You've got the camera. You took the classes. You’ve shot a few portraits. You’re getting amazing feedback from your first clients, and now you’re ready to start moving into a freelance career as a photographer.
Making that transition means one thing: You’ll need a website to feature your photography portfolio. The best online photography portfolios show off a unique style, and will hone in on special interests - but they shouldn’t seem too narrow in their focus.
Building a Diverse Portfolio
While Anne Geddes has made an international name for herself photographing only babies in adorable costumes, if you’re looking to grow as a freelance photographer and expand your client base, you could find yourself waiting by the phone for a long time if you lock yourself into a niche too early in your career.
Unlike Instagram accounts (which do better when they are hyper focused on one theme), if you’re a photographer looking to gain a wide range of new clients, you’ll do better to show off your talent with a mix of interests, subjects, and creative concepts in your main online portfolio.
Here are some photoshoot concepts that can help you grow your portfolio beyond typical sit-down portraits.
Whether you have an eye for modern corporate headquarters, or choose to feature weather-beaten abandoned barns, architecture makes for compelling subject matter (or focused backdrops). It gives you a chance to break the mold on traditional landscape photography - or add a new focal point to traditional portraits.
You can shoot buildings from various angles, or go in for extreme close ups to give an almost tactile experience on delicate details, like plaster accents or vintage wallpaper.
Keeping an ongoing list of interesting locations will come in handy down the line, so take notes on your favourite spots that you can reference later when you're looking for a location for an editorial shoot in the future.
Getting material for your portfolio is fairly straightforward - photograph public buildings from the outside, or offer to photograph beautiful private homes in your area at no charge.
Arguably one of the most difficult subjects to photograph, food will not look delicious unless it’s in great lighting, plated perfectly, and presented in an uncluttered setting.
There are a range of tips to photographing food that will make anyone’s mouth water. First, natural light is crucial. You simply cannot take a good picture of food under yellow bulbs or fluorescent lighting (just ask Martha Stewart!).
Using a reflector can also help eliminate shadows, which make food look dark and unappealing. For creative shots, super close ups of a portion on a delicate fork can give that “I’m really eating this” vibe.
To start building out this part of your portfolio, you can take shots of your own meals! If that’s the case, plating is the key to churning out mouth watering food photography, according to Ana Tavares. She's a published cookbook author, blogger, and food photographer.
“The little secret many food photographers are hiding is nothing more than little tools,” she explains. “Small plates, bowls, cutlery - anything that allows the food to really fill the plate, creating the appearance of abundance.”
If you’re not a fantastic (or aesthetic) chef, you could instead offer to take shots for your favourite restaurants, and make sure to tag or link to their restaurant website.
Sports photography goes way beyond the typical team photo. In fact, the best photography of athletic prowess tends to demonstrate a key moment - that second right before the goal, the passion mid-sprint, the hi-fives after a great play.
Using multiple lenses will help you get a range of still and motion shots. Don’t be afraid to capture extreme close ups when possible - try to get each bead of sweat so you can put the people looking at your work right in the thick of the action.
You can get started with sports photography by attending games - just make sure the stadium or the team doesn’t have a no-photo policy.
It’s always best to get permission from the venue, the promoter and the performers before staging an in-concert photo shoot. This will ensure that you aren’t in the way, or disturbing other concert-goers, and that you know rules around using flash. You might even get to go on stage for better and more intimate shots!
It’s best to have a good sense of the venue layout - how close can you get to the performers? Are you given permission to be able to shoot on the same level (on stage), or will you be shooting from below the stage? If you are shooting for a band you know, with their permission, asking in advance for key moments in their set can mean you’re prepared and don’t miss the “money” shots.
"Take some test shots before any bands get on stage," he says.
Some musicians and venues are entirely opposed to the use of a flash, so practicing and having a great understanding of aperture settings will be crucial to coming out of a concert with killer shots.
Lastly, try not to bring too much gear to a venue. "You will have to put it down at some point," Lyko recommends, "And 9 times out of 10, it will not be in a safe location."
Types of Freelance Agreements
You may start out working for free with these ideas to expand the range of your portfolio. However, soon you’ll be making different types of arrangements for photo shoots with various models and locations. Here’s a few common set ups to expect:
Paying a Model or Location:
When you need a human subject to star in your work, or a specific location on private property (especially for work you’d like to use and sell commercially) you will often need to hire a model on a contract or pay the owner of the property to have access for your shoot. These arrangements can be made for anything from a few hours of shooting - to weeks or even months. Typically, in this kind of working relationship, the model or property owner will not have ownership of the images, or use them for their own self-promotion.
Getting Paid to Shoot a Model or a Location:
On the flip side, many aspiring models need to create a portfolio or lookbook, and property owners often like to immortalize their homes or businesses - and will be seeking a photographer to help them get a range of shots and looks. In this case, a photographer is paid for their time, and will relinquish rights and control of the photographs to the model or property owner to use at his or her discretion. In many cases, the hiring party will be looking for additional exposure and will not be opposed to a photographer sharing these shots non-commercially on their website or social media channels.
Speculative Shoots, or Time Trade:
This is when a photographer and a subject team up to do a shoot, and agree to split any money made on the sale of the images they have collaborated to make. Sometimes a model and a photographer will also “trade” their time, with each party leaving with separate photographs they each own and can use in any way they like. In both of these cases, it is best to clearly spell out in a contract how profits from the sale of images will be split (verbal agreements are not recommended).
The Importance of Release Forms
In every situation, regardless of your arrangement with a location or a model, you should always get a release form. I repeat, GET A RELEASE FORM. It will protect you in the future!
This is not the same as a contract that outlines how much either party will be paid, it should be separate and exclusively focused on your rights to share, distribute or sell the images. Don’t have a release form? There are many free templates online.
Last but not least, it’s important to stay conscious of when and where you're allowed to take pictures without asking for permission in advance.
The short answer? Anywhere in public.
There are still a few rules that apply here - for example, you cannot stand on a public sidewalk and shoot into someone’s private home. You are also limited when using someone’s likeness without their permission commercially to sell a product, even if they were standing in a public place. It’s always best to get that release form!
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