5 Quick ways to portfolio build (even if you think you don’t need it, you do!)

Jan 15, 2013

Topic: Business, Portfolio Building
Time Investment: 5 minutes
Suggested Product: Model Call Photography Contract

Portfolio building is one of the best ways to grow your business. Even if you’re an old fogey in the industry…oh yeah I said it! But I’m being serious. Building up a portfolio with fresh content is the perfect way to attract more clients, newer market of clients, or keep yourself creatively fresh.  Sometimes, it’s smart to work from the inside out…start with what you have (clients or social media followers) and cultivate those.  Read on to see why and how!


Why Should I Portfolio Build?

Portfolio building is…well…the building of your portfolio.  It is a collection of your artistic works.  If you’re a newer photographer, this is crucial to get clients; you need examples to show them.  If you’ve been riding the rails for a bit, here are some benefits to continual portfolio building even when you don’t need it!


#1 You Will Attract More Clients

The first major benefit of portfolio building is that you may ultimately attract more clients…and who doesn’t want those right?  Clients are your #1 marketing tool to cultivate and invest your time, money, and energy into it.  It is so easy to turn a client into a walking, talking billboard through a good customer experience and provision of tools to talk about you (blog posts, sneak peeks, client cards, etc.)  It’s kind of like a pyramid scheme, only easier! Just get a few key clients talking about you, and their friends will come…then their friends…and their mom and her friends…you get it!


If you can just get 1 friend who is extremely happy and excited, and this friend has 1,000 local friends, then the chances of getting at least looksies at your page are phenomenal.  Add in some tagging, sharing of sneak peeks, and encouragement of referrals to the one friend.  Keep in mind, it may not happen immediately. Marketing is a process. Photography isn’t a run out and “do it quick” event for people. It is an investment. Always give any marketing a good 2-3 months to “work”.


#2 Newer Market of Clients

You may not need growth in numbers, but how about growth in quality? Not only do you get more clients (if you work portfolio building properly), you may also pull in a newer market. Have you been wanting to ramp up client interest in a certain aspect of photography that you haven’t had interest in before?  Here is your chance!  Take some of the above mentioned marketing tips to keep the marketing ball rolling!


#3 Staying Creatively Fresh

No matter the type of photography that you may shoot on a regular basis, you are bound to feel creatively dry at one time or another…especially when working in portrait photography where clients demand tips the scales a little more than creativity. Hey, we gotta pay the bills right? (Note: Not saying clients should rule…but to stay in business there is a balance between client demands and artist creative control).

Find an idea. Find a whole bunch of ideas. Get a team together. Or go solo. One model or twenty. Just go out there.

Seize into portfolio building sessions with a sense of fulfilling yourself, no one else.  This is especially true after a busy season (holiday, senior portraits, etc.) has come and gone you feel…well…dry. Time to fill yourself up creatively and get refreshed for another round.

The more you shoot. The more you evaluate. The more you grow.


So what are 5 easy and quick ways to do this?

  1. Put out a casting call – On social media or directly contact past clients and inquiries.
  2. Ask friends if they will be your models.
  3. Donate services to an organization, school, or church.
  4. Attend local shoot outs with photog groups.
  5. Drop business cards everywhere to gain leads.


Tips to Portfolio Building

  • Always use contracts & model releases:  Anytime you use someone’s picture you need a model release.  See more info on model releases here.
  • Avoid money:  Portfolio building, especially with no ties to delivering a certain type product or look in exchange for money, leaves the world to be yours for the taking.  Not having the pressure of money will free you to be creative.  Also any taking of money requires business aspects! If you are a newer photographer it is hard enough getting your feet under you, let alone trying to navigate the business legalities at the same time.
  • Be mindful:  Don’t post a casting call all the time – sometimes you need to go undercover to ask friends. By continually posting about portfolio building, it is hard to break from “free” to “paid”.  If you are already a professional photographer and want to shoot for discounted or free, be sure to always advertise your regular prices as well to put the clients (and anyone watching) on notice of what you typically charge.  Remember, your brand sticks with you!
  • Keep your costs low:  Especially if you are offering discounted or free sessions keep your cost as low as possible. If you are offering files in exchange, try using Shootproof or Dropbox to deliver your files. (PS also make sure you have a print release to define the permissions for use of photographs).


What if my paid clients are all for my crazy ideas?

Then what are you waiting for? Just because money can free you doesn’t mean you should shoot for free.  We have mouths to feed. Bills to pay. If they want to let you be creatively free and really are going to let you, then run with it!


What do I do with the portfolio building photos?

Well…use them in your portfolio. But use them sparingly.  A good rule of thumb is not to include more than 2 photos from any given session to keep your portfolio alive with fresh content and diversity.  Remember, just because it was shot for portfolio building doesn’t mean it deserves any less of a position on your page than paid sessions.  Use it.  That’s the whole point.  It is your work.


But…how do I know to go from portfolio building to business?

This is such a hard question to answer because everyone is different.  At the very least you should be able to provide a consistent quality photograph to clients.  What they see in your portfolio should be what they can expect.  Find a good mentor to help you out. One that will give honest critique and evaluation of your work.  They can help you get set up for success through sharing of their experiences and guidance.


And…how do I know to go from business to portfolio building?

Do you feel stuck? Dry? Overwhelmed?  Now is the perfect time. Push through, create ideas for you. Shoot the dry spell out of you!  Every professional should be continually seeking new portfolio building activities. Not necessarily ceasing all business activities but balancing the two in order to stay as fresh, creative and on your toes as possible.  In reality, you should never stop portfolio building. Never stop reaching. There’s something we can always learn!


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