As a performer, its vital to have good photos for your portfolio, but what photos do you really need in your portfolio to get you the work you want? Who should be taking those photos and how much should you be paying for them? Having worked with models in the burlesque and alternative modelling scene for the last ten years, here’s some handy tips I’ve picked up that may help you with that all-important decision of choosing the right photographer to shoot your portfolio, and how to get the best deal for your money..
What sort of photographs should I have in my portfolio?
The idea of a portfolio is to sell yourself to potential clients, so it’s key to capture in your images a sense of your own persona. The /boudoir/pinup/fetish scene (delete as appropriate) is a constantly developing scene and your portfolio will need to be strong enough to compete with the top people in your industry. Before you book a photoshoot, it’s a really good idea to sit down with a pen and paper and think about how you want to represent yourself to clients. Do you want to be portrayed as a sweet, innocent mid-century housewife at home in the kitchen baking all day? Or are you a bike riding, latex-loving rock chick who breaks all the rules? Ok, these are two extremes but think about where you actually want to fit into the spectrum as this will be a huge factor in the type of work you will be getting later on. Once you’ve worked out your persona, write it down and refer to this regularly when making photoshoot decisions in the future.
Now that you’ve sorted that part, you can start choosing images for your portfolio. Performers from all genres will require promotional images for websites, posters and flyers, so its a good idea to have a set of images that represents each of your acts/personas/performances. You’ll need at least one posed image of you in costume, portraying your personality and with the relevant props for that act. Its also a good idea to have a couple of shots of you performing (either staged or live) that will give cabaret venues an idea of which act they will be getting if they book you, especially if you’re using elaborate props that require planning or lots of stage room. These images should be representative of the act, but also not give away the entire show. Just like your striptease, the photos should be a teaser and not a full reveal.
If you’re looking at a career in modelling, your clients – which will include brands and designers for example – will want to see that you not only look the part but will represent their brand ethos and be a role model to their target audience, so its a good idea to have some good examples of this in your portfolio. Also think about what you want to be modelling – if you decide you want to do nude or fetish modelling, its another fabulous industry to work in but it is not a decision to be taken lightly. Once you’ve started working in this industry, you can find that certain occupational doors close instantly for you and it can be quite hard to open them again. Think about it, sleep on it, and then choose. And if you still decide to go ahead with it, you’ll have a great time shooting your portfolio!
I’ve never been to a photo shoot before and I don’t know how to pose…
When booking your photo shoot, it is always advisable to choose a photographer who a significant amount of experience in the style of photography you are after, as they will be able to offer you the most tailored direction.
Before your shoot, spend a couple of hours practising your posing in front of a full length mirror. Whilst most models concentrate on making sure their tummy is sucked in and facial expressions are spot on, the key to good posing and becoming a top model in your field is often in the subtle positioning and angles of the extremities such as hands and feet. With pin up photography, you will be looking to enhance those curves so stand with your whole body facing at a 45 degree angles away from the camera with your weight on the back leg and really push out that hip to accentuate the curve. Now twist the top half of your body round to face the camera and imagine that piece of string your mother used to use to make you think about your posture… This is your base position for most poses. The arms, head, hands and feet though are up to you!
There are so many photographers out there, which one do I choose?
Choosing a photographer is like finding a good pair of heels. There are so many out there, and they all have the same function, but what you’re REALLY after is a specific style that fits perfectly and you’ll be able to wear for the whole night. Translating the metaphor you’re going to want photos that fit with your stage personal and will last you the duration of your performing career, or at least until your next major re-invention (whichever comes first). It might be tempting to shoot with the same photographer as your friend because they came highly recommended, but whilst one photographer may have created the perfect set of photos for them, consider how your own act compares in style and whether what they are offering is right for you too. After all, is she’s a twisted cabaret style beauty and your more into vintage pin up perfection, there’s a chance you might not be as happy with your results as she is with hers! Invest time in good research, check portfolios, ask questions, check for qualifications, read testimonials and make sure the photographer can offer you exactly what you’re after. You are investing both time and money into this after all.
Models should also be aware of the notorious ‘man with camera’ (or woman) who takes advantage of female models willing to bear all in front of the camera by pretending to be a professional. You probably won’t have heard of this photographer before as very few girls will have shot with them and they may be so convincing that you may not be able to tell straight away. Before working with an unknown, always make sure you research the photographer online before you book and check for consistency in their portfolios – do they look like they are from the same person or are they just a collection of images? Get recommendations from other models in the industry and make sure someone knows where you are going. And if still in doubt, take someone with you – or don’t go. Its also worth remembering that owning an expensive camera and equipment is not a sign of a good quality photographer, its just a sign that the person behind that camera is either rich or has invested a lot of money into their hobby or profession. There are some fantastic photographers out there shooting with semi-pro cameras. You know what they say: its not size its what you can do with it that counts!
How much should I expect to pay for a shoot?
A really good set of photographs should last you many years, so really you should think of your photo shoot as an investment into your career. Like all products and services, the photographer will set their own rates dependent on their skill level, services they offer and of course the amount of specialist equipment they can bring to your collaboration, so it is impossible to give exact costs.
Whilst cheap photography can feel like a bargain, the price is normally a good reflection of the photographer’s level of experience in that field and can be a sign that they are not confident in their own work. Some photographers that are just starting out or perhaps are experimenting in a new area of photography may offer TFP or Time For Print work, where you get a number of free images in return for modelling for them. At times these can be beneficial as they are a good way to expand your portfolio and work with more people in the industry, but results can be very hit or miss. If you’re relying on having good shots for a specific purpose, its best to make sure your photographer is up to standard. Its also worth mentioning here that although you may get offered lots of TFP work on a regular basis, professional photographers will not accept requests for free shoots unless its in extreme circumstances where you’re offering something out of this world awesome. Whilst I’m all for getting bargains myself, you wouldn’t walk up to the shop assistant with that pair of heels and ask for them for free, so don’t expect the same from a photographer. However, its always worth asking if there’s a sale on…
On the other end of the spectrum, paying luxury prices of £2,000 or more does not necessarily guarantee you good photos either. Over-confident photographers can easily charge through the roof for photography and there is no governing body which puts restrictions on pricing. Be savvy, set your budget and stick to it and get the best set of photos possible for that amount of money.
Another key point when booking your shoot is to have in writing exactly what you’re getting for your money. Does the cost include images? How many final images are you getting for your money? Will they be prints or digital files? Many models prefer to have the digital files to use for websites, leaflets and profile pictures for networking sites, but expect to pay a little more for these than you would for prints.