5 Tips for Building Your Photography Portfolio

5 Tips for Building Your Photography Portfolio


In this tutorial Hawaii photographer Natalie Norton offers 5 tips to building your photography portfolio from the ground up. Image by kk+.

Recently I walked into a friend’s house and saw, framed prominently on her wall, an image I took back when I was building my portfolio. Though the family is absolutely lovely. . .the image. . . yeah, not so much, and I was horrified to say the very least. I kept thinking, “Oh PLEASE NEVER, NEVER EVER tell anyone I took that photo!”

Here’s a type of “What I wish I’d known back then” guide to building your photography portfolio.

1. Shoot for free.

This is completely obvious, so if you haven’t thought of it, please knock yourself in the head with a hockey stick compliments of yours truly. When you’re working to build your portfolio, you need subjects to shoot. Chances are pretty good that you’re working to build said portfolio in hopes that you will be able to get more clients, meaning simply that you don’t necessarily have subjects knocking down your door at this point. So offer your services to select friends and family for free.

2. Charge a minimal fee.

Once you’ve started to get a little buzz around your work with all the probono jazz, start to charge a minimal fee. You’ll get to the point where you’re drowning in shoots because you are the right price. . . $0, and that is how you’ll know it’s time to charge.

Be prepared to feel slightly uncomfortable at first accepting money for your services. I had an exceptionally hard time with this for a million reasons. Just remind yourself that you’re worth it, and then prove yourself right. Now that my sitting fee is 8 times the fee I charged in the beginning . . . I get a big kick out of how difficult it was for me to accept that measly $50.

3. Do a hard edit.

Always, always, always edit down. This is the mistake I used to make. I’d shoot like a bat outa hell, determined to get at least a handful of great shots from each sitting, then I’d deliver nearly all the images to my client on a disk. Thus the hideoderous image framed on my friend’s wall. The image was poorly lit, poorly composed and just plain YUCK. It’s an image that never should have seen the world beyond my computer. Period.

Remember that once those images have been delivered, they’re out there. 10 years from now, when you’re the best photographer the world has ever known, those images may still be gracing people’s walls. . . a very poor representation of your work and perhaps a hindrance to gaining future clients.

Maintain control over your portfolio by remembering that it extends beyond just what you compile in a portfolio album, blog or website.

4. Keep files well organized.

I’m a mom with 3 small boys (yes, I had my third child a month after my first turned 3. . . you do the math, but no matter how you add it up it equals crazy).  When you’ve got kids to bathe, meals to prepare, homework to check, laundry to tackle, errands to run and clients to shoot, you have to work very hard to keep things in order. A fail proof system I’ve found for organizing my portfolio goes as follows: from each shoot, pull the images that you feel may be portfolio worthy into a separate file and an external hard drive for back up. Label both the file on your computer and the external drive with the same name. Within the file on your computer (and the one on the external drive if you wish) have sub files categorized by type of photography, ie. portraits, family sessions, weddings, landscape, maternity. . . bla bla bla, you get the picture.  Then when you’re ready to compile your best images for a portfolio. . . guess what? It’s done already.  Imagine that!

I didn’t do this from the beginning. And trust you me, it is a huge pain not to have a favorites file. . . digging through thousands of files to pick your best work once it comes time to say build a website, does not equal a pleasing way to spend the weekend. And I don’t need to mention the terror and dismay you’d experience should your computer crash without you being backed up!

5. Get an expert’s opinion . . . then be prepared to throw it out.

It’s good to get another respected photographer’s opinion for 2 reasons. 1. They can help you improve by telling you where your images may fall short. 2. They can help you gain confidence because they may see things in certain images that you did not. They may love what you didn’t allow yourself to for whatever reason. It goes back to that whole “we are our own worst critic” thing. Be prepared for the criticism, and be prepared to process it in a healthy, productive way.

Yet, also be prepared to throw it out. I spent a lot of time vying for the approval of certain respected photographer friends, only to find that sometimes their well meaning criticism hindered my ability to identify and define my own style (which is still evolving every day). Now, I have aspiring photographers sending me their work all the time asking me for my opinion, and I always tell them the same thing. “It doesn’t matter what I think.” And ultimately, that is 100,000% true. I will still give photographers my opinion but I always always try to make sure that they understand that ultimately it’s their art. It’s their passion. No one else can define it for them.

