One hurdle that every new photographer faces when starting a business is how to build a portfolio. Let’s face it… you can’t bring in new clients if you don’t have photos to show them.
I sometimes see new photographers using stock images in their welcome guides because they don’t have any images of their own to use, and while I understand that the effort is sincere, this is not something you should necessarily be doing.
For example, what if a potential client asks where a photo was taken or they request that a similar photo be taken for them. Would you be able to deliver? Your portfolio is one of your biggest assets as a photographer and is essentially the product that you’re selling. If you were in a store, your portfolio would be your physical products, but since you’re selling a service, your potential customers will be looking at your portfolio when deciding whether to hire you or not.
Now that we’ve established just how important your portfolio is, let’s look at some ways to start building one.
Here are a few ideas to get you started.
- Start with what you have. Using friends and family to build your portfolio is one way to get started, but only if they represent your ideal target audience. For example, when I first started out as a wedding photographer the only examples that I had of my work were a few shots that I took during my internship at a newspaper, which was clearly not going to resonate with the prospective clients I was meeting with. I had to make use of the resources I already had. So I got my daughter involved. I put her in a cute flower girl dress and had her pose for some shots. I also used my own wedding rings and set up some styled detail shots.
- Shoot for free. Before you get upset about the thought of working for free, keep in mind that I said “shoot for free”, not give them everything for free. This is an approach that a lot of new photographers take when starting out. Let your potential clients know that you’re willing to give your time for free and that the images will be available for purchase afterwards. Make sure you put limits on how much time you’re willing to offer at the shoot. After the shoot, be sure to schedule an in-person sales session so that you can sell, sell, sell. Taking this approach is like having an opt-in trip wire in your business. Think about the restaurants that have specials that let kids eat for free. It’s a way to get customers through the door and chances are, the parents will end up ordering too.
- Hire models. If you’re going to go this route, I wouldn’t recommend using websites where models exchange time for prints, they’re usually not that professional. Rather approach a professional modeling agency and look through their portfolio in order to find someone who fits in with your target audience. There is no need to pay for an entire day of work either. If the model is truly professional, they’ll already know how to pose, and will possibly also do their own hair and makeup, which saves you time and money. If you’re going to go to the effort of hiring a pro model though, I would make sure that their hair, makeup & clothing will be professionally styled too. The money you invest will come back to you many times over if you do this right. Ensure that the model has a few different changes of clothing available and that you have the option to shoot in a few different locations. These photos are great for your online portfolio but you should also look at using them as sample canvases, in your ads and on social media.
- Attend a workshop. If you’re starting out as a professional photographer, chances are you’re going to be attending a few workshops in order to improve your skills. A photographer never stops learning. Workshops are also amazing for networking so choose your workshops wisely. Choose workshops that include a shootout or a model photo session but make sure that you ask ahead of time whether you’ll be able to use these images in your portfolio, or submit them for publication in magazines to make it worth your while. Some photographers might argue that if they use these images in their portfolio, people will see similar images on other photographer sites and know they’re from a workshop. My answer to this is that it doesn’t matter because it shows that you’re honing your photography skills and that you’re capable of taking good shots. If you’re still concerned, try and attend workshops outside your immediate area.
- Have a cop-op or styled shoot. Make this a win-win for everything. Reach out to vendors that compliment your business and have everyone donate something that relates to their business. For example, if you’re a child or baby photographer, reach out to a local children’s boutique store and ask them to donate a few items of clothing for the children to model in. A salon could donate some time to style the kids hair and you could even approach a resort about using their venue as a shoot location. After the shoot, you’ll have some great images for your portfolio but you’ll also have made some great connections for future shoots and marketing. When using the images, make sure that you credit and tag all of the businesses that were involved. You could even put a cute welcome guide together for your business and only include the images from that shoot along with some info on all the vendors involved. Give a few copies to the relevant businesses to display in their stores in order to upscale your marketing efforts.
Bonus Tip: One thing you’ll want to do for all the above is have everyone fill out a model release form stating that you have their permission to use their images in your portfolio. If it’s a regularly paying client this release should already be built into your contract.
HOW TO START A PHOTOGRAPHY BUSINESS :
Cindy Reeves, owner of Magazine Mama helps photographers save time and grow their business with beautifully designed welcome guides, articles and curriculum to teach photography classes.