How to build a photography portfolio?
Building a photography portfolio is not the easiest thing for beginners. Some of the things that are clear to experienced photographers can be rocket science if you are just starting.
This is why we asked experienced photographers from our community for their most essential tips that they would have loved to know, once they stepped foot into the photography market.
The combination of knowledge that we collected will hopefully help you on your way to building an impressive photography portfolio!
You will find a list of all the photographers that contributed to this article at the end.
Image by www.anitajeanine.com
1. Figure out who you are and be true to yourself
“One of the most important aspects of photography is figuring out who you really are. Stay true to yourself and only shoot what you want to photograph and what brings you joy. Realize what makes your heart sing and what makes you want to push yourself to become better. What makes you happy and hungry for more?
The answers to these questions hold the secret to your passion and are part of the core values of you as a photographer. This idea is what you need to pursue, and this is the type of work your portfolio needs to be full of – your heart – what you are passionate about. Keep your eye on the ball: Your values are what makes you excited about your craft.
Having a clear idea of “who you are” will help you shape a strong photography portfolio. And it’s okay for these values to change over time – it’s a natural part of growing, you are evolving, and it’s healthy.
Remember to stop up once in a while and look inward – and make sure you are working in a way that is still making you feel passionate about what you do. If you don’t then remind yourself of your values – or realize that your values have changed and adapted – and hold them, dear.” says Danish Wedding Photographer Carolina Segre
And by doing that you attract your ideal clients and clients that share the same values and vision as you! It could take a while, discovering who you are, but once you find it, it’s incredible!
Image by www.eastlynbright.com
2. Shoot & Practice
Building a photography portfolio is all about shooting, shooting, shooting. Not only will your basic photography skills improve and your portfolio expand in size, but it will help you narrow down what you love shooting the most.
When you take the reins and shoot as often as possible, you guide your own path in figuring out what you love to shoot, when you like to shoot, why you shoot, how you edit, etc. That kind of self-honed authenticity will not only bring you clients but, tons of joy along the way.
Take as many images as you can and make sure always to carry a camera so that you can learn to capture as much as you can. Test it all out. Find out what you enjoy, what makes you feel, and then chase after that with all that you’ve got.
Get as many people as you can in front of your camera, and hopefully, through this process, you will discover what you like shooting, what you don’t like shooting and what really motivates you as an artist.
You will learn with time and experience the type of photography you want to do and the attributes that make up your “ideal” client.
Do absolutely everything you can to get experience whether that is training with someone, or train yourself on different techniques.
Take your camera everywhere you go and practice in all kinds of situations and light!
Most of all, photograph what you love. Nothing duller than photographing something you ain’t interested in.
3. Connect with other people and build relationships
Build relationships. Not just with other photographers or vendors, but genuinely invest in the people you are photographing. Create a relationship with your clients, so they are comfortable enough to trust you.
The friendships you will build through clients will carry your business farther than any investment in presets or wedding/photo sites.
Learn how to interact with someone who doesn’t naturally feel comfortable in front of a camera (let’s be honest…who does) and treat them like a human being. Laugh with them, cry with them, check in months after a shoot to say hello.
Their recommendation and kind words of you to others will keep you busy beyond your wildest dreams.
Its a lonely thing running a business and you’ll need a community. You’ll meet amazing people in the industry and future opportunities may arise from it.
Image by www.barbara-schmid.com
4. Ask for feedback!
Show your work to photographers whose work you love & trust, and also to photographers outside of your niche/genre and ask them for honest, critical feedback.
You’ll always get better the more you shoot, but you’ll get better faster if you’re getting good feedback on what you’re shooting.
It’s hard to have your work critiqued but it will make you better in the long run and will open your eyes quicker to things you can change, do differently, do better and then grow from that feedback.
Make sure you’re getting feedback from more than one person, and preferably experienced people who are giving constructive image critique and who can explain what it is they see in your image and how/why you can do better and how/why/what are the things you’re doing well.
Constructive criticism is meant to help you improve those images, improve your craft, and help you to hone in on what you genuinely want to do.
Also keep in mind when getting critiques that photography, like all art, is subjective, and we all bring our bias and preference when we view an image, and what one person might like another person is not so keen on and vice versa.
Doesn’t make either of those people right or wrong and it will help you in your own self-critique by highlighting things you might not see otherwise which again will help you grow & get better.
Image by www.wechoosethemoon.photo
5. Jump out of your comfort zone and experiment
It’s critical to jump out of your comfort zone and experiment to grow your craft. Set yourself up with challenges to learn new things, techniques, stuff you are not comfortable with.
Try to play around with different lenses and different settings. If you only shoot in one way, you might end up being stuck and lose the creativity that you for a distinctive photography portfolio.
The more work you put in, the more you get back. People always do their best when they involve themselves in something they truly love because it’s not just a job.
Don’t be scared to try out new ideas and enlist the help of your friends and others to help make your vision reality!
