Before you land any big clients, you will need a good portfolio to back up your photography skills.  This might seem like a daunting task at first, but with a little creativity, you should be able to build up a solid portfolio in no time. 

“Practice” With Your Family

The best place to practice portrait photography is with your family in the comfort of your own home.  Take your son, daughter, husband, or wife outside and just take pictures of them.  It may take a while to get some photos that are worthy of your portfolio but keep practicing. 

Use this time to help you develop how you interact with your subjects.  Since you should be comfortable with your family members, try to freely pose them and make them laugh.  Depending on your photography style, you should try to hold a conversation with your subjects.  This will oftentimes make your subject feel more comfortable.

Look up other professional photographers on the internet to get a sense of how a their photos are composed.  Critique their work and decide what you like and do not like, and then incorporate this knowledge into your own photos.  To further develop your style as a budding professional, go to the library or your local bookstore and get a book to improve your photography. 

Today, it seems as if everyone with a digital SLR camera thinks that they can become a professional photographer.  It is easy to spot photos by these photographers.  Their shots are not well composed, are often out of focus, or are just uninteresting and uninspiring.  They may have some great equipment to help them out, but a camera is only as good as the person looking through the lens.  So, before you go out and start marketing yourself as a “professional” photographer, have your work critiqued by family, friends, and other photographers.  There are all sorts of online forums where you can upload your photos to have your work critiqued.  Please, do not try to make your way into an already crowded field unless have developed some skill! 

So use your practice portrait sessions to become familiar with your camera and with your style.  You may not yet be at the professional level, but you are well on your way. 

Some Tips for Your Practice Session

  • Practice with one subject at first.
  • Try to pose them and make them laugh.
  • Keep the backgrounds simple so as not to distract from the subject. 
  • Use the “rule-of-thirds” to break up the photos.  This will create more pleasing photographs. 
  • The most interesting portraits usually show emotion.  Do not be afraid to get in close to your subject to capture that emotion with your camera. 

Offer Portrait Sessions for Family and Friends

Once you feel comfortable behind the camera and with your subjects, it is time for you to branch out.  Before you go out and try to get new clients, you should first tap into your personal network of extended family, friends and acquaintances.  If you know someone with a newborn baby or have good friends who are newly engaged, ask if you can take their photographs.  You can charge for your time if you would like, but the best way to get them to say yes would be to photograph for free. 

At first, it might seem a little scary to have subjects that you do not know very well, but do not fear.  If you mess up the photos and do not charge a fee, then you have only wasted your subjects’ time.  You, however, should have learned how to prevent the problems that you encountered with your last photography session. 

As in your “practice” with your immediate family, use these photo sessions to refine your photography style and how you interact with your subjects.  At first, it might seem a little odd to talk to your subjects while photographing them, but it is certainly helpful develop a rapport from behind the lens.  Try telling your subjects “Good job” and that they look like naturals.  These little words will help them feel more comfortable and will go a long way to loosen them up in front of the camera. 

Tips to photograph family and friends

  • Use these photo sessions to develop your shooting style.  How do you act and what do you say while you are behind the lens? 
  • Consider giving your photography time away for free.  This way, if you screw up your photos, you subject will only have lost their time. 
  • Once you feel comfortable with a camera, start charging for your services. 

Second Shoot at Weddings

If you are looking to get into wedding photography, being a photographer’s assistant is an absolute must—no bride or groom in their right mind will hire you as their photographer without any experience.  Not only will being a second shooter help build your portfolio, but it will also help you see how other professional photographers work with their clients.  You will see how they pose their subjects.  You will see how they determine what is or is not important during a wedding.  And most importantly they will show you how to anticipate upcoming moments to capture.  Make sure you the photographer questions when the time is right.  Most professionals are more than happy to share their knowledge with others. 

As a second shooter, you will assist a professional photographer with their equipment but will also get the opportunity to take photos from a different angle.  Being a second set of eyes, gives photographers and insurance policy in case their camera fails for some reason, and it also gives their clients a better product.  Before you assist any photographers, make sure you will eventually get the photos you shot on the wedding day.  Remember, you are trying to gain experience but also trying to build your portfolio. 

Tips as a second shooter

  • Do not be afraid to call or email professional photographers in your area to see if they need help.  This is how you will land second shooting “jobs.”
  • Learn from the professional you are working with.  Observe their workflow and do not be afraid to ask questions. 
  • Try to assist more than one photographer.  It will help you see two different styles, and it will help you determine your own.  

Organize Your Photos and Back Them Up

As one final note while you are building your portfolio, it is essential that you develop a good system to organize and back up your photographs.  Oftentimes, when photographers start out, they do not spend much time to organize their photos, which sometimes results in photos being “lost” on your computer.  Also, probably more importantly, in case of disaster or even a hard drive failing, you should backup your photos to at least one place other than your main computer.  An external hard drive is preferable, but DVD’s will also work.