So, in the end, it doesn’t matter what I think, or what Annie Leibowitz thinks for that matter, it matter’s what your client thinks, and just as importantly, if not more so, what you yourself think. Always ask yourself this question: “am I proud of this shot?” if the answer is “yes” then it doesn’t matter what anyone else says.

This list is just a handful of ideas from my own experience. Do you have tips for building a photography portfolio? Great, please comment below.

Good luck and happy shooting!

Natalie Norton lives and shoots on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii. You can see more of her images and tutorials on her popular blog Pics and Kicks at www.natalienortonphoto.com.

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Natalie Norton is a writer and a lifestyle wedding and portrait photographer who shoots across the globe. She is based off of the North Shore of Oahu and out of Gilbert, Arizona. Enjoy more of her photography and writing at www.natalienortonblog.com. You can also connect with Natalie via Twitter or on Facebook.

Some Older Comments

  • Johannesburg Photographer July 16, 2013 07:50 pm

    I've had a few bad experiences shooting for free, but that said, it was invaluable in building up my portfolio. Can't emphasise the use of model releases enough though.

  • Gett July 12, 2013 04:44 pm

    Great Tips !
    I just thinking build my first home page and found this tip! very thank !!

  • Tomek Art June 15, 2013 12:01 am

    For online portfolio website, have a look at http://photeria.net - You can create your own portfolio there, customize how it looks, connect domain name of your choice, etc. They have nice minimalistic design which looks very professional.

  • Tomar R. January 19, 2013 03:19 pm

    Great Tips! I am an new photographer looking to make a name for myself. I appreciate the tips

  • Roselle August 16, 2012 06:04 am

    Great tips! I was just thinking of building a new site for my photography portfolio and I didn't know where to start. I've been on hiatus with my photography and now that I want to be back on track, I feel lost and didn't know where and how to start again. This really helps. Thanks a lot, Natalie! :)

  • Mark May 26, 2012 02:54 am

    Never shoot or free, I learned this. When people have nothing to lose, they will let you down. Also, when you're doing it for free, many people think they're the one doing you a favour and expect you to meet every single one of their whims.

    I'm not saying charge the world, more like a small fee, enough to make it worthwhile for them not to cancel, or for them to in fact turn up. Take the money in advance.

  • Lisa January 8, 2012 06:50 pm

    By far, one of the best articles I have read on this subject. Very "real", down to earth. filled with valuable advice.
    Thank you.

  • Mandy December 7, 2011 08:42 pm

    I just have to say thank you, thank you, thank you! I found this blog back in April ( or may I can't remember exactly) and I have been basing my photography carear off this! After shooting rsearching studying and shotting more my prices for sessions started at zero and went to forty and are now sixty! I have had a constant flow of potential clients showing interest in my services and hope by fall 2012 to have " real" prices :) this blog really helped me set a base-line for an awesome, seemingly unatainable, photography carear.

  • Pam October 11, 2011 02:17 pm

    There is a site called Model Mayhem it is for models and photographers. There are tons of models in your area looking to build they're own porfolio's that will model for you TFCD ( time for CD) whatever pictures you take you edit and give to them on CD, then you both have pictures for your portfolio's

  • Natalie October 7, 2011 12:43 pm

    @Viviana - You won't sound desperate, people do understand that you have to start somewhere. Or if you don't want to sound too inexperienced, say you're working on expanding your range or want some photos that reflect your current style and technique.

    Great article, picking and choosing work that represents you (for years to come) is a task a lot of us forget at the beginning! But once you've got it narrowed down, you should use the Brushd! Creative Portfolio Builder http://www.brushd.com to get it all online!

  • Viviana Flores July 15, 2011 03:16 pm

    I love this article, it has given me more confidence in starting my portfolio building. My question is how do I word that I'm offering free photography services for building my portfolio without sounding desperate?

  • Yaya June 23, 2011 11:36 am

    Gifts for the models and designers???

