Thursday, July 3, 2014

Creating and Building a Modeling Portfolio

Within the fitness industry (and beyond), modeling has become a great way to increase your visibility, earn additional income, network with like-minded professionals, and have fun pursuing something you are passionate about. The following suggestions are based on my experiences as a freelance model. My first photo shoot took place in February 2010, with Zach Dillman. A big THANK YOU to Zach for asking "have you done this before?" and encouraging me to build a portfolio and pursue modeling.

Photo by Matt Belkin

The Dos

-Network. Identify someone who has succeeded at what you are working toward.  Whether your mentor is someone you see every day, or someone you follow on social media, be observant of what they do on a daily basis and ask questions.  Tell people what your goals are! Connect with like minded individuals! One of my greatest opportunities, working with Hard Pressed Gym, resulted when a Facebook friend, whom I've never met, tagged me in a post on Instagram. My most recent photo shoot? It resulted from someone who messaged me on LinkedIn. Pursue your passion by creating a presence.

-Along with creating a presence, establish a "look" that you want to represent and be known for. I used to go for "sultry and edgy," as you can see in the photo above.  Now I prefer "happy and fit," like something you would see in Oxygen Magazine. It represents what I want to be known for and establishes an image of what I am creating with my fitness career.

-Be flexible with your style and image. I know, this completely contradicts the statement above.  However, sometimes to receive work, you have to be versatile.  Know what your limits are and be clear about them with photographers.  Never let anyone exceed or push your personal boundaries.

-Research the photographer before hand.  Do they have a legitimate web site? Not every photographer will, but this will give some indicatation as to their level of professionalism and experience.  A lot of photographers are just starting out, so do not rely solely on a web site when making a decision about who to work with.  I highly recommend reaching out to other models they have worked with, asking if the shoot went as planned and if there is anything you should know about working with the specific photographer.  Usually, on modeling portfolio sites, there will be a link to the model who is featured on a photographer's page. Visit their profile and send them a private message.  I have had other models reach out to me for the same reasons. Of all the photo shoots and "background checks" I have done, there was only one time when the photographer found out I had done this and called off the shoot. To be honest, I took that as a red flag and was glad I had taken these additional steps to ensure my safety.  A photographer should have your best interest in mind and understand your intentions.

-Not every one will agree.  There are probably a handful of people that will disagree with doing a "background check."  I'm certain of that.  And that's okay.  Keep in mind this is a huge industry and everyone makes their own rules.  There is no HR Department. 

-Select the date, time, location and what the exchange will be. Is it a trade shoot, meaning neither the model or photographer pays any money? Find out if the photographer will send you all of the images or just ones they select. I've had photographers send hundreds at a time--others have sent five. While it's unnecessary to see every single image, if it's a trade I like to see the majority of them. This way I can critique myself and know which poses look awkward, which angle is more flattering, etc. and change things for next time. If a photographer only sends a few edits that they have chosen, it's quite possible you would have chosen others. A photographer generally is looking for good lighting and exposure. You, as the model, are looking at your pose, your smile, your hair, your makeup. Reach an agreement regarding the editing process before arriving to the shoot. An exception is if you are being paid or otherwise compensated--you may not receive photos at all. 
Photo by Ant Farm

-Consider bringing a chaperone. If the photographer says chaperones are not allowed, find out what their reason is.  Most photographers want to ensure that you feel safe and at ease (if you are uptight and scared, it will show in the images).  Sometimes their reason is out of concern...that the chaperone will be a distraction. Ask any photographer if they enjoy when a model's boyfriend is watching the entire time. This generally doesn't go over real well. However, if said boyfriend (or mom, or sister, etc) is there to help...most photographers will welcome the company and assistance!  When you go to your shoot, make sure a friend or family member knows where you are and who you are with.

-Participate in MeetUp events and other group shoots. Be prepared to share the spotlight. It's unlikely you will receive very much one on one attention. It also is difficult to stay in touch with all of the photographers; there are many photos you will probably never see. However, it is a great way to meet other models and makeup artists as well.  Bring business cards or printed copies of your contact info and hand them out. 

