Cost for a Modeling Portfolio

cost modeling portfolio

Ballpark estimate: Prices: $500 to $2,000

Many people dream of being a model, but as alluring as the idea might be, it can be quite challenging to break into this cut-throat business. But if you’re determined to try getting some work—whether in print, runway, on TV, or on the big screen—the best place to start is by investing in the cost of a professional modeling portfolio.

Which Comes First?

Some people hire a photographer in the hopes that they can use their photos to interest a modeling agent to represent them, while other people prefer to have a contract with an agency before they invest in the cost of a modeling portfolio.

Regardless of which comes first—a contract with a modeling agency or the portfolio—a modeling portfolio usually consists of some specific photos that will show perspective clients your natural beauty and the range of different looks you can achieve. This will usually include at least a few headshots and full body photos from different angles, and several types of styles and poses. The key to good photos is to look natural and not too posed. What you wear in your modeling portfolio photos can also play a big part in deciding whether you will land a modeling job. Generally, you’ll want to avoid loud prints, and very dark or very light colors and go for simple but bright clothing that will help you stand out.

A good headshot photographer should know what poses and styles are popular with major brands, advertisers, magazines, retailers, and others who hire models. It’s important that the photographer understand the market to which you want to appeal so the photos he or she takes can be tailored to help you meet your specific goals. For instance, if you are particularly interested in clothing catalogues, runway fashion shows, or commercials, this will be important information to convey to the photographer.


In addition to the modeling shoot, you may need to hire a hairdresser, makeup artist, and stylist to make sure you get the best photos. Some photographers offer these services as part of a package deal, which can be cost effective and can save you the time of having to find your own vendors.

Finding the Right Photographer …

The more experienced a photographer is in headshots and other photographers that will help you land a modeling job, the more you can expect to pay. But the investment can be well worth it in helping you get the work you want. When considering hiring a photographer for a modeling portfolio, ask to see samples of work they have done and also find out if their clients have been successful in landing work. It’s also a good idea to ask if your photographer will be taking photos in a studio with backdrops or if he or she will take you outdoors to use a natural setting. Both options can be acceptable but will give you a different effect.

Selecting a Photographer

If you sign a contract for representation with a modeling agency, they’ll ask you to have your headshots or a modeling portfolio done and may give you some direction in terms of the types of poses, angles, clothing brands and styles. They will likely recommend a photographer, or give you a list of photographers they work with frequently and who are familiar with what their clients want.

Keep in mind that many talented photographers exist but not all of them are well versed in the art of headshots for modeling and acting. While a headshot for business will typically be a posed, professional looking photo that shows your best assets, and photos for weddings and other events tell the story of the day, photos for a modeling portfolio are all about capturing your personality and it takes someone trained in this style to really understand the nuances involved.

What’s Included

When considering the cost of a modeling portfolio, there are many elements to consider. For instance, you need to consider the cost of the photographer’s time, the cost of a hairdresser, makeup artist, stylist, the cost for photographs (if they don’t with your package), the cost for a portfolio book or binder (if you will carry a physical portfolio), and the cost for a composite card, which is what will often be submitted to the client for consideration for the job. A composite card is usually a card that has a close-up or headshot on one side and a medley of a few different looks on the other. The card will also include your specs (such as age, height, weight, clothing size), and the modeling agency’s contact info. When clients are deciding who to use for an ad, the cards make it easier to compare different models to narrow in on the best fit for the job.

Digital Portfolio

In today’s highly digitalized world, modeling portfolios are increasingly going online. For some models, having both a physical portfolio and a digital one spans the best of both worlds. But other agencies are moving toward all digital portfolios. Therefore, check with your agency to find out the trend in your market and what they need to submit you for jobs.

If you’re going exclusively with a digital portfolio, you can save on the cost of a hard cover book and the photo prints and comp cards. But you will still need to pay for the photo shoot and stylists. In addition, the agency may charge you a fee for an online wire service where you will have a profile that has a variety of your photos online. Your agency can send clients a link to this online portfolio, making it easy to submit you for consideration. Often clients can browse the online portfolios as well to look for models they think will be the best fit for their jobs.

Another digital option is a brief video clip of your photography shoot. This is a way to showcase your personality for clients. If you think this will help in your market, you should talk to your photographer to find out if you can add this option for an additional charge.

Cost of a Modeling Portfolio

The biggest cost for a modeling portfolio will be the photographer’s time for the photo shoot. The price for the job will also factor in the photographer’s equipment. Many photographers will include a set number of images (either provided digitally or printed). To give you an idea of how the costs might play out, you can expect to spend on a photo shoot between $500 and $2,000 depending on the photographer’s qualifications, how long he spends with you (a mini session may be half an hour, while a deluxe photo session may last two hours or even longer), how many clothing changes and background or location changes are included, and whether there will be someone provided to do your hair and makeup. Often you can select a package in this price range that includes everything you’ll need for a portfolio.

But if you opt to pay a la carte for these items, you can expect a roll of film (for black and white, non-digital images) to cost in the $125-$150 range. Ordering prints for your portfolio can cost about $20 for each 8 x 10 photo. Touch ups of images can be about $15 each. Hiring a professional to do your hair and makeup for the shoot could cost $100 or more. A stylist who provides clothing and accessories for you to wear and helps you to get just the right look could charge about $150 to $250 and up for a shoot. Purchasing a portfolio book or binder to hold your photos starts at about $50 for the most basic book and goes up to about $300 for a fine leather portfolio. A batch of 100 comp cards (also referred to as zed cards) can be about $100 to $200 ($1 to $2 a card). The per-card price goes down with larger batches. To be included on a model agency’s online database or on a wire service can cost between $100 and $250 a year. A video clip of your photo shoot can cost an additional $250 to $300 or more.

Keep in mind that photo shoots need to be repeated periodically, as your looks change and clothing styles and trends change. (For children, this is especially true.)

Word of Warning

While many modeling agencies and photographers are reputable, there are also some that are just in the business to scam unsuspecting people. Therefore, make sure you check out the agency and the photographer with the Better Business Bureau and do a search for them online to read reviews before you invest any money. Also keep in mind that modeling is a fickle business and even the best modeling portfolio won’t guarantee that you will get a job.