    Hi, I just shoot an incredible session with some local models and local designers for a magazine that I'm starting with a friend, I had never done it before and I wanted to show my appreciation for the help to both the models and the designers by giving them some of the pictures in a CD (not in high resolution though), but I don't know how many should I put on the CD for each one of them. Any thoughts?

  • Becca May 31, 2011 11:57 am

    I can relate to this on so many levels. I also have three little boys, ages 7, 4 and 3. I am at the point you mentioned where at least twice a week, someone wants pictures because.... they are free. I recently told someone I was going to charge and threw a price out there for them, inwardly cringing at the high amount. Luckily, she is honest and a good friend and said "No, That's not enough. You are selling yourself short." and paid me three times what I charged. I am working my way up, slowly but surely and this article affirms some things I have questioned. Thanks so much for sharing, it's very helpful :)

  • Jessica April 22, 2011 04:40 am

    I found this article really helpful! Thank you for the nudge to trust one's own artistic vision. I really do appreciate that!

  • Shirley February 12, 2011 05:33 am

    I fully agree with the hard edit advice. I usually save my rough shots and edited shots on two drives. I also have the ones I like best stored on an online printing site and have hard copies sent to me in case something happens in the digital world (which I don't entirely trust in matters of storage). I also can't stand the idea of letting someone see my noneditied (translate: dull looking) stuff--they'd never call me again if I did that!

  • chill cee January 24, 2011 01:51 pm

    I am starting to get my friends and be their photographer on their wedding day for free actually. Upon searching and found your article, I read and we have something in common I think. It is a good move to build your own portfolio and reputation to charge free on maybe 5 events. Also, you can hire models or join clubs so it would be cheap if you pay for the model.

  • Matrela December 20, 2010 08:28 am

    Thank you!, thank you, thank you! :), great article!

  • Kaitlyn December 4, 2010 12:21 pm

    Putting the portfolio on CD is a great idea, especially the small form factor CDs such as mini CD or business card CD. They are smaller than regular size CDs and are much easier to be mailed. CD replication company such as New Cyberian makes such CDs. They come with a plastic sleeve for the protection. I found this is the most economical and efficient way to send out my portfolio.

  • sarah August 9, 2010 12:48 pm

    Loved this article. i too have just started my business, of sorts! Still shy to call it that. I have a great piece of advice for those who are waffling back and forth about whether to charge or not. I got it from another article and then I am tweaking it for myself. I am offering free portraits in the areas that I need portfolio building in. For instance, I am doing one infant session, one belly session, 2-3 children/family sessions, one engagement session, etc. Then what I am saying is that I am offering a limited time only introductory portfolio building rate. This allows me the opportunity to raise my price at will once I feel I am confident enough to go to the $100-200 range. Right now, I too am charging the $50/hr for my services. I kind of have too because I have to cover gas, childcare, and my time! What is also selling me is that I have been telling people that if they hate their pictures that I won't charge them. Right now, I am only doing business with those I know but I hope soon to expand. Even still I have 13 jobs booked and I have only been at this for 2 wks! Hoping for word of mouth to spread me and probably going to think about some business cards to pass out...Happy shooting!

  • Rama June 12, 2010 03:33 am

    Great points. As someone starting this is a great and informative article. I know many people have differing opinions on shooting for free. One way I have dealt this is when people have asked to me to do portrait shots I tell them since I am starting out I will do the shooting for free and give them low res proofs of the shots. Then if there are any that they particularly liked then they can buy those shots either in full resolution digital copy or in print.

  • James Santa Cruz June 7, 2010 10:56 am

    Thank you so much for your tips. I absolutely love photography and it is a great release for me when I shoot photos. I leave a little bit of the emotion I was feeling at the time on each photo. I am just starting out and and am wanting to make a career of this so every little bit of advice helps and yours certainly did that. Thank you. It sounds as though you are a busy mom but if you have the time I would love some more tips on getting started.

  • Neto Flores June 2, 2010 05:37 am

    I'm in Tip # 2 I trying to get used to charge for my pictures :p

  • Charles Joseph May 6, 2010 10:28 pm

    I am about to go pro and I am looking for the best portfolio presentation ideas. I have done the "free of charge" part for a long time now and am ready to move to the next step. Your blog is great help. Thanks an best wishes from Greece!

