Print Portfolios

I’d like to make the case that both models and photographers should have print portfolios. Of course I assume that everyone and their mom has a digital portfolio. Whether it’s your Instagram, you have a cloud album or a website, you probably have images up somewhere ready to show off. But I would like to argue that print portfolios are uniquely powerful and you should take the time to create one and keep it updated.

Recently I had a major company reach out for a commercial photography opportunity. They were interested in my photography but wanted to see some images that were in line with their specific branding. I did a few test shoots for them and finally organized the images into a portfolio. I have an iPad and touch screen laptop I could use, but when it comes to really showing off your work, nothing is as good as print. As a result the company overestimated what I was going to charge and put me in a solid place to negotiate.

Why print?

People stare at screens all day long. Social media is an obsession and I honestly believe it is wise to consider how desensitized people are to digital photography when you’re putting together your port. By comparison, to see a gorgeous print photos is a rarity. To sit down and handle artwork with your hands has a special feeling attached to it that in turn is attached to your work. I see it all the time. When people open up my portfolio they get a tiny bit quieter and they focus. I’m not at all trying to make it out as some mystical experience, but it is a better process for presentation. Without exaggerating it, it actually is more meaningful than what an iPad or computer screen provides.

In my most recent experience, I made a large portfolio. In a large print size, your images have a presence. The pages are heavy and the larger format is out of the ordinary of what people normally handle. The physical book itself conveys that you take your own work seriously and people will respond similar to your work.

What size?

I called three major agencies that I am familiar with – Ford (I called Chicago, NY and LA), LA Models and NoTies in San Diego – to ask what the standard size for a portfolio was. Not quite as surprising, the best answer I could get out of them was “it depends”. As a side note for those who don’t have the pleasure of dealing with agencies, they don’t tend to be renown repositories and disseminators of knowledge.

It’s been my experience, and tentatively verified by the uncertain ramblings of everyone I talked to, that there isn’t actually a singular format for a modeling portfolio. The best quote I can give you is from LA Models who say “it depends on the client needs”. One reputable blogger outlines the options in detail in his article here but I’ll spare you the time reading it and just tell you, there seems to be no real standard anywhere.

My suggestion is that you either go big (11×14) so that your portfolio has a big presence, or that you get a size that’s convenient (8×10) so that you actually carry it around. You should also know that the cost of prints is more than double from 8×10 to 11×14. Where an 8×10 is $2 a 11×14 is $5. If you’re going with a serious printing company you’d bee looking at $4 and $11 respectively.


For the love of God don’t do some cheap-ass photobook, get a binder. A nice binder would be better than even an expensive photobook since it needs to be updated regularly. Inexpensive binders Like the Itoya Art Profolio Evolution are only $15. Personally I like the Pina Zangaro screpost-binders. Page inserts can cost as much as $50 for 10.


The key to a portfolio is not quantity, but quality. 12 amazing images is better than 30 mediocre ones. You also need variety. If you’re a model then you need different genres. If you’re a photographer you need various genres, but also diverse models and contexts without leaving the boundaries of your skill set (i.e. fashion photographers don’t need baby photos).

Your images should be printed at high quality. Model’s you may want some help from a photographer if you’re not represented by an agency. Images should be printed at 300 dpi and checked for color accuracy. Don’t have any logos or watermarks on your images. I recommend against borders on images although I haven’t read anyone else making the same recommendation.


If you’re on the fence about a print portfolio, I think you should see one in person. I think it’s a big deal and I’m confident you’ll be proud of your work when you have a print portfolio. It’s the tangible product of your art.

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