Why Model Agencies Prefer Polaroids

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Truth hurts.  But that’s not always the case in the model photography world.  Polaroids (or as I like to call them:  truth-in-advertising shots) are standard  content every model should have on file.  Yes, you can lose modeling gigs if you don’t have current Polaroids.  From personal experience, I’ve definitely turned down models for projects if they can’t seem to cough up these images, as requested in the casting details.


Back in the day a “Polaroid” was originally a picture taken with a Polaroid instant camera.  Agencies might put you up against a white wall, without much makeup, ask you to pull your hair back, and then grab a few snapshots  under less-than-flattering light.  Or maybe they were kind and used nice window light.  But the intent was to document what you really look like without all the makeup and hair styling, wardrobe, and fancy studio lighting.  Now in today’s digital photography world, Polaroids are also intended to document your look without all the Photoshop wizardry.

The important thing to remember is that it’s not a fashion shoot, and we don’t need crazy poses or art.  Industry professionals know you, as a model, are not perfect.  We just need to see what we really have to work with.


If Polaroids are so important, why should models even bother creating a portfolio with other kinds of imagery?  Answer: Because Polaroids are not your portfolio.  They’re a good starting point, but only one part of the bigger picture.  Some agencies will talk to you based on your Polaroids alone.  Others won’t give you the time of day till they see you have proven yourself first with experience and a full portfolio to back it up.  In those cases, Polaroids just don’t have the “wow factor” they’re looking for.


Your Polaroid images should be CURRENT.  Anything older than six months is getting stale.  These images should always reflect your current look – if you cut your hair or change hair color, gain or lose significant weight, get tattoos or piercings, it’s time for new Polaroids.

Keep the images un-edited.  Sure, you can crop a little if you need to.  But  otherwise, leave the images alone.  If you’re not comfy with the idea of posting raw, unedited photos  out there on the web for the whole world to see, then at least keep current Polaroids on file somewhere you have easy-access to for when clients or agents request them.

Show your face with minimal makeup.  (preferably no makeup at all).  As a model, we want to see you as a blank canvass upon which artists can paint their vision.  Extreme closeups of just a face can be awkward, so try to compose your Polaroids to include some shoulder or upper-chest.  If you can, let the viewer know these are images without makeup.

Show your body, too.  I see so many “Facebook models” who have hundreds of face-only photos taken from the same angle.  I have to assume these people are severed heads floating on air, because they don’t seem to have any images that show body too.  It is extremely important to show your body type.  Standard wardrobe is two-piece swimwear but anything that clearly shows arms and legs and mid-section will work.  Shorts and a sleeveless tank top or crop top are good.  Leave the Maxi dress out of the picture.

Pull your hair back.  This is not mandatory, but I do believe it shows the shape of your face better, and lets us see your neck and ears as well.  I’d recommend shots with both your hair back and also down so we can see length and color too.

Don’t Pose.  Just stand there with your arms to your side.  Front and back images too.  It’s not terribly important to smile.

Location:  The old standard for a backdrop in Polaroids has always been a white wall.  I’ve seen that rule relaxed a little over the years and people are incorporating different locations now.  But don’t let the background become a distraction.  Keep-it-simple-stupid.

Lighting is important.  Multi-light studio set ups are a bad idea.  Some agencies will use a portable camera with a built-in flash (like the Miranda Kerr shot below), but that’s harsh and unflattering.  Natural light usually looks better, and you’re still accurately representing yourself.  You can get good, flattering results by standing a few feet away from a large window or door and snapping your pics while facing directly towards the light.  In a pinch, indoor lighting can work too but keep in mind that lights placed very high and overhead can produce ugly shadows under your eyes and nose.