Why Every Model Needs Polaroids

Key Points:

  • Agencies and casting directors often require Polaroids – not having them can cost you the job
  • Learn how to take Polaroids and when to update them
  • Read our insider tips from an experienced agency model and photographer

Polaroids, also known as “digitals,” are a model’s best friend. Whether you’re a new model who has never done an official photo shoot or a model with years of experience, good Polaroids are a gateway to better shoots and more work. And, since it is standard industry practice for agencies and casting directors to request Polaroids, it’s a good idea to include these in your Model Mayhem portfolio where you can easily access them.

Agency digitals used to be taken with a Polaroid camera, hence the name. These days, “Polaroids” don’t need to come from a Polaroid camera. A digital camera is fine!

What are Polaroids? Polaroids show what you look like when you walk through the door. It’s important for photographers and casting directors to know what you look like before the makeup, hair, lighting and Photoshop. “Clients trust Polaroids,” said photographer John Fisher, he added, “They assume you are going to show up for a casting or job with the same hair, weight and general appearance as in your Polaroid.”

These photos can be used to submit for jobs and casting calls (in addition to a polished portfolio) or to apply to agencies.

How to Take Polaroids

How do you take a perfect set of Polaroids? First, these should not be professional photos. If you have a friend with a decent quality digital camera, that will be ideal.

Do not wear makeup or style your hair. You want these photos to showcase your unaltered look.

The best time to take the photos is during the day. Try to find a white or off-white wall to shoot in front of, preferably in the shade or on an overcast day. Direct sunlight can be too harsh for a quality Polaroid.

While different agencies and jobs call for different things, it is hard to go wrong with Polaroids in swimwear, but if you’re not sure feel free to clarify with the agency or casting director. This will show not only what your hair and face look like, but your body. It will show if you have tattoos, scars or tan lines and how easily concealable they are, which is important for casting directors to know when choosing talent. Wearing heels is the one “cheat” you get, which will lean and lengthen your frame.

While the combinations can be left partly up to you as a model, generally it’s good to include a full-body front photo with a relaxed pose, a close up face photo, a three-quarter profile and a full profile shot.

Keep it Simple

Having great poses in your arsenal is important for a model, but this is not the place for them. You want your poses to be natural and relaxed. If you’re having trouble looking relaxed, remember to breathe. You don’t have to get the perfect photo in one shot. Take a few minutes to try different things and then review the photos to see what works and what doesn’t.

“Lately, I’ve noticed that models are even posing and expressing some personality in the pictures. But remember, these pictures are primarily to show the essentials of what you look like. Therefore, they have to be updated every few months (or more frequently if you get a significant haircut, etc.),” said John Fisher. Feel free to play with a few expressions, but don’t get too extreme. A soft, natural smile is good to showcase in one of the photos, as is a focused expression. Save your screaming and growling faces for you next photo shoot!

Insider Tips

Agency represented model, Kelli Kickham recommends that “While it may be tempting to shoot from a “MySpace” angle (above you), be cautious. Shooting from above will shrink your body and make you appear shorter—something most models won’t want. Also be cautious of having the pictures taken from too low. You legs may look very long, but the distortion is probably obvious to a trained eye. If you’re tempted to see if you can get away with just a little makeup (or Photoshop), don’t. Unless the casting director or agency asks for it specifically, they are probably expecting no-makeup photos, and you would be surprised how much a trained eye can catch.”

And, John Fisher adds, “Models already represented by an agency will have to update their Polaroids if their general appearance changes, and it is not uncommon for clients to ask models to take a Polaroid during a casting. This is one reason why I always suggest that a model carry a simple swimsuit with them at all times.”

MM Castings

MM Castings is part of the Model Mayhem team specifically set up to help manage and grow casting calls on the site as well as help members improve their chances of finding more work.

