The Simplest Way to Build Your Photography Portfolio and Acquire Your First Clients

PIN build-porfolio

In the previous blog post, I spoke about how many photographers tend to spend the majority of their time working on their craft little time focusing on business activities.

On the HTP Facebook page, a community member made a great point about why this happens:

I myself intend on going pro but i don’t want to lose focus on the passion of why i will have gone pro.

I believe you can have fun in your career if you are truly doing for work what you once just did for fun.

– Yyvone M.

This is so true, and I completely agree. We do want to make sure that the business stays fun and that we don’t lose touch with our passion for photography.

But unfortunately, focusing completely on photography and not at all on the necessary business activities typically leads to a failed business.

Your time needs to be split evenly between the study of photography and the marketing and sales side of the business in order to ensure that your business becomes known throughout the community and becomes successful a source of revenue.

So, how can we do this in a way that doesn’t take away from the reason we got into photography in the first place?

Today, I’m going to share the one marketing tactic any new photographer should focus on in order to get their business started.

Before you can sell your products and services, you’re going to need to acquire your first clients to photograph!

When you’re just starting out, it’s vital that you build your portfolio so that potential customers can find you and become interested in your work.

Unfortunately, your children may make beautiful models, but you will need more than 50 images of your children in your portfolio to be taken seriously.

But where can you find more subjects to photograph when you don’t have a large portfolio to show them first?

Tap into your web of connections

The marketing tactic that we’re talking about in this article is a simple one. We’re simply going to reach out to people in your “inner circle” of connections, and expand on those connections.

Let’s take a look at what I’m talking about with an example.

Let’s say that you are a children’s photographer. We will also assume that you have young children.

Again, the points below are created based on this example, but modify the ideas below to suit your own situation.

Here’s some ways to branch out and tap into connections you may not have considered:

  • Friends of your children– do they have playmates whose parents you can ask for permission to photograph their kids?
  • How about nephews and nieces, and less close family members? Give your siblings or in-laws a call and set something up. For example, when I started out, I called my second cousin that I seldom see and asked to photograph his son.
  • How about your neighbors’ children?
  • Are your kids involved in sports, dance or other activities? That opens up huge possibilities! Perhaps you could speak with the instructor about setting up a time to come in to photograph the students.
  • Friends of friends. Ask your friends if any of their other friends have children that would make good models. For example, I photographed a college friend’s kids. I then simply asked if they knew anyone else that would make good models, and he referred me his wife’s best friend and we booked a session for her children.
  • People that you currently work with or used to work with. For example, I reached out to coworkers that I once worked with who had children.
  • People that your spouse (or sibling/ cousin/ dad/mom or friends) works with. For example, my sister’s circle of friends and coworkers provided many solid opportunities for photography.

Now, let’s take a look at how we can use these ideas to acquire your first clients.

Step 1: Create Your Web

Now, jump right into taking some action by writing down your own web of connections.

Get a piece of paper and start writing down everyone that you know that has someone in their family that you could photograph. Keep your specialty in mind – for example, if you are a children’s photographer, think of people with children. If you’re a wedding photographer, think of people getting married, or maybe people who would be willing to throw on their wedding dress for a bridal session.

To build your web, start by listing immediate families and close friends. Next, write out secondary relationships – people that are close, but not as close, like cousins, friends, and co-workers. Finally, write out acquaintances – people like mothers at your daughter’s dance school, friends of friends, and neighbors.

Step 2: Reach Out

Reach out to the people you wrote down who you consider immediate and secondary relationships. Let them know that you are building your portfolio, and would love to photograph them as models with a free session.

For the acquaintance group of people that you wrote down, reach out to a mutual friend who would be able to make an introduction for you. When you explain to people that you need models for your portfolio or website, they are usually flattered and interested, and most of your friends and family will be happy to help you!

For these new clients, it is very important that you state what your regular prices are upfront, and then offer the a free session and perhaps print discounts as “Portfolio Building Specials.” This way, if any of these clients come back in a year or so, they will not instantly expect the same major discounts that they originally received.

Step out of your comfort zone!

It’s easy to start off photographing our family and close friends, and this is an excellent way to start practicing and get those first few images for your portfolio.

But photographing your family does not qualify as a business! You need to reach out to begin spreading the word about your business.

That’s where bringing in models from those secondary relationships and acquaintances come in. Of course, this is the reaching out that we tend put off. I completely understand – it can be really nerve-wracking to reach out to people who you may not know too well, tell them about your new venture, and ask them to get involved.

The thought of getting rejected keeps many photographers from ever taking the steps necessary to become successful…

…But that isn’t going to be you.

Push out of your comfort zone and reach out today. Many times your friends will be more than happy provide an introduction to their friends for you so that helps to break the ice in a big way.

Remember, when you tell people that you need models for your portfolio, they will be honored that you thought of them. Often, they will brag to their friends about it, and just like that, another group of people knows about your work and may even be interested in booking a session of their own.

The best part with this plan is you can begin bringing in some money for your work and get your name out there, all while practicing the fun part of this whole business… the photography itself!

Next Steps

In the comments below, please answer: will you commit to stepping out of your comfort zone to build your portfolio? Can you think of anyone that might be interested in modeling for you now that you’ve gone through this article? I’ll be here to respond to every comment 🙂

Then, the next order of business of course, is determining what to charge these first clients! Our next article talks about just that – click here to check it out.

Ready to dive deeper?

Get access to our full 3-step training on how to choose your ideal client, get paid to build your portfolio and transition to premium pricing. Includes video lesson, client worksheet, and word-for-word script!

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  • Denise E Walshvelo

    I wonder if my camera fujifilm finepix s2980 is good for portraits ?

  • felix

    One thing I’d highly recommend doing earlier rather than later, is building an online portfolio. You’ll regret not having one down the road. I use Format.com.