Monthly Archives: June 2010

Modeling 101: The Nude Model

The Nude Modeling Decision“Man’s naked form… belongs to no particular moment in history; it is eternal, and can be looked upon with joy by the people of all ages.” Artist and sculptor Auguste Rodin

“Nudity is a problem for Americans. It disrupts our social exchange.” American painter and sculptor Eric Fischl


Ahh… the nude.

How ironic it is that one of the most honored traditions in all of art history should also be one of the most controversial.  Americans, in particular, have a peculiar collective inability to “look upon man’s naked form” with anything remotely resembling joy in this or any other age in our history.   In fact, a paralyzing ambiguity about the moral implications of the nude human form seems to be hard-wired into our national character.  On the one hand, we are viewed throughout the world as a dynamic, progressive society that champions personal freedom of expression, even to an extreme; on the other, we also are notorious for being one of the most prudish cultures in the Western world where human anatomy is concerned.  It’s hard to imagine any other “free” nation that would go to so much trouble to define just exactly how much female nipple can be displayed before the exposure becomes legally “indecent.”  While nudity is often featured in European commercials, try to imagine a commercial like this one ever appearing on American television (warning: bare breasts on display—lots of them.)

We think lots of weird things are funny, like kicks to the crotch, beer bottles smashed over the head, and fart jokes, but topless sky-diving invariably qualifies for a special condemnation on Sunday morning in America.  If you’re a Congressman, you can survive getting caught taking bribes and selling out your constituency, but if you get caught “sexting” photos of your forbidden parts, you’re banished.  We are, flat out, schizophrenic about the human body here in the Colonies.  Our no-compromise options seem to be limited to either legally suppressing and culturally censuring any exposure of the body that suggests its innate sexuality, or wantonly demeaning it through tasteless, explicitly sexual imagery as a provocative over-reaction to censorship.  Regardless, whether the impulse is to hide it or flaunt it, either extreme suggests the same maladjusted inability to just accept the body’s naturally interesting physicality and implicit erotic energy.

Why we’re that way and who’s to blame for it is grist for another article, and I’ll tackle it in more detail later in the Photography Articles series.  For now, just know this—here in Puritanica, if you choose to pose nude in front of an artist, well… Lucy, you got some ‘splainin’ to do.  Your family, friends, colleagues, employer, therapist and significant other will all feel compelled to speculate about your psychological stability, moral perspective, and cultural awareness. Your modeling agency will have an opinion too.  Is it any wonder that the decision to model nude always seems to involve considerations about everything except modeling?

It is a big decision.  Just how big depends on a variety of factors, both personal and professional, including a reasonable consideration for the effect of your decision on those people listed above.  Some of the factors you can exert a measure of control over; some of them you can’t.  All, however, deserve your attention.

Defining the nude

“The nude does not simply represent the body, but relates it, by analogy, to all structures that have become part of our imaginative experience.”  Art Historian Kenneth Clark


First, let’s be clear about what we’re discussing; frankly that can be more difficult than you might think.  Both the culture in general and the modeling world in particular have definitions of nudity that are at the same time precise and ambiguous, sensible and foolish.  So, what is it?

In general, it seems obvious that nudity can be defined as the human body without any clothing.  In practice, however, that’s not always enough.  For modeling, as long as the nipples (for women) and genitals are concealed, the exposure is defined as “implied nudity.”  In other words, whether the model was wearing a skimpy G-string and pasties or not, an “implied nude” image allows the viewer to infer that the model is fully nude behind the concealment.  How about fully naked from the rear or the side?  As long as what people in the business often jokingly refer to as the “naughty bits” aren’t visible, it’s not usually considered nude, although bare buttocks are occasionally defined as formally naughty.  Even legal jurisdictions that strictly forbid nudity even in private clubs will usually allow exotic dancers to perform as long as they’re wearing a minimally concealing G-string and pasties over the nipples.

Of course, walking down a public sidewalk with your hands over your otherwise naked pubic area and breasts will get you arrested in spite of your insistence that your nudity was only implied.  In the city of Boise, Idaho, for example (as it is in most municipal jurisdictions), the definition of public nudity is very explicit.  Here’s the ordinance:


“Nudity” means the showing of the human male or female genitals, pubic area, or buttocks with less than a fully opaque covering; the showing of the female breast with less than a fully opaque covering of any part of the nipple; the exposure of any device, costume, or covering which gives the appearance of or simulates the genitals, pubic hair, natal cleft, perineum anal region or pubic hair region; or the exposure of any device worn as a cover over the nipples and/or areola of the female breast, which device simulates and gives the realistic appearance of nipples and/or areola.


They do graciously recognize some exceptions:


This prohibition shall not apply to any child under the age of ten (10) years of age, or any person exposing a breast in the process of breast-feeding.


(In a culture driven by religious doctrine that still tends to sanction sex only for the purpose of procreation, it’s probably not surprising that the only time it’s considered appropriate to see a female breast is when it’s feeding an infant.)

Online modeling sites tend to enclose their nudity definitions within a “Mature” description, which is intended to help keep a visitor from accidentally popping a nude photograph up onto his monitor screen at work.  Without actually defining nudity, Model Mayhem, for example, lists the following as “Mature” themes which are acceptable images in a member’s gallery, but which are not allowed on the public portfolio page:

“…female nipple or areola, bare buttocks (thong or not), flaccid penises, pubic area (whether hair is present or not), see-through or semi-transparent clothing or body paint which shows any of the above.”

The nipple prohibition, of course, doesn’t apply to men, a fact which has been legally challenged by women on numerous occasions as an example of discrimination on the basis of sex.  On the other hand, males who model nude have their own unique barriers to clear since they tend to be ostracized by everybody, including female nude models.  The topic frequently comes up in online forums, and it’s always surprising how often both photographers and models who work in the fine art or glamour nude field express disgust for the nude male form.  That, of course, is ironic, given that Classical artists from the Greek and Roman eras preferred male models for their nude work on the assumption that only the male figure was worthy of artistic depiction.

