FAQ : How to Build a Photo Portfolio

I often get asked how I started my business. And to be honest, I don't know. How, that is. I just did. But this is how most people start their business, right? People take what they have, make it work, and strap on combat boots for the long road ahead. Oh, and the combat boots was just a figure of speech…please don't think I have a closet full of knee-high Doc Martins. That's so 1991.

I didn't have steps to take, a business plan, or even the right gear, I merely started. Somewhere. While I knew I needed to buy pretty much everything, I started with a Canon 20D and a 24-70, 2.8 lens. And business cards. That's pretty much it. I realized I needed to build my portfolio, so I began asking people in my immediate network if I could take their picture. Much to my disappointment, most people said no. Flat out. I tried to not let it get me down (UH, WHO WOULDN'T WANT FREE PICTURES?!?), but I realized my co-workers and people at church viewed me as nothing more than a girl with a nice camera. Not a photographer.

So then I was stuck. I needed a portfolio, but had no one to practice with. So I called my best friend and asked if she'd be willing to pose for an engagement session. Sure, but I'm not engaged…and I don't even have a boyfriend, Brianna said. We hatched a plan to convince her roommate, Bashir, to pose with her…and he agreed as long as I bought him dinner! 🙂

I drove down to La Jolla and shot my first ‘engagement' session…which lasted 22 minutes. I was terrified and–quite frankly–had no idea what I was doing. But I bought Bashir a few margaritas to make up for it…in fact, he probably thought I was the best photographer ever! I drove home having accomplished my goal. Kinda. I wanted to practice shooting an engagement session and I wanted photos to blog. At the core of it, I did this. And it made me proud. Of course the photos are quite different than what I shoot now, but here are a few from the shoot….

J* Advice for Building a Portfolio
*Reach out to your inner circle of friends and ask if they want their photos taken.
*Cajole your best friends into a photoshoot…they can never say no.
*Volunteer your services at church/community events. People will begin to ask you to take their photos when they see you documenting events at a venue of authority. This is awesome because you're sharing your gifts with non-profits, as well as building your business!
*Shoot for free. If you're just starting out, you gotta give a lot….in fact, my mother told me I could never out-give God, so I held onto this notion when I began my business. I photographed people and kids for free in exchange for their time to pose for me. Yes, I gave them a disk of images, but these opportunities allowed me to practice shooting manually and forced me to learn my camera. All without the pressure of Oh-my-gosh-they're-going-to-want-a-refund looming over my head.
*Word of Mouth. When you're building your portfolio and shooting for free (or very cheap) and doing a good job, your name will spread like wildfire. Why? Because you're good and free! Once the ball gets rolling, you'll have a ton of business lined up. But be careful…once you have too much demand, it's time to start charging for your services. I started charging $250 per session, and once the demand grew again, I stopped accepting portrait and children's sessions. Why? Because I didn't want to be a portrait or children's photographer. I used the free sessions to hone my skills for wedding photography, so I needed to make sure my focus was always kept on weddings…even if it meant turning away business. Trust me, as a new and struggling photographer, this was HARD. But I have no doubt I made the right decision.
*If all else fails, buy them margaritas!

I hope this information helps a little bit, and if you're still interested in the inner workings of how I started my business, feel free to check out my my first photo blog…and you can also check out other FAQ Posts here. Happy Thursday!