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38 Responses to “Why Every Model Needs Polaroids”

  1. January 11, 2017 at 10:48 pm, I'llthinkofonelater said:

    I’m a teenager interested in modeling as a job so this was helpful I just still have a lot of questions and typically what kind of people will want to hire me because to be honest I am kind of concerned but anyway I’m willing to give it a shot


  2. August 26, 2015 at 1:38 pm, steven folino said:

    I remember Polaroids well. After the first assistant finished setting up my lights he got to take his one and only photograph. We’d switch backs on the camera, replacing the film back with a Polaroid back. He’d snap the image and wait for my appro val of the lighting.Not right, reset and try again.


  3. August 26, 2015 at 1:32 pm, Paul said:

    Uhmmm, is the model in that s article wearing eyeliner? 😉


  4. February 18, 2015 at 4:36 am, alberto cabrera said:

    I really hate when a industry uses old terminology to describe something new and basic. Does anyone here even know what polaroids are. It just feels it hasn’t evolved yet to “NOW”. There’s a group of old fashion mummies that is still hanging on to the 1980s. Let it go. LOL I haven’t heard that term used in 16 years till now. LOL

    Anyways, you need a new set of natural photos every time you change your look. You were a blonde and now you are a Brunette. You better have a new set. You went to Jamaica and you got a nice tan…you better have a new set. You decided to get a tattoo…yep new set ready to send out.

    Editors, Art Directors and Photographers are very particular. If you walk on a set not looking like your naturals. Baby you will be sent back home and we will not pay you for “just” showing up.


  5. May 08, 2014 at 6:18 am, Heime Schwartzbaum said:

    I think it boils down to the two kinds of people out there. Intuitives are people who can see in four dimensions, and photographers fall into this category. The can see an edited photo and know what they are working with.

    The other, Sensors, are people that can only grasp what they actually see- and most of the business people at agencies, not being artistic, fall into this category.

    I don’t shoot fashion, so I have not run into this. But it does make a lot of sense. Must be uncomfortable for a beginning model though- to feel so exposed.

    What do you charge for “digitals?”


  6. February 17, 2014 at 3:41 pm, M. Nessk said:

    While I agree with this overall statement…. The model in the images is wearing makeup.


  7. February 17, 2014 at 6:40 am, Mohamed Elsayyed said:

    Great article. Very useful


  8. February 13, 2014 at 8:39 pm, John Fisher said:

    I just wanted to add to this discussion that editorial agencies now usually have one staff member who is assigned to do the Polaroids. This hopefully avoids the problem of head shots that look like really bad selfies, and keep the full lengths from making the model look like he/she has really short legs. I have noticed that if the model has an unusual feature (like a tattoo), they will appear in the Polaroids. Some agencies (like Next just to pick one) commonly include a separate section for the Polaroids (and yes, they still call them Polaroids) with the model’s online portfolio. Some agencies will include a few Polaroids as the last shots in the online portfolio.

    The most common reason for a more experienced model to have new Polaroids is a change in hair color or length. I remember back in the day when Linda Evangelista’s Elite comp card listed her stats, and when you got to hair color it said: “Check First”. True story.


    • February 13, 2014 at 10:52 pm, r c said:

      while the anecdotes and references to the major agencies/supermodels (next-img, et al) are all well and good, this edu article in definitive form speaking to the mm crowd is only fulfilling to the author(s) and not the audience sought to serve.

      not “every model” on this site will need polaroids as this article states. that isn’t to say those (in fashion) aren’t required after one gains agency interest, but there are few in the membership of this site that will gain agency interest based on location, stats and after standard snapshot submission. thus, it’s disingenuous to place such a mandate to “all models.”

      worse, the learned professionals, both quoted in the article and respondents in comment, failed to provide a proper correction in where and how polaroids aren’t applicable to the 10’s of thousands of 5’6 and below models on this site who could polaroid themselves to kingdom come with nothing but wasted time to show for it.

      oh, and to photographers, seeking a blank canvas for shooting has nothing to do with the reason polaroids are utilized. it’s a nice consideration, but it’s a false positive if the reasoning isn’t fully understood.


