I hear and read questions all the time from relatively new photographers who have the passion, are doing their best to get the right gear, but are struggling with how to get experience and images for their portfolio. It seems especially hard for photographers interested in building a wedding business.
Over the years I’ve seen dozens of ideas on how to build a portfolio, but the one that stands out the most, no matter what your specialty, is utilizing friends and family. Even the most respected wedding photographers in the country, at times in their early years, used friends and family to add images to their portfolios.
So, for those of you struggling with ideas, let's come up with a few...
1) Friends/Family: Friends or family involve renting a gown and a tux and finding a place to shoot so you can add images to your portfolio. Look to create images that show your skill set. Work on having a variety of lighting situations and poses. Work to capture the interaction between the couple. If you want to take a shot at building images without the cost of rental, approach the tux shop and bridal salon and offer them their choice of some of the images. You can do the same with the florist, a venue, even limo companies. They all need images for their own marketing efforts.
2) Attend a few classes. Virtually all of the major icons are at some point on the road teaching. You want a live hands-on event with an opportunity to shoot. However, be careful! Shooting over an instructor's shoulder and getting spectacular images you then claim as your own is totally unprofessional and will eventually catch up to you, especially if a client goes to another photographer's site and sees the same images. Use the hands-on time to listen to the instructor and capture images of him/her showing the process of setting up the shot, then work on creating it from scratch yourself.
Another opportunity at a workshop often comes up when attendees have an opportunity to work with a model by themselves. Last year at Skip's Summer School, two of the attendees, Chantale Perron and Tiffani Dhooge, paid a model for her time and photographed her by themselves in another area of the hotel, just to create their own images. One of my favorites from the shoot starts off this post.
3) Spread the word. Get the word out with your friends you're working to develop a business and you might photograph your first wedding for expenses only. You’ve got to walk before you can run and you need the practice, but you also need to know what you’re doing. Don’t offer to photograph someone’s wedding if you don’t have the skill set to get decent images. Being a newbie doesn’t relieve you from the responsibility of still doing a good job or the trust and faith the bride has in you!
4) Second shoot for another photographer, but ALWAYS ask the photographer if you’ll be allowed to use some images in your portfolio! When you assist like this the images are ALWAYS owned by the photographer who has the contract!!! (Notice the three exclamation marks.) And if the photographer does not allow you to use the images, don't worry about it - you're priority is to get the experience.
5) Hire models for the day. Most relatively new models will often work with you in exchange for images they can put into their own portfolio. If you've burned out your family and friends, look into local models. I've had good luck at a few workshops using ModelMayhem.com and also just searching Google under the word "models" and then the city I'm in.
The point is there are lots of opportunities out there to help you get started and plenty that I've missed here, but if you don't work on getting started you'll wake up tomorrow in the same spot you went to sleep in!
"The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing." Walt Disney