-Be selective with your edits. The second photo shoot I ever did, I selected more than 30 edits.  THIRTY.  I'm surprised the photographer was willing to work with me again.  Typically, during a two hour shoot you may have 4 or 5 different outfits.  Choose one image from each set.  Over time, you will become more selective of the images you choose. The photo above by Ant Farm is one of my favorites.  However, I will gladly point out that my left arm is hidden.  It looks like I am a one-armed super hero.  Granted, this is probably not what most people see when they look at the photo.  However, be cautious of your poses.  Make sure you are not wearing hair ties on your wrists! The more thought you put into your poses and styling, the less work the photographer will have to do and the more likely you will receive great images and continued work.

-Respect the photographer. Time. I cannot emphasize this enough. There is nothing worse than becoming known as a "flake" in the industry.  I have seen countless rants on social media, coming from photographers, who were stood up or had someone cancel last minute.  As much as those rants annoy me, the photographers are entitled to be upset. Respect their time. If your car breaks down, find another way to get there.  Word travels fast in the industry and it is important to maintain your image.  Edit. Do NOT edit their image!  Whether it's by cropping or applying a filter, it's a DON'T.   Credit.  When you post their photo, give them credit.  This will not only provide them with exposure, but it is the respectable thing to do.  Give respect and you will be respected.  If not, walk away.  Again, there is no HR Department.

Things to Avoid

-Avoid committing to too many photo shoots. This was the number one mistake I made just starting off.  You will have less free time and will spend more purchasing a new wardrobe! With that being said, shop resale stores. You can find some amazing deals on some great brands. And even if it's not a great brand and falls apart after one use, consider whether or not it will be useful for a single shoot.  It is important to remember WHY you are modeling.  It should be enjoyable, never a burden.  If you feel burnt out, consider taking some time off.  As I mentioned earlier, a scared model appears scared.  A tired model, appears tired.  So unless that's the look you are going for, prioritize and stay rested.
Photo by Jim Cummins

Image on book by Jim Jurica
Everything Else

-How do I know if I should charge?
What should I charge? Take into consideration what you could be doing otherwise--did you have to give up a shift at the coffee shop and the money you would have made with a paycheck? Have you spent gas money to get there? How much did you spend on wardrobe? A makeup artist? How will you benefit from the shoot? I once worked with a stock photographer who paid me a flat rate of about $40 to shoot for a couple of hours. One of the images was selected for the cover of a book. Have I made any additional income or earned fame as a result? No. But it's pretty neat, it's available for purchase here, and is a key item in my portfolio which displays my experience and value/knowlege as a model.

-With experience you become more valuable. As you become more valuable, you can become more profitable. Most recently, I did a photo shoot with Chicago Custom Acoustics earbuds for a commercial that will air in Xsport Fitness.  I will also be featured online and in print for GWear Clothing's fitness and yoga line. These experiences provide compensation AND exposure in my specific industry.  That should be the ultimate goal, along with having a good time and meeting people. For example, if you're a dancer, your goal might be to find paid work promoting a dance studio. If you are a singer, perhaps you will eventually be paid to have your photo featured in an ad for a concert venue. Don't expect to make money right away. If you do, that's great. The photographer may not be aware of common practices and/or is generous.  Or you are extremely talented and in high demand within the industry.  If a photographer is being paid for the project you are being used in, typically that involves compensation for you as well.

-The photos are permanent. A less skilled photographer who is just starting out might be willing to pay you for your time.  However, those photos may be of less quality and not as flattering.  Depending on the agreement between you and the photographer, those photos could end up anywhere! Read and understand agreements before you sign them.  Envision each image you take as something that will be featured on a billboard in your hometown--are you okay with that? What are you representing and what will the outcome be if this happens?
Behind the scenes at Xsport Fitness, shooting for Chicago Custom Acoustics
-Where to start.  Here are a couple of sites I have used to build my portfolio and network.

Click here for more information about personal training and online training or to book a photo shoot. Thank you for taking the time to read this and I encourage you to share it.  Please let me know if you have additional questions or feedback. You can subscribe to my blog via email for instant notfications.  Create a life you love by loving your life.  If the opportunity doesn't exist, build it. 

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