How to Build a Portfolio When You Have Limited Experience

Getting started in paid photography work is not easy. That’s the case whether you are just starting out, or if you are looking to make a transition from one style of photography work to another. A large part of being able to attract paid work is being able to show potential clients a strong portfolio which demonstrates your photographic style. Today we look at ‘how to build a portfolio when you have limited experience’.


Working with different models and different light conditions will help build a diverse portfolio quickly.

If you are expecting clients to hire you because you are a photographer and have done a good job on a handful of jobs, you are working on hope rather than a plan. To be able to effectively market yourself beyond your immediate circle of family and friends, you need to have a body of work which shows your photographic style. That allows a potential client to look at your work and say ‘yes, I like this. I am going to hire this photographer’.

So, how do we overcome the ‘chicken and egg’ situation of wanting to attract paying work, but needing a strong portfolio to show your style and to attract those clients?

The short answer is to build a portfolio that reflects the type of work you want to attract. If it’s weddings you want to get into, you need to build a wedding portfolio. If it’s family portraits, you need to build a family portrait portfolio. If you want to have clients buying your landscape images, you’ll need to have a portfolio of strong landscapes. I’m sure you get the idea. So, lets look at how to build a portfolio when you have limited experience.

Here are four ways to build a target portfolio:

1. Shoot TFP. There are facebook groups of models and photographers in nearly every city. Join one of those groups and post a brief for what you are looking for. You will have models and HMUA’s (hair and make up artists) volunteering their services to assist. Why? Because models and HMUA’s need portfolio’s too. It is a win-win situation which works for nearly every type of photography involving people. (Working cooperatively like this is known as ‘TFP’. This originally stood for Time for Prints, but now means Time for Portfolio. Each person contributes their time and skill to build their portfolio.)

2. Pay models to work with you. If you are serious about building a high quality portfolio, you may prefer to work with experienced models. Experienced models don’t have a need to build their portfolio and so you will need to pay the model for their time and skill. You can use facebook groups or dedicated sites like Model Mayhem to post your photographic briefs. Working with experienced models you are likely to get a higher percentage of quality images than you would if you are working with someone starting in the industry. One additional advantage – paid work results in fewer cases of people arriving late or not arriving at all. This the single best way I know to build a high quality portfolio quickly.


Working with friends and family is one way to build skills and your portfolio

3. Work with friends and family. This is my least preferred option, but I have seen photographers do this successfully. It works well for photographers who are mastering the style of shot they want, who don’t want the additional challenge of working with models they don’t know. This works well if you want to shoot and re-shoot until you get it right. If you’ve never shot a wedding before and want to get into wedding photography, ask friends to be your bride and groom. It is even better if they are actually married and own a wedding dress and suit. If you want to get into family portrait work, ask friends to help you and offer them edited images in return. You get the idea.


Working in different light will build your skills and add diversity to you portfolio

4. Work in different types of light. Whether you choose all or none of the options above, it is important to shoot in different lighting conditions. Light is the basis of good photography and it is important to build your experience and expertise working in different lighting conditions. That means shooting in bright daylight, cloudy conditions, low light, indoor, outdoor, in the studio, and with lights on location. A weak portfolio is likely to have one or two shoots in similar lighting conditions. A strong portfolio is made from a diverse range of shoots in all types of different lighting. Challenge yourself by shooting in different types of light.

If you follow these tips you can quickly build a strong and diverse portfolio which will be the foundation of attracting paying clients. Thanks for reading ‘How to build a portfolio when you have limited experience’.

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