Don’t ever stop trying new things! Find another photographer in your area with like-minded goals and bounce ideas off each other!
Image by www.kc.photography
6. Get inspired to be more creative
Inspiration is one of the critical aspects if you want to know how to build a photography portfolio. You can get inspired by other images, music, movies, books, paintings, everything that you can think about.
Try to look for anything creative that can nurture your passion for photography with new sparks of creativity. What about double exposure photography combined with animal pictures? There are no rules for creativity.
Image by WWW.PAWSOME.RO
7. Master lights & shadows
Master lighting and learn how to shoot into and away from the sun, how to cast certain shadows on your subject, using catch lights from their eyes, and posing/positioning subjects in flattering poses.
After all, the light will be your key element to create exciting images. It will shape and define the look of your image. Experiment and work in different light situations to gain confidence and learn the basics of using light.
Just make sure to remember that light will be different anywhere you go and it will also change its temperature depending on the time that you shoot.
In the end, you will realize what type of light you like the best to direct future shoots depending on the light.
Keep also track of your surroundings as color can be cast onto your subject from everywhere and change skin tones for example.
Image by www.joeandthebear.com
8. Learn to compose your images and frame your subject
There are specific rules of photography that people have been told to follow for years. Be a rebel and make your own rules. There are no boundaries for your creativity, and to fully expand your vision, you need to do what you love.
The final composition of an image should always be the envisionment of the ideas that are stuck in your mind.
Place your subject into the middle, to the side, find a balance between subjects. There is an infinite amount of compositions, but only one can indeed make your image special.
You also need to learn the power of framing in images. Try to look for huge contrasts between lights & shadows that will frame your subject to make the picture more attractive to your eyes.
Frames are everywhere you go, but it is your task to make them work within your vision.
Image by www.vinothrajpillai.com
9. Attend workshops and styled shoots
Find workshops and styled shoots that you can attend that fit your vision + style for your work. That way you can easily set up a strong portfolio and also build new relationships with other creatives.
Being with like-minded people can only help you on the journey becoming a professional photographer. Keep in mind that it should always be community over competition.
Image by www.jamesmorris-photography.co.uk
10. Get a model release
Always get a model release signed by the people in your shoot if you are doing the shoot specifically to have images to use on your website & social media.
There is no point doing a free or discounted shoot to build your portfolio if those people are not willing to let you then use those images.
Even if you’re just starting out this is so important. Be really clear with the people you’re shooting that you can’t shoot them if they don’t agree to sign & have the images shared.
It’s easy to assume that the people you shoot for your portfolio understand what a portfolio shoot is and why you’re doing it.
We have seen many new photographers do portfolio shoots and then have the people turn around and say they don’t want them shared anywhere.
Image by www.miguelfornow.com
11. Define 3 words that describe your brand
Write out a bunch of words and pick the best 3 that describe what you want to portray! When you are posting your work online anywhere, pick the best shots that portray those words.
Ask yourself, does this picture show honesty, does this picture show uniqueness, does it show emotions? You don’t have to show every picture, pick the ones that you want to show to clients/the ones that share the story of your brand!
Showing that will attract the right clients.
Image by www.rockcreekphotos.com
12. Learn to say no
Say no to the work you don’t want to shoot. It’s hard sometimes when money is tight, but once you start shooting only what you love, you will feel free and creative and then your portfolio will start to build itself.
Image by www.joyoflightphotography.com.au
13. Invest time & money
Invest in your photography! Try courses, watch youtube videos, communicate with people in groups, start a conversation, ask questions.
It takes money to make money, so attend highly recommended workshops that are geared toward marketing, business, branding, seo, shooting, how to build a photography portfolio and much more.
Image by www.amyreichenbachphotography.com
14. Find the right pricing and never devalue yourself
Everybody has to start somewhere, and no beginner can charge what experienced photographers can. Start slow and offer free sessions for friends & family to start with your portfolio first.
Once you feel confident enough, raise your pricing and don’t be afraid about it! You have to believe in yourself and your work and once people recognize that, they will pay for you to take their images.
Higher prices do not necessarily scare people off. You will always reach the ideal client that will invest money to have you with them. Value your work and your creativity, and never let anyone devalue your worth.
Image by www.leireunzueta.com
15. Curate your own work
You are always judged by your worst image. There is no need to show all of your work all the time. Be selective and only pick the best work in your mind. Quality over quantity and always go back after some time to curate your older work.
People do not need to see what you did years ago. Get rid of old stuff, ain’t nobody wants to see that.
Image by www.laurennewphotography.com
16. Get it right in camera
Don’t worry so much about your editing! Get it right in camera, and it will make everything else fall into place. Post editing can def change a lot in your image but try always to create the best possible image in your camera.
Learn your exposure, white balance, shutter speed. The better your straight out of camera image is, the easier it will be to edit, and the more time you will save. The time that you can then invest in other things that can help you build your photography portfolio.