The real world (at least the American version of it) where nudity is forbidden and the modeling world where nudity is commonplace are two different environments with strikingly different attitudes about the naked human form.  Which life you prioritize higher will probably determine which definition matters to you.  If work is more important to you than your personal life, then your primary concern is professional—you just need to determine if nude modeling is a good business decision—and accommodating personal issues is less relevant.  On the other hand, if your personal life is a higher priority than steady modeling work, you won’t regret any loss of opportunity that a rigid policy against nude modeling might create.

For the working model, nudity is simply one of many decisions about professional genres and personal preferences, and the definitions are all about creating billable categories.  Why is it important to be so specific?  Because, as we’ll discuss below, modeling is a service business with a rate card that reflects both supply-and-demand concerns as well as personal preferences, and nude modeling is a unique service with unique rates (full nude, implied nude, topless-only, no nudity at all…).  As we’ve also discussed throughout this series of articles, defining and publicizing your personal brand is a key part of distinguishing yourself in the Internet modeling marketplace, and a precise, matter-of-fact explanation of your nudity policy is an expected component of your brand description.

Personal  concerns

Let’s start by dealing with a reality that far too many people, including glandular teenagers, arrogant politicians, and the occasional Miss America, foolishly disregard until they’re in the middle of the disastrous consequences—anything that hits the Internet is there forever, and it’s accessible to anybody with a web connection.  Basing your decision to pose nude on the thin hope that you can control who sees it is a recipe for disaster, and unfortunately, these revelations have a tendency to pop up at the worst possible times.

Ten months into her reign as Miss America of 1984, Vanessa Williams was notified that nude photos taken of her had surfaced.  Two years earlier, while working as an assistant and make-up artist for a local photographer, she had posed nude with another model for what the photographer had described as “a new concept of silhouettes with two models.”  Although Williams believed the photos were private and insisted that she had never signed a release permitting them to be used, the public uproar and pressure from pageant sponsors forced her to resign.  This was pre-Internet; today those photos would have gone viral within minutes of the pageant results.

Moreover, your relative anonymity is no buffer against this kind of exposure.  Just because you’re not a celebrity doesn’t mean you’re not visible.  Your mom and dad may not be cruising the Internet looking for nude pictures of you, but it’s a good bet they know somebody who is.  All it takes is one disgruntled friend, bitter ex-boyfriend, passive-aggressively competitive co-worker, or nephew over the age of 10 to spread the news about the nude photos on your modeling portfolio, and you’re permanently outed.  One of our frequent models doesn’t pose nude even though she’s personally uninhibited about nudity, because she’s a single mother embroiled in ongoing custody disputes with her child’s father.  She doesn’t want to take the chance that nude photos might complicate her legal standing as the custodial parent.

When your professional activities include public photographs, you can’t expect to keep them separate from your personal life.   The rule here is brutally simple—never pose nude unless you’re willing to deal with the absolute certainty that your photos will become public at some point.  That’s “will,” not “might.”  What’s more, even if you don’t plan to become Miss America or a Supreme Court Justice, your spouse might.  One of our favorite models is completely relaxed about nudity in the studio as required for wardrobe construction, but doesn’t want nude photographs taken because she’s married to a prominent local banker.  She knows that nude images of her floating around on the World Wide Web could potentially have a negative impact on his professional reputation.

It’s tough to guess at age 18 what your privacy concerns might be when you’re 30 or older.  You may eventually decide that the nude modeling phase of your life is something you’d like to put behind you; the Internet, however, will not respect your preferences.  If you’re not prepared to integrate the title, “Nude Model,” into your life now and forever, exercise caution before you make a decision you can’t un-make.

Personal Opportunity

“There is nothing in all the world more beautiful or significant of the laws of the universe than the nude human body.” Artist and educator Robert Henri


Now that we’ve explored all the problems nude modeling can create in your personal life, you might wonder why anybody would ever make the decision to pose sans clothing, especially if large sums of money aren’t involved.  Surprisingly, many models actually prefer nude modeling for a variety of interesting reasons.

The core of their decision invariably includes a relaxed personal attitude about their own bodies and a philosophical commitment to affirming the natural dignity and beauty of the human form.  These are not people who worry about society’s disapproval of their life decisions, and as a result, for them the usually tortuous and socially perilous decision to model nude simply isn’t an issue.  In fact, it’s often a justification.  Some of our models and many of our glamour clients call us about nude photography for one or more of the following reasons:

• Defying social disapproval is exhilarating.  People who are natural rebels don’t respond well to being told how to think and behave, and their natural reaction to prohibitions that they consider unrealistic and/or unnecessary is defiance.   For the model whose personal compass doesn’t always point due north, the fact that the average person would never model nude is often the best reason for doing it.

• Nude modeling is personally fulfilling.  It affirms a model’s sense of self by moving beyond crippling self-censorship. People who are able to get past the Genesis mythology that equates knowledge and self-awareness with original sin are free to experience their bodies without guilt and explore the Freudian possibility that eroticism is a core part of human identity.  Models who cross that bridge understand that being sexy isn’t synonymous with being evil and that nude modeling is one of the most direct and accessible ways of expressing that realization.


“When we respect the nude, we will no longer have any shame about it.” Robert Henri
“Modeling nude makes me feel comfortable but also self-aware. I learn what every part of me looks like, feels like and how to control it with regards to posing/lighting, all the rest of it.” Australian Model Emmpress Mystique


• It’s socially and politically satisfying.  Nude modeling takes a quiet stand against society’s arbitrary and unrealistic linkage of personal appearance and personal worth.  Especially for women, it challenges society’s implicit decree that women are incomplete without a fashionable wardrobe and face-concealing make-up.  Nude is unadorned and simple; it exposes the body’s flaws and declares that perfection is not a requirement for beauty.