  9. February 13, 2014 at 12:33 pm, Jay Amari said:

    I am an actor too, and have utilized this for years. It’s a great resource when combined with studio shots, and video too.


  10. February 13, 2014 at 12:01 pm, Bob Lewis said:

    I noticed a couple things in the article. I believe the article said that Polaroids should not be professional pictures but that doesn’t make sense to me. I think they should be professional meaning that they should be evenly lit well exposed properly focused from a reasonable point of view, you know good basic straightforward pictures of professional quality as opposed to phone pkcs and amature stuff like that.

    The article said they should be in front of a white wall but that’s not what the examples show.? Okay

    I’ve looked at lots of model portfolios on this site and wondered what does this girl look like before she’s been transformed by the team. I’m not a professional fashion photographer but even for what I’ve been doing I’m reluctant to hire someone if I don’t feel that I know what they look like before the transformation


    • October 28, 2014 at 1:29 am, Jessica Evans said:

      Polaroids do not need to be professional photos they are images taken using a standard DSLR or high quality compact. Not a camera phone. Just simple shots showing how a model comes across nanaturally. As a model both agency or freelance these should be updated regularly.
      They are usually shot against a white wall or screen but it isn’t essential as long as the area is simple with no distractions. It is basically showing the client, photographer agency what you look like naturally. Also every reputable agency will ask you to send them in when you appy or take some for you when you go for an “open call”. Hope this clarifies.


  11. February 13, 2014 at 8:12 am, r c said:

    this article is totally misleading. it would be a waste of time for many “unqualified fashion models” (on this site) not falling into fashion oriented agency work to go through this exercise of polaroids. equally, the vast majority of photographers on this site don’t know how or what to distinguish when viewing a polaroid for model selection.

    it should also be noted the vast majority of brick-mortar modeling falls under the commercial-lifestyle genre. a polaroid is meaningless for those portraying the 28-40 yr. old soccer-mom about town or health care / industry select trade magazine industry portrayals (all glaring examples where polaroids play no role in casting).

    the article should have been more aptly written and named, “the role polaroids play in the industry and why certain models may need them.”


    • February 14, 2014 at 11:49 am, naughtyrob said:

      I am so happy to see this article. So many times I ask models for these and they give me attitude. “I have pics on my port.” They don’t understand what is needed sometimes.


  12. February 13, 2014 at 4:27 am, Daniel said:

    If only all models would read this!

    For sure it’s nice to have a portfolio with good work of various photographers to show versatility, style and interests. It’s also nice to know with whom a model worked.

    But when I receive those heavily retouched images from a model, my first thought is that she has to hide something. Not showing her skin makes me think that she has skin problems. Photos taken from too much below give me the impression that in reality she has short legs. I always think that there must be a reason why eyes, lips, noses, cheeks, body parts MUST be retouched.

    Unfortunately many models present themselves as they think they look best and not how they really look. They could as well send a drawing.

    I definitively don’t want to know that she has a friend who owns photoshop. I want to know what I can achieve with her. Only unretouched “polaroids” can give me this information. When a model applies, I even prefer simple snapshots over top photographers art images.


  13. February 13, 2014 at 12:00 am, MihailoMilan said:

    Wait, guys. Wait. It seems pretty clear that there is some confusion about the term “Polaroid,” here.
    You will click on many MM profiles and find people saying “I love Polaroids;” and they are typically referring to what I think some people are calling a fad– the edgier, grittier, sometimes-raunchier genre of Polaroid shot that some people currently find appealing in some raw/artistic/vintage sense.
    The “Polaroids” in this article, however, are very different. In modeling, the term “Polaroid” is the name for just simple, clean, straightforward, bland, un-manipulated, PG-rated pictures of a model that show what he/she actually looks like– face, body, hair, and, perhaps, as some are commenting, teeth– un-manipulated, unadorned, uncovered, and un-posed, so that others can know exactly what they are getting… much like the shots in the article (NOT like MANY of the Polaroids you may run into on MM). We photographers are something like chefs, with models as a key ingredient, and the MODELING Polaroid is precisely just a simple “photo of your raw key ingredient.”
    (I just checked: if you want to see more “model” Polaroids, you can go to FordModels, click on a model to see the portfolio, and then click on options at the bottom… some models have them uploaded online.)
    I hope that clears things up.