Image by www.mikecollettaimages.com
17. Second shoot for other people
Try to get in touch with other photographers in your area to see if you can second shoot for them. This is one of the best things that you can do, especially if you are planning to get into the wedding industry. Offer to second shoot for free at the beginning so there won’t be any pressure on you and you can gain so much experience from a real wedding event.
Just make sure that you will be able to use the images that you took on a wedding as otherwise there won’t be any benefits for your photography portfolio.
Image by www.thespragues.co
18. Learn the business aspect of photography
While you are scarfing down all of this information, learn the business aspect of photography. Remember 10% talent; 90% business. Photography is not only running around with a camera and taking photos. You will spend the majority of your time working on business-related topics.
How to write Invoices, how to calculate taxes, how to set up a company correctly? These are the things most photographers hate, but they have to be done, so make sure you know what you are doing.
Image by www.madlovemedia.co.nz
19. Shoot what you love
Shoot what you love and the clients you want to attract. If that means investing in travel and styled shoots, do it! Invest in workshops, get involved in groups, contribute, learn and shoot every day to hone your craft.
Know your audience, shoot wide, shoot tight, show emotion and choose your color palette. Know your style. Rock on and have fun!
Pick what type of photography you want to showcase. Do you want to become an authentic family photographer? Do you want to become a wedding photographer? Do you want to become a maternity photographer or maybe even do boudoir photos?
There are so many options to choose from, listen to your heart and shoot what you love!
Image by www.celestineaerden.com
20. Create and engage every day
Try to go out and create something every single day if possible. You also have to engage with other photographers and be part of communities like LOOKSLIKEFILM. Share your images, ask questions, participate in discussions and accept criticism by other artists. The more you connect, the better and faster you will become in the long run.
Image by www.MonicaLeavellPhoto.com
21. Try not to be someone else
Don’t copy others styles just because they are famous, don‘t photograph poses because you see them a lot. Just be you and start taking pictures of what you love to look at. Don‘t make it for the Money. Live it! People will always like you and your work because it is what you are. Authentic and YOUR point of view.
When you understand the above, you can start shooting, stay in your style or if you love to change someday do it. Show what you like to show! Don‘t let anybody stop you on your way! Just create.
Image by www.arianajordan.com
22. Realize that you might fail
It is important to dream big when you want to achieve something. You should however always be aware of that you might fail in what you are trying to do. Failing is okay, it’s natural, and everybody struggles at one point.
The most important thing is to get up again and continue to chase your dreams. Each hurdle will make you stronger in the end. You learn from your mistakes so do not be afraid to make mistakes.
Image by www.ashleysanchezphotography.com
23. Look for a mentor
If you want to know how to build a photography portfolio, try to find someone with experience. A mentor can be helpful. Just ask around if anyone needs help in a studio or is looking for a second shooter. An experienced photographer can give you valuable insight on any topic related to photography.
You can also message someone or send an email if you enjoy their work. The worst thing that can happen is that they will not answer. Maybe they even offer mentoring sessions where you can increase your knowledge.
Image by www.johnbarwoodphotography.co.uk
24. Take all the time you need
Do not expect that this is all a fast process. Learning photography and building a portfolio takes time. It mainly takes time to see progress in your work and to be at the point when you are happy with the work you are producing. Nobody picks up a camera and creates stunning imagery just like that.
Knowledge, experience, practice, hard work and even luck. This is what it all takes to be successful but it merely takes a while, so remember that.
Image by www.ohwunder.net
25. Stop, reflect and continue
There will come a time when you need to stop. Take a small break and reflect on everything that you have done so far. Did you make any mistakes? Did you see any progress? Are you happy with the work that you are creating?
Ask yourself all of these questions and many more. The ability to self reflect on your work and your portfolio is crucial. Only then, can you make adjustments and change things that are not working.
Try to do things differently and continue with your journey becoming a photographer.
Image by www.tomsaimon.com
This article on “How to build a photography portfolio” has been created with the help of experienced photographers. Our 25 tips are a combination of their experience and their words, combined into one article to help beginners. Please support the following photographers as much as you can!
Thank you to Kate Cohen, Sarah Greene, Hannah McMaster, Elodie Davis, Corey Lynn Tucker, Lewis Membery, Tess Lucas, Carolina Segre, Sharla Ronée, Kaylee Villeneuve, Tashamonique Puckley, Nolan Streitberger, Suzie Smith, Samantha Rae Ramos, Tasso Mitsarakis, Tay Daliese, Brooke Kelly Flanagan, Agi Lebiedz, Donna Smith, Bruno Garcez, Allison Banks, Paige R, Everson, Amber Rae Privizzini, Kylie Purtell, George Hull, Ari Dorfman, Jake Slobodnik, Bethany Howarth, Josan van den Broek, Brina Lynne, Chris Smith,