3 Quick Ways to Build Your Photography Portfolio as a Beginner

July 15, 2021

I remember starting out with my photography business and feeling so confused about how and where to consistently find clients. Slowly, I began working with friends and friends of friends in order to just build a starter portfolio to have something to show for my style of work and experience. Of course, it’s evolved over […]

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I remember starting out with my photography business and feeling so confused about how and where to consistently find clients. Slowly, I began working with friends and friends of friends in order to just build a starter portfolio to have something to show for my style of work and experience. Of course, it’s evolved over the years as I refined my photography style, but it still is true that having a great portfolio is one of the most important aspects of the booking process. Especially in the early days. But you might be wondering how to build your photography portfolio as a beginner?

It’s a common struggle for new photographers everywhere. You want to take artistic, beautiful photos for clients in your niche… but most clients in your niche probably won’t hire someone without a portfolio to view their past work. Where do we go from here?

While I’m not a proponent for working for free, there is something to be said about exchanging value. When you don’t have much experience in this industry, the value you can provide is a free or low-fee short photo session, while the value clients can provide you is experience and the opportunity to grow your portfolio.

Once you have a solid portfolio, charging clients becomes easier because they’re no longer taking a “gamble” on working with you—they can see the value you provide by viewing your portfolio. So then the value exchange escalates to: you provide photos, they provide income. (And bonus: you can continue building your portfolio!)

I want to share 3 super simple, anyone-can-do-it ways to build your photography portfolio as a beginner today!

Option #1: Provide photos for family and friends.

This is the most obvious way to build your portfolio, and I hope you’re already taking advantage of it! The thing is, it can get a little complicated depending on your niche. If you want to shoot family or lifestyle photos, it’s likely going to be easier to find a friend who will let you take some snaps of their family or home. If your niche is weddings, maternity, or some other big special occasion type of photography, you may have a more difficult time convincing someone to let you shoot their big day for your portfolio. 

But don’t worry! For this scenario, you might be able to get away with a “mock” shoot. This means you’ll set up a pretend scene where your friends or family pose as mock clients. You could have a group of friends get together at a park with a few flowers, balloons, a grocery store cake, and a couple dressed in casual wedding attire to shoot a simple mock wedding. Or you can have a girlfriend tuck a balloon or round pillow under her dress for a mock maternity shoot. It might feel a little silly, but it’s a quick way to start adding to your portfolio and showing ideal clients that you have experience!

Option #2: Assist another photographer.

I know as an experienced photographer who’s been doing this for 10 years, I love doing what I can to help beginner photographers get started on their own journey. Most experienced photographers feel the exact same way. They know what it’s like to start. They remember the trials of trying to get clients and grow a portfolio.

That’s why so many are open to working with assistants or second shooters. In fact, I know plenty of wedding photographers specifically who prefer to have a second shooter so that they don’t miss shooting any important parts of the day. But even non-wedding photogs may be open to having you come along for a shoot or two so that you can practice, meet clients, pick up some of their technique, and ultimately get some shots for your portfolio.

Start a running list of photographers in your niche and your town to reach out to one by one. Tell them what you admire about their work and then offer to second shoot for a session or two for free. You never know who you might end up working with!

Option #3: Put a call out on social media.

The third way to grow your portfolio as a beginner is to announce on social media that you have some openings for sessions that are either free or an extremely discounted fee. I would suggest putting a limit on it so that you don’t have every follower reaching out for free pictures. (Plus, putting a limit on it creates urgency, which makes it even more desirable.)

When people are getting a service that would normally be more expensive for a much more affordable price (or free!), they’re way more likely to opt in and want to participate. And they’re much less likely to be nitpicky about the little things—which is great for you as a beginner photographer who’s still working on your skills!

With these 3 approaches, you’ll be able to build an incredible portfolio, and fast! You may have to work for free a little bit, but be sure you have your pricing ready to roll if those clients return and want to work with you again. It’s up to you to be clear that you are offering your services for such a steep discount in order to create a portfolio. After that, you’re running a business that you can (and should!) charge for!

Ready to finally build the business of your dreams?

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I’m Jillian Goulding, a photographer and educator raising babies and building my life in Sacramento, CA.

Over the years, I’ve transformed my side hustle into a thriving photography business that has taken me and my camera to the beaches of San Francisco Bay, the pages of People Magazine, and the screens of Extra TV.

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