  • William Johnson March 29, 2010 08:56 am

    The internet is really not the best place for certain things, advice on photography being one of them. After suffering hours of reading peoples' endless rubbish arguing about technical information, your blog was extremely refreshing to read. The kind of information that makes me think: "You, know that's so simple it really could work" Just getting out there are working for free has already been a great benefit for me. Thank you and best wishes.
    Will Johnson: Yorkshire, England[eimg url='http://www.tezla.co.uk/will.jpg' title='will.jpg']

  • Ruan February 24, 2010 05:35 pm

    Hi there!

    Excellent tips =) Especially the one about asking money for your work. I still feel a bit quesy to accept money for my work but I'm eventually getting there.

    Thank you for the great tips =)

  • Zanade February 11, 2010 03:01 am

    Thank you for this article. I am new to photography and I will follow these rules carefully. Thank you again.

  • Nathan O'Brien December 21, 2009 09:14 am

    This is just what i needed to hear, thanks so much. This has given me just the push i need to make my aspirations into a reality. I am about to go live as a portrait photographer in my local area, with hopes of eventually running a successful business. Your tips are great and very very helpful thank you so much.

    I have been doing a lot of HDR work recently, experimenting so I can add another string to my bow, so to speak. Take a loot and leave a comment, I would greatly appreciate it.

    Thanks guys

  • Jenna Julianne August 9, 2009 08:40 am

    Natalie Norton Rocks and is right when she says start off for free. FREE yes! Then charge little amounts....raise your prices every few months depending how busy you are. If you are a wedding photographer, think about raising them twice a year. The more you shoot the better you will become, so SHOOT SHOOT SHOOT! :) And one day you will be famous and everyone will know your name. The End.

  • Kelly July 31, 2009 12:28 pm

    I too chuckled when I read this becuase I went through all these steps on my on intuition. I started about a year ago, first, shooting for free for a friend, then I ran a classified ad for free photography for models. I started with almost NO knowledge about photography what-so-ever and never felt like shooting for free was a bad idea. If I had charged most of my first clients, I would have felt awful and refunded their money after seeing my final product... I've come a long way since then, but still have a LONG way to go.

    A few months ago I stumbled into wedding photography and with all the work that goes into weddings, I had no choice but to charge. I don't charge much, around $500 right now. Thats still a fraction of the $1000's the pro's around here charge. I make it VERY clear that my prices are only low becuase I am inexperienced and haven't had any problems as being labeled as the "cheap" or "free" photographer. So my clients get a great deal, while I get invaluble experience.

    I ALWAYS hard edit. I way over shoot, cause I still am not confident in my skills and rightfully so. I just about ruined half of someone's wedding pictures just a few weeks ago! What an awful experience... but I definitely learned a valuble lesson... and thank god I didn't charge too much!

    I have reached out to many local pro's for help, but apparently I havn't found the right one yet... If they even respond at all it's a very generic "good luck" and that's the last I hear from them. I placed an ad a while back for an assistant and got over 250 responses in a week... so I can only imagine the hoards of amatures that bombard the local pro's on a regular basis...

    Ultimately I was left feeling like I am pretty much on my own... but with my determination and the support of places like Digital-Photography-School, I seem to be on the right track and headed towards my goal of creating a well established photography business!

  • Jeremy Bennetts June 27, 2009 09:38 am

    Funny thing is is that I have done all five steps before I read this. I'm laughing because I've done the free work, I feel bad for charging mainly because my confidence is down but I get good feed back. I've shot thousands of photos and gave them all to the clients. Now I'm in touch with a phototographer who I let pic my work apart and the theing he told me is "if there is a reason why you shot this photo then my opinion doesnt matter".

