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Newbie Model Walks into an Agency with Portfolio and #FAILS! Top 5 Tips So This Doesn’t Happen To You

Biography / Fitness Photographer / Frontpage textlink / Modeling / nataie minh / Natalie Minh / Photoshoots / Recommendations / August 13, 2011

With the digital camera coming down in price and improving in quality with each product lifecycle, you’ll find that hobbyists are moving up into semi-pro photographer rankings and the long time film pros getting their market squeezed by this huge surge of new people.  It’s not necessarily a bad thing, in fact, I think it’s a great thing that new entrants are coming to market because it grows the appreciation for top talent and bring more people to our world to work with.  For new models it’s great too because you can practice being a model with others for the sake of growing your portfolio (trade).

Granted, this makes it a little harder for talent to navigate the stuff that is considered “test images” and stuff that is commercially viable. What does that mean? Let me tell you about my experience as an early model.  Like any profession, you have to practice alot to become good at it. I did a ton of tests with pro photographers, semi-pro, and hobbyists just to learn different perspectives, have fun, and network.  Over time, I thought I had a killer portfolio with a range of looks, swimsuit, fashion, fitness, lifestyle, some headshots, etc.  Alot of my shots were in sexy swimsuits, sexy poses, makeup and hair was looking like I was going to go to the club.  I made prints, sent 2 digitals to a local agency, got a call back, and thought that I had my foot in the door. Whoo hoo!

I was in for a little surprise when the agent looked at my book and threw out 3/4 of my pics.  Seriously. I wasn’t marketable because it was too sexy, not commercial enough.  I’ll tell you, there was no nudity in the images, stuff that was safe for MySpace (this was a while ago, remember?), just that I thought that my best images were usually the ones that got the most comments on social networks.  The agency liked my headshots with lighter makeup, stuff where I looked like a normal boring chick (in my opinion), clean fitness, big smiles in a couple shots, not too interested in the bedroom eye look (well not for all of my shots!). Their expert eye was also able to pull out the images that were done with the top pro photographers that I shot with.

Fitness Photographer Natalie Minh

Natalie Minh

So, wow. That told me that industry people can recognize other Pros’ work immediately, even without any photo description indication. I also learned that MySpace and Facebook friend opinions did not equal a professional modeling agency opinion.  The big difference here is that the agency is in the game to make money off of you and therefore, trust their opinion on what sells.  It’s not always sex.  Fast forward a number of years, I’m in my photographer shoes and I can completely see their perspective. The model photo market is SATURATED with overtly sexy (or some even trashy) images.  My eyes get so tired of seeing it that when something refreshing passes by, that is sweet and naive and just not going in that direction, you stop and look.    I’m exaggerating a little here on the Bambi effect, but pushing sex is cool and all but is more narrow in one area of the market, the mainstream area is pushing BEAUTY.  Beauty isn’t just about a flawless, symmetrical face but also the radiating beauty in a spirit, which (good) photographers are designed to capture.

If an image is worth a 1,000 words, what do your images say about you?

Fitness Model Natalie Minh on the cover of Max Sports & Fitness Magazine, July 2011

  1. Prove with your portfolio that you are capable of replicating not only mag editorials but also advertising work. Magazine editorials don’t pay much money, adverts do.  Think like the agency…
  2. Have a clean headshot with minimal makeup/photoshop to it so that they can see the real you, freckles and all. Honestly, no image makes it to publication without some Photoshop and the Pros know this. Sheesh, I edit photos in Photoshop all day and can do miracles. For the raw image just like to see what we are working with first.   
  3. Take a serious consideration and look how many shots that you have of yourself half naked/lingerie/swimsuit/etc.  You only need 2 at most in your book so that we can see your body. 
  4. No more than 2 shots from the same look of a shoot, even if you love the whole damn series. Redundancy doesn’t show diversity as a model.
  5. Work with the best photographers that you can… even if it means that you have to make an investment.  As you learned from my story, Pros recognize other Pros’ work. And the reason they are Pros is because they make a living doing what they do, which is make commercially viable images. Don’t believe my experience? Check out what this one male fashion model did to get into Ford guerilla style by paying top $$$ to shoot with Bruce Weber:


Check out my photography work here: Natalie Minh Photography.



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Natalie Minh

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