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How To Build A Portfolio Without Clients


How do you build your portfolio when you don’t have any clients?  This is one of the most common questions I get asked, and it’s a legitimate one. If you want to make money with your photography, you don’t need a résumé, but you do need a good portfolio. Here are some tips about how to do that without clients

1.  Photographing Children. This is the genre in which you will get the models you need for free – use your own children (but they may be your toughest subjects!), your nieces and nephews or your friends’ children.  Does free models mean you photograph them for free? Well, yes, for a while. Just think of it as an investment into your future success.  Practice! Practice! Practice!  You get the opportunity to practice and show your skills (plus your patience) on a variety of subjects.  You get some amazing images to feature on your website.  And your friends get some really cool pictures of their kids. It’s a win-win situation.

Image: If you want to sell your services as a portrait photographer, building your portfolio should...

If you want to sell your services as a portrait photographer, building your portfolio should not be a problem. Your friends will be thrilled to let you photograph their children in exchange for some images.

2. Photographing High School Seniors. Most of the above tips and benefits apply for shooting senior portraits. They don’t even have to be seniors – any high school or college youth can model for you and no one will know the differences.  Before you go out and shoot, though, look at other successful senior portrait photographers for inspiration, but, as always, let your own style shine.

3.  Photographing Weddings. I don’t recommend you shoot a friend’s wedding if you’ve never done such an event before. You would not want your friend to be left with poorly composed or badly lit wedding pictures. It is risky. If your friend wants you do give it a try, make sure you make it clear that this is your first try and that you cannot guarantee that the photos will meet their expectations. Instead of shooting the entire wedding, you could shoot your own images during the event without getting in the way of the main photographer. Try to capture some detail shots of the flowers and the cake at the reception for example. It will be good practice and no one will get hurt.

Assist a local wedding photographer. This will get you some hands-on experience at the side of a professional  Should you go that route, be aware that some wedding photographers may let you use some of your own images for your portfolio if you work as a second shooter, but many will not. It’s important to read your contract carefully before starting.

Ask a recently married friend if you can photograph her all made up in her wedding dress. Go to a really great location and pretend it’s the big day. Set up some indoor and outdoor shots in a variety of lighting and poses. You really only need a handful of well composed and well lit pictures of the bride to complement your portfolio. Get those detail shots and tell a story.

Attend a wedding photography workshop. You will have the opportunity to photograph a bride and groom who are professional models who know how to pose and look fabulous for your shots, all under the guidance of an instructor who will show you how to capture that special day in a skillful manner. Here again, check with the workshop organizer whether you can use the images for your portfolio.

Image: Practice your skills at a friend's wedding without getting in the way of the hired photo...

Practice your skills at a friend's wedding without getting in the way of the hired photographer. Get those detail shots that tell a story. (Photo courtesy of Dyanne Wilson)

4. Photographing Real Estate.  Apply the same strategies. We all know either a real estate agent or a home seller. Ask them if you can practice shooting their property, they get some freebies and you get experience plus images for your portfolio. Again, it’s a win-win situation.

5. Photographing Food.  You don’t need to be a great cook or a talented food stylist to practice these special skills.  Just shoot some nicely presented take out food or pastries from the local bakery. The added bonus is you get to eat it when you’re done shooting!

Image: Bake or buy some pastries at the local bakery and practice photographing food at home.

Bake or buy some pastries at the local bakery and practice photographing food at home.

You can also practice photographing products in your own home or studio.  When I started out, I asked the local beauty salon if I could borrow their line of products (under their own brand). It looked very professional in my new portfolio and, in return, they got some nice product shots for their display.

There are plenty of low-cost, low-risk ways to build a terrific portfolio without a client base.  These are just a few ideas – the list goes on! Be resourceful, creative and professional.  You will soon be replacing those first pictures with client images. Remember to only show your best images. Quality over quantity!

Please share your experiences about how you managed to build a portfolio before your first paying client.

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Valerie Jardin
Valerie Jardin

I live and breathe in pixels! Photography is more than a passion, it’s an obsession, almost an addiction. When I’m not shooting or writing, I spend my time teaching this beautiful craft during photo workshops all over the world! I am also thrilled to be an official X Photographer for Fujifilm USA. Visit my Website
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