  • robert gray April 16, 2009 10:42 pm

    Hi, in answear to MeiTeng the word amature abd proffesional has a verry smal differnce if you read there meanings in the dictionary.
    Proffesional is a person who gets paid for performing a job ++
    I like you found "asking for money" hard, but i then created a price list wich i gave to people before they fainally booked me, people woulg ring me up or contakt me through my web page asking about pictures.... I then offer to send by post or email the different types of photography i offer ie portraight,wedding commersial.... along side each of the different catogories is the hour price (in my case very reasonable) and normal price for the prints ond other pruducts.... Now when i have a photoshoot it's nearly always the customer who askes when do we pay or can i pay with visa.... I tend to send my clients a bill at the end when the have finished picking out the prints the want
    In short creat a pricelist and they will ask about payment :-)
    I live in Norway so you will not understand most of the writting but you can see my example her of a very easy set up
    you can view it in PDF format here
    Please all feel free to use the design but please don't use my pictures, respecting our © as fotografers, and i do belive most of us do
    really hope this helps you out
    my website showing a selection of my work can also be see her
    Good luck
    Robert Gray

  • MeiTeng April 16, 2009 06:31 pm

    Great article and thank you for the tips. I have shooting for free for a family who wanted someone to help out with food photography for the business as well as family portraits. So, I have some basics in terms of building up my portfolio from working with this family. Plus, they loved my work so much so that their home is literally filled with my work. I take that as an encouragement to keep on shooting and learning as much as I can. So far, I have been quite reluctant to charge people as I feel kind of shy....as I am an amateur. Well...I guess there will come a time when I may need to consider charging a fee.

  • Joe Howard April 6, 2009 11:06 pm

    These are very straight forward thing that we all can do to better our service to the public. I am so glad i came across this site because i havent got a file system yet and im going to build one as soon as i get out of here, so in saying that ill say thank you for your information, hope you can fine the time to visit my site and have a look at my work. I am starting out in Portraitures and this will be so much help. Thank you again.

  • Peter April 1, 2009 10:07 pm

    I am only starting out and your advice is great.


    Peter Hawes

  • Robert Gray (graycaption foto) February 17, 2009 09:18 am

    Hi, I started my own freelance photography business as a hobby, and got a website with in 6 months of buying my first camera.
    The reason i got a website was to show off my photos to friends, colleagues and family. I later changed it to offer my services as a photografer and sell nature photos, to my supprise and enjoyment the two first bookings i got where for a confirmation and the secound a wedding. Now the wedding photography job got me really nervous, hench how i came across this wounderfull site (21 tips for wedding photografers).
    So here is my chance to give something back, I spent about a year going back and forth changing my website so i got it just as i wanted..... in later time i came across a wonderful place for proffesional and amature photografers alike, where you can EASELY create and build your own website with so many different looks as you like, you have also the security that is nice to have, beeing able to stop people coping/downloading your photos,i would go on but there is just too much to say, so go and read and see for your self
    They are called smugmug and i can recomend it, i use them for all my proffesional prints and use them for showing my customers there pictures, here i can set my own pricing and even give the customer the option of purchasing a download of the picture....
    my smugmug account/website is her
    The webpage i built is her
    Love to here what you think
    Happy shooting and good luck to you allRobert GrayGraycaption foto
    If you do want to join smugmug, then by using this link you will save 5 dollars, and me 10 dollars (off my renewal fee)

  • Margie February 6, 2009 01:22 pm

    I have taken some photos for friends and made the same mistake of "shooting like a bat" then after making adjustments, I posted them on Shutterfly and let them choose their own pictures and take charge of the storage issue. A small $30 sitting fee was all I had the courage to ask a friend for.
    That's really, really hard to ask someone you know for money.
    I live in a small town and submit photos to the local newspaper (gratis) and this gives me some exposure.
    My neighbors enjoy seeing my work in print. To the public that I photograph, I usually give a free print via e-mail in hopes that they will call me in the future. Yes, I'm still waiting for the phone calls :)
    Putting yourself out there requires a lot of confidence, it's something I'm working on.
    Please feel free to visit my site, thank you.

  • chrissy February 5, 2009 08:25 am

    What recommend on top of the obvious, which is a website is to create a digital portfolio. The digital portfolio should be burned to a cd. If you have a lot of clients id say use a cd duplication company to mass produce the cd and distribute it with your business cards. this will leave a good impression with a client and give the client work to look at later on.

