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  • Writer's pictureJennifer Brecheisen

How to Build Your Photography Portfolio Without Giving the Bank Away

Glow Yoga Image taken by Jennifer Brecheisen, Photographer Rock Hill SC, for The Yoga Oasis.  Shift Happens Fundraiser.

Are you a new photographer wanting to build your portfolio? Here are some tips for portfolio building, but first I would like to discuss why doing it for free for anybody and everybody isn't going to help you. In fact, it's going to hurt you!



When you give your skills and products away for free to build your portfolio up really fast you are devaluing yourself and your work. With zero value placed on it, you will encounter the following problems.

1.) Of the sessions that you book, you will have very few clients actually show up. You're not an established photographer for your area yet, and you have not collected a deposit, so there isn't much in it for them to keep the session.

2.) Of the clients that actually do show up, you will not have many returning customers. Most of those that will have booked your free sessions will have done it, because they can't afford a photographer or because they are opportunists. Once you establish your prices, many of them will not be able to afford it, or they'll say that you're too expensive. Everyone wants something for free! If it's free it's for me!!

3.) People will expect future sessions to be really cheap or even free, because that's the bar you've put on your work. People, even your friends and family, WILL take advantage of you. I've not met a single photographer/artist yet who hasn't had difficulty with friends and family at some point in their career.


So how do I build a stunning portfolio in a timely manner? When is it acceptable to do free work just to get people through the doors?


Do you have friends or family that have other skills or work you need done? For instance, you need your oil changed, and your brother is a mechanic-get to networking! Do you know someone who sews/crochets or makes baby props? If so, work something out with them to advertise their products, and in exchange you get someo of those products. An equal trade gives value to both parties!


Network with Photographers in your area that are in the top of the field you wish to enter into. For instance, your passion is with infants, and you really want to break into that niche. Call them and see if they need an assistant or see if you can intern with them. Just make sure that you get to take some of your own photos away from the gig. You may even find that photographing newborns really isn't your thing, and at this point you haven't wasted money on props, and blankets, and all of those things that go with being a newborn photographer. This can leave you open to learn tips from a master and/or redirect your ideas with the direction you are moving in.


Events can be fun, and they can also be a great money maker after the event. Make sure that if you agree to shoot an event for free that you are allowed to hand out your business card or a flyer stating where the photos will be posted. This way you have a pool of potential clients and possibly sales from the event. Also, if it is a private event be sure to have a contract in place stating your terms and also a model release.


Charities and fundraising events are completely acceptable ways to do free photography to build your portfolio, and you are giving back to the community. People really appreciate these gestures and they come with respect instead of devaluation. These can also turn into paid shoots for the future. I was asked by a friend to shoot a yoga fundraiser many years ago for a yoga studio she taught at. I had an open schedule, and my father was actually visiting from states away. He's a photographer too, and this was the first time we ever worked together on a professional level. It was such an amazing experience for me! I never expected to contract any future sessions with them-I just wanted to have a good time and spend quality time with my dad. 2 years pass after this event, and I received an email from this studio requesting my services! That fundraiser was the start of a wonderful professional relationship.

Also, if it is a private event be sure to have a contract in place stating your terms and also a model release.


Limited Edition sessions are a wonderful way to bring in new customers. There are many ways to do these such as one low price for the session and prints, or a super low introductory price for the session while keeping your printing/digital imaging prices normal. Just remember to make your promo calendar out in advance, so you have plenty of time to advertise them.


If you are set on doing freetography for friends and family, make sure to introduce it in a way that puts you in control. For example, you want a certain time of day in your portfolio, or a certain age, or a style you haven't tried yet, etc. Make sure they understand why it's free. You can also do free sessions for them while charging for the prints/digital images. Just make sure you're up front about all of those things, and ALWAYS have friends/family sign your contract. This is non-negotiable. Unfortunately when you go into a service business for yourself, you soon learn who your friends are and what family members can be trusted.

Once you get your portfolio built, don't forget to be grateful to those who helped you, and continue to keep those relationships up! As always, thanks for reading!

Jennifer Brecheisen


Rock Hill SC

The pictures in this post are from the Shift Happens event sponsored by The Yoga Oasis in Charlotte, NC. All images are copyright Jennifer Brecheisen Photography and may not be used without permission to advertise any event.

Glow Yoga taken by Jennifer Brecheisen Photographer Rock Hill SC

Jennifer Brecheisen is a Fine Art Wedding Photographer, Child Photographer, Family Photographer, and Newborn Photographer based in Rock Hill, SC.

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