  14. February 12, 2014 at 6:40 pm, Stunning Snapshots said:

    This should be common practice among models and photographers. I have only been on model mayhem for a year now but in all that time and with all the models I have worked with, which are 15 in total, I have done Polaroids with almost every model I have shot with and none of them have ever said no. As a photographer this helps me asses a model, what her body is like, what she is comfortable with showing or doing, and what lighting techniques I need to use, because as any good photographer should know, lighting is always changing.

    Mark, ask yourself this; Do you really want to guess at what a model truly looks like? What do you think will happen if you saw pictures of a model that you desperately wanted to work with and when you did finally meet her in the flesh, you realized that she has scars, skin color problems, maybe even a deformity or two. Oh oh what are you going to do now?

    If you want to be considered a serious photographer whom models want to work with then you need to be observant of everything about them, and not just how they look but also get to know them some. I find that models appreciate when you try to connect with them.

    If you arrogantly ignore this, then simply put its a recipe for disaster with the end result being you be a serious photographer for long.


    • February 25, 2014 at 5:52 am, Jesyca M said:

      As an UPPER LIMB amputee with lots of scars who models, I think you really have to get a grip…photographers that know what they are doing are capable of doing magic with the science of lighting subjects, posing, etc. I have NEVER once been asked for a “real shot” of myself…most photographers care how the camera interacts with me…and I with it and none have yet to be disappointed. Though if asked, I would NOT have a problem with “Polaroid’s”


      • December 12, 2017 at 8:53 pm, Bob LeGlob said:

        lighting can do magic, but can’t add missing limbs.


  15. February 12, 2014 at 6:33 pm, Kent Johnson said:

    This is a very sad fad where everyone follows everyone else without ever asking where it is going. A good natural shot is essential but many so-called Polaroids are just plain terrible pictures. Good thinking model agencies; show your talent at its worst so the client can book a point-and-shoot ‘photographer’ to collaborate with on their ‘campaign’.

    Remember the days when it was all about excellence and quality? I guess not!


    • February 12, 2014 at 6:55 pm, TJPhoto40 said:

      It’s not a “fad,” dad. It’s been done for decades, and it’s not at all as you describe it. Are you at all familiar with professional models and agencies? I guess not.


      • February 12, 2014 at 7:48 pm, Kent Johnson said:

        Been around long enough to pull Polaroids from my Blad TJ.
        Sure this sort of thing has been around forever but not as it is now; current use; is, I stand by my description, Faddish, a Fad! Some do it better than others but most bookers (slashies // who can photograph, retouch, etc etc) that I have seen Polaroids from do-not create a superior ‘natural’ or so-called ‘honest’ shot but rather wide-angle distortion of the model in terrible light.

        And who wants to see what an amateur photographer can do with a model and a digital point and shoot camera (or phone) anyway! Like I said; it *used to be* all about the quality of the image; the models image and the picture itself. Its all over red rover, all over indeed.


        • February 12, 2014 at 8:45 pm, TJPhoto40 said:

          What you disparage in the bad point and shoot images is not what the article talks about, so your criticism isn’t really on point. Sure, no one wants to promote low-res, distorted images or the amateurs who might use cheesy equipment. I do disagree with the phrasing in the article where it says the images “should not be professional photos” and “a decent digital camera…would be ideal”. I think the writer means the images are not intended as portfolio quality, but they should still be lit well and high-res enough to see skin quality and so on. And a “decent digital camera” could easily be misinterpreted to mean a point and shoot style camera, when you really need a camera capable of producing sharp, detailed images.


