; they want you to be able to play the part of someone or something that is both entertaining and captivating. If you are Mary, a 25 year old office receptionist, agencies don’t want to see that Mary knows how to put on her favorite sweater and pose in front of a tree – because the portfolio is not about Mary at all. The portfolio is about Mary’s potential to be anything in the world, whether it’s a 1920’s flapper, a pin-up girl, an everyday suburban mom, or a munchkin from the Wizard of Oz. Your portfolio should contain 6-20 photos showcasing your ability to transform yourself into something compelling.

Since many agencies advertise models as belonging to an age group rather than an exact age, it’s important to show your ability to be adaptable. Showcase photos that display your youth, but include photos that make you look older than you are, too. If you are 24, you want to be able to pass for any age between 18 and 30 given the right clothes and makeup. Also, show in your photos that you are capable of making more than one face. It’s great if you’re happy all the time, but clients don’t want to see you smiling in every single photo. One of the most beautiful things about photographs is their ability to inflict emotion, and photos that draw emotion can be more striking than a photo where you’re overflowing with happiness. The most important thing to remember is that it’s not about what you want. As a professional model, you will dress and wear makeup according to what the agency or the client wants. That’s not to say you can’t model in a specific category – of course you can. You can specifically be a goth/grunge model, a lingerie model, a pinup model, etc., as long as you understand the importance of playing a character within that field – starting with your portfolio.