When making the transition from amateur or hobbyist photographer to professional, one of the most important tools in your arsenal will be your portfolio. This body of work demonstrates what you can do behind the lens, and it shows potential clients that you are worth hiring. Whether displayed on your website or presented in person, it gives their first impression of your abilities, and will often be the final arbiter of whether you get the job or not.
But if you want to produce a professional portfolio, you might have to shell out a lot of money – right? You will, after all, need to gather all of the necessary elements of a professional-level photoshoot. For fashion or portrait photoshoots, this means models, make-up artists, perhaps wardrobe. The location may require hiring, and you might need to get extra equipment. That means a lot of money going out of the door before you even get started, and without any guarantee that you will get it back.
Of course, the best way to guarantee a return is to put the best portfolio possible together, so that any potential clients are able to see your skills and will be sure to hire you. But it’s also possible to do this without having to spend much money – and if you don’t have much of a budget, that may be the necessary course of action. Here’s how to do it.
Find the right contacts
The first thing that you need to do is to figure out how to get people to work with you for free, or at least at a very low price. There are ways to do this without compromising on quality. First of all, put up casting calls and talk to models on modelling sites, of which there are a small few with a good reputation. Here you will be able to cast a wide net and see what comes in. Make-up artists and stylists may be available on these sites as well, and not all of them are complete amateurs. If you explain your situation as someone needing to build a portfolio, and make sure to offer them a full set of edited images in return, you may get lucky.
If not, it’s time to look further afield. If you want the best quality, of course you know that you need to work with an agency. However, most agency models charge an hourly rate and can be quite expensive. Here’s where you need to proceed carefully. Agencies may allow models to work without fees so long as they think the shoot justifies it (though you are very likely to need to pay travel fees). A test shoot is a good opportunity for a model to build their book, and you will be handing over images to them as well as to the agency. You can also pitch a shoot for magazine submission, though be aware that you will need to do your utmost to get it published afterwards – if you do not succeed, you may have burned your bridges with the agency. Smaller and local agencies are more likely to have models available for tests with you.
Once you have your team set up, the next step is to reduce any other costs that could arise. The more costs you can cut, the better, and the cheaper the shoot will be overall. Go through everything step by step: you will need to travel to a location to shoot or bring the models to you, so make sure that you find the cheapest possible option for all of you together. Shooting outdoors will always be cheaper than hiring a studio or another location, but if you can put up a temporary studio with equipment in your home (or the model’s home) then so much the better. Of course, this may all depend on what kind of work you want to do: if you think shooting on location is your thing, then that should be what your portfolio contains.
Next, let’s think about your equipment itself. If you do not have the right kit, then it’s time to beg, steal, and borrow as much as you can. If you know any other photographers, see if they will lend you something for the shoot. If not, then you might have to pay a little – but you can reduce these costs too. It would be too expensive for you to buy a full lighting kit right away, and understandably so, but you can hire kits from most photographic shops. You can also hire studios which come with the kit included in the price.
If you are hiring a studio, look out for special online deals as well as the cheaper studios that might be a little out of the way. If it costs you a little extra to travel further, but you save twice as much on the studio hire, then you’ll be looking at a good saving. Think about shooting outside of peak times, too, as this may help hugely.
Props and wardrobe can also be taken care of on a budget. What you can make, do – if you happen to have serious skills with your hands, you might even be able to sell your items on after the shoot, complete with ready-made images to show them off on the sales site of your choice. For the rest, try asking around – even post on social media to see if your friends might have something that they can lend you that fits the bill.
Go to charity and second-hand shops to look for bargains, and always ask your models if they have things they can bring as well. You can even order clothing online if you are brave and then return it after the shoot – but be aware that this means keeping it spotlessly clean and free of damage or signs of wear, as well as leaving the labels on.
There are many ways to cut costs on a photoshoot, and it doesn’t always result in lower quality images. Just remember to focus on that high quality, only shoot what you would want to be paid for, and get a lot of variety into your portfolio – ideally, any model should only appear in your book once, to show that you have more diversity and breadth of experience.