Turning Pro Part I: Portfolio and Persistence

Turning Pro Part I: Portfolio and Persistence


A few weeks ago I wrote 15 Tips About Turning Pro.  I thought it would be a good time to expand on some of those tips and add a few more. Today’s article is the first in that series. Hope you find these new suggestions useful.

Part 1: Portfolio and Persistence

There has never been an easier time to show your work. Whether you shoot portraits, weddings, food or interiors, a professional looking website is a must have and can be built and published in minutes. When meeting with a prospective client you can also present your work on the crisp screen of an iPad or other tablet. Some of you may still want to show a print portfolio. Whatever you decide to do, the important thing to remember is to be discerning when putting that portfolio together. Only show your best work. Quality over quantity!

But how does one build a solid portfolio without clients? The answer is simple: Self assignments! When you build a portfolio from self assignments, the images will show your creativity and truly reflect your style and vision and that is what the client wants to hire you for. Of course, once you start shooting professionally, you will add some of your best client images to your portfolio. You will have access to subjects and/or locations you may not be able to shoot on your own. That said, do not neglect the self assignments, even if you are a busy pro photographer. They will not only fuel your passion for the craft, they will also help you grow.

How do you know if your portfolio is solid? Photography trade shows and mini conferences often offer portfolio reviews, so be on the look out for those opportunities. If you are in the US, check your local ASMP chapter for events offering reviews. Do not send your portfolio to professional photographers and expect them to do a review, they get dozens of requests a day and cannot possibly spend hours honoring them. Some may offer it as a service for a fee, so check around.

Don’t quit your day job! Achieving success is hard work and no one becomes successful overnight. Okay, that could happen, but so is winning the lottery…  It takes years to gain experience and to build a good reputation. Start your photography business on the side while keeping your full time job. This will give you the time to decide if that is really what you want to do full time, and you will find out if your work is good enough to sell. Set a goal for when you want to quit the day job and work toward that. You can always adjust that goal later.

More often than not, it is the fear of rejection that prevents artists from reaching their goal of turning their passion into a profession. The most successful pro photographers all got their share of rejections. Yes, rejection hurts and you will need thick skin in this business, but are you going to let one person, or even ten, steal your dream? If this is what you want to do and you know you have the skill set to make it happen, then fight for your dreams. You will have good days and bad days, more bad days than good ones at first for sure. Not everyone is going to like your style, every client is looking for something different. Be persistent! Set a goal and stick with it. For several years, at the beginning of my career, I made a point to contact at least 5 potential clients a day, 5 days a week and it paid off. Although a lot of people ignored me and I suffered a lot of rejections, I also got some attention and many of those contacts are still clients today.

Work hard, stick to your plan and be persistent. If your work is good, someone will notice. Good luck!

Want more tips on Going Pro as a Photographer? Check out the dPS eBook kit – Going Pro: How to Make Money Through Your Photography.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

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 Follow me on Facebook , Twitter , Instagram. And listen to my Podcast!

Some Older Comments

  • MotionAge Fotolia Photograhy by Adam Asar August 1, 2012 02:48 am

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  • EnergizedAV May 29, 2012 10:19 pm

    @veronicajwilliams good idea. I just got back (from our printing service) several laminated tear sheets covering different areas of our work. We will be allowing them to be seen one on one and are considering making them visible on our web site with a temporary password.
    @Valerie any thoughts on this?

  • veronicajwilliams May 29, 2012 09:54 pm

    Re EnergizedAV, I offer my clients a 10% discount off my shooting fee if they allow me to use shots I take of their children on my Facebook business page (or my other sites). If they agree, I pop a few of the best ones on Facebook, splash my watermark across each one, and tag the parent. Then all their friends see the images, too, and the marketing love spreads just a little further. Definitely worth the 10% discount.

  • Paulina Castaneda May 26, 2012 11:33 pm

    Hello, I am a new member and a Visual Communication student working on my final portfolio project before I graduate.

    I am in the process of putting my photo portfolio together. This is my first. I look at myself as an 'aspiring photographer' before it was amatuer. Reading this article was very helpful and I am working my way into putting my portfolio in a website. I enjoyed exploring this website there are a lot of helpful tips.

  • Liliana May 26, 2012 03:23 am

    Thanks Valerie, this is the information I was looking for. I need to have a website but didn´t know where to start. Looking fortward to your next posts.

