How to build a professional portfolio

Whether you are applying for a job within the beauty, hair or fashion industry or choose to take the entrepreneurial route, at some point you will need to display your work in order to be considered for a job. That is why it is important as a professional to compile a professional portfolio.


What is a professional portfolio?


A professional portfolio is a collection of client information, before and after treatment / service photographs , client testimonials and supporting documentation that display your absolute best work. A portfolio serves as proof of your work and also showcases it to potential clients and employers. Portfolio documentation should be detailed listing client details (your full client consultation card and face chart should be present) products, formulations and colour selections used in both trials, the actual treatments/services as well as follow up services / treatments where applicable.


The photos need to be taken in the correct lighting, close up and clearly focused. Photos should be in full colour unless there is a specific scope for grey scale/ black and white etc. In order to best showcase your work take a photo before the treatment / service and then again after the treatment / service. Photographs suitable for a professional portfolio could be head shots or close-ups (eyes, lips, noses etc) they can also be full-body editorial photos from a photo shoot / of a function.


It is advisable to keep a full resume (CV) in front of your professional portfolio together with a clear head and shoulder or full length photo of yourself.


Why Is a professional portfolio Important?


• It serves as proof that you know what you’re doing. Because there is currently very limited regulation of the beauty industry, employers and potential clients can’t always be sure that a beauty professional has been trained by a reputable educator, if at all. If you have a decent portfolio full of client testimonials, referrals, incredible photographs of your work and detailed record of the treatments, it creates instant trust in your capabilities.

• It allows you to showcase your adaptability and skill set. You can showcase the different treatments, services, looks and styles you are able to adapt to. As a beauty professional every single client you work with will require a unique treatment / service applicable to her needs, environment and request. Each of these will require a different skill set from you. A portfolio lets you show employers and potential clients that you are capable.

• It gives you control over where your career goes. Because you can control the images you put in your portfolio, it allows you to get new work and direct your career. For instance, let’s say your make up portfolio only showcases bridal work, but you want to get into editorial work. You can hire a model and a photographer, have the photographer take pictures of your work on the model, and then stock your portfolio with the editorial photos. Creating a professional portfolio with a new focus will allow you to present yourself to employers and potential clients as professional in your desired direction, and you are able to apply for different kinds of work. We discuss how to find models and photographers below.


The beauty industry can be pretty brutal, and people make judgments about you and your work almost instantly. You need a collection of your most impressive work so that when people make their “one-second analysis” of your work, they know that you are capable and professional.


Types of professional portfolios


There are two different kinds of professional portfolios. Let’s consider the two types and see what they have in common and how they’re different.


1.Online portfolio


This is the most common kind of portfolio, and it’s arguably the most effective. To make an online portfolio of your work, you’ll need a website, where you can upload your photographs, supporting documentation and testimonials. You can add your resume (CV) and include your contact information so that parties interested in your work can contact you for booking enquiries. An online portfolio using a website is great tool to make use of, as it can be accessed by any person at any time (unlike your print portfolio) and can’t be lost or accidentally deleted. We often think that setting up our own website is going to be difficult, but fortunately, building a very basic website is very easy. There are apps and sites that allow you to do this for free. Alternately and preferably a branding company can help you do this.

Also consider creating a digital portfolio in a PDF file which can be emailed to potential clients and employers. The down side to this however is that is is not always accessible.


2. Print portfolio


Print portfolios are books that have clear plastic pages inside where you can insert your photos. Print portfolios can only be seen by one person at a time, but they are a good tool to have when you’re meeting in person with an agency or potential employer or client.


Now that I’ve given a quick description of each, let’s take a look at how it’s done.


What makes a good portfolio?


(Note: The instructions below about portfolios can be used to make both your print portfolio and your online portfolio. )


The best portfolios do two things at once: they present the professionals unique style, while also displaying the technical skills and techniques that any capable beauty professional should have.


So how do you do those two things at once? Here are some tips and tricks that you can use in both your print portfolio and your online portfolio, to show others that you’re the best there is.


