How to Create a Modeling Portfolio

A lot of people write me asking how to get started as a professional model. To start your journey, you’ll need two types of photos:

  • Clear digital snapshots of yourself in form-fitting clothes with a clean face.
  • A professional modeling portfolio to show clients your look and versatility.

For the first set of photos, have a friend take basic photos of you. You can also do what I do, which is set up a self timer camera and a tripod and do it yourself. Generally, the agents/clients want:

A straight-on headshot from the shoulder up
A straight-on shot from the waist up
A ¾ profile shot of your body
A head-to-toe, straight-on shot of your body
A profile shot

As for your professional modeling portfolio, this will all depend on your look and the place in the market you want to enter. For a lifestyle model, the agents and clients will want to see smiling, off-camera type shots, photos of you participating in a moment, whether it’s a family picnic, a sports match, laughing with a partner, or some other real-life scenario. Check out the type of clients you’d like to work for and see what the models are doing on their websites and catalogues. Is LL Bean your dream client? Maybe set up an outdoors/hiking shoot with a partner model.

An example of a lifestyle modeling image – biking in Central Park. Photo by Jeff Jeffries. Model credit: Lela Hazary
More lifestyle modeling: a young tech team in a business meeting. Photo by Simone Bicchetti. Models are Lela Hazary, Emily Stockdale, Andrew Pagliara.

For fashion, these shots will be punchy, moody, edgy, can be revealing, the posing can be unique but not too unnatural, and generally a studio shoot works well.

An example of a fashion model portfolio image. Photo by Brian Jamie.
A male fashion model portfolio image. Photo by Antonio Annobile.

It’s always good to have a decent array of looks in your portfolio no matter what facet of the market you want to enter because even lifestyle clients will book a model from a cool fashion shot. It’s happened to me before when I booked New Balance. I got on set and saw the shot they booked me from and was really surprised. This is one of the shots they booked me from.

Photo by Don Frasco for I Feel Elated Philippines

Whatever you decide based on your research, it’s important to choose a photographer with high-quality and current, professional images – someone who is working with a lot of models who are booking work. You can check out different modeling agencies’ Instagram pages and see if the photos have the photographer tagged, then reach out there, or through the photographer’s website.

Note: sometimes you can just submit Polaroids to a modeling agency through their website, especially with fashion agencies, and they will want to meet with you just based on those shots. You do not need to pay for professional images to enter the modeling industry. Sometimes it can help, though.

Once you’ve chosen a photographer, decide if you want to style yourself, or hire a wardrobe stylist and hair/make up artist (HMUA). Back when I first started modeling I never would have considered hiring a team, but there are tons of freelance stylists and HMUA’s eager to book side jobs for a decent rate. Sometimes it’s easier to have a team in place so you can sit back, relax, and focus on being the model and getting the best shot.

Depending on the market you are in (I’m in NYC, so I can only speak for this market) you should be ready to spend between $400-1200 on a full portfolio shoot with anywhere from 4-8 looks and 8-20 final, retouched shots. This can vary widely based on the photographer’s scope of work, availability, etc. This price range quote is just for the photographer; if you choose to hire a stylist and/or HMUA, shop around and see what the best rate you can get for a quality professional is.

Note: the lowest quote isn’t always the best bet.

Note: you can always do Time for Print (TFP) shoots, which are free shoots for the model and photographers’ portfolios. Check out sites like Model Mayhem and even Craigslist (be discerning…) to find these kinds of collaborations. Just remember when you are submitting to a professional modeling agency, especially in a major market like New York, they will want to see high quality images. So, you can do 5 free shoots with beginner photographers and only get a few usable images for your book, or pay to work with a more experienced professional and get way more for less time. Time is money.

Before your big day, make sure you get enough rest (6-8 hours the night before) and definitely don’t drink alcohol or overeat the night before. Stay hydrated and use some good under-eye cream before bed to minimize puffiness.

The morning of your shoot, make sure to eat a healthy yet light breakfast with some protein in it and nothing too heavy/sugary.

Iron and carefully pack any wardrobe you’re bringing with you, and make your way to the location. Once you’re on set, have a quick chat with the photographer about what you hope to get from the session. Bring some inspiration shots you can pull up on your phone to help execute your vision.

