How to Build a Photography Portfolio | Pt. 1


Morgan Williams

March 13, 2017

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Hi I’m Morgan! I’m a photography educator and Raleigh, NC newborn photographer and family photographer.

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

Who wants to hear an entertaining story? Everyone? Ok, good.

When I moved to Boston, I knew one person. I wanted to build my business, but that’s kind of hard to do when you know one person – and it’s not someone who’s in the market for pictures.

Now, please note: what I’m about to tell you is something that I would advise AGAINST doing. This is a situation where I’m encouraging you to learn from my mistake.

To gain business and get my name out there, I offered free photo sessions for ANYONE for the entire month of September. The ENTIRE MONTH. UNLIMITED, you guys. 

Howtobuildaphotographyportfolio 1

As you probably know, people love free things, so I ended up with 12 sessions on my calendar. That’s almost one every two days. It’s a lot.

You may be wondering what’s wrong with this situation. I mean, I definitely got my name out there, and I absolutely gained a large number of photos for my portfolio. So what’s the problem?

The problem is that I wasn’t focusing on my ideal client. I wasn’t even thinking about my ideal client. I was clicking my shutter for anyone who would stand in front of my lens. I had no direction, no focus, no end game. 

So now that you know what not to do, let’s talk about what you should do. Grab a pen and paper, and let’s get down to business.

Who is your ideal client?

First, think about who your ideal client is. If you want to focus solely on weddings, this may be one certain type of person or couple. If you want to focus on weddings and newborns or weddings and families, then this may be two different types of people.

Literally, write down on your piece of paper who this person is. Answer these questions:

  • How old is my ideal client?
  • Where does my ideal client shop?
  • What does my ideal client do in their free time?
  • What is my ideal client’s income level?
  • What does my ideal client do for work?
  • What is my ideal client passionate about?

Now that you have a good picture of who this person is, begin thinking about who you know that may fit the bill. Facebook stalking is totally acceptable for this step. If you don’t know of anyone, ask friends and family who they may know that would be a good fit.


Once you’ve found your person, couple or family, approach them in a professional manner and propose the idea of a free photoshoot. Let them know that you’ll be in charge of the location, wardrobe and overall style of the shoot, and in exchange, you’ll provide them with free photos.

I don’t know about you, but I’d totally be game for this if anyone ever offered it up.

Pro tip: Flattery works well here. Tell them how they totally embody the type of client you would love to work with. They’re your dream client, and letting them know that will likely do you nothing but favors.

Control the Photo Session

You hold the reigns here. You choose the location, the wardrobe, the time of day – you choose all of the things.

If you want to shoot more urban sessions, choose a location downtown or in a picturesque part of your city.

On the flip side, if you’re looking to attract people who love the outdoors and nature, find a beautiful field or a setting with trees and streams.

Think about where you want to shoot and where your ideal client would love to have their photo session and go there. 

Howtobuildaphotographyportfolio 2

Next, you’ll need to make wardrobe choices. If you’ve truly chosen someone who embodies your ideal client, their wardrobe should match with what you’re looking for. Basically what I’m saying is this: you shouldn’t feel the need to buy your subject(s) new clothing.

Creating a Pinterest board for inspiration can help sometimes, and sharing it with your subject can be helpful as well. If you need to go to their home and go through closets, do it. Do whatever you have to do to ensure that their wardrobe is going to reflect what your ideal client would wear.

As a photographer, you should be controlling the time of the day when you shoot anyways, but especially in this situation. If you’re shooting in a bustling part of the city, perhaps a sunrise session would work best. If you’re taking your subjects out in a field, sunset would also be an option. For the love of all that is holy though, don’t shoot at high noon. Get yourself some dreamy golden light, and work it.

“Ummm, ‘scuse me, ma’am? How do I ‘work it’?” 

I’m so glad you asked. We’ll be talking all about ‘working it’ next week. For now, focus on figuring out who that ideal client is and setting up the shoot. I’ll be back next week to share the next steps in the process! 

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Featured Post

Photography Education

Maternity Photography

Family Photography

In-Home Newborn Photography

Top Categories

Hi I’m Morgan! I’m a photography educator and Raleigh, NC newborn photographer and family photographer.

Meet Morgan

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