1. Have an AMAZING first image


Here’s the first tip on how to make a fantastic professional portfolio: your first image should be STELLAR. It should capture the viewer’s attention immediately. You have literally one instant to capture the viewer’s respect, so that first image should make the person want to flip that page and see more. It may be the best work you’ve done. If applicable, showcase your most creative or effective work, a famous model or photographer, a well-known event or a dramatic before and after treatment/service result.


Whatever it is, you want to capture the viewer’s attention, and make them curious to see what else you’ve done.


2. Use authority / popularity to your advantage


If you have worked with a “person of interest”—any noteworthy artist, model, photographer, celebrity, or publication that many people know about—a photo of your work with that person should be at the front of your portfolio.


Why is that a good idea? Because research shows people trust the decisions that authoritative/ popular figures make. If someone sees that you’ve worked with a big name agency or photographer, they’re likely going to assume you’re fantastic. If your portfolio has an image of your work for a popular magazine, the person looking at your portfolio will say, “If they’re good enough to work for _____, they must be pretty incredible.”


If you’ve worked with any person, company, or publication that is well-known and seen as a taste-maker, a photo of your work with that person or entity should be right up front.


3. Use Social Proof


Social proof is another psychological principle that can help you make your portfolio great. In short, social proof is the phenomenon where people decide the appropriate course of action based on what the people around them are doing. It’s the reason why you get quieter when you go into libraries and why you feel comfortable in a bathing suit at the beach but not in an airport. Basically, we look at the actions of others to see what we should do.


So how would social proof make your portfolio better? If the people looking at your portfolio see others recommending you, they’ll be more likely to hire you. In the back of your portfolio, after all the images, you can give a list of references who will recommend you, or on your website you can add testimonials that praise your work. When people will see that others have trusted you and appreciate your work, they’ll be more likely to hire you and use your services.


4. Use A Variety of Images and Styles…



Another important aspect of your portfolio. You want to show that you are a versatile professional, and capable of creating a number of different looks and results.


When you’re trying to vary the images in your portfolio, there are a few things you should keep in mind:


• The first image should be one that presents the message you want to send. Is it a bride? A massive result, a editorial shoot? etc. Figure out how you want to be seen, find the best photo that represents that desire, and put it up front.

• You can include a few black and white photographs, but not too many. Services and treatments done for black and white photos requires a different skill set than for colour photos, so it can be good to have those in there, but don’t overdo it.

• Where relevant, it can help if you include a few full length photos that include a model / clients clothes, as a way to let potential employers and clients know that you can come up with a style that enhances the look and feel of clothing/ their unique style.

• Try to include models/clients in very different lighting circumstances. One of the most challenging parts is anticipating the light that models/clients will be photographed in. If you can show that you can make subjects look fantastic in many different types of light (ie, daylight, indoor lighting, fluorescent, spotlights, flash photography, etc), you will create a professional portfolio that really stands out.


One quick note about variety in your print portfolio: create sections and group similar treatments/ services done together. If you’re showing your portfolio to someone who is organising a photo shoot for a magazine, they’ll want to see specific work and not always all of it. This allows them to focus on what they want to see.


It’s not uncommon for beauty professionals to have two or more portfolios, each for a different kind of work.


There is, however, one circumstance where you don’t want a variety of images. You will either use many different images…


5. …Or determine an area of focus


If you have a specialty within the field of beauty, that should be the focus of your portfolio. If there is a particular kind of work you want to be known for, that should be the theme of your portfolio, and you shouldn’t include any other types of photos.


You can always have two or more portfolios that show off your different areas of expertise. As with many things, there’s no “right” answer, and you’ll need to use your judgment.


6. A reasonable amount of images


Part of a professional portfolio is having enough photographs to show that you’ve worked a number of different jobs, but not too many, so that you don’t bore your reader. You want to wow them with a couple of images, and then have them wanting more. In a print portfolio, that could be anywhere from 10 to 15 images and supporting documents which you can constantly update; in an online portfolio, you can have as many images as you like, but if there is an area of your site called “Portfolio,” you should stick with 10 to 15 images for the viewer to really focus on. That’s a mistake that many beauty professionals make with their online portfolios—dumping hundreds of photos on a website, and making it difficult for the viewer to navigate through the site. When you build a portfolio, you need to limit yourself to a smaller number of fantastic images.