          • February 12, 2014 at 9:13 pm, Kent Johnson said:

            See we actually agree TJ, this quote is the start of the problem “How do you take a perfect set of Polaroids? First, these should not be professional photos. If you have a friend with a decent quality digital camera, that will be ideal.” Because it assumes people with no-idea but a whateverthatmeans camera and who is your friend will be able to tell the difference between good bad and ugly. if you have been around the top of the photography pyramid you will realise MOST can’t take a good picture to save themselves and the rest that wish they could believe they have. Bookers shooting Polaroids included in this delusional quest for ‘honesty’ in an Industry that relies on fabricating its own truth to flog stuff. I have no problem with selling stuff, or fabricating a new truth. its the bad lies that these so-called Polaroids tell that i have a problem with and; articles that start from a faulty premise will never deliver.. the right answer.

    • February 12, 2014 at 7:43 pm, Kelli Kickham said:

      Honestly, the fact that they aren’t professional photos is the point. No, people aren’t using their cousins with point and shoots to shoot big campaigns– and they aren’t about to start now.
      The point is that lighting, makeup and photoshop significantly change the way a person looks. Polaroids are the easiest tell that shows what a model’s “base” is.
      It says, “This is the girl you’re booking. This is who is going to walk through that door.”
      Unless the model was scouted/ signed as a new face with no experience, polaroids are not used INSTEAD of professional photos, they are used in addition to.
      This is not a new thing; it’s a classic and logical business move from agencies that clients use to pick the right girls (or guys) for the job.


      • February 12, 2014 at 8:13 pm, Kent Johnson said:

        OMG, thanks Kelli, I had no idea! No really.

        Of course my point is exactly the point you make

        “The point is that lighting, makeup and photoshop significantly change the way a person looks.” That’s it, professional photography, what the business used to be about.

        Which is why we have portfolios, so you can see what the model and a photographer can do. Other than a quick note, because the talent ran out of cards (or you hate their pics and want one of your own from a go-see) this whole current ‘Polaroid’ thing is industry fluff so everyone feels good.. Just because some one does something doesn’t mean it is what they say it is.


        • February 12, 2014 at 8:18 pm, Kelli Kickham said:

          Actually, from your first reply it wasn’t clear at all that you understand. At the second one it explained a little more.
          I’m not sure how you’re involved in the industry and think it works this way. When I (and many,many other agency models) get sent out to model abroad, the first thing they do is take new polaroids and present them WITH my book.
          They are required in a lot more scenarios than the ones you mention, and they have a very clear purpose. Sure, there are clients that don’t care about them, but many that want to see what the untouched face and body look like.
          It’s your choice whether you want to view them or make decisions based on them as a photographer or client, but it is in a model’s best interest to have them available regardless because so many real world agencies and clients disagree with you.


          • February 12, 2014 at 8:25 pm, Kent Johnson said:

            As long as they are good one which very very many ‘Polaroids or Digitals’ will not be; I see them everyday in my facebook feed… And if you wonder about my role in the industry you need only google my name or click the picture. I have already seen lovely pictures of you on facebook from 2010 with long red hair and freckles. Not sure why the world finds it so hard to use the internets thingie!

          • February 12, 2014 at 8:27 pm, Kelli Kickham said:

            Ah, so your issue isn’t polaroids as a concept, but mroe the mass of horribly terrible ones. Well, fair enough.
            Clicking your name only shows me your comments on Disqus, unless I’m doing this wrong. 😛

          • February 25, 2014 at 5:55 am, Jesyca M said:

            Mr. Johnson is a very successful photographer in Australia, if I am correct. Nice work Kent!

