Finding Models to Build Your Portrait Portfolio

Photo via langll

When you first start out building a portfolio, it can be hard to kick things off. How can you convince a model to do a photo shoot with you, if you don’t have any proof of experience at all? It’s a bit of a Catch-22, but you can break out of it. Just follow these steps to get your portfolio off the ground with a ready supply of models.

Start With What You Know

The first place to start taking portraits is with people you know. This can feel a bit awkward, especially when you aren’t very experienced yet. However, these are the people that are most likely to forgive you for getting it wrong, and they won’t have any impact on your professional reputation.

The best solution is usually to find a couple of friends who don’t mind posing. Start simple – try shooting headshots and portraits against plain walls. You can build up to more conceptual photographs later. The important thing is to build your confidence and get a few good shots for your book. You can even try self-portraits, which will help you understand what it’s like to be on the other side of the lens, too.

Look For Beginners Like You

Next up, it’s time to start looking for “real” models. These are people, both men and women, who like posing for portraits and are aiming to earn an income through it. However, they also have to start out without any experience or anything in their portfolio.

This is where you can help each other out. TFP, or time for prints, is an expression used to describe photoshoots where neither the model nor the photographer pays for the images. Instead, you both use your time for free, and you both get images out of the bargain. It can be mutually beneficial as you start to build your portfolio while they do, too.

Local models who don’t have to travel far to you are the best place to start. You can get comfortable and even shoot them a couple of times if you wish. This is when you should really start concentrating on learning the trade – the less mistakes you make, the better. This will help to build your portfolio quicker and give you a good reputation amongst the models you have worked with.

The best places to look are model sites like StarNow, ModelMayhem, and PurplePort. Here, you can find models and send them messages, or put up your own casting call explaining why you want to take portraits and who would be suitable.

Consider Paying a Professional Model

Your next step up may well be to work with a professional model for the first time. A professional model makes a living from his or her modelling, and they know how to act in front of the camera for good results. They are much easier to work with, in most cases, because they don’t need much direction. In fact, they may even end up helping you out with new ideas and angles.

There are a couple of different options for this route. You can find a model on one of the sites mentioned previously and pay their hourly rate for a portrait session just between the two of you. This is a great option in particular if you have a certain model you really want to work with.

Another choice is to find a workshop that is taking place with a professional model at a great location. This gives you the opportunity to mingle with other budding photographers, all of whom pay for the experience of attending the workshop. The model will be set up with hair and make-up artists, wardrobe changes, and studio kit which you can use. It may be led by a professional photographer, or may have been set up by the model as a way to earn some extra money.

The workshop may prove beneficial as you get some great professional-quality photographs out of it, and you may learn new tips and techniques from the other photographers. On the other hand, your images will likely be quite similar to those of the other photographers, so you won’t look unique – and if theirs are better, yours might look worse.

Both options are great, but if you feel you are already gaining enough experience through doing TFP shoots, then you don’t necessarily have to pay for a model at all until you are doing so for commercial reasons.

Other Avenues

Let’s say these options aren’t working for you – or don’t appeal to you. There are still a number of other ways in which you could find subjects for your portraits to help build up your portfolio. They include the following:

  • Applying for work at a local paper or magazine – they may ask you to take pictures of people for feature articles if they accept you, though it may not be paid work
  • Taking portraits of strangers on the streets – these reportage or photojournalistic shots will have a different feel to those posed with a model
  • Join a student film set – they will need still shots and promotional shots taken of the actors, and likely won’t have enough money to pay an established professional photographer
  • Advertise yourself as a beginner photographer with highly reduced rates – you may not get any bites, so offering your services for free may work better in this case
  • Volunteer for a charity – they often need photographs for social media or to record their efforts, so you may have opportunities to take portraits there alongside other styles of photography

These opportunities are all around, even if it takes a bit of digging to find them.

All of these options will help you to grow your portfolio. The difficulty then may well be knowing when your portfolio is ready for you to stop shooting these options and stick to your clients. The truth is, your portfolio is probably never done. If you have an opportunity to improve it in some way, it’s always a good idea to take it!