Whenever you’re looking to get a photography client, most times they will want to see your work. If you don’t have any work to show them, you probably won’t get the job. The problem is when you’re first starting with photography, how are you supposed to get work if you don’t have work to show? The short answer is a combination of Personal Projects, FREE Work, and Trades or Cheap Work. Keep reading as I elaborate on 3 tips to help you build a photography portfolio.
The best way to get something into your portfolio is by creating and completing personal projects. Whether you create the idea yourself or you follow instructions somewhere, personal projects are the easiest way to get something into your portfolio. This project has no limits. Shoot what you want, how you want. The key to mastering the personal project is to shoot and edit like it was for a client. If the work is going into your portfolio you want the potential client to envision themselves or their brand in your work. One of my first personal projects was a series about Funko POP figures. The series featured several of my own figures in different locations doing different things. This series allowed me to get comfortable taking photos in public, under different lighting situations, in different and sometimes difficult positions. Another of my personal projects included a subway campaign where I photographed my lunch from Subway in many different positions and angles. My goal with both projects was to make them look like they belonged in an ad or an article. The feedback I received after sharing the images on social media was mostly positive and I deemed them a success. The point is, start creating your own work so that you have something to show.
Many artists feel different about free work, but I’m all for it. Free work allows you to work with clients on your terms. You have free reign over everything because they are not paying you. It also allows you to get your foot in the door with potential clients and client services. Some of my favorite early images are from free work. Whenever I was getting started I posted on social media saying that I would shoot portraits for free. I had several friends volunteer and I photographed them in different positions and lighting situations. I edited them the way I wanted in the time frame I wanted. I delivered the photos the way I wanted. Free work allows you to learn how to run the business. Even though you have free reign, you learn to make decisions on how you want to do certain things. Whenever I want to try something new in photography, I offer the service for free so that I can learn how to do it the way I want. After I learn how to do it, I set a price and gradually go up from there, but I always start free so that I can learn on my terms.
Trade or Cheap Work
If free work really isn’t your thing or you’re just trying to stay away from it, trade or cheap work is a great alternative. Trading work for services is a great way to get portfolio pieces and build relationships. Be aware that some people may try to trade your work for experience or exposure. The way I decide on this type of offer is: do I need this particular experience and will this genuinely gain me exposure. Most times this offer should just be treated as free work. This allows me to set the tone, bar and expectations. I then give them guidelines and rules to follow to let them know that their “trade” really is a trade. If that still feels too much like free work, starting with cheap prices always works. Many people would love to have you do photos for super cheap. The key is to always raise your prices as you become more experienced. If you’ve shot great work, are consistently growing and getting better, there’s no shame in going from $20 to $50 to $100. As your value increases, so should your prices. Like free work, you’ll learn a lot with minimal risk. If you make mistakes or completely mess up, clients will be more forgiving if they spent $20 vs. $120. They are more likely to see it as an investment than a waste of money.
There are tons of ways to gain work to build your photography portfolio, but these are the ways that I built mine. I’ve used all three of these methods to gain photos, experience, work, and grow my prices and my business. As I learn and grow I will continue to do them as I see fit for my business. I’m always creating challenges and projects for myself. If it’s worth it, I’ll do a free shoot. If the trade is right or I’m feeling generous, I have no problem trading or providing cheap work. I know that if I do my best and create great work, my portfolio will only improve allowing me to get greater clients to help grow my business. I hope you’ll take these tips and get started.
Thanks for reading.
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