  16. February 12, 2014 at 6:27 pm, TJPhoto40 said:

    This is excellent advice overall, despite the unpleasant and uneducated feedback of Mark here. The term Polaroid is a loose one, as stated, but I also call these “documentation shots” to indicate they’re just intended to show exactly what a model looks like. All models should have images like this to show–decent resolution, color, straight-on views that have accurate proportions. I will almost never hire a model who can’t pass along such documentation shots that are current, accurate and high-res enough that I can read skin detail. Many good fashion agencies will have some Polaroids of a model on their website as well as their professional shots, tearsheets and so on.

    I don’t see credit for who wrote this article, or who the model pictured is. I’d be interested to know both.


  17. February 12, 2014 at 6:05 pm, Jerry said:

    Wow, Mark that was kinda rude. These are really good tips for newbies. I usually shoot these types of shots at nc because they are so easy and its a great way to network. Another tip for the photographer looking for new raw talent.


  18. February 12, 2014 at 6:01 pm, Steven Hlavac said:

    As a long-time Miami shooter, I can say this is pretty spot on, and good advice, especially for newbies. I know what I can do with a camera and styling. It is often actually more important for me to see a model like this: just straight, normal shots of their body with little or no makeup on.

    I do disagree with the writer on a couple of points. I really don’t think these “Polaroids” are anywhere near as important for veteran, experienced models, as long as they have photos in their book showing how they look at the moment (ie hair style, color, etc.). I also think these Polaroids DO need to include shots of a wide smile. I would be very hesitant to book a beginner model just from the shots you show here without seeing her teeth!


    • February 12, 2014 at 7:38 pm, Kelli Kickham said:

      While I understand your sentiments, as an agency model, many times I need updated polaroids. I have a full book with professional photos and tearsheets, but if I submit to a new agency, want to get placed abroad or even submitted for many local jobs, polaroids are still required.

      The fact that I have 5-6 years of modeling experience and almost 4 years of agency experience does lessen my need for polaroids on MM, but not in the outside world of modeling.

      So far as the smiling goes, I like when polaroids include at least one smile, especially when you’re in a market like Miami or LA where you’re really going to use it. Many agencies, however, use polaroid sets without them.


  19. February 12, 2014 at 5:33 pm, Mark said:

    I guess next you’ll say why does every model need selfies? Polaroids are BS low class images, I guess they can pop in to Chuck E Cheese and use the photo box


    • February 12, 2014 at 6:26 pm, MM Edu said:

      Did you even read the article? Agencies and casting directors require Polaroids. Selfies are very different and we explained what’s wrong with them in a previous article.


    • February 12, 2014 at 7:47 pm, Kelli Kickham said:

      I’m not sure you read the article. The term “polaroid” is an agency term (also called “digitals,” which is stated in the article) for the shots described in said article.
      You can refer to it as “BS,” but that’s not going to change how the world of legitimate agency modeling works when dealing with clients.
      Or, maybe I’m wrong and it will. Call up Women, Next, Marilyn, IMG and tell them your thoughts. Be sure to check in and let us know how it goes!


    • February 16, 2014 at 1:18 am, Tim Vechik said:

      When I’m casting for a shoot, I routinely ask for polaroids of models that I haven’t worked with before. Along with their measurement information, I can work with my hair and makeup team, as well as the designer/wardrobe stylist, to ensure that we are getting the right model for the job. Having those unretouched photos gives an excellent starting point for understanding the body type, skin type, etc. of the models we are considering working with, and what can be done. The portfolio shows how the model can pose, wear the the clothes, and highlight the work of others; the polaroids show the model as they are. Are they high quality? No, of course not. But do they give a point of view that is least likely to be a less-than-honest representation of a model? Absolutely.
      Case in point: I was recently working out of state, and made the mistake of bringing on a model without getting the chance to view any polaroids. It was only on arrival at the shoot that I discovered that every photo of her had made significant changes to her face shape, hidden large tattoos through wardrobe selection (this shoot was for swimwear and therefore did not allow for covering) and had manipulated her body type to boot. Yes, I made a mistake, but it was one that I had to take back to my client. Never again.


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