} How to Build a Photography Portfolio When You Have No Clients —

How to Build a Photography Portfolio When You Have No Clients


If you don’t have a portfolio, you’ll want to practice with light. You want to practice in both natural and unnatural lighting circumstances. Practice, practice, practice and get familiar with settings. You don’t want to show up to a portfolio building shoot (free or paid) without having practiced. You want to put your best foot forward so you have plenty of choices for your portfolio. So, here’s how to build a photography portfolio when you have no clients to get you started.

Feeling comfortable with your camera is SO important before showing up to a shoot, because getting frazzled by settings can truly cramp on your creativity.

Practice with friends and family.

Invite a friend or family member you trust to a session and say you’d just like to practice and build your portfolio. This is a great way to ease into photography, because it should hopefully relieve any stress or expectation to “perform” so that you can photograph freely and creatively.

Find second shooting gigs or offer to assist.

Learn from someone with experience, while also building your portfolio. When I was starting out and I couldn’t afford to go to workshops, I made friends with other photographers and offered to assist or second shoot. These were incredible learning experiences because I saw behind the scenes how they posed, how they played with light, made compositional choices and managed shoots.

Just keep in mind that every primary photographer has a different protocol for second shooters and portfolios. Not every primary allows second shooters to post photos they’ve taken. Some might allow photos to be shared on portfolios, but not social. Everyone is different. So make sure to clarify first before sharing any photos. Maintaining a good relationship with photographers is important for community, business and friendship. 

Photography Business Plan

Create a styled shoot and partner with vendors.

If you’ve got your ideal client down and you know what kind of shoots you’d like to do, connect with vendors and share a vision of what you’d like to accomplish. Leave room to collaborate and invite professional stylistic opinion. But before going to vendors, you want to be specific with a clear vision, letting them know why you’re connecting with them, share what unique qualities you value in them that are also relevant to the styled session, and also share your goals. Goals include things like, “I want to reach this type of client by doing this type of shoot. I hope to get this featured on XYZ blogs so that we can expand our reach. This is why I think you’d be a great fit for this styled shoot…”

A styled shoot is a great opportunity to network, but also create a stunning shoot for your portfolio, market your work, and help other vendors with their own marketing material.

Offer free shoots (but don’t do it forever) – consider it an “intern season”.

This is similar to inviting friends and family, but now you’re practicing with maybe not-so familiar people. You want to get into the groove of working with different people and different personalities.

Shoots aren’t just about creating beautiful images, but it’s about creating a positive experience. Plus, if you’re an introvert like me, getting experience with different people will help you shake away nervous jitters, especially when it comes to getting to paid experiences. You might still be nervous with paid experiences, because now they’re paid, but having more and more experience will help you feel more settled into the position as a professional photographer.

On another note, you should only do free shoots for a season. My recommendation is to do maybe 4-5 shoots for perhaps 3 months because you want to eventually make money. Be intentional about learning from each shoot, by asking yourself, “What could’ve been better?” Think about posing, lighting, composition, direction, location and more. This way you’re maximizing your “intern” time by investing in your learning.

Photography Business Plan

Sign-up for a workshop.

Photography workshops are an incredible way to learn how to grow your business, network with other growing photographers AND grow your portfolio. Usually at a workshop there is some kind of styled shoot or posing session. This is a great way to grow your portfolio and learn from other photographers.

The key takeaway here is that even though you might not have clients now, there is still a HUGE opportunity to learn and develop your skill. This stage of business is still crucial and important, even if you’re not seeing revenue right away. This investment of time will pay off well in attracting your ideal clients, getting inquiries and establishing your brand – all of which are crucial to your growing business.

If you’re curious about how to book clients while building your portfolio, make sure to check out my freebie where I talk about how I went from no clients to 22 paying wedding clients in a year.

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