7. A Logical Order To The Images


Try to arrange your photos so that there is a “flow,” or a logical sequence to the photographs. One way to do that is to group similarly-themed photos together.


That can be a confusing idea, but here’s an example. Say you have:


• two black and white photos;
• one photo from a small editorial shoot,
• another photo from a photo shoot of a well-known fashion brand, and
• four images close-up images of clean makeup: two of a model’s eyes, one of the lips, and one of the entire face.


Here’s how you might arrange them, from first to last:


• You would put the well-known brand first, as it shows you’ve worked on some big projects.• To keep things “grouped” together, you would include the small editorial shoot second.
• You could then include the close-ups, one after the other, because having those interspersed throughout the portfolio would seem disjointed.
• Then you could include the black-and-whites, to show that you’ve learned different styles of application.


The order of photographs is obviously very subjective, and there’s no “correct” way to order the images in your portfolio. Absolutely everyone will order things differently. Just remember that having a “flow” to your portfolio, where similar photos are grouped together, makes you seem much more professional.


8. Before and after photos



Some makeup artists choose to include before-and-after photos in their portfolios; others do not. You’ll have to make a decision about this.


A before-and-after section of your portfolio can be a powerful selling tool (especially in your online portfolio), and you definitely should include them.


9. Correct spelling and grammar


A lot of talented beauty professionals do great work, but their portfolios (both online and print) look sloppy because they’re full of spelling and grammar errors. A portfolio is basically a resume (CV) that’s in the form of a photo book—but it’s still a resume, and you want to look like you are an absolutely professional. A professional does not have spelling and grammar mistakes on her resume.It does matter, and it matters a lot. The people who will hire you want to know that you pay attention to detail, and in the field of beauty, hair and fashion, detail matters very much. Having a spotless portfolio proves that you are a skilled professional.


How to put it all together


So now that we’ve detailed a few of the things that will make your portfolio stand out, let’s take a closer look at how to create a professional portfolio.


Steps and requirements for your print portfolio


  • Portfolio colour:


The best option is to opt for a black or brown leather portfolio. It’s sleek, it’s professional, and it makes you look like a mature professional. Nothing fancy, and nothing quirky—no wild colours, zebra stripes, etc. Wow them with colour on the inside, not on the outside. You can get your name embossed on the cover, but that’s expensive, and you can hold off on that if you want. On the inside, you want clear plastic sleeves to insert your photographs and supporting documentation.


  • Photo size:


For a long time, professionals would use tear sheets in their portfolios (a tear sheet is a photo or image literally cut out of a publication), but there’s a lot of variation on that in recent years. Mostly, people use photos that are 9cm x 12cm or 11cm x 14cm. There’s no set rule but remember: bigger is better You want people to really see the detail of the work you’ve done.


  • Printed material:


In your portfolio, you may choose to include a resume or CV, and you can include business cards if you think they’re helpful.


How do I find photographs if i’m just starting out?


This is the first question on everyone’s mind. “If I’m just starting out, how do I fill up a portfolio with photos of my work, when I haven’t ever been hired for a job?” There are two different ways to go about it. You can set up your own photo shoot, or you can become an assistant for an already-established professional and get prints from your work with them if applicable. Let’s take a look at both options, decide which one is right for you.


Option #1: Stage Your Own Photo Shoot


Setting up your first shoot—even if it is simply for your portfolio—is your first step towards building a professional career for yourself. It’s exciting!


What will you need to create a photo shoot? You’ll need a photographer and one or more models. Here’s how you get them:


You pay for their services. The best—and easiest—option, if you can afford it, is to pay for a professional photographer and professional model (or models). You’ll see how experienced professionals work, and you’ll have a fantastic networking opportunity with the photographer and the model.


If you don’t have the money to pay for professionals, remember, just as you are starting out a career as a beauty professional, there are photographers in your area starting their career as photographers, and they need to build their portfolio, too. And, you guessed it—they’ll be looking around for beauty professionals who will offer their services for free.