Once you’re on set, make sure you are breathing. I know it sounds dumb, but I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been shooting while holding my breath. The most important thing is to breathe, and then be as natural as possible. Find your flow with the photographer and don’t be afraid to take some chances, but also remember your research from before – go for poses you think would appear in the clients’ advertisements. Oh ya, and remember to have fun!

Once the shoot is over, you can expect anywhere from a week to a few months to get your final selects back. It will all depend on how busy the photographer is. I’ve had test shoots where I got the images back within 48 hours, and one time it took 3 months, but both times the images were of high quality because I followed the aforementioned steps.

When you’re sending photos to modeling agencies, be sure to submit via their standard website. Also, get creative and crafty – look on Instagram and see if you can find any of their models’ profiles. Oftentimes, especially if the model is exclusive, they will have their agent’s email address listed in their Instagram page.

To go even further, get your portfolio professionally printed. I know a lot of people say you don’t need to do this if you have an IPad, which can be true, but it looks very professional to go into a casting or agency meeting with a physical, composed, professional modeling portfolio someone can hold in their hand and leaf through. Do your research and find a printing studio that specializes in model portfolios and/or actor headshots.

Important: make sure your portfolio prints are 9 X 12.”

You should also have a composite card (comp card) printed. This is a roughly 5 ½ X 8 ½,” two-sided card to advertise your look and versatility as a model. The front should have a high-quality headshot showcasing your look, with your name on the bottom. The back should have 4 images in different looks and styles showcasing your versatility as a model. Also, on the bottom of the back you should list your stats and contact information. See my card below:

Note: I just cut my hair and changed my look, so I am currently following my exact words to you and shooting with quality, experienced photographers, and will be creating a new comp card and printing new photos ASAP.

Once you have all of your supplies, you’re ready to submit to modeling agencies! Also, in this modern day of social media, make sure you post your best photos to your instagram page, and always make sure to tag the photographer if it’s a professionally retouched shot they did. Make sure you talk with the photographer before posting.

Also, added bonus points if you have a namesake website to showcase your images and tell clients a bit about yourself.

Note: never put “model” in the name of your website or instagram handle. It looks amateur-y. Trust me, my Instagram name for years was “@modelmylesellison.” Do you think I booked much work then? Nope.

Lastly, be confident, easy to work with, professional, and yourself. Find a connection between you and whomever you’re speaking with, whether it’s at an agency interview or on set. Always thank people for their time, never act desperate or confrontational, and take each experience — whether it’s positive or negative — as a chance to grow and learn more. Good luck!

Fashion Editorial for Solis Magazine – Rockstar

Photographer: Lydie Vycitalova
Instagram: @lydie_megaton
Model/Writer: Myles Ellison
Instagram: @myles.ellison

Imagine being a rockstar: a carefree, confident, counterculture innovator, and most likely someone carrying more than a few personal issues. Let us introduce our rockstar, a character we created inspired by 1970s big-hair rockers. We see this man going through the creative process, pondering his next music lyrics, seeking inspiration from both the inner and outer worlds, and testing those new ideas on an antique piano.

What did this character have to do to become the larger-than-life presence he so sought his entire life? And once he got there, was it everything he thought it would be? Looking out the window of his rural childhood home, what dreams propelled him to live this out-loud life in the big city? He has his fair share of secrets, some of the deep, dark and unrelenting, and others trivial, but to him, they are huge wounds. He protects himself, partially because he is afraid of anyone really knowing him.

After all, if they really knew him, would they stay?

This is the feeling we begin with for this editorial. A moody, vulnerable, and almost-brooding peek into the total-package rockstar from the 1970s in all his messy humanness and then transported into an eclectic, modern-day Bushwick, Brooklyn artist’s loft.

We channel the relaxed confidence and borderline-dazed state of our rockstar, sitting by the window and soaking in the light from the mid-afternoon glow. Wearing a simple pair of jeans and a suede jacket only, and with minimal editing, we showcase the natural sex appeal of the male body.

