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Our Top 5 Ways To Build Up Your Photography Portfolio

It’s overwhelming to build up a photography portfolio before you have a long list of paying clients, let alone a portfolio you are proud of. A lot of thought goes into each image you choose. You ask, does this reflect me as an artist? Is the quality high enough? Does it speak to my ideal client? 

These thoughts can be even more daunting when you feel that you don’t even have the right images to put into your portfolio. A lot of beginner photographers (or photographers trying to move to a different type of photography) wait to be hired for that ideal shoot, rather than create it for themselves. But, the problem with this approach is that it’s rare that a client would hire a photographer for a job if they don’t see proof in their portfolio that shows their capability in that field. For example, a restaurant probably wouldn’t hire a photographer to shoot their menu if that photographer doesn’t have at least a couple food images in their book. 

It’s up to you to create a portfolio that lands you the jobs you want. The good news is that you can do this, even if you don’t have any clients yet. Try out our top 5 ways to build up your photography portfolio. 

Product Only Shoot

Shoots that only involve products are a great way to begin building a commercial-focused portfolio because the expenses are minimal. There’s no need to hire a model, the set can be small, and with care, product and props can be returned after the shoot. We love these small Savage paper backdrops for small product shoots. 

Pro tip: Try contacting your favorite local boutique to see if they need any products photographed for their social media channels. If so, offer to do it for free if they tag you in the post. You can also do this with local restaurants if you want to break into the food photography game.

Image by  @SneakyCatKara

Test Shoot with New Models

Just like you’re looking to expand your photography portfolio, there are new models looking to add more images to their book as well. If you are a little more established, you can reach out to a modeling agency and ask if they have any new faces that need to be photographed. Keep in mind with an agency, they will likely provide creative direction based on what needs to be added to the model’s book. If you want more creative freedom, try reaching out to unsigned models in your area on Instagram. You can discover them via an area studio’s Instagram page and by searching your city’s fashion week hashtag. You can also send out  an open model call on your own social pages. Whichever route you go, make sure to always have a signed model release before you begin shooting. 

Pro Tip: Partner with a makeup artist and stylist to ensure a high-quality shoot. Make sure to share final images with everyone who participated for use in their portfolios.

Image by  @SneakyCatKara

Portfolio Building Workshops

Attending a portfolio building workshop is by far our favorite way to quickly add quality images to your book. Most workshops will include a couple different backgrounds and lighting set-ups (called bays), models, a hair and make-up artist, a stylist with wardrobe options, producers, studio space, and a variety of props. All the intensive planning is done for you, just show up with your camera and shoot! We especially appreciate that there are people on set that can answer your questions about lighting, making it an ideal option for photographers less versed in strobes. Overall, workshops are a great bang for your buck since the cost is significantly cheaper than setting up a similarly scoped shoot yourself. Plus as a bonus, at workshops you can network with established industry creatives in your area. 

Pro Tip: We have a Portfolio Building Event coming up this September. Check out all the details here.
Registration goes live August 19 and spots are very limited!

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Second Shooting and Assisting

Looking for a low pressure way to capture great images? Try being a second shooter for a more recognized photographer or asking if you can assist them for free. This is a great way to make connections, learn on set problem solving and snap some of your own images along the way. You rate as a second shooter will depend on your experience level. Assisting isn’t the most glamorous work, but the skills you learn are priceless. 

Pro Tip: Make sure to capture some behind-the-scenes images of the photographer on set as a ‘thank you’ for the opportunity.

Image by  @SneakyCatKara  shot during down time on set

Image by @SneakyCatKara shot during down time on set

Story-Driven Body of Work

Creating your own self-directed, story-driven photo series may not seem as closely related to gaining new client work, but we promise it is. What’s beautiful about personal photography projects is that they are engaging talking points in conversations with potential clients. They give others a glimpse of what you care about, find intriguing, or have something to say about. Your topic could be anything that you are interested in or want to explore, the only criteria is that the end project is a cohesive body of work that tells an overall story. 

Pro Tip: On your website, write an explanation of the body of work, known as an artist’s statement, to accompany the images and help the viewer have clarity on the ideas you were trying to express.

Image by  @SneakyCatKara  - see the full body of work  here

Image by @SneakyCatKara - see the full body of work here

Have you tried any of these tactics or have any additional suggestions for building up your portfolio? Share below in the comments!

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