  • EnergizedAV May 26, 2012 02:24 am

    @marco I don't care for selling, so I try to connect with big companies or organizations that contract. I'm merely a hired gun, a shooter, that gets a call to pencil in my calendar. Unfortunately they control the contracts and own all of the rights, I just make the money. (I don't intend to sound harsh). Actually my wife and I are in start up on our own. Also be aware that especially in the American public school system, they are extremely paranoid about who has the students' images due to domestic violence issues. You are absolutely right however and i agree with you. I'm expecting great things on our own. DPS has been my best motivator. Thanks for your advice.

  • Marco May 26, 2012 12:12 am

    @EnergizedAV -- I don't understand why your chosen field keeps you from having a portfolio. How can that be? I would put in my contracts that all images are able to be used by you for any type of promotion you chose to use it in. Since you as the artist own the copyrights, all you need is specific permission to show them in advertising. A print portfolio would be acceptable now as you do own the rights to the images and would be showing them one on one.

    If there is a problem with the school images, just find the ones you want to use and offer the parents a large print for free if they will sign a release. Problem solved.

  • Debbie Moore May 25, 2012 02:50 am

    My boyfriend and I both started by doing free shoots. I personally did several for friends, 2 for a modeling agency (who then hired me for subsequent paid assignments) and 5 weddings, which also resulted in paid referrals. I do need to change my website from flash, the point about iPad and iPhone compatibility above is excellent. At this point, we are both booked most weekends but still maintain our day jobs.

  • Tim Hilario May 24, 2012 12:43 am

    just what I needed! Thank you!!

  • Lara White May 23, 2012 02:05 pm


    Such great, honest advice. I feel the same way as you; that it makes sense to start your business on the side and build from there.

  • Marcus S Davis May 23, 2012 12:56 am

    This is a great start to the series and exactly the information that I'm looking for. I look forward to the rest of the series.

  • EnergizedAV May 22, 2012 11:32 pm

    I've been in business for many years, but because my portrait work has been in the school children and private organizations field, I have little to show publicly. If I don't win new clients from word of mouth, it takes the tried and true good old "be out with the people" tactic. Photography, in portraits, anyway is a people business. If they like you and trust you, you're on your way. I have a recent parent who asked me (believe this?) if I would allow their childrens' pictures on facebook. Answer: Yes, but please add a good word and mention our name. Thank you Valerie, great posting as usual.

  • Michiel May 22, 2012 09:14 pm


    Thanks for your article. I recently finished my portfolio site. It took me quite some time to find the look and feel that I think works best for my photographs. Next big step is getting people to visit your site en get into contact with people interested in your photo's. In this phase I think Social (e.g.Facebook) is an important source to spread the word!

    You can find my website here:


    Feel free to leave a comment if you have any tips or advice!

  • ccting May 22, 2012 10:35 am

    Dear Valerie Jardin,

    I really thanks for the advice. Sometimes I feel quite down when shooting wedding and events for free for other photographers. And, sometimes, I can't take good photos when using other ppl's cameras.. (I don't even know how the change SS, aperture, ISO etc using Canon dslr & point and shot camera as i am using Nikon Cam only.)..

  • Valerie Jardin May 22, 2012 08:46 am

    @Elizabeth, thank you for your warming. Of course photographers can have professional looking website in minutes with beautiful templates from services such as Smugmug or Squarespace for example. I don't think any one expects something looking professional for free. That is part of doing business.

  • Elizabeth May 22, 2012 08:37 am

    Oh please, PLEASE don't tell photographers that they can have professional websites in minutes. They end up with horrible flash and template websites. Photographers, please do not build your website in flash templates. In these new times where everyone is carrying around iPads and iPhones, if likely half of your clientele can't view your website when they are actually thinking about you, what good is that to you? Do yourself a favor, and at least do a consultation with a professional web designer and find out what you need to have a truly outstanding web presence.

    Flash is a wonderful tool and it has it's application, but that is definitely not in photography websites.

    And if you do decide to go the route of building yourself, there are plenty professional templates especially in Wordpress, but do be prepared to spend some money. Paid layouts will be so much more feature rich and workable, and you'll thank yourself later.

  • Cj pietri May 22, 2012 07:03 am

    Thanks for the article. It will give me inspiration to keep at it. I have slowly been trying to build up my portfolio by doing personal projects and hope that it leads to some paid work. I have recently been building my website as well: http://www.elegantdelightphotography.com


  • steve slater May 22, 2012 06:32 am

    Thanks for the good advice. It certainly does take dogged persistence and belief in yourself to succeed as a pro. Be prepared for criticism. Listen and learn from it but do not take it to heart,
    Be patient and do not expect quick results. When you start getting sales then it is a great feeling. If your work is of good enough quality then they will come.