Going through the creative process can be challenging and bring up a lot of unresolved emotions. We see our rockstar laying on the floor amidst deep thought, staring up at the ceiling, thinking of the lyrics for his next hit. Or maybe he is going through the Rolodex of regrets for past decisions he’s made in life and love.

Then, he moves to the piano to test his new ideas, maybe even releasing past traumas with each keystroke in the therapeutic process of writing music, trying to bring the inner turmoils and sagas of his life to the surface in beautiful sound. In the background, we can see the eclectic setting of an inner-city artist, a deep thinker, someone spiritual, and connected to nature and knowledge with an abundance of books and plants.

The inner torment of the creative person can be complex. We see our rockstar on the couch, transfixed with thoughts of where to go next. Is he having a deep thought about his past and trying to translate that into his next hit song? Maybe he is stoned and simply being, allowing his mind to wander with the soft fuzz of a few puffs.

Maybe he just came back from a meeting with his manager or an executive of the record label, as we see him in a blazer and opened button-down shirt. The natural light from the mid-afternoon glow is shining against his tan skin and the leather of the sectional couch.

Sitting on a bureau, he rests his elbow against an empty birdcage and peers out the window. Like his mind wandering out into uncharted territory, we also have to wonder if a bird ever lived in that cage, or if it symbolized something more.

A cage, like his human mind, can be empty and open, allowing the light and breeze to pass through freely, or closed and harboring a loud animal, unrelenting, on repeat, and looking for a way to escape.

Lastly, we see a modern, gritty, casual Brooklyn artist on his way to the train station, hair blowing in the wind. The train tracks above are structural and unmoving, a juxtaposition with his free-flowing hair being caught by a passing wind gust.

In this editorial we see warm, natural light paired with simple yet classically sexy styling. The male form is accentuated by the light and dark. With minimal styling and relaxed poses, we see our rockstar for who he really is: a vulnerable young creative becoming unstuck before our eyes. Or maybe he’s becoming even more stuck, close to coming undone. The secret lays in his next hit.

How to Become a Male Model After 30

Don’t let all the 18-year-old fresh faces plucked from Eastern European villages fool you: there is a huge market for male models over 30-years-old and beyond.

The first step to starting your male modeling career after age 30 is creating a portfolio. You can begin by using a free website like Model Mayhem to connect with local photographers and build your portolio.

Next, you should showcase your images with high-resolution prints for a physical portfolio to show clients, and also create a website to be hired from. I’d recommend a sleek site like Pixpa to showcase your portfolio beautifully.

The next step is making sure your online presence is up-to-date and showcases your best self. Make sure you have an Instagram and Facebook modeling page at the very least. Post your professional photos, but also post everyday selfies because audiences like to see the “real you,” too.

While there are many ways to find work as a male model over 30 on your own, it can also be helpful to sign up with a modeling agency. Do a quick Google search for modeling agencies in your area and find out if they have an open call, what their submission guidelines are, and any requirements.

If you do get a chance to go meet with a modeling agent, make sure you wear form-fitting, clean clothes free of large prints and logos. Simple well-fitted jeans and a t-shirt work great. Make sure you are groomed according to your look and get a good night’s sleep before.

If you are booked on a modeling job, make sure you arrive on time and bring a book or some form of entertainment because a lot of the day could be a hurry-up-and-wait situation. As a model, you are one part of the creative process, but there are many different people on set doing different jobs to make the images/videos come together perfectly for the client. Be ready and available to shoot when the director/photographer calls you over and listen carefully to their direction.

Preparation is key to becoming a successful male model over 30, so make sure you’re mindful of your diet and are eating whole, nutritious foods and exercising regularly. Stay consistent with a skin care routine, which includes a face wash, moisturizer, eye cream, and any other products you feel called to.

Remember, there are a lot of modeling jobs out there for male models over 30, so stay consistent in your efforts and don’t get discouraged. Modeling careers are sporadic and jobs come and go randomly: some months you may book 5 jobs, and then you won’t work again for 3 months. So, keep your side-hustle or flexible survival job. That way you won’t have desperate energy when you walk into any room because your bills will be paid.

Follow me here or on my Instagram at @myles.ellison to follow my journey as a working male model over 30 in New York City.

Photo credit: Brian Jamie