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From Hobbyist to Professional: Step 4. Building Your Portfolio


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Ahhhh … building your portfolio.

IMG_5572-bw From Hobbyist to Professional: Step 4. Building Your Portfolio Guest Bloggers Photography Tips

It doesn’t have to be difficult, you know? You’ve just got to know how to walk the line.

Do not be arrogant. Do not be a pushover. There’s the fine line. A fine line that can also be confusing. When to say yes, when to say no??? Here’s my best advice: say yes a lot, say no even more.

Building your portfolio can be tricky to do. You want people to take you seriously, to respect you and your work and to also understand what you’re doing: “Building your portfolio.” That is language that as photographers we are totally familiar with; others not so much.

I was far from doing everything right, but I learned a ton. Today, I hope I can help some of you in that awkward place of “portfolio building” (which can also equal client building, too!).

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There’s nothing worse than the “professional” photographer that launches their website with the fancy logo and fancy language and have obviously only done two sessions (or have galleries only filled with their own children). These sites always stick out like a sore thumb and I promise potential clients can tell, too. If you are ready to launch a website, then you are ready to be called a professional. If you are ready to be called a professional then you are ready to example competence on all levels.

Like I said earlier it’s a fine line to not be arrogant and also to not be a pushover. You have paid for your education. You have paid for your gear. You are in the process of becoming a legal business. Bottom line: you have invested in this business. You are in the beginning stages of deserving money. How do you do that without expecting too much and not accepting too little?

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1. Treat every session during your portfolio-building season exactly as a session you were charging $2,000 for.

Be totally clear of your intentions and expectations of the shoot even if it’s for free. Allow your client (most likely a friend or family member) to help plan the shoot. Pick a location and a time to meet just as you would a typical session. Upload their photos to a proofing gallery so that they can share with friends. Have them (even if their your best friend!) sign a model release and copyright release if the digital images are being handed over. As long as you treat the session just as you plan to do in the future your clients will respect you and your business.

When I was first getting started I bought Angie Monson’s marketing pack (part of tomorrow’s giveaway!). When I set-up a session I would send them an information packet in the mail along with a “Getting to Know You” sheet (I designed myself) and a model release. I would coach them on what to wear, what to expect and how to prepare. When I delivered their final CD to them I sent it with a customized (albeit a bit elementary) label in a case with business cards and wrapped with ribbon.

My clients (which were all friends or friends of friends) knew my every intention even though the session was entirely free. I made sure to be very clear that the session would be free to them as long as I could, in exchange, use the photos in my portfolio, have the opportunity to build my confidence and trust that they would spread the word.

Many times I received print orders and some were quite large. This only helped me to continue to invest in my business.

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2. Set dates.

When you perform sessions like this word will spread like wildfire. This is where you have to be prepared to say no. You are not a volunteer photographer. Even though you are taking pictures for free you are doing it for very intentional reasons. When you start getting calls from friends of friends because they’ve seen your work and want to get in on the free session do not fear to say no if it’s not a good fit for you. You do not want to take pictures of a newborn to put on your website if you have no intentions of shooting newborns.

When you feel ready, set a date for when you plan to start charging. For instance, if you begin to build your portfolio in January let everyone know that come April 1 you are going to start your introductory pricing. You can still give discounts, deals, etc. That is up to you. Setting dates continues to let everyone know your intentions and keeps you accountable. Taking photographs for free forever will never make you money. Plus, your time is too valuable to work for free forever. Can I get an Amen?!

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3. Not every photo has to go on your website.

Taking pictures of any and everything is always great practice. And, you can never have enough of that when you are first starting. I seriously feel that with every click of the shutter your confidence is boosted. With every download of a memory card you learn something new. These types of things are invaluable.

This does not mean that everything has to go on your website (or blog). I strongly encourage you to only show the work you are not only proud of, but also want to shoot more of. Taking pictures at a friend’s baby shower is great practice, but if you don’t want to shoot baby showers in the future do not post them to your blog.

This holds true when you start to make money. Some shoots are great to do simply because you want and need the money. This does not mean you have to showcase them on your blog or website. Be selective.

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4. Kill the awkwardness that will come with friends when you start charging.

Friends can always expect photos for free. It’s up to you to know where to draw that line. Personally, I have a separate pricing guide for friends and family. I’ve designed it so that I still get compensated for my time. I don’t make as much money, but the money I make is still worth it for me.

This works well for me because when a friend emails to see if I can shoot (enter you name it here) I say, “Absolutely! I’d love to. I’ve attached my friends and family pricing guide for you. :)” I don’t ever feel guilty about this and I don’t ever apologize. My time is too valuable to work for free. Amen? Amen!

5. Shoot. A lot.

Don’t be so eager to get your site live that you launch it with 10 photos in it. Have a good selection and show your potential clients that you are for real. The day I launched my site I looked like a seasoned pro. Not necessarily the quality of my photos, but the amount of different sessions I had done was obvious. I think this is a huge reason why I quickly started to get calls.

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6. And, finally … What are you waiting for?! Jump!

If you’re not embarrassed by the first version of your product then you’ve launched too late – Jeff Bezos,CEO of

It’s not about perfection. It’s about preparation. And you, my friend, are prepared.

Jessica, our guest writer for this series on going from Hobbyist to Professional Photographer, is the photographer behind 503 photography and the owner and creator of 503 |online| workshops for adults and now, KIDS AND TEENS!

p.s. Sign your chid up for one of our kid/teen workshops and use code MCP503 for $50 off. Offer ends May 23rd.


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