• The nude is part of an honored fine-art tradition.  Many nude models enjoy being able to participate in producing photos of an artistic nature, and they appreciate the fact that the nude is traditionally one of art’s most challenging forms.


“Shooting nudes gives us the opportunity to take chances and experiment. It’s about pushing boundaries—in art and in life.” Photographer Alex Waterhouse-Hayward


• It actually isn’t a “big deal.”  Objectively, who cares?  Think of it as the humor version of mind over matter—if you don’t mind, it doesn’t matter.  Or, as Tyra Banks admits, “As a model, you’re so used to taking your clothes off that you just don’t care.”  Sometimes perception trumps reality so hard that reality gets completely lost in the shuffle until somebody asks, “Seriously… what’s the big deal?”  While we urged caution earlier because it’s hard for most people to know who they really are at 18 or to be able to predict what their lives will be like at 30, the fact is that some people do know themselves that well, and warping their lives in the present to fit some frightened hypothetical future just isn’t in their nature.

Professional considerations

This one is short and simple—unless you’re a supermodel who gets to write her own custom rulebook to suit her preferences, nude modeling will generally end any chance you might have at commercial work.  Agencies don’t want to take the risk that 10-year-old nude photos of you might suddenly appear to sour their relationship with a conservative client who wants to use you for an extended campaign, and all corporations are conservative.  If you choose to model nude, your career will probably always be grounded in nude and glamour-based work.  There are exceptions, of course—mostly local, where the scrutiny will be less—but if you’re lucky enough to be considered for a national appearance, you can bet you’re going to be asked to swear there aren’t “incriminating” photos out there waiting to embarrass your new employer.

Professional opportunity

Why do it then?  Quite simply, it pays.  If you’re not interested in going through an agency or doing large-market commercial work, nude modeling, particularly in the glamour field, is a viable, steady-paying option, and it’s well-suited for freelance Internet modeling, especially if you know how to network online (see the Working the Web article for a good start).

It’s also unlikely that any nude modeling you do will adversely affect any opportunities you might have for trade-show modeling, and although it may not be the most glamorous assignment, being a “greeter” at a trade show is a dependable commercial mainstay and steady paycheck for many models.

Finally, even if the finished work doesn’t feature nudity, photographers like to work with people who aren’t overly modest in the studio because they tend to be less inhibited and more adventurous in their modeling.  That’s a big help in conceptual work, where experimentation and collaborative input are far more common than they are in straight fashion or commercial photography.

Show me the money

As we said above, modeling is a service business with a sliding-scale rate card.  What any type of modeling is worth is whatever a model is able to charge that a photographer is willing to pay.   That varies according to the market, the type of work involved, and the relative experience of the model and the photographer.  There aren’t any hard-and-fast industry guidelines to help you set your rates, so good negotiating skills and a quick mind for spontaneous, creative contract revisions are as important as your ability to pose.  Nevertheless, how you handle rate-setting for nude modeling tends to be a function of two conflicting perspectives.

1. Supply and Demand.  One perspective recognizes that since the supply of people who model nude is significantly smaller than the supply of those who don’t, nude models are likely to be more in demand than clothed models.  For the amateur GWC (Guy With Camera), that’s usually true.  The non-pro glamour photographer can talk his next-door neighbor into posing clothed for a portrait, but if he wants to shoot lingerie or nude photos, he knows he’s going to need a model and he expects to pay for the service.  Models who operate on a supply-and-demand marketing strategy usually go to elaborate lengths to further delineate the market.  They distinguish between implied nude and full nude, between full nude and topless, between erotic and non-erotic, between straight and fetish; some are up for virtually anything (if the price is right); others are willing to model nude only for “tasteful” or “artistic” photos.  And each category carries a separate rate based on the level of exposure and/or adult-content.

This tends not to work as well with professional photographers since pros don’t usually pay models unless it’s for a commercial assignment that pays both of them, and unless the photographer is routinely shooting for a men’s magazine or online nude site, most commercial jobs don’t require nudity.  This can get to be an amusing problem, especially for new models who jump into the Internet-nude market without any noticeable modeling skills other than a willingness to appear nude, but who have been told that nudity is the magic bullet that triggers large paychecks.  It’s not unusual to read something like the following, lifted directly from an actual model’s online portfolio:


“I’m an amateur model looking to expand my portfolio. I’m interested in glamour, lingerie, pin up and most of all, more fetish!  I’m willing to start out with select TFCD and work my way up, but nude/adult shoots need to be compensated, reasonable rates of course!”


The amusing part happens when she then just as predictably adds:


“I would prefer a photographer who knows how to take creative control and give good directions. I’d love to learn more about posing correctly.  Communication between photographer and model are (sic) key, I’d love to learn from you!”


By her own admission, this is “an amateur model” who would “love to learn more about posing correctly,” and “love to learn from you.”  If the “you” that she wants to “learn from” is me, I’m going to be asking myself why I would want the honor of teaching her how to be a model at my own expense.

The bottom line here is that modeling is a service business that requires certain skills and if you’re not ready to deliver those skills at a reliably high level, then just being nude is not an adequate excuse for doing your job inadequately. You may be nude, but you’re not ready to charge a pro photographer for your modeling services, and that sliding scale is only going to work for you in the amateur-photographer market.  That’s not, by the way, intended as an insult for photographers who shoot for fun instead of money.  Many experienced nude models love the GWC shooter since he is the most likely to pay for his models.  If he’s respectful, appreciative of the model’s effort, and sincere in his desire to produce quality photography, then he can also be a nude model’s best customer.

2. Modeling is modeling.   The flip side to the “Supply-and-demand” perspective refuses to turn nude modeling into a separate category as a matter of principle.  If at least part of your decision to model nude is based on one or more of the considerations listed above in the “Personal opportunity” section, then choosing to charge extra for nude work can seem like a betrayal of your own beliefs.  If you’re genuinely committed to the notion that the human body is naturally dignified and beautiful and you reject the societal insistence that revealing (or viewing) it is morally inappropriate, then creating a special rate card for nude modeling is a philosophical contradiction.

If you think about it, attitudes about nudity are at least partly a function of attitudes about clothing.  If you think the only real purposes of clothing are protecting your body from the elements and decorating it as personal expression, then a nude body simply implies good weather and a lazy sense of fashion. If, however, you think the primary reason for wearing clothes is to protect the body from being seen, then nudity represents moral jeopardy.  For those people who don’t feel morally inadequate in the nude, modeling is modeling, and they charge for the posing, not for the skin.  In fact, I know of at least two nude models who charge extra to wear clothes because maintaining a wardrobe and getting fashionably dressed for a shoot is more trouble than posing nude.

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Modeling 101: Presentation Materials


Presenting "Model You"If you’ve read through our Solving the Agency Maze, Working the Web, and You Call Yourself a Professional articles, you’re already dialed in on the need for creating a strong, recognizable brand for yourself.  We’re going to assume that you have a handle on the business in general, that you’ve given some careful thought to the type(s) of modeling you’re interested in, and that you’ve worked through the agency-vs.-independent modeling decision.  What we’re going to talk about in this section are the printed materials you need to represent that brand to potential clients.  The business world calls these presentation materials, and they’re usually designed as a package with a consistent branding theme.  Typically the presentation package includes brochures and business cards, letterhead and envelopes, and packaging materials.  Fortunately, a model usually only needs two presentation items: comp cards and a portfolio book.  At the end of this article, we’ll also talk a little bit about optimizing your images for display in your on-line galleries.

You may be wondering if you still need printed presentation materials in the digital age.  After all, you’ve given your Facebook and Twitter accounts a face lift to make them look more professional, and you have portfolios on six different model networking sites… is anybody still asking to see a paper resumé?  The short answer is yes, especially for commercial and fashion modeling jobs.  The formal portfolio book is expected and if you don’t have one when you show up for a casting call or interview, you may just get sent home.  Glamour clients, on the other hand, might or might not ask to see your book.  Agencies rarely handle glamour models and most work is already being scheduled from Internet contacts where potential clients may have already seen your online portfolio.  Still, even if the client doesn’t ask for it, the mere fact that you have a book is impressive—it shows you understand the business and have made a professional commitment to equip yourself with the tools of the trade.

Moreover, the first “client” you present your comp card and portfolio to could very well be a modeling agency.  The best way of talking an agency into representing you is to show up for the interview fully prepared with your impressively professional presentation materials under your arm.  Agencies spend a lot of time and effort grooming new models to a professional standard just to get them ready to start assembling their presentation materials; if you walk in ready to work—that is, prepared to earn money for the agency from Day One—you jump to the head of the line.

That actually brings up a question new models often ask—if you’re working for an agency, whose responsibility is it to provide the presentation materials, and whose brand goes on them?  If you’re an XYZ Agency model, shouldn’t your comp card feature the XYZ brand and contact info?

First, let’s get one thing straight—you don’t work for the agency, you’re not their employee, and they don’t pay you a salary.  The fact is, they work for you, and you pay them to perform a variety of services with a percentage of the money you receive from the modeling clients who actually do pay you to work for them.  In reality, very few agencies can provide enough work to enable all of their models to earn a full-time living, and no agency has access to all of the work that is available in any given market.

That should suggest to you that if you want to stay busy, a significant portion of your jobs will have to come through other sources—either through your own networking efforts and attending open casting calls or from other agencies that also represent you.  If you’re represented by several agencies (very common, especially in smaller markets) or you’re representing yourself, the only brand that is common to all job opportunities is you, and the only reason to sign exclusively with a single agency is if that agency can reliably line up all the work you want.  If not, their insistence on branding your presentation materials with their own logo is neither reasonable nor a requirement.  It’s your career; you need presentation materials to pursue it successfully, and those materials need to work for you.

The only commercial models who don’t need a book or a comp card are pre-teen children, for the same reason you don’t send them off to school every day in $100 shoes that they’ll outgrow in six months.  A growing child’s appearance is constantly changing and it would be wasteful to commit extensive resources to a portfolio book that would be outdated by the time it was finished.

Quality Counts

Consider that you’re going to be working with photographers, make-up artists, stylists, and art directors—people who are visually creative and accustomed to working with sophisticated imagery.  You shouldn’t have to be told that the materials you use to promote yourself as an equal member of that team need to be of the highest possible quality.

Your photos have to be professionally produced modeling images.  Your cell phone pics won’t work; neither will your high school senior portrait.  They may both be exquisite enough to make your mother cry, but they’re not portfolio photos.  For those, you need a model photographer, so either dust off your negotiating skills and find some soft touch you can talk into a TFCD session, or be prepared to hire a working pro who knows how to produce the kind of images you need.  Quality make-up isn’t optional for these either, so expect to dig down again for that.

The concern for quality also applies to your comp card, which needs to be sized correctly and professionally designed with an appropriate mix of images.

So what, you’re asking about now, is an “appropriate mix of images?”  What should you put in your portfolio book (and just what is a “comp card” anyway)? The answers can vary depending on the market, so let’s take a look.

The Portfolio Book

Portfolio BookThe portfolio book is exactly what it sounds like—a book of photos showcasing your modeling work.  Also referred to as a “portfolio case,” “model portfolio,” “model book,” or just “portfolio,” the portfolio book is your first, best, and sometimes only opportunity to sell yourself to a prospective client.  Beyond just proving that you’re attractive,  the book needs to demonstrate your versatility as a model—your age range, your ability to portray different characters, your best features, and above all, your personality.  Especially for commercial work, don’t just settle for a series of haughty fashion poses on white seamless paper—think high-end catalog shots where the models seem to be engaged in an activity.  Look approachable and friendly.  Icy beauty gets attention, but so does a bright personality that makes people smile.

This is where you collect the dividend on all that work you did earlier in identifying the genres that align your modeling interests and physical characteristics.  Your portfolio needs to highlight your ability to be a star in the kind of work you want to do.  If you don’t know what that is, and you’re trying to hit a little bit of everything in your book, or worse, you’re showing photos in a genre you’re clearly not right for, you’ll be wasting time and money and squandering every casting opportunity you get.  You’ll get one chance to make that critical first impression, and your book needs to be perfect.

Talk it over with your photographer and shoot with a well-thought-out plan designed to capture exactly the kinds of images you need to showcase your unique talents and market yourself in the genres you want to work.  The photos in your portfolio book should tell a very specific story about you, so clarify the narrative with everybody involved before you start shooting.  Bring lots of outfits, by the way.  You do want your story to suggest that you’re an experienced model who’s been around for awhile; you don’t want your portfolio to look like it was all shot in the same day.  Don’t use more than one image from the same recognizable location or showing the same clothing in your book.

How many photos do you need?  First let’s emphasize a basic and inescapable point—the photos in your portfolio book must be professionally shot images of outstanding quality.  Anything less is unacceptable and merely good cannot make the cut.  (You can post those on your Facebook wall if you must, but don’t let a casting agent see them in your book.)  Seriously, you need to be brutal about evaluating your own work, because your portfolio book should generally have a total of no more than 20 images, and they all need to be amazing.  If you’ve only been working for a year or so and you can honestly (brutally) only find 10 images that make the cut, then your book has 10 photos, period.  Quality is all that matters, and average photos that you include for filler will hurt you, not help you.  New models will often have only 6-10 images in their books, and that’s acceptable.

Industry-specific model portfolio books usually come with either 20 or 40 photo sleeves.  The extra 20 are for your tear sheets, and after you’ve been working for a while, tear sheets will be your strongest and most effective images.  Tear sheets are copies of actual advertising images that you’ve appeared in, literally “torn” from the magazine and displayed in your book.  If your photos are the promise of your modeling potential, your tear sheets are the proof.

Here are a few other considerations:


Good enough is good enough.  Your book should be durable and contain the specific features described in the next paragraph, but don’t buy more book than you need to accomplish the primary goal—displaying your photographs clearly and efficiently.  High-quality, modeling-specific books can be purchased for well under $80 from a variety of vendors (see a sample list below), and carrying a $500 Corinthian leather case with your name embossed on it into an interview with a modeling agency representative just announces that you’re the kind of person who can be tricked into buying superfluous extras.  Believe me, they don’t need that kind of encouragement.


Most true modeling portfolio books have a solid cover that is wrapped in faux-leather, although rigid vinyl covers are common.  Depending on how informal your market is, you may also see less expensive books with flexible covers.  A nice feature available in some books is a pocket inside the front and/or back covers for you to store your comp cards, slides, or job vouchers.  It’s important that the sleeves that hold and display your photos are crystal clear, and made of a material that won’t get cloudy or break down and secrete gases that damage your photos over time.

Portfolio Book detail, binding

Having the sleeves sewn into the cover spine is a lot neater and more professional looking than the 3-ring binder look.


Most portfolio books are black, although it’s not uncommon to see clear covers these days, especially in smaller markets.  If you’re represented exclusively by a single agency, they’ll probably insist that you carry their agency-branded portfolio book, which may feature the agency’s logo colors.  If it’s your choice, get black; it’s traditional, unpretentious, and exudes business-class, like a grey flannel suit and a power tie.


For decades, the standard size for a model portfolio book has been 9″ x 12″ and that size is always acceptable in every market.  In a few of the larger markets, most notably New York, the more prestigious agencies might use 11” x 14” books.  It makes for a very impressive presentation, but it’s also bulkier to carry around and more expensive to create and maintain.  Tear sheets will usually be taken from a magazine page, which, in the U.S. usually means 8½” x 11″, which still fits fine inside the 9 x 12 sleeve.  Actors always use an 8×10 book.   Obviously, if you’re represented exclusively by an agency, your “preferred” size will be whatever they hand you.  You’ll need your photos printed in the book’s nominal size, and 9 x 12, in particular isn’t a standard size for your local one-hour photo lab.  Your photos should be in the portrait (vertical) mode, by the way; the person who’s looking at your book doesn’t want to have to keep turning it sideways to view landscape-mode photos.


You can find decent 3-ring binder albums almost anywhere, including photography stores, framing shops, and business supply outlets like Office Depot and Staples.  Most will have 8½” x 11″ sleeves, though actors may find 8″ x 10″ books at photo stores.  Art-supply shops usually carry dedicated portfolio cases, although it’s unlikely you’ll find anything in general-purpose retail outlets that specifically displays the traditional 9 x 12 modeling portfolio  photograph.  For that, you’ll need to look at specialty shops that cater directly to the model and actor markets.

One of the best is Portfolio Mart, which carries a terrific selection and range of affordable professional modeling cases in 9 x 12, 11 x 14, and 8½ x 11 sizes.  The prices range from as low as $20 to as high as $80.

California-based  Itoya’s Art Profolio line is an excellent low-cost alternative to more expensive books.  The Evolution EV-12-9, a clean vinyl-covered book with simulated stitching around the edges, can be purchased from respected online photo equipment giant Adorama, for example, for under $8.  The PU-24-9 is a surprisingly luxurious case that goes for around $35.  Itoya doesn’t sell directly from its website, so you’ll have to track down one of the distributors listed on the site.  We’ve purchased numerous items from both Samy’s and Adorama over the years, and can recommend either one.  If you can find an Aaron Brothers Art & Framing store in your city, you may be in luck—at least some of the outlets carry Itoya portfolios.  Boise, Idaho models rejoice—there’s one in town and it carries Itoya products.

If you really can’t resist the urge to flash the ritz, Brewer-Cantelmo offers custom made portfolios with prices to match.  If you got it, you might as well flaunt it, but if money’s tight, hiring a good photographer to upgrade your photos is a better investment. There’s a limited number of potential clients who will be impressed by the fine leather and embossed name on your book, but everyone can appreciate superior photos.

The Comp Card

The Composite (Comp) Card is your modeling business card.  It’s also occasionally referred to as a Zed card, a mispronunciation of the Sed Card named for Sebastian Sed, an early developer of the product.  As the generic name indicates, the comp card is a double-sided composite of the model’s photos printed on card stock.  The standard size is 5.5” x 8.5” which is a letter-sized (8.5 x 11) document cut in half.  The usual format is a single strong image on the front, with a diverse selection of 3-5 images, plus the model’s basic stats on the back.

The Zed/Sed or Comp Card

If the portfolio book is your modeling story in pictures, the comp card is the sizzling movie-trailer highlight reel.  Everything said above about creating an impact with your portfolio book goes double for the comp card.  You have a maximum of six pictures to create a favorable impression of your personality and demonstrate the range of your talent.  Your front-side picture, especially, has to stand out.

Imagine that you’re a commercial photographer who’s just landed a contract to provide all of the images for a clothing catalog; or you’re an advertising agency art director who’s about to start production on an advertising campaign.  It’s your job to find models for the assignment.  You could call models you’ve already worked with, except that the client wants fresh faces who haven’t already appeared in his competitors’ advertising.  You don’t have time to post a public casting call and risk not having the right people see the notice, so you email your requirements to a modeling agency and ask them to send you a list of their people.  The agency immediately sends you a huge stack of comp cards.

Even that might take too much time, so you go directly to the agency’s office and ask to look through an even bigger stack yourself.  You may very well find—in no particular order—all of the agency’s model comp cards arrayed on a display rack.

Here’s what’s going to happen—you’re going to pull the fifteen or twenty cards that jump up and grab your attention and spread them all out on a table top.  Again, the six to ten cards that stand out are going to get picked up and carted back to the office for a final decision by the creative team.  At every step in the process, if the feature image on the model’s card isn’t an attention grabber, it doesn’t make the cut.

A quality comp card is an essential component of the working model’s networking tool kit.  It sees the client before you do, and opens the door for you to come in for the interview; it stays with the client after you’re gone and continues to lobby for you.  It’s your calling card when you’re trying to get an interview with a modeling agency, and as you walk out the door, it’s what you leave with the receptionist at the front desk.  After it helps get you a job, while you’re sitting in the chair with the make-up crew, you ask them, “Do you mind if I give you my card?” and then you ask them if they have a card for you.  The photographer asks if you have a card he can add to the file he keeps to remind himself which models he’s enjoyed working with, and which he can also pull out and show to any of his own clients who might ask for his advice on selecting a model.  You give it to everybody.  This is how you play the networking game, and the comp card is your ace-in-the-hole.

Other concerns:


The basic layout for your comp card is a full-page head shot on the front side with either your first-only or full name and no other copy, and a symmetrical display of four shots on the back, with your full name, contact information, and required stats.  The key “stand-out” element, of course, is the quality of your photographs, but a striking graphic design can certainly help with the “wow” factor.  If you’re graphically inclined, you can make your own basic design using templates at most of the printers listed below, and some of them also provide custom design services.  Many model-portfolio photographers also offer comp card design and printing services (yes, we design cards and arrange for printing at Sourcelight Photography—well, you were wondering, right?).


Cards should be printed on a good white card (not paper) stock with a minimum of 100# weight.  Stock quality may also be expressed in point size, and anything over 12-point is acceptable.  14-point is excellent.  Some companies also will apply a UV coating that adds a glossy sheen and a bit more perceived weight.

Color or Black-and-White

The perception that presentation materials for models and actors have to be black-and-white is a holdover from the days when color printing was second-mortgage expensive, and B&W was simply the only medium most people could afford.  That’s all different now, and most comp cards are in full, rich color.  Can you still use black-and-white?  Of course—it never goes out of style, and a well-shot B&W is always impressive.  You won’t get a break on the printing costs, though, which should tell you how affordable color has become.

Printing Processes

There are three processes you’re likely to encounter when you’re researching printers.  The cheapest is color laser printing, which has improved tremendously in the past few years, but still has problems rendering the kind of high-density color you find in model portfolios. It also tends to lose detail at the contrast extremes of shadow and highlight, and can’t print on glossy paper stocks.  It’s not recommended for photographic documents where showing off the quality of the photo is the point of the document.

The next step up in quality is digital offset printing, and the quality of the newest generation printers, like the HP Indigo Iris, is, for all intents and (most) purposes, photographic, and there’s no limitation on paper stocks.  Since it’s a digital process, it works from files rather than mechanical plates, which means the setup is no more expensive for a single print than it is for a thousand.  The process is relatively expensive, but since there’s no setup fee, offset digital can be an affordable option up to about a hundred copies.

The most common high-quality color printing is done on a traditional, offset lithographic press.  These are large industrial presses that apply CMYK color inks in 4 separate passes.  Since the setup is often the most expensive part of the job, offset lithography is rarely affordable unless you need at least 500 copies.  If you do, however, the per-copy price can be quite reasonable, and the quality is what you see in high-end magazines.

Most Internet comp card printers will probably be offering either color laser or digital offset prints, although one, Color Comp Cards (see next), amazingly claims to use offset lithography, and their prices are only marginally more expensive than the other printers listed.

Printing Companies

Local printers. Don’t hesitate to contact local print shops.  They know what they’re up against from the Internet vendors, and they’re often surprisingly competitive.  Since they won’t specialize in comp card printing, their graphics departments won’t have templates and will be available for custom designs.  I always prefer to patronize local business if I can rather than sending my money out of state, so at least give the locals a chance before you hit the Internet to check out the next few options.

Zed Card Printers, Model Cards, Buy Comp Cards, Comp Card, and Comp Card Express are all Internet-based comp card printers offering basic products and services for reasonable prices.  They’ll generally ask you pick a template and either upload digital files or mail in prints that they will scan and insert into the template.  Several of them also offer basic design services if you don’t feel like populating a template yourself.  I don’t have personal experience with them, so I can’t vouch for their quality or their service.  Most do offer a free or low-priced print proof, so before you order 250 cards, be sure you approve the quality of their work.

My Zed is quite possibly the most rudimentary do-it-yourself comp card creation site I’ve ever seen.  If you’re determined to design your own card and following simple written directions is too complicated for you, this is the Sesame Street version.  Needless to say, the templates are… straight-forward.

Color Comp Cards uses the premium custom offset lithographic printing process and offers some of the highest quality printing and card stock available.  The cost is a bit higher, but not significantly so.   They also offer custom design services, and in fact boast that they don’t use templates.  This also means that you can’t build your own card on their site, although if you (or your designer) are capable of creating your own design without a template, you can send any of the printers listed here a finished file.


Printing costs for everything have lowered considerably with the advent of digital printing, and color comp cards are now reasonably affordable.  Most of the printers listed above start their prices at around $100 for 100 cards, and the price drops to under $200 for 250 cards.  As mentioned, Color Comp Cards is a bit higher—$139 for 100 cards—but the promise of photographic quality from an offset lithographic press is certainly worth looking into.  Obviously, if you could afford it, buying your cards in lots of 500 or more could potentially drive the price down to pennies per card, but I don’t recommend it.  Especially in a small market, 250 cards should easily get you through a year, and as a new model, you’ll probably want to update your card with some of the new photos you’re going to be posing for.


Mini-comps are comp cards reduced to business-card size (2” x 3.5”).  You can design them just as specialty one-sided business cards, with a single image and your contact information on the front, or create them as actual mini-comp cards, with an additional picture and all of your contact info and stats on the back.  Most of the printers listed above also offer minis.

Obviously you won’t get the visual impact that you would with a full-size comp card, but mini-comps are certainly more convenient to carry and in some circumstances may be less intrusive to hand out.  Handing someone a comp card is an unmistakable marketing gesture, which is fine if the recipient is embedded deeply enough in the industry to expect it.  People who are only marginally involved with the modeling industry, however, and who might raise an eyebrow at your comp card wouldn’t think twice about receiving a simple “business card.”  Minis are not a substitute for a full-size comp card, but if you can afford it, they’re a very nice complement.

Web Portfolios

Finally, a few tips on optimizing your photos for online portfolio display.  For a more general discussion on choosing a portfolio site and making a splash with your verbal presentation, see our article on Working the Web.

Image Sizing

Your images need to be sized to fit the expected display space provided on the modeling site’s interface.  Some of them pop up a non-resizable window and if your image is larger than the window, it will fall outside of the display and have to be scrolled for full viewing.  That’s annoying.

Even without the window, you have to anticipate the average resolution setting on most monitors.  That dimension has steadily grown over the years as monitor prices have fallen and people have upgraded the size of their monitors.  At one time the average monitor was a 14” display and the largest practical resolution was 800 x 600 pixels.  If you tried to display a 1000-pixel-wide image, 20% of it would fall off the monitor.  Now that affordable flat screens are available, the average monitor size is probably 19” or more, and the default resolution is going to range anywhere from 1280 x 1024 pixels all the way up to 1600 x 1200.  Conservatively then, that should mean that anything smaller than, say, 1200 pixels wide by 1000 pixels tall should display without scrolling.  As a practical matter, however, a few model networking sites limit image size to no more than 800 in the longest dimension.  If you upload a larger photo, they’re going to compress it using their crappy site algorithms, and you’ll likely wind up with a heavily pixelized JPEG mess.  Consequently we always deliver our model files at a maximum dimension of 800 pixels on the longest side.  It’s big enough to provide decent detail and quality, but small enough to fit all displays without scrolling.  Oh, and the model sites will leave it alone.

A word about DPI (dots per inch), by the way.  There’s a lot of misunderstanding about this term on the Internet, and you may come across some confusing discussions in the forums of your model networking site.  Images are usually tagged with a DPI rating, usually something like 200 or 300 for print and 72-100 for monitor display.  The monitor-display setting is an irrelevant holdover from an earlier era, and you can safely forget about it.  DPI has nothing to do with monitor display; it is strictly a print specification that tells a printer how many ink dots to spray inside of an inch of paper space.  An inch is always an inch on paper, so if your 1200-pixel-wide image gets sent to the printer with a 300 dpi specification, it’s going to print at 4 inches wide (1200 ÷ 300 = 4).  If you told it to print at 200 dpi your 1200-pixel image would be 6 inches wide, and so on.

Your computer display, however, is measured in pixels, and the number of actual inches of display that will create is a function of your resolution setting.  Here’s an example.

Let’s say you have a monitor that measures 14 inches across, and let’s say you’ve set your resolution (remember, it’s a Preferences setting; you can vary it) to 1280 pixels wide by 1024 pixels high.  That means that one inch of actual distance on your computer monitor is going to contain approximately 91 and a half pixels ((1280 ÷ 14 = 91.43) or, roughly 91 ppi (pixels per inch).  So how many inches wide is your 72 dpi, 640 x 480 image?  As you’ll see, that’s strictly a function of the relationship between your actual, fixed monitor screen size and the arbitrary resolution that you selected for display.  Since a 640-pixel-wide image will occupy exactly half of a 1280-pixel-wide display, and since your monitor screen is 14” wide, your image will be 7 actual inches wide.  If your monitor was 20” wide your image would now display at 10 inches wide using the same 1280 x 1024 resolution.  On the monitor, it makes no difference whatsoever what dpi setting you specify; your monitor ignores it and displays the image according to its actual pixel count.

Clear as mud?  All you need to remember is that when you resize your image for web display, make the long side 800 pixels.  Since most of the images we deliver are in the 9 x 12 portfolio aspect ratio, that usually means a 600 by 800 pixel image.  We also try to strike a healthy balance between a fat, juicy bit count for maximum quality and a decent respect for the site’s bandwidth/display concerns.  You’ll have the option when you apply the final JPEG compression to choose a quality level, and we always shoot for something that yields a file around 150-200k in size.  Again, big enough to maintain some quality, but small enough to load quickly.

And, just for kicks, set the dpi specification at your age.  For some of us, that’s a pretty respectable number.

Color Space Issues

Frequently, a model or photographer will post a desperate question on a modeling portfolio website that goes something like “Why do my photos look so awful when I upload them to my portfolio?  They’re fine when I view them in Photoshop on my computer, but when I look at them in my online portfolio they’re all washed out and the color is off—what’s wrong with this site?”

The answer is a complex problem with a simple fix.  The colors in your photos look desaturated and inaccurate because you’re using the wrong color space.  Say what?

Accurate color is actually a very complex challenge to reproduce.  Creating a particular shade of blue in the typical 4-color print process, for example, requires a very precise mixture of the base cyan, magenta, and yellow inks.  It’s called CMYK, with the K referring to black, since a pure black is hard to create by simply mixing the other three.  Accurate color also has to take into account the relative whiteness and reflectivity of the paper the photo is being printed on, and every paper stock will require a custom color formula to create the same color value.  Those formulas can shift over time as printers age and inks and paper are replaced, so pro labs recalibrate their process almost daily (which is why we don’t enthusiastically recommend that you have your Sourcelight photos printed at the local WalMart 1-hour lab).

Color on your computer monitor, however, is created and displayed by shining a back-light through an equally complex mixture of red, green, and blue pixels.  It’s called RGB, and there are 256 levels of each color, ranging from deep, saturated color to an almost washed out version.  When you multiply 256 x 256 x 256, you get nearly 16.8 million color possibilities.  The tiny differences between any two adjacent colors are far too small to be processed by the human eye, which is in fact the basis for JPEG compression.  JPEG’s sophisticated, bio-based algorithms simply evaluate the image and eliminate color differences it knows we can’t detect anyway by creating an average value of any 16-pixel grouping.  So if we can’t see them, why do we need so many colors in the first place?  Because color in the real world, meaning the visual landscape you capture in a camera, is actually a broad spectrum of mixed shades.  Accurately depicting a blue sky requires thousands of shades of blue from the darkest to the lightest points in the sky; throw in a deep red sunset on the horizon, and you’re up to millions of colors.

Why does all this matter?  Consider the simple problem of trying to match a computer image’s colors in a print—one is made with combinations of red, green, and blue light; the other is comprised of a completely different mixture of cyan, magenta, and yellow ink.  It would be a lot easier if the processes used the some component colors, but since they don’t, making them compatible requires the use of extremely sophisticated conversion formulas.  How does a little bit of R, a little bit more G, and not very much B translate into some comparable mix of C, M, and Y?  Figuring it out can take a lot of time-consuming calibration and expensive trial and error, and in the end, the conversion is never perfect.  RGB simply doesn’t translate perfectly into CMY, and the prints we get from digital files are always a compromise.

We have similar problems inside of digital display.  CRT monitors can display colors differently than flat-screen LEDs.  Expensive professional monitors show more colors more accurately than cheap consumer models.  Software programs that deal with color all have their own ideas about how to create the RGB-mixing formulas.  How do we deal efficiently and consistently with those 16.8 million colors so that they all look the same in every circumstance, in every software program, on every monitor?  The question got prickly and real as the Internet evolved from a text-based medium to a visual medium.  The eventual answer was the sRGB color space, a lowest-common-denominator standard for displaying color on a computer.

In 1996, Hewlett Packard and Microsoft got together and asked the basic question: “What is the minimal performance standard we can expect from the average consumer computing system—OS, software, display card, and monitor?”  If you‘re interested, you can read a technical presentation about the process here, but the gist of it is they were looking for a consistent method of managing color so that it would display in a similar manner across the widest possible spectrum of display devices.  The specification they created, sRGB, has indeed become an industry standard and is now the defacto display mode for all Internet-based color.  The problem is that in order to make it compatible with home-based computing systems, the standard was deliberately dumbed down to encompass only the limited range of colors expected in consumer-level displays.  It’s quite possible that the system you’re reading this on is capable of displaying richer and more natural color than you’re seeing, but you won’t see it because all of the images have been translated to the reduced-spectrum sRGB standard.

Professional image producers typically work in a larger color space that doesn’t limit the full range of color available to them.  The most common professional color space is Adobe RGB, a standard created by Adobe for use in their image-processing programs like Photoshop.  More colors mean better fidelity to the original image throughout the process, from camera capture through professional printing.  In a professional system that recognizes and can support the broader color space of Adobe RGB, colors will also display accurately on a computer monitor.  Unfortunately, when an Adobe RGB image is displayed on consumer-level equipment that is expecting the smaller sRGB range, weird things can happen.  Colors get washed out and are often displayed inaccurately, particularly in the blue and green range.  Most notable are typical red skin tones, which turn a sickly green (see the example below).

sRGB vs. Adobe RGB colorspace comparison

If your photo looks color-accurate on your monitor in Photoshop but green on the same monitor when displayed in your modeling portfolio, then either the modeling site or the browser you’re using is incapable of reading the color-space info planted in the metadata and is simply defaulting to sRGB display.  Some browsers, Firefox for example, are smart enough to detect the color space and display your images correctly; others—Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, for example (no surprise)—can’t read color space tags and always default to sRGB.  The solution?  Before you upload your Adobe RGB photo files to an Internet-based display, convert the color space profile to sRGB.  Be sure to use the “Edit/Convert to profile” rather than the “Edit/Assign Profile” option.  Photoshop understands the process and applies sophisticated algorithms to minimize the damage, and unless you have some extreme and unusual color ranges in the image, you probably won’t notice a difference.  Sure, it’s annoying to have to essentially degrade the quality of your images in order to accommodate the arbitrary limitations of a display medium, but it beats letting Model Mayhem recolor your images on the fly.

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