• Robyn Davie

Building a Portfolio From Scratch

As much fun as it is working with an experienced professional on new head shots for their portfolio, it can be an even more enriching process working with an industry newbie - a wannabe model or actor looking to break into the business.

I have spent over ten years working in the film and advertising industries - initially as a model, with a couple of acting jobs, and more so as a wardrobe stylist and art director, and then now, as a photographer. I have learnt a fair share about what it takes to make it in this business, and thought I'd draft up a few ideas to share with you here.


First up, know yourself and what you're capable of. What roles do you foresee yourself playing? What characters do you relate to when you watch a movie or TV show? What parts were you cast in in your school or college plays?

TV commericals play a huge role in South Africa's film industry, and while you may be aiming for the big fish - movie roles etc - it is important to see what kind of TV ads are being made and what roles you can imagine yourself filling - is it the girl next door, the school teacher, the grandfather or the heart throb?

These are all important to note before starting to work on a portfolio shoot.


If you have never done a portfolio shoot I would recommend choosing one of my bigger packages - the value or pro, as they offer the most variety, and will give you a larger amount of pics to take to potential agents.


Take the time before your session to do some research - spend some time going through photos on my website to familiarise yourself with different poses and expressions. Spend some time visiting these two inspiration boards - this one for head shots, and this one for commercial modelling.

And then, no matter how silly it feels, sit in front of the mirror for a while. Try out a few different angles, positions, and a variety of facial expressions. You'll soon get a pretty good idea of what works and what doesn't.


The week before the shoot, be sure to drink a lot of water. The difference will really truly show in your skin as it flushes out your system. Try and get a good night's sleep the night before (or at least don't go out partying until all hours of the morning, hehe!).

Try and avoid making any drastic changes a few days before the shoot - I've had clients who've dyed their hair the day before, only for it to come out orange instead of blonde!

Please be sure to visit this blog post in which I outline how to get the most out of your head shot session - from wardrobe to posing to location.


When you arrive for your session we will go over a few aspects of this blog post - what type of performer you are, what roles you see yourself playing, and what you'd like to get out of the experience.

This isn't a pop quiz - don't stress! - just a nice laid back conversation about you and the work that you're looking to do :)


It's a good idea to have an in-depth chat with your agent before shooting as so to get a clear idea from them what they view as a good head shot, and what looks they'd like you to cover.

They may have a different idea from you as to which characters and roles are going to suit you, and which parts they'd like to put you forward for, and it's always good to hear what they have to say.

If you are yet to sign with an agent, it can still be useful to spend a bit of time looking at the websites of prospective agents to see the style of head shots they prefer.

And here are a few tips and things you'll need to make it in the industry:


You have to REALLY want this life to be in it - long hours on set, more rejection than anyone should ever have to face, dieting & exercising, complete commitment to being in the right place at the right time and a never-say-die desire to be the best.

It's a slog, for sure. But the rewards are endless too.


On the very rare occasion a star is born overnight - 'discovered' as they say in show business. But more often than not, the successful actors and models have been working at it for years. They've maintained a huge dose of self-discipline and run their careers like the successful CEO of any fledgling business would.


And that discipline lends itself very well to my third point - dedication. This is that never-say-die attitude, that passion, that talent that keeps you going through the hard days.

Keep at it!