Hi, we're Hunter and Sarah, a husband-and-wife, luxury wedding photography team. We’re also educators, helping other photographers build profitable and sustainable photography businesses.
Sarah and I can still remember what it was like during the early years of our photography business. We didn’t have money to spend on marketing ourselves for our portrait or wedding photography, but we still wanted to put our name in front of couples, families, and seniors who were looking for photographers like us!
During that first year or two as photographers, we discovered these 10 ways that we could advertise our portrait and wedding photography services, without spending a single dollar on marketing! Although there are certainly more advanced (and expensive) methods out there, if you’re just starting out in your portrait or wedding photography career, here’s our first free tactic that you can use to book more photoshoots and weddings.
Now, we know that it may seem a bit odd to begin a blog series about marketing by talking about something that’s seemingly very inward-focused… but hear us out. The best marketing and advertising in the world won’t do you any good if you aren’t bringing people to a place that actually convinces them to buy from you. So if you don’t currently have a website or even a portfolio, this is absolutely step 1 before you do any other marketing or advertising.
Later on down the road, once you start to make a little money, you can think about investing in a well-built website. And when you get pretty well-established and have a thriving business, you can build a website with different kinds of content and landing pages that really bring people on a “buying journey” in a way that eventually leads to sales and conversions. But when you’re first starting out, all you need is a strong portfolio – a collection of your best work.
We’ll get into the specifics of how you can build this portfolio at the end of this video. But for now, just know that if you already have a functioning website, that’s great! Everything we talk about in this video will apply to a simple portfolio OR a business website. And if you don’t, then let’s dive into building your first portfolio.
Now, if you’re VERY new to photography and haven’t shot enough sessions to fill a portfolio, then you may be better off getting started by asking some friends and family if you can practice on the for free, then coming back to this video series. But if you’ve done even just a handful of portrait sessions or wedding days, then that’s all you need to build your first portfolio!
And keep in mind, whatever you show in your portfolio, that’s generally what people will trust you to capture. If your portfolio is filled with family sessions with young children, it’s going to be much easier to use that portfolio to book another family session with young children than it will be to use that to book a college grad session or a wedding. So if you have a family portfolio, but want to build a senior portfolio or a wedding portfolio, then you may still have to get creative with assisting other photographers or shooting a few free sessions in order to build that early portfolio.
However, if your portfolio is strong enough, people may trust you to shoot new things for them! This is the story of how we booked our very first wedding. We actually booked our very first wedding for around $750 before we had ever set foot on a wedding day or assisted another professional wedding photographer. While we wouldn’t necessarily recommend this to others, it is possible if your portrait portfolio is strong enough.
Okay, so you’ve got all your past work in front of you, and you’re ready to build your portfolio. How do you possibly choose from all of these images?! The most important thing to do is to fill this gallery with your absolute best photos. And while that sounds obvious, we see our students break this rule ALL the time. They want so badly to have a big portfolio, that they’ll end up mixing in their best photos, with a few okay images.
But even just 15 or 20 images from just a small percentage of your very best shoots or weddings — images that will really wow potential couples — will do waaaay more for you than twenty great images mixed in with 40 that are “pretty good” from every session you’ve ever done. Even though you may feel like you haven’t done a tone of sessions or weddings before, don’t overcompensate, and end up including less-than-stellar images. Quantity doesn’t always equal quality.
Okay, so now that you know all of this, it’s time to start looking through your images. A great exercise that we learned a few years ago is to ask yourself about each and every image, “Does this make my overall portfolio stronger or weaker? Am I SO proud of this image that I’d LOVE to see it shared on social media with my business tagged?” If it doesn’t strengthen your portfolio, then it weakens it, and you shouldn’t add it.
And by the way, sometimes it can help to ask another photographer or a mentor — or even just a friend whose opinion about photography you trust. Sometimes you can look at the same images for so long, or even become emotionally invested in images, and it can make it hard to be fair when judging the best from the good-but-not-great.
There’s a reason this blog/video isn’t called “Part 1: MAKE a Strong Portfolio”, but is called “MAINTAIN a Strong Portfolio”. This is NOT something you do once and never touch again, but should be something you do monthly at first, and quarterly for at least a few years.
We’ve seen so many photographers make this mistake: they spend hours making a fantastic portfolio and because of it, they start to book some jobs and get a little busy. They get caught up in the day-to-day of running their business, and even though their work is getting better and better with each shoot or wedding, their portfolio never changes. They get so busy that they have to up their prices… then the booking stop coming in. Why? It’s because your portfolio hasn’t changed!
That’s why updating your portfolio frequently is so important when you’re just getting started. In all likelihood, you’re getting better with almost every single shoot. So even if you’re just shooting a few times each month, your portfolio should be getting a little stronger each month!
Here’s an example of why this is important. Let’s say you invest the time and energy into making a great portfolio, and you set your prices at $150 for a one-hour family session. Your portfolio does it’s job, along with some of the other marketing tactics we’re going to talk about in this series, and you start booking jobs! Over the next 6 months, you shoot a TON of sessions at $150 each. In fact, you shoot so many that you start to get a bit too busy, and even overwhelmed at times. You should raise your prices! Let’s see how you do at $250 per session.
However, if you haven’t updated your portfolio, you’re now trying to sell a session that’s almost twice as expensive, with the same portfolio to show! In those 6 months of shooting all the time, you got better, shot some of your best images ever, and are definitely WORTH that $250 now! But if you didn’t update your portfolio to reflect that, then anyone who sees your work will just see the $150 photographer that you WERE 6 months ago.
Okay, so now that you understand why you need a strong portfolio, let’s talk about how you’re actually going to build it. For starters, we’re assuming that you’ve watched or read our Post Production Secrets series, so all of the images that you’ve taken are neatly organized in your Lightroom Primary catalog. If this is the case, updating your portfolio regