Today I will be going through the process of creating a photo portfolio for your website. I received a question from Dean who says,
I’m looking at starting a career in photography. I need to build an online photo portfolio to attract future customers. My interests are street photography, family portraits and headshots
What are some tips for creating a portrait portfolio and should I use paid models or real people?
8 Tips how to create a portfolio for your new website
We discuss the topics:
- Hiring models vs real people for a portfolio
- The added bonus of using real people
- Using ads to get people to photograph
- Photographing what you want to photograph
- Get someone to critique your portfolio
- Learn to relax your subjects
- Have a contract for your portfolio subjects
- How to organize your portfolio on your website
Let’s get stareted!
1. Hiring models vs real people for a portfolio?
In regards to hiring models vs finding real people to photograph for your portfolio. As you can imagine, there will be a bit of a difference with the end result.
If you’re new to portrait photography, hiring a model that is experienced with posing themselves and understanding how to interact with the camera can help you ten fold because your job will be so much easier.
You literally just have to set up the lighting, if you’re using natural lighting, it’s even easier and then it’s just a matter of interacting and photographing your model and you’ll get the photos your after for your website portfolio.
There’s pros and cons to using paid models, some models are very good looking, which is not a bad thing, but if you have a portfolio on your website people like to see themselves especially in portrait photography or family photography.
They want to be able to picture themselves in your photos. Otherwise they may not be able to relate to your photography.
With a professional model their poses may look too posed, like what you would see in a magazine. As a result future customers may get put off with static poses, that’s something to think about.
When some people get family portraits done they’re not perfect. They’re not really perfect in the sense that there’s giggles and laughter and sometimes the posing is not 100 percent perfect and these natural looking facial expressions and reactions are what parents and families see themselves.
So that’s just something to think about. There’s nothing wrong with using professional models for your online portfolio.
In fact, I’ve done it a few times early on in my career.
What I did learn when first transitioning from sports photography to portraits, Family portraits and weddings is it really helped me to try and understand what a difference good posing makes to a photo.
The few times that I did hire a model, I didn’t learn everything, but I could see the difference between somebody that knew what they were doing compared to a family that was going to get their first portrait session.
It’s worlds apart. So just keep in mind that hiring a model may give you a false sense of security because they will make your job a lot easier and that’s what I found.
When editing my photo portfolio, the photos with the paid model, you could see they knew how to direct their face towards the camera and how to move their body in an pleasing way.
As a result the photos turned out spectacular. In fact they came across too good in the sense that when I put them up with all the other family portraits that I had on the website, you can definitely tell which photos were of paid models and which photos were of regular people.
2. The added bonus of using real people
Now hiring or getting a regular family to pose for you is kinda the hardest thing you can potentially do when you’re first starting out. Only because, if you’re not used to posing with a whole family or even one or two people.
There is bound to be one person that is insecure about their looks. As a result, they will just stand there like a deer in the headlights saying,
“Okay what do you want us to do”?
“Where should I put my hands”?
“What should I do”?
It’s your job as the photographer to give them reassurance that what they’re doing is fine and not to over think it.
3. Using ads to get people to photograph
It’s a massive learning curve, it will not only test your photography skills, but also your workflow from customer inquiry to delivery of photos. It’s a good opportunity to fine tune almost every aspect of your new business.
So if you were to put an ad out to sites like Craig’s List or Gumtree, which I originally did and also Facebook was good as well, it has excellent ad targeting features. You can go really granular with your targeting and choose demographics like families in a particular area that has kids and your ad will be put in front of those Facebook users.
What I did to get real people as you’ve put it. I put an ad out saying
‘free family portrait session. Your time for the edited images’. And in return I’d like to be able to use your photos and your likeness to advertise my photography website in print and online.
I got a lot of responses and it was a matter of picking the people that suited my needs. I will say that because you are giving something away for free, some people will not value your time. This meant I had people stand me up, answer the ad but never reply to any emails. I even had people not download their photos.
So the 10 sessions I need to create my portfolio, came from 47 replies over a 3 months period.
4. Photographing what you want to photograph
I got a lot of people calling up and answering my ads. This meant I could weed out the people that I didn’t want because it’s important that when you’re creating your portfolio, you photograph what you want to photograph.
Some people wanted to bring their cars, animals and other strange themed sessions, which can lead to interesting portrait sessions but at the end of the day, if you’re after a particular type of photography for your portfolio, you’re not going to be happy with the photos if you let the clientele control the sessions.
Because you’re giving away your photos for free, they’re getting something in return. You should be able to control how the session’s are going to go.
Don’t be pressured if someone wants to bring their three dogs when you’ve never photographed a dog and not looking for pet photography.
Do at least a couple of sessions before you venture into anything else, so you can learn more about posing.
The thing about posing families is you’ve got to keep it as natural as possible because if you try to pose them too much then they think about it too much.
The first ten to fifteen minutes of a session your clients are going to be nervous.
If you keep it casual and talk to them and allow them to ease into the session.
Young kids will always control the session. If they get tired or bored; they’re not going to listen, the parents are going to get worried and the session is basically over. It’s a good lesson for you to learn how the dynamic of a family works during a photo session.
I remember I had a family, a group of eight people and the kids ran rings around me. I had no control whatsoever and that was a massive learning curve. What I should have done is start with one person or two people that had no experience and then progressed from there.
That was a lesson learned. From that lesson I knew working with young kids I have to be on their side quickly and give them something like stickers at the end of the session.
Try to keep things light and don’t be too serious about the whole thing and keep on taking photos.
One big difference I’ve found using a real family over a paid model for your portfolio building sessions is you get an excellent opportunity to work on your customer service skills.
It’s a big component to you succeeding in photography. You’ve got to treat your customers like gold.
As an example of me putting out an ad and then responding to people who answered the ads. I didn’t use big words. I used regular simple English, straight to the point. As a result, I created templates from this experience.
It started the foundation for my standard operating procedure templates, which I have used twelve years on in my business.
Now that’s a good learning curve because some people may want certain things from your business and you may not be ready to give it to them.
You have to be able to decline that offer or if you don’t want to decline it maybe persuade them other ways. So just keep that in mind.
5. Get someone to critique your portfolio
With any portfolio you should try to get your critique from someone that’s not a family member. Someone that will give you an honest critique that would shock you.
I was lucky to have people that would tell me, “These photos are crap”. “There’s nothing special about these photos”.
At the time that really hurt. But It was what I needed to improve my photography. Even though the advice was vague, it made me think about each photo as an individual and as a group of photos for a portfolio.
Why aren’t they special?
Looking at each photo quickly,
where is your eye drawn to in the picture? Is that where you want the attention to be?
Does the photo excite or make you feel an emotion?
Does the photo make you want to look at more photos?
You can dissect a photo and then try to better it every single session. Make sure to take notes of the things you like and don’t like in your photos. It will help to make better decisions when you actually take the photo.
6. Learn to relax your subjects
There were a couple of sessions that I got from Facebook ads. They were very self-conscious and they wanted to get into modelling. To be quite honest I was not the right person to photograph them at the time. I only managed to take one usable photo from the two sessions, I just couldn’t relax them during the portrait session. At the time I felt disappointed and wasted my time an theres.
I’m a much better photographer now in the sense that I can pick up when people are nervous or they’re negative in their thinking and snap them out of it.
Changing the subject and going to something else and trying to make them laugh with my best dad jokes.
Every session I try to drop a few of those bad dad jokes. It kind of distractes them from thinking too much about the photo session.
A lot of people when they do family portraits look straight down the barrel of the camera and do a cheesy smile.
Some people like those photos and you probably do need to get one or two of those photos during the session but the rest should be casual, candid laid back and you shouldn’t be really posing.
The idea is to put them into the desired light and then get them to interact.
Your sales will skyrocket when the parents start say, “Oh yeah this is what my son is like at home”. “You’ve captured him perfectly” combine that with good lighting and you have all the elements of a good photo.
That’s how I progressed from giving digital files away for free for my portfolio to then feeling confident to asking people for payment.
7. Have a contract for your portfolio subjects
I should point out that during this whole portfolio building process I had a one page contract. If you’re starting a business from scratch, you see a lawyer and an accountant to set the groundwork for good business practises.
My portfolio contract basically said,
I, (client’s name ) give permission for ( Photography name ) , to use my photos and my likeness to advertise his business and in return he will give me the edited digital files.
A spot for their address details and proof of age
Something as simple as that is all that’s really needed. They can sign that and basically that’s your model release.
You probably should be specific as to what you’re going to use it for. Things like advertising your business. Using it as portfolio building. Don’t forget advertising your business could be perceived as putting ads but I tell people I’m just going to use it for using photo albums which I did specific shoots just to create family albums which worked well as a printed portfolio.
I don’t think you should put a limit as to how many photos you give them. I know they’re getting something in return but don’t give them just one or two photos.
Practise your editing, You’ll be able to work on your workflow and things will go a lot smoother when you have paying clients.
8. Organizing your portfolio on your website
You mentioned you wanted to create a portfolio for your street photography, portraits and headshots .
Headshots and portraits are similar, one is business, while the other more casual, but they are still in the portrait realm.
Whereas street photography is different. Sure you still have people in your photos. Portraits of people within the street or passersby, but still different enough.
What I recommend for you to include on your website, is to add a separate section for family portraits. Separate one for head shots and then a third section which can be called personal work and have your street photography in there.
Have personal work is important as it shows you are capable of a wide range of photography genres
That’s if you were really set on including all of your photography styles, but not necessarily to do it. But It can open up to more photography jobs.
As an example when I did a lot of club sports photography of kids, I would photograph sports and later sell it to the newspapers. I would receive requests from different clubs in the league that would say,
“We would like you to take our head shots”.
“We would like you to take our team photos”.
“I would like you to come and photograph our presentation night”.
Photographing sweaty athletes compared to a team photo or a presentation night is a huge difference. But a well exposed, well cropped photo that they like is all some people want to see…
So you will probably receive requests to do some weird and wonderful photography from your portfolio. And there’s nothing to be worried about. It’s up to you if you want to take that type of work on. Just make sure to keep your portfolio up to date with your latest work.