When photographers, models, makeup artists, stylists, and so on work for free to build their portfolio, the process is called “Trade For Print” work or “Time For Print” work (or “TFP” for short). Basically, TFP work is when a model or beauty professional trades his or her time with a photographer for a set of prints from the photo shoot. The prints may be actual prints of the photographs, or digital files sent via email. When you’re doing TFP, you’ll want to negotiate with the photographer beforehand how he’ll get the prints to you.


Theres a bunch of different places you can look for TFP work.


To find photographers: If in the real world, you can find a photography student at a local university, art school, or community college. They’re usually very motivated and you won’t have to travel too far to work with them. Here’s the secret: you’ll need to keep contacting photographers and models until you find one who will work you. It is almost a sure thing that the first photographer you contact won’t want to work with you. Same with the second, third, and fourth photographer you contact. You just have to keep calling/emailing/reaching out to people until you find the photographer who says “Yes.” Don’t get discouraged! Stick to it, and you’ll be able to find someone to partner with.


To find models. If luck is on your side, the photographer who agrees to work with you will know a model who will work you and the photographer for prints. Remember, it may take a bunch of “No”s before you get to your “Yes.” If you can’t find a model through a photographer or your online efforts, look to your friends! Is there someone you know who would look great in a portfolio photo? If so, reach out to them… keep in mind that people you know personally should be your last option. You will find out—very quickly—that modelling is not as simple as it looks, and there are experienced models and inexperienced models, and inexperienced models are not easy to work with!


Finally, when you’re selecting models for the shoot, remember:


• You will want to apply variations of your treatments/ services on them.
• If you can get a couple of different models with different skin tones and facial shapes, that would be fantastic for your portfolio;
• You should ask the photographer if he can use different lighting during the shoot. Being able to produce excellent looks in varied lighting is the mark of an excellent MUA, and if you can include images in different lighting in your portfolio, that’ll be a huge plus.


Something to keep in mind about TFP work


You may find that you get very good at finding TFP work. There are, after all, a lot of people who are trying to build careers in the beauty industry, and need to find people willing to do TFP work. After a while, you’ll want to get picky and only choose people who truly further your career. Find photographers you like, models who would produce an interesting look for you, and so on.


Eventually, you will reach a point where you should no longer offer your services for free, and you will only accept TFP work if the model or photographer is a well-known figure who can help your career (and, even then, some argue that you should never work for free—the thinking is, if you’re good enough to be hired, you’re good enough to be paid).


Option #2: Become An Assistant


Basically, working with a professional who’s been in the game for a while can be a great way to develop your portfolio. You’ll gain exposure to the business side of your trade, make connections, and learn techniques that they do not teach in courses. Unfortunately, not all beauty assistants are paid for their work, but if you can swing it, an assistant position is an incredible experience.


Some legal issues to keep in mind


We probably don’t need to mention this, but we’ll mention it anyway: don’t cheat, don’t lie, and don’t include images in your portfolio of client’s you didn’t work on. That said, there are a couple of other issues you’ll need to keep in mind:

• If you are using an image from a photo shoot, ask for a written document that gives you permission to use the image. Many images are copyrighted, which means they’re off-limits for use out of the publication (or film, book, or whatever). If you get photos from a job you do, make sure you get permission to use the photos.

• DON’T take the credit for the work someone else has done. If you are an assistant, you will need to include a note (on the page where the photo is listed) that you were the assistant (or whatever your role was). Also, it’s a good idea to get permission from your key.

• DON’T use a photo editor to “touch up” the images in your portfolio. That’s cheating, and many of the people looking at your portfolio will know it. And, if the photo has been copyrighted, altering it may be illegal and you could face fines and penalties.

• If you do the photography yourself you’ll need the written permission from your model to use his/her image in a portfolio.


Remember, building a portfolio Is a process


Don’t be frustrated if your portfolio isn’t fantastic when you’re just starting out. Here’s the good news: as you gain experience and get more jobs, you’ll have more and more photos to use. You’ll actually have your pick of photos, and you’ll have so many fantastic images that you’ll be forced to leave some out. Putting together a fantastic portfolio is difficult when you start out, but it gets much, much easier as you go along.


Good luck, you’ve got this!

– Jaclyn Ivy