Taking Model Digitals Yourself vs. with a Professional Photographer

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By The Light Committee

In most cases, if you need to get modeling digitals in Los Angeles or elsewhere to submit to agencies, the common advice is to take them yourself. This is supposedly because they only want basic images of how you look that are not retouched and with very little makeup or hairstyling. But are such images the best representation of you? Would a professional shoot be better?

modeling digitals of a woman in a full body shot in a studio in Los Angeles
The Basic Full Body Shot Is One Shot That Is Needed as Part of Your Modeling Digitals

The Basics

Your basic modeling digitals – also known as modeling polaroids from way back in those days – are supposed to be quick snapshots that represent how a model currently looks in his or her most natural state. So, this means very little makeup, hairstyling, and so on. It also means you might be able to use the same digitals for 1-2 years or more, depending on how often you change your look.

Ideally you want to wear form-fitting clothing and perhaps a swimsuit if you want to target such gigs. Some agencies may require a swimsuit shot. You will want a headshot and a full body shot at a minimum. Then a couple of other shots, ideally one might be a profile shot, perhaps half-body or three-quarter body shot too. The fourth shot can be a second one of these or the swimsuit shot.

They should be against a simple background, usually one that contrasts your clothes and skin well. For example, if you are pale avoid white or off-white and if you are dark-skinned, avoid dark backgrounds. In most cases, a seamless white background or white wall can work.

Given the above elements, you certainly could use a basic smartphone camera to get those shots. But why might you consider using a professional photographer instead? First, remember that any images you put out there for an agency to view or for a client to view is a representation of your marketing or how a shot of you can be marketed, and you should market yourself as a brand. If the quality of your images is a reflection of the quality of your personal brand, consider using better quality images to stand apart from competing models.

a woman and her headshot in modeling digitals in Los Angeles
A Good Headshot Is Likely the Most Essential Shot for Modeling Digitals

Here is more on how a professional photo shoot can help do this while still staying true to what modeling digitals are for.

The Lighting

Most people do not understand all light is not created equal. If we are talking about sun light, there are various factors that alter how it looks on our skin. Direct sunlight is probably not ideal for modeling digitals. It is a harsh light. So, using a shaded area is a good idea but it can vary on quality too, depending on what is around you. For example, if you are in the shade but a yellow wall is nearby, it might unknowingly be casing a slight yellow tint on your skin. Or if you are on grass, you might have a green tint to you.

So, if you are trying to avoid using direct sunlight and you try to take the shots indoors, the quality of those lights is also not good. Most indoor lights are not the same color as daylight. You might borrow a ring light or similar from a friend, but it is also not going to be the most ideal. Will it be enough to evenly light you for the full body shot, for example? What about the background and lighting it?

With a professional photographer in a studio setting, they are likely to have high quality lighting with plenty of light modifiers to make your skin look very soft for your modeling headshots or to draw out those abs for the full body shot. They can also light the background in a way that complements your skin tone.

An example of a woman in modeling digitals with a Polaroid style.
In Addition to Considering a White Seamless Background, an Aspiring Model Can Also Opt for a Polaroid Style Look Like This, Which is Against a Clean Wall But Where Some Subtle Shadows Show

The Background

As mentioned, it is ideal to use a background that does not blend with your skin. So, again, you might want to stay away from an all-white or off-white background if you are very pale. Equally, you might want to stay away from dark backgrounds if you are dark-skinned.

Usually, you will want to find a solid wall and clean floor. Alternatively, you could also work with a photographer that might have or can create a seamless background. This is personal preference. A seamless background is one where it is a solid color, wall and floor, as if there is no defined wall or floor.

A professional photographer working in a professional studio will be able to modify the color and brightness of the background as needed depending on your skin tone and outfit colors.

The Camera

Smartphone vendors keep claiming how great their cameras get with each new version. Certainly, having a camera in a smartphone is convenient and they take decent pictures. But there are issues. For example, the newest iPhone does not even have what most photographers would consider to be a portrait focal length. This results in images that are slightly warped in how your face looks.

Working with a professional photographer they can use focal lengths that are more ideal for portraits. Thus, the photos end up being a more accurate representation of you. Further, they will be far better quality. After all, a smartphone is no match for a commercial-grade camera and lenses.

There are some assumptions being made here. First is that the professional photographer is working with a full-frame sensor mirrorless or DSLR camera at a minimum. Second is that they have quality lenses capable of varied portrait focal lengths.

Some people might argue they can hardly tell the difference between a DSLR and mirrorless camera compared with their smartphone. This does not consider that others can, especially others that regularly work with imagery like modeling agencies and creative directors.

A Ford is a car like a Ferrari, and both will get you to point B. But if price is not an issue – and it is possible to have affordable modeling digitals – most professionals will opt to use the Ferrari to get to point B. You arrive in style and exude a certain character. A model is in a similar scenario when choosing between having their digitals done by smartphone or by a professional.

modeling digitals of a man in a three quarter body shot in a studio in Los Angeles
A Half Body Shot Is Another Shot, Though Arguably Not as Important as the Headshot and Full Body Shot


One other advice popular about modeling digitals is that they never be retouched – they should show the model in their most natural state. If this is an essence of what modeling digitals are used for, then they should remain as natural as possible.

However, there are certain things that can be retouched without altering a natural look. For example, that small acne patch you woke up with will not be there next week. It is likely okay to get rid of it. The same can be said if you suddenly see excessive lint on your clothes, or that stray fly-away hair that you didn’t get brushed.

One Submission Example

Wilhelmina International is one of the most popular modeling agencies, and yes there are many others. How you apply and what you must submit varies by modeling agency. However, using the Wilhelmina “become a model” submission page as an example, you can get an idea on what agencies are generally looking for.

Aside from basic personal information, you are asked for details on your body. For women they include height, dress, bust, cup, waist, hips, shoe, hair, and eyes. They also ask for a bit of information on a model’s skills or talent. Finally, there is a process to upload four images. One is a headshot, one is a three-quarter shot, one is a full body shot, and the last one on the right is another shot that could be perceived as another three-quarter or half-body.

So, it can take a bit of planning if you were to try and mimic these looks. It is not a bad idea to do so. A photo shoot is also a collaborative effort. Working with a  headshot photographer in Los Angeles for digitals will help give optimum results.

After Your Modeling Digitals

After your basic modeling digitals, potential clients are going to want to see your portfolio of work. If you are just getting started, this obviously does not exist. So, you may also want to work with a photographer to put together a portfolio of various modeling looks, specifically for the types of work you are after.

For example, if you want to shoot ecommerce fashion, you might want to do a studio shoot in various outfits against an all-white background. If you are looking to do lifestyle photo shoots, then this will call for some outdoor shots or indoor setting shots. This way, you can put together a half dozen to a dozen additional shots as you would appear in an actual campaign shoot.

Having modeling digitals professionally made is also a good idea because the images are from a camera of which would be used in a campaign photo shoot. So, it puts you one step closer in an agent or client’s eye as to how you might appear in a campaign. The easier you make this perception in a potential client’s mind, the better chance you give yourself. Modeling is a competitive industry and using every advantage is a more winning approach.