How to build a makeup portfolio that brings you bookings

If you asked me “What’s the single most important factor for helping me to improve my business?” I would say “Your portfolio”.  Whether it’s a website or Instagram, as a makeup artist or hairstylist, as a visual creative, your portfolio is your resume, and your business card.  It’s generally the first touch-point your prospective clients have with you, and you know what they say about first impressions!

One of my coaching clients recently attended a Masterclass with the amazing makeup artist Rae Morris, and I when asked her what was biggest takeaway from the class,  she said “Your images can make you or break you”.  I totally agree with this, and for years I have been reminding makeup artists and hairstylists that you will be judged as much on your strongest image as you will on your weakest.  Despite that, whenever I do a Portfolio Review session with an artist, I often see outdated and sub-par work in their portfolio, work that is not an accurate representation of who she is as an artist today, and where her career is going.

One of the best pieces of advice I ever received, WAY back in the day, was that when it comes to your portfolio, you should think “All Killer, No Filler”.  I was taught that you’re better off having just 5 Killer images that really showcase your best work, than 30 images, where 5 of them are awesome, and the rest of them are just there to keep up the numbers.


But just what makes a “killer” image?  Obviously that will depend on your ideal client, the work you are doing and want to be doing, and who you are trying to attract to book you.  However, there are a couple of things that are important no matter what area of the industry you are working in.

Unfortunately a great image is not just about great makeup.  Sometimes it’s the things outside our control that can turn a great makeup job into a weaker image.  You need to consider ALL the aspects of the image, model, photography, hair, styling and lighting as well as makeup.  They all need to come together to create a beautiful image.  Often when I am reviewing an artist’s portfolio I can see that she does beautiful work; but that its one of these other aspects that is letting her portfolio down.  Work with the best photographers and models you can, and if you don’t have access to agency models, and can’t get published photographers to shoot with you (yet), keep working towards that milestone.  Networking is such an important part of our “job”, and remember, it takes time to build rapport so if someone doesn’t respond to you or say “yes” to working with you the first time you contact them, don’t despair!  Keep going…

Think of your portfolio (website or physical book) like a “Greatest Hits” album, and as you collect better images, put them into your portfolio.  I will often do a shoot that doesn’t make it onto my website.  Work ONLY goes onto my website if I feel it is better than something else already on there, and then I will add the new work in, and remove the weakest images.

Now, of course this “All killer, No Filler” advice was given back in the days before social media; when “portfolio” meant physical book of printed photographs, which we makeup artists would show photographers or potential clients to try to book work.  The advice carries over to the world of websites fairly well… but what about Social Media?  Especially Instagram?  I know if I look at someone’s profile on Instagram and they have less than 30 images it makes me think that they have just started out, or that they don’t like their work and they’ve deleted most of it (this is my usual thought process if they have more than a handful of followers, and especially if they have several thousand followers).

I checked my Instagram account, and I have just over 500 images there.  Looking at a few other makeup artists accounts (including some big name artists) I saw many in the thousands, one with over 5000 posts! (Admittedly, that was Pat McGrath, and I certainly don’t think any of her posts are “filler”!!!)  But even for myself, I have to wonder, are all of those 500 images killer?  And the answer is most humbly, “No”.

But you see, the thing is, a social media account is not the same as a “portfolio”.  Even back in the day when we used a physical book, we had to constantly update our portfolio, and back then, it meant taking out the older, weaker images as we collected stronger images.  In this way, our portfolios were growing along with us as artists, and by keeping our book to around that 25-30 images (because they got too big and heavy with many more pages!) we were only ever showing our strongest work – our “All Killer”

We all know that consistency in posting is the best way to work with the Instagram algorithm, to ensure that your posts are being seen, your follower count growing, and more importantly, the bookings coming in.  The pressure to post daily is real!  And because of this, its not uncommon to see Instagram profiles that are full of, well, “Filler”.  Unfortunately, its not possible to curate our Instagram feeds, and move images around.  We can’t keep bumping our best posts to the top of the feed.  But lets face it, who is going to scroll through my entire 500 images to see what I posted in August 2014 anyway?  While we can’t re-organise the images in our Instagram feed, we CAN archive, delete and repost images, and this is an important part of our “Portfolio Progression” when it comes to Instagram.

I believe that it is important to be purposeful with building your Instagram profile and to be mindful of what you are posting.  Don’t just post something because you “have to” post every day.  Like I said, people aren’t going to scroll down to the 483rd image in your feed, so if that IS a killer image, post it again! (especially on #throwbackthursday or #flashbackfriday.)

Keep your eye on your insights, and look at which images are performing, and which are not. Did you do a #topnine for 2018?  THESE are some of the images you should consider reposting, as obviously, these had the best engagement when they were initially posted.

Portfolio building is a constant part of our “job”, and you should always be striving to improve your portfolio.  As you grow as an artist, your portfolio should reflect that.  Remember, your portfolio is your biggest “advertisement” and it needs to reflect who you are as an artist today, and where your career is headed.  If you would like some help with your portfolio, if you’re struggling with knowing which images are Killer and which may be Filler, I would love to help you with a Portfolio Review Session.  You can find out more and book in HERE.

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