  • Viewbook January 16, 2009 08:45 pm

    I just read your article, I see it's already more than a year old. I was wondering your article's focus is on the creation of portfolio work. How to present your work to others is another important issue. There are plenty options to show your work online for example (Flickr, Picasa, jAlbum, etc), but I always feel those websites are too messy. I think a clean, professional presentation of your photography work also contributes to your success. Especially for your online portfolio. We at Viewbook are trying to offer practical tools and online portfolios for photographers to get your work out there.

  • Matthew Boyd November 11, 2008 06:06 am

    Thank you, Natalie! Just the tips that I was looking for. "Be prepared to throw them out" is tough, but practical, I'm sure. Rock on!

  • Don Bird November 7, 2008 11:43 pm

    Let the clint know up front what you charge and if thats
    not ok give them a card . and go on your way there is
    more people out there and events to shoot.Take pride in
    what you do and have fun.

  • Deb November 5, 2008 03:09 pm

    This was a great post. I have always loved taking pictures and recently have gotten serious about my dream of photography. I did a photo shoot last weekend and have been struggling with how much to charge. I have to agree with those who said try not to be labeled as the cheap or free photographer. Although I'm sure my client was already referred to me as such from a good friend of mine :-)

    Thanks for tip #3, I had planned on downloading all the pics and giving them to the client, prior to reading this one.

  • Matthew October 18, 2008 02:44 pm

    I would highly recommend never working for free or cheap.
    Here is why:

    When you set an expectation that you will work for free or on the cheap you will always be viewed as someone people can refer to get you to do work for free or on the cheap.

    Remember the old saying F/8 and be there. Just go out to as many events - meet as many people as you can - always have your camera on you and just make photographs all the time. Ask people to allow you to take their photo when you are out and about - start a conversation - let them know you are a photographer - give them your card, but don't shoot for free it will haunt you.

    Most importantly, aren't you worth your full rate?
    What does it mean to someone else when you don't have enough respect for yourself to say no when they will not pay for your expertise??? Just a thought.

  • Greg October 13, 2008 07:27 am

    Natalie, a wonderful post! Thank you.

  • jay October 12, 2008 08:13 pm

    Although I agree with every point here, in the introductory paragraph you describe an image which should never have seen the light of day, yet your friends/client obviously liked it enough to leave it on their wall for a number of years; and after all, it's making the client happy that counts.

    Yes, other photographers opinion can be subjective, but so is your own. I find that even when running through the blurry, mis-exposed images on the computer, people will sometimes find a flash of their friends/family members personality captured in a way that a perfect image might not.

    Great thought provoking article, thanks.

  • Mandy October 11, 2008 06:45 am

    Interesting post, I especially like point 5.

    That's the thing about photography - it's individual and we can see things in different ways, and that's what's interesting about photography!

  • Richard X. Thripp October 11, 2008 03:40 am

    I like this. I'm doing the shooting for free and hard editing pretty well. Since I'm doing art photography, that means one or two photos of each of my models, not dozens.

    When you just do one photo of a person instead of twenty, you can spend a lot more time editing that photo, adding vignetting, removing blemishes, and such. It's fine to take twenty, but don't bring twenty photos to completion.

  • Chris October 11, 2008 01:00 am

    I disagree about having your early photos getting out to people -- it shows how we've grown, and in the same respect can gain you more client because it shows how hard youve worked to get where you are, and what you can now do that you couldn't do in the past.

  • Sahul October 11, 2008 12:56 am

    Is that you on the photograph above? I can tell from your rings that you are an artistic person and has creativity from within, but not seen your work though.

    I like what you said about beginning to shoot for free and then slowly determine a fee. I am that kinda person, difficult to accept money for my hobby.

    Your point about your earlier photos which is not up to the mark is one point that I disagree. Photography to me is an art, it expresses the person behind the camera. Your artistic insight evolves all the time. You are never perfect at any point of your time in life. What you think now, about yourself to be a perfect is just an interpretation of the popular photographic school of thought. Art evolves and is always evolving.

  • Gina October 11, 2008 12:26 am

    Yup! another good one! I am so glad you wrote this. I have just started and finding it hard to charge. So right now I am only charging $50 bucks. I also think its great to hear that it's okay to think my photo is great even if someone else doesn't think so. I always think I need to be better and what I shot isn't good engough when someone else is critiquing it. Scary stuff but I also love when others tell me what I can do better. It's part of the business and learning.

