Using Models for Portfolios and Creativity
There are a lot of apparent catch-22’s when it comes to wedding photography. How do build a portfolio to get jobs before you have any jobs for the portfolio? How do you experiment and grow while you are working for a client? In both of these cases, models are the answer.
The first question of how you build jobs before you have a portfolio is mainly for people starting out, or changing specialties. For me, I was a commercial and editorial photographer for many years before I started shooting weddings. I had a lot of experience, but I didn’t have much in the way of weddings to show in my portfolio, aside from the few I did for friends. What I did have was a gorgeous wife, her wedding dress, and the mountains of Colorado to use as my backdrop. Carin was the first wedding model I had ever used to create some portfolio pieces. When you marry a wedding photographer, you get to wear your dress over and over again. Since then I still use models when I want to add something specific to a portfolio, especially if I am looking to add a piece from a particular destination.
The second question entails how you can learn and grow while working only for clients. The short answer is you can’t, or at the very least you shouldn’t. My client’s dime is not the time to try an experiment. They are not paying me to build my portfolio, they are paying me to photograph their wedding. That doesn’t mean that I can’t try out something different that I think they will like. It just means that I work for them, not the other way around. So when I do want to play and experiment, once again the solution is to use models. Models get paid, to do fulfill someone else vision, and a good model makes the process easy.
So isn’t that cheating?
Yes and no, depending on how you look at it. Some people think a portfolio is supposed to be an example of past work, but I completely disagree. I think a portfolio should serve two purposes: 1) to show potential clients what you are capable of, and 2) to show people the type of future work you want. For the first part, it is obvious that if a photographer created an image they are capable of doing it again provided the client understands that it means photographing when the light is just right, and my involve more time and equipment that a more simple image. I think the second point is even more important. You don’t show pictures of wildlife if you want to get work photographing newborns. You don’t show landscape images if you want to photograph weddings. Tailoring a portfolio to your goals is important for any photographer.
Where to start
Finding models is not difficult. If all you are looking for is someone to practice with ask your spouse, your friends, or neighbors. If you plan on using the images in a portfolio or advertising, it might be worth your while to find a professional or semi-professional model from a site like modelmayhem.com. If they don’t have a dress, you can buy them off of sites like eBay or Craigslist pretty cheaply. Buy some paper binder clips from your office supply store to help with the fit. If you plan on using the photos, especially for advertising, make sure to have your models sign a model release. A model release is just a contract in which the model gives the photographer permission to use his or her likeness. Just Google model releases for some examples, but as with any contract it is always a good idea to go over it with a professional attorney if you have any questions.