How To Build A Portrait Portfolio

As I’m regularly asked “How do I build my portrait portfolio from scratch/if I have no clients?”, I thought I would write an easy guide to get you started. Of course, some of these tips may help you if you already have clients yet you’re looking to open new doors, like if you want to shoot children instead of couples for example.

It doesn’t have to cost you the earth to gather a decent portfolio together, but it would really helpful to have a nice website to showcase your new work. I recommend ProPhoto or Squarespace if you have little to no web design knowledge, or like me you would rather spend more time on your work than designing your website.

Okay, let’s get to it…


how to build a portrait portfolio from scratch

Decide who you want your clients to be.

Before you even begin to start a portfolio, think about what kind of clients you want to be booking in the future. Do you want to shoot fashion, lifestyle, maternity, newborns, families? Think about which type of photography you would like to shoot and what your ideal client would be. Then stick to shooting that style! It will streamline your portfolio nicely and will keep it consistent.

If there’s one thing I would change about starting my business portfolio, it would be to stick to one style early on instead of shooting so many different things. It’s easier to market one consistently good style, than it is to market lots of different things. Of course you should practice new styles and types of photography all the time, but only show the kind of work you want to be booking on your website.


Ask friends and family.

It’s really hard to build a portrait portfolio when you have absolutely zero pictures of people in your library. I started off taking pictures of friends and family members just to practice my skills but when I had finally decided to photograph families and children for a career, I needed something to start building that portfolio with.

I asked a friend if she wanted a free shoot for her son because I needed some kid shots for my portfolio. I’ve gotten a lot better since then, but hey, it was a start!

Try asking friends if they want a free or discounted session while you are “revamping your portfolio”, just let them know beforehand if they have to cover the cost of any prints they might want!



Work with models.

You could pay a few professional models to work with you – this is a great way of letting their experience help you at the same time.
Alternatively you can work with models who are at the same level as you on a trade basis. You provide the photographs, they provide their modelling skills. Put out a casting call on your facebook, blog, twitter etc. and be descriptive about the kind of project it’s for and what kind of model you would like to shoot.

You could also try out PurplePort or ModelMayhem and browse for models local to you and reply to other casting calls.


How To Build A Portrait Portfolio


Attend a workshop.

Find a workshop or course that caters to the kind of portfolio you want to build. Not only will get new pictures for your website, you will receive valuable information from  other photographers, as well as meeting new contacts.

Try Aspire Photography Training for different kinds of workshops and courses.




Diversify but be consistent.

Always look for new locations, try new poses, make every image stand alone as a great image, but keep the images you want to show on your website consistent. Do they have a similar atmosphere about them? Are they of similar quality? Are they recognisable to your brand? That’s what you’re aiming for.

If you don’t know what your style is yet, choose some words that you want people to describe you work with, then keep that in mind every time you shoot!


Work on giving directions.

How good are you at getting your subjects into the poses in your head? How are you at getting natural reactions out of people? Time to start working on it! “Just be natural” or “Be serious” just doesn’t cut it. You have to be more precise.

By giving direction and putting your own ideas into every session you do, you will create your own recognisable style and that is something you can’t afford to brush over. This is something you can really focus on during your portfolio building stage as there is a little less pressure and you can ask your subjects for feedback after every session.

How To Build A Portrait Portfolio

Some other stuff to remember..

  • Not only should you show your very best work on your website but you should also only give your clients/models/friends the very best from their session too! Don’t be sending them 200+ pictures of their kid picking their nose! If they post it out there on the webisphere it’s forever attached to your name. Just don’t do it.
  • Ask for critique on your photographs, what do you people like and dislike about them? How do they make people feel? It’s always good to have other peoples views on your work so you know exactly what prospective clients will think when they check out your website.
  • Try and master one or two types of portraits instead of doing it all. Make it clear who your work is targeting.
  • Remove older images as you get better and keep your portfolio fresh.
  • Be picky about who and what you shoot to make sure you are only shooting the kind of work you want your brand to be associated with.

What has your experience been so far? I would love for you to leave a comment.




  1. Emily Chappell

    02/04/2015 at 21:13

    Love this post – I always appreciate when seasoned photographers are willing to share some advice!

  2. Rebecca Anne Photography // Tacoma Wedding Photography

    02/03/2015 at 18:39

    What great tips to help people learn to build their portfolios!

  3. Hendrick Moy

    02/03/2015 at 16:21

    sage advice for beginner photographers! Family and friends are most defnitely the best way to begin a career in portraiture!

    Hendrick Moy Photography

  4. Hendrick Moy

    02/03/2015 at 16:20

    Great advice for starters! family and friends are a wonderful way to begin.

  5. Stephanie Necessary

    02/03/2015 at 12:56

    Awesome tips! I used family, friend and Model Mayhem to build mine and it works!

Leave a Reply