Header photo: ‘Key Largo’ by Donna Hartley Millinery by The Portrait Kitchen

My name is Jon, and with my wife, Anjee, we run The Portrait Kitchen (TPK) from our home. Yes, we shoot in our kitchen. And yes, it is quite big :)

TPK's main focus is millinery or hat photography. One of the joys of millinery photography is that it allows me to combine three photography genres; portraiture, product and fashion. We are not a TFP service. Anjee and I have used TFP with our clients to build up our content, but we no longer need to do that. Our clients always pay for a model who works with us. A model performs a vital role in our work and should be rewarded accordingly. It may not be enough to buy a new Ferrari, but there is a principle here. A milliner's brand is being promoted through photography, and a model is as important in the process as, say, a photographer. As a guide, for a two/three-hour shoot, we would pay a model £50. She would also get images for her portfolio.

Our work is published and featured currently at an exhibition at Museu Chapelaria in Portugal for our client Donna Hartley Millinery. 

Our published work also includes print magazines such as 'Life Is Art' in April 2021. 

We have built up a large client base of milliners from all over the world. We have a particular style to ensure that couture millinery is shown at its best. 

I decided to write this post to share a few suggestions that may help models who want to model hats professionally. These are suggestions. Some things you may agree with and some you may not, but if it helps you, that is positive.

So, here are some tips for how to model for millinery.

Working in a tight crop

When we shoot millinery, we crop to a very precise frame so that the hat dominates the image. We rarely do full length and tend to do upper body and above. Great news for models; you can wear jogging bottoms and Uggs on our shoots as the lower body is never captured in the shot.

We work in a tight crop composition, so models with the discipline to remain in one singular spot ensure that everything is in shot. If a model is too flamboyant in her mannerisms and moves her feet a lot, it means we have to readjust the shot. Doable but just a bit frustrating.

This also means it is vital that a model positions herself well. Moving a couple of inches left or right could be the difference between the hat being in the shot or not. Sounds easy to do, but it’s tougher than you think. It’s important because our shoots are fast-moving and time spent realigning a position is time wasted.


Age is not relevant

It’s not all about your age. Most of our clients sell to ‘mothers of the bride’ who have a twinkle in their eye. Therefore gorgeous models in their 40’s and above definitely hit our target range. We strongly encourage “older” models to work with us.


(Client shot, model Peaches Du Jour )

Be a support act to the hat

The hat is the star, and no matter how gorgeous you are, you have to defer to it. You can not compete or overwhelm it. A millinery model's role is to be the support act to the main star.

Emote! A hat elevates and empowers its wearer, making her feel special and energised. That energy should be on display. Whilst we shoot smiling models, some of our work demands a haughty, enigmatic look into the camera lens. Our work is about creating an emotional connection between our client's hats and their buyer. To get an idea of the emote we seek, look at Instagram accounts like Norman Parkinson or the wonderful The Vintage Vogue. We also play with shadows a lot to create emotion.

Weaponise your eyes. Whilst the hat is the star, great millinery models know how to work a lens and create that super vital emotional eye contact that makes our clients customers go "wow!"

Minimal hands. Hands can be a positive and a negative in a millinery shot. They can distract but, directed well by the photographer, can also enhance. A good tip I always say to models is to use your hands or fingers to gently brush the skin, face, and jaw. It is more sensual. Pushing a hand on the skin can look a bit too contrived.

Image above: Client shot, model Divya


Hair, make-up and skin

Skin texture is important because, as a close crop, it will be highlighted.

Makeup. While we use MUA's, we prefer to use models that can provide a high level of makeup themselves. This also helps us keep our client pricing keen. Some of our clients do request an MUA.

Hair. It may be up or down, and it really depends on the hat and the client. If you have long hair, you would need to be able to do both. Any reduction of flyaway hair understands my inner retoucher. We use a professional retoucher because a lot of our work ends up in print media. We use LensGirl, who is a superb retoucher.

Tattoo/ink. Heavy ink can be a distraction, so we do prefer clear skin. That said, for a bold editorial, shot ink can add a degree of fierceness. Ink may also be good for some of our more bold clients, less so for a 'mother of the bride' look.



Include professional shots in your portfolio

Make sure you have good professional studio shots in your portfolio. If we look at your profile and it is made up of iPhone selfie shots, we probably won’t get back to you. Having a good portfolio tells us that you are serious about being a model. Not got a good portfolio? Talk to us, and we will see if we can help you build one.



Client shot, model Miss Honey Malone

What can you bring to the shoot?

Bring accessories such as shades, jewellery. We may be able to work it into the shot. 

As a model, you are welcome to bring ideas to the shoot. Typically we provide models with rough shots of the hat pre-shoot so the model can plan colours, accessories, etc. We always encourage BTS shots taken by the model at a shoot as they can add narrative and texture. But please ask for permission if someone else is in shot.

Be a good communicator. Communication matters. Any issues or queries, then talk to us.

Have fun. Models love hats. We want you to leave a shoot, not just with the images for your portfolio, but also having enjoyed a photoshoot with us.


I hope this list is useful. Both Anjee and I love helping models develop their work. It is not a definitive list by any means, and if you have anything to add or want to ask any questions, please feel free to do so.

Jon & Anjee - The Portrait Kitchen 

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