A portfolio is the single most important tool in a talent’s pursuit of their modeling goals. Developing a successfully marketable portfolio requires an ongoing discipline of crafting representative images and then getting those images seen by the right people in hopes to procure work.

Thus the photos within the portfolio are largely responsible for the brand that defines the modeling talent and how clients feel about them. Beyond first impressions, on-set demeanor and auditions – clients can (and will) refer back to the portfolio for a reminder of who the talent is and what characterizes them.

In efforts of creating a portfolio that resonates with a model’s target audience, there is occasionally a disconnect in understanding and knowing what are the right images to shoot. Particularly in the fitness industry, the topic of revealing or nude images in a portfolio comes up.

To bridge this divide, editors, art directors and talent coordinators from publications and commercial clients in the health and fitness industry were sought out to provide their thoughts and feedback on the results of showing skin in a model’s portfolio.

During her time as the Nutrition Editor at Oxygen Magazine, Kirstyn Brown received plenty of submissions from various talents looking to be featured in the magazine.

“I can understand why a woman who has worked hard to look and feel beautiful might want to have pictures taken that capture that. I can understand it from a marketing standpoint as well, because after all, we are conditioned to believe the notion that sex sells,” Brown said. “But as an editor at Oxygen, I was always a bit baffled when I received submissions from women that included images of them in extremely sexy outfits or in hyper-sexual poses. And I received lots of them.”

Like many editors in the health and fitness industry Brown recognized why certain images were shot – but not why they were being used to submit and apply.

“For the most part they would have been aware they were submitted to a female editor at a women’s publication,” Brown said. “We wanted to feature women in Oxygen that our readers could relate to or be motivated by. When I received submissions of a sexual nature – rather than fitness – it gave the impression that the applicant didn’t even read Oxygen, let along belong in it.”

The Editor in Chief of Scottsdale Health Magazine and So Scottsdale! Magazine, Michelle Glicksman shares a similar concern as to what the publication’s target audience wants to see. “You never know which reader might make a connection and that is not the image we want to project with our publications,” Glicksman said. “When I see revealing or overly suggestive work in a potential model’s portfolio, I immediately stop considering them for the magazine.”

Weston Carls, the Art Director for Austin Fit Magazine, also puts thought into what his publication’s readers interpret from the talents they feature or profile.

“I shy away from models who have revealing images in their portfolio,” Carls said. “I’m mostly deterred because when they’re featured in Austin Fit Magazine and then someone looks them up, the reader will probably give an opinion on what type of publication we are.”

For many editors, it is not just the images that are sent in for consideration. Often times publications will do an internet search to see a talent’s background work or other work they displayed online.

“If we check out a potential model’s portfolio or Facebook page and it’s slathered with racy photos revealing too much skin, high chances are that model won’t be going in the magazine,” said LaRue Novick, Editor in Chief and Creative Director of Max Sports & Fitness Magazine. “Keep your photos clean and tasteful, even on Facebook. We aren’t just looking at the package submitted, we’re looking at the whole picture particularly when it comes to fitness because people are looking for solid role models they can emulate.”

Ashley McTucker is the Ambassador Coordinator as well as Athlete and Affiliate Manager at fitmark (maker of fitmark bags), works with a wide array of fitness talents.

“I understand the point they are trying to get across when they submit somewhat revealing photos,” McTucker said. “I do understand it is to showcase their hard work and what they have under the garments. I see how they present themselves looked through body language in the image and what point they are really trying to make. But I mostly look for class.”

To McTucker, a lot of is resides in how the images were created.

“I get a lot of professionals who send over quite trashy imagery of themselves and I know had the photographer been more artistic, they could have had a shot coming on board with us,” McTucker said. “That also tells me they either want to own the shots and make their own presentation without input from the photographer, or the photographer was cheap, classless and far from artistic. Class, to me, means you don’t have to get down to the bare minimum to show what you’ve got. I feel that the action, smile, eyes and presented body language all play the most critical role.”

Danielle Pascente is a fitness talent who has been featured on numerous covers including Runner’s World, Max Sports & Fitness and Scottsdale Health as well as done commercial work for companies such as Nike, Asics, Reebok, Sketcher and Adidas. Yet before any of this could happen she had to build a marketable portfolio that she felt best represented her.

“I think I just always knew where I wanted my boundaries to be,” Pascente said. “As a 24-year-old, I want to appear as the young, fresh, girl-next-door type look. I don’t want to heave heavy makeup on with a revealing bikini and my legs spread, eyes fiercely gazing into the camera.”

For Pascente it all began with understanding what her goals as a model were.

“I think that’s the first thing a model should ask themself,” Pascente said. “What do I want to do and who do I want to be within the modeling industry? If your answer is Playboy – then do that style. Everyone has goals and none should be judged or looked down upon. But I challenge everyone to first ask themselves that question before they shoot. If it isn’t what you are aiming towards, then don’t do it. You will be pigeonholed and it’s hard to get out of that “sexy” pigeonhole once you are in it.”

The next step for Pascente was selecting the right photographer to create the images she wanted for her portfolio.

“Look at a photographer’s work before working with them,” Pascente said. “See what their style is and decide for yourself if you want to shoot with them knowing their style. I think a photographer can create an angle and a pose that can be perceived by an audience in different ways. Every photography has a different goal in mind so you should have a fairly good idea of what that is before you set up a shoot. Study their work, talk about it with them and there wont be any surprises on shoot day.”

Chrissy May has been on both sides having a background as a fitness competitor and talent as well as being the editor of a magazine.

“I know the day-to-day struggles and what it takes to acquire a lean, fit body as well as a positive mindset. Portraying a classy image in fitness modeling goes a long way. It appears as though many young women are trying to break into the fitness industry by posing in inappropriate ways,” May said. “If you consider the top successful fitness models out there, you will see that they create an image that is strong yet beautiful to the public eye. They are all about positive self-worth. They became an entity to admire far more than the physical beauty.”

The feedback herein is not anyone’s moral stance against risqué images in a talent’s portfolio, but instead an illustration that talents should focus on creating the portfolios that their intended audience wants to see; whatever genre that may be.

“You have to think about what image you want to portray,” said Novick. “If you like doing the edgier, racier photos, then try for magazines that publish images like those.”

Thus to develop the right portfolio for your intended audience start by defining who that audience is. To say “fitness magazines” can be too general as there is a wide gamut covering a variety of styles.

Focus on the specific types of jobs you want to shoot and the work you want to be booked for. Then work backwards from there to develop the images that can get you there – that resonate with your intended and target audience.

James Patrick