If you want to start a portrait photography business you absolutely must have a portfolio. But then you’re asking how do I get clients to start a portfolio? In this blog, I hope to help answer this question and give you some advice on building your portfolio.
You must start working on your portfolio as soon as the thought of starting a business enters your mind. Even before you hang out your shingle, you should be working on building a portfolio. I’m not talking about putting tens or hundreds of images online with only a handfull of people, but a quality portfolio. For a quality portfolio, you should have quality and consistently good images of several people. Building your portfolio is spending the time practicing and developing not only your photographic skills but your people skills as well.
The subject of this post is how to get clients to start a portfolio, so I’ll share some ideas. The first place to look is your immediate family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers (your personal network). Be open and honest with them, tell them you want to start a business but need subjects so you can learn and practice. Very often you will find willing people that want to help and support your endeavor. For their help, give them digital files that are your best and you have edited. Encourage them to share those images on their social media networks letting their friends know you created them. It’s also nice if you give them some prints they can share and display in their homes. Now is not the time to be trying to make money. The old saying it takes money to make money is true. You have to invest your time and money to give back to those that are helping you in the beginning.
Use your social media outlets to share the images you’ve taken of others. Over a few free photo sessions for your social media friends. There are a couple of social media places for models, photographers, and other talents such as Model Mayhem and One Model Place. Sign up for a free account on those sites and look for like-minded people on Instagram. These are all good sources to find people in your area to network with and find people to use for your portfolio. Many times you will find people that want to dip their toes in the modeling scene. Some will be willing to do Time For Print (TFP) shots with you. They will model for you in return for good finished images to start or help their portfolio.
There are a lot of things to learn while getting your portfolio started and it can become overwhelming. You work with other people and equipment, learning to pose and light your subjects, not to mention worrying about failure, things going wrong, etc. It might be a good idea to consider hiring an experienced model for a couple of sessions. Having an experienced model will help relieve you of coming up with posing ideas and experienced models will know how they look best in the lighting situation they are in. Often times models on Mayhem and OMP list really high rates, rates that SI swimsuit or magazine models demand. So use your negotiation skills and you’ll find many will come down to reason.
For getting lighting practice I highly recommend purchasing a life-like mannequin head or bust. It may sound silly at first, but having one allows you to practice any time you want. Just don’t get the really cheap Styrofoam heads or bust, their facial features aren’t good and the Styrofoam soaks up the light so it’s really hard to see your lighting patterns. A good life-like mannequin should only cost around $30 from eBay or Amazon. That is very an inexpensive learning tool to have at your disposal. I have written a blog post on the subject that you can find here.
Things to keep in mind as your build your starter portfolio…
Always act professional and like a business person.
Practice your people skills. In business, you will deal with many personality types, and this is a good time to hone those skills.
Learn your camera and equipment inside and out, your equipment should be an extension of you. You should be comfortable using your gear and not fumbling around with it. This way your clients have confidence that you are in control and know what you’re doing.
I highly recommend studying and practicing classic portraiture techniques. This will help you master lighting and posing. It gives you a solid foundation to build on and a big advantage over much of your competition.
Learn post-editing in Light Room, Photoshop, or other good editing tools. Learning to manage your files is also a good practice at the start to save grief in the future.
Stay in contact with the people you work with. This means every step of the process from first contact through final product delivery. It’s also good practice for developing your business running skills.
Keep your promises and overdeliver. Nothing will destroy a business faster than not delivering or living up to your client’s expectations. Always do more than you promised and make sure they are happy. You can over-deliver on service, extra free digital files, or an unexpected print or two.
VERY IMPORTANT Get a model release signed by ALL of the people used to start your portfolio. This covers you legally when using people’s images for business etc. You can find good model releases online to use to get you started. It simple is a consent that you can use their image and likeness.
It is much better to have one or two really good images of 10 different people than to have 10 images of one person. When you have a lot of images of only one or two people you tell the world you don’t have much experience. You’re not trying to overwhelm potential clients with large numbers of images whether it be off hundreds of different people or just hundreds of images. A portfolio of 25 to 30 of your best images of different people will give you the wow factor you’re looking to obtain.