  • fromBrandon October 10, 2008 11:33 pm

    I enjoyed this article very much! Good points offered, and it kinda falls exactly where I am in my photography right now.

    Thanks a lot!


  • Helmut Watterott October 10, 2008 09:48 pm

    I agree with getting feedback from pro's but also knowing when to discard that critisism. However maybe needs to be elaborated on. What I mean is maybe ask for specific areas of critisism, if it is a photo meant for a commercial shoot it needs to be perfectly exposed, sharp, explain the subject matter etc etc. But if it is fine art photography, no, obviously comments about some of the tecnically apects can be ignored. Basically things always need to be kept in context.

  • Bob Harvey October 10, 2008 04:27 pm

    **Release your works under CC and more people will be prone to using them. That equals out to exposure.**

    Really?? How many "creative commons" pboto's have you shown to others and declaimed "thats by Joe Smith, that's by Linda Jones", etc. Exactly. So while there are valid reasons for doing so, don't tout a CC license as exposure of any type.

  • Ricky October 10, 2008 12:32 pm

    Great job I love hearing what others do, and don't do, it just make me try to be better at what I'm trying to do with photography! Great article!

  • parag October 10, 2008 12:01 pm

    Really good article!

  • Patrick Beseda October 10, 2008 11:34 am


    I guess my definition of success is probably different than others.

    For me, I've learned a lot, gotten better at taking photographs, had fun, made friends, found a great hobby, am finding ways to express myself and be creative.

    Right now, thats success for me. And shooting for free has gotten me those things.

    My idea of success might change along the road. Making money, having an impressive portfolio, upgrading equipment, etc.

    Until then, shooting for free.

    Rosh, to you, at your point in your career, what's success for you?

  • Rosh October 10, 2008 09:30 am


    Question? How have you had success shooting for free?


  • Papek October 10, 2008 08:10 am

    This is a great article. It's like the pat on the back to go jump on that bike for the first time. Believe in yourself, listen to people and stick to the plan! I'm not charging yet! Slowly but surely building the confidence


  • Alan Perry October 10, 2008 07:33 am

    A very interesting article.

    Re the yuck picture displayed on your friends wall, don't forget that photography is an art and art is subjective.

    So the pic may be full of technical flaws in your eyes, but priceless to your friend in terms of memories, etc.

    Beauty is in the eye of the beholder....!

  • Patrick Beseda October 10, 2008 05:58 am

    Thanks Natalie! Thats some great advice. I've had some success shooting for free, but haven't yet moved to the "cheap stage" as I'm not that skilled yet. Still learning, thanks for the thoughts, and some motivation/goals.

  • JeffH October 10, 2008 05:21 am

    I disagree that you need to work for free to build a portfolio! You need to be really careful doing free and cheap work for friends and relatives, or worse yet, business clients. If you do so they will expect to pay the same price forever, regardless of your experience and expertise.

  • Jeanette October 10, 2008 04:45 am

    What a brilliant post!! It's just what I needed to read right now! the timing is perfect :)

  • Rosh October 10, 2008 04:10 am

    I would have to 100% disagree with Jozef.

    I've seen a lot of photographers go out of business with that philosophy.

    It's kinda like saying I'm going to be an actor. So, I'm just going to hang out in Hollywood at all the right places and get discovered. Can it happen, but what are the chances?

    Exposure doesn't equal success in the photography world. Ask how many photographers who have solid images through micro stock for a $1 (not me) with thousands or millions of viewers actually received more opportunities from the editors or viewers. Few.

    I've been published over 8,000+ times in newspapers and magazines alone. I should be a multi-millionaire.


  • Henrik October 10, 2008 04:09 am

    Very good tips! Excellent article!

  • Shelly October 10, 2008 03:54 am

    I love this article! Always excellent advice from you, Natalie.

  • Rosh October 10, 2008 03:51 am

    Natalie brings up a good point. It is sometimes hard to charge for something you enjoy doing.

    But, you need to be careful about shooting for cheap or free. I've written many comments on the topic here at DPS. Just don't get trapped as the cheap photographer.

    I throw no stones. I still have clients from my beginning years calling me for cheap or free photography. Sadly, they refer me too.

    I believe in trade vs free for the beginner. Your images have value. Trade with people that need images. Models need portfolios and you need models. Companies need events, people and products photographed. Maybe you can trade for products or services.

    With that said....Friends and family are always good free models.


  • Jozef Nagy October 10, 2008 03:48 am

    There's nothing worse than being overly conservative about getting your work into the public eye. Unless you're a bona fide professional, don't worry about giving away your work. That's how you build up a client base. Not only that, but when you put your photos onto the web, license them with Creative Commons. If you honestly think your amateurish photos will end up earning you money you're wrong. Release your works under CC and more people will be prone to using them. That equals out to exposure.

  • richard October 10, 2008 03:21 am

    I love the topics you write about. They're always dead on to what I have on my mind and your writing style is AWESOME. :-)

  • Jelena Ardila October 10, 2008 02:40 am

    Great Article!!! I think the hard edit is key as you said... very inspiring to build up my portfolio!

  • Daniel McCullum October 10, 2008 02:32 am

    Wow! Great timing! I'm going to be doing my first "real" photoshoot this afternoon for a friend's senior portraits. It's always great to have lots of ideas and information! Thanks for the article.


  • Dan October 10, 2008 02:23 am

    Excellent article, but I'd like to add something to "shoot for free." Non profit organizations have events all of the time. Go shoot those events and turn over your best shots to the nonprofit. Ask them if they use your shots to credit you, and give you an opportunity to collect a copy of the media they used it in.

    Dan R

  • Regina Brown October 10, 2008 02:12 am

    I ponder the same question Angela asks - do we let people know we are just starting out or act like you have been doing this for some time now?

    BTW - great article. Love the organizing tips!

  • Brendon October 10, 2008 01:47 am

    Great Article. I especially like pt 3 as I did (err didn't do) the exact same thing, although I don't think any of my pictures will be hanging on walls anytime soon.

  • Denis October 10, 2008 01:41 am

    I totally agree with Matt.
    I couldn't agree more with the 5 key points...particularly with number 4 !!
    Great article!
    Completely comprehensive throughout all the process of building up the portfolio.
    It was very useful to me, thanks!.

  • Paulo Sacramento October 10, 2008 01:40 am

    Great tips, Natalie! And congratulations for your work. I've checked some awesome portraits at your blog. :)

  • Angela October 10, 2008 01:28 am

    I really needed this as I've just gotten past the shooting for free stage and am trying to get a little more "professional" with everything I do. One question though, as you charge a minimal fee for your work, should you let people know you're just starting out (those that don't already know it) or act like you know the whole business thing from the start? It's a question I keep asking myself and can't quite answer.

  • Mel October 10, 2008 01:09 am

    When you do create your portfolio, make it professional looking. If you're showing someone you work, don't show them through the preview screen on the back of your camera. And definitely don't hand them a pile of 4x6's to flip through (or a book of them either for that matter.) You want to impress them. So make the photos big, put them in a portfolio book, and wow them with your images.

  • Matt Brown October 10, 2008 01:05 am

    Possibly the best article I have read on this site. Really great read. Thanks. :)

  • Ming Tze October 10, 2008 12:43 am

    Great tips! I could not have read this at a better time. Just started seriously thinking about putting up my own portfolio after getting some request to do some event shoots though just an amateur at this art. Also did think if I should charge a fee and how much if I do, now I know. Thanks.

  • Dennis October 10, 2008 12:38 am

    I can't help but feeling that tip no. 4 isn't that good. Perhaps keywords in programs like Adobe Lightroom (IPTC-metadata) would be a better option. combining ratings (stars or flags) and keywords will give you what you need without manual copying and maintanance to your system.

  • Danielle October 10, 2008 12:30 am

    So glad to see you write that it doesn't matter what other photographers think!! I've been battling this with some old school photogs who will tell me my work is WRONG if it's overexposed or blurry -- even though that's what I MEANT to do. Nothing is wrong in art. It's just personal preference!