Building A Portfolio

Annnnnnd it's already time for lesson 2! I hope that Lesson 1: The Building Blocks was helpful and provided useful tips for starting to critically think about your own boudoir business.

Since photography is a visual industry, you cannot expect to get bookings until you have a portfolio with a variety of looks and bodies in it. Clients love to see that you have worked with someone who has a similar body type to their own. 

When building your portfolio is it important to keep everything in mind from Lesson 1, and continue to develop your brand image and ideal client here as well. 

Photographing my sister for a holiday promo!

Photographing my sister for a holiday promo!

So where do you start? The best ways to build a portfolio is asking your friends and family to model for you. The less experience modeling professionally in front of the camera the better! This way you can be in complete control of the session and direct them in the ways you see fit. Try to ask friends and family members with very different features and body types. The more variety in your models, the more prepared you will be for real clients who come in all shapes and sizes! Again, keep your ideal client in mind with the models you are using to build your portfolio.

The benefits to working with people that you know is that you will be far more comfortable shooting them! You can be open about messing something up, or wanting to do it over again. You also do not typically have to pay them (maybe just a few drinks!) and can do multiple shoots to try out different ideas as you are learning. 

If you do not have any friends or family that are comfortable modeling for you, or not enough to fill a portfolio, then sites like Model Mayhem can be a great option*. You can choose to pay models here or do TF shoots (you can also try getting models for TF work via Facebook or Instagram). Personally, I always try to refrain from paying for models and generally do TF shoots. This means that I provide the model with the images I end up using for her to use on her own portfolio. Since you do not know the model, professionalism is important. Be open about your shoot ideas and see if she is comfortable with them. Is she comfortable with nudity? Will she have to provide her own wardrobe? Do you have a stylist? Will you cover travel? 

To keep my models happy I usually always provide some snacks and drinks, as well as, letting them keep one of the lingerie pieces. If they have to pay for parking, I generally cover that as well. It's a great way to build a lasting relationship with them and make them more inclined to work with you again in the future.

Now that you have someone to shoot, the questions is what should you photograph?! Well to start a variety of images will make your online portfolio far more appealing. Showing different body sizes and shapes, different lingerie choices, and background settings is important.

Even though the model you are working with is there to help build your portfolio, take their input into consideration! Ask them what their favorite body parts are, what makes them feel sexy, what areas are they not happy with? That will give you a good idea of the kinds of things client will say. Base the poses and outfits around their answers, but also do not be afraid to make recommendations whenever necessary. You are the photographer and you need to take control of the session. If your model tells you that she is not a fan of her thighs, do not completely avoid showing them in the session! Challenge yourself and pose her in ways that will make her love her thighs and see them in a new light. It will make her experience and the end result that much better. 

Also, be sure to show the images are you are shooting to your model. While you are learning, listen to what the models say to the photos on the back of your camera. Does she think her stomach or ribs are sticking out too much? Do her legs look big, or her tush look flat? Fix it! Nothing is worse than working with an actual client and then not being able to fix the issue at hand. Of course there are certain things that cannot be avoided during shooting, such as a very skinny woman's ribs showing in various angles. In that scenario let them know that you will take in her ribs and soften their appearance during editing. Regardless of the scenario take control and communicate! If you get the sense they are still unsure about the image, explain the situation in a different way. Remember your model or client do not understand photography to the extent that you do. Make sure you take control and explain everything in an easy to understand manner. It will make the end result of the images that much better! 


IMPORTANT: No matter who you are working with though, make sure they sign a model release form. Even if it is family or your best friend, have them sign a release form. You need to make sure that you are legally allowed to use those images and will not come across any issues later on. I have heard of many situations where photographers work with models and basically only have a verbal agreement to shoot. Well many times, the model decides she isn't really comfortable having these type of images online, or her partner has a problem with it. You can of course choose to use the images regardless, but then are running the risk of the model or her partner filing a claim against you. Your time is valuable and you do not want to have shoots where you cannot/ are afraid to use any images from, or spend your time and money battling in court. Therefore if you use ANYONES images make sure you have written permission to do so, and also keep the hard copies of these forms stored safely. If you do not have a model release handy, check out sites like for affordable options.

*Model mayhem can work well, but sometimes models will be a no-show. Use your best judgment when booking. I personally have never had any issues, but have heard that many photographers have not been as fortunate.  

Annika is the owner & photographer of Ma Cherie Studios. She is originally from Germany (where she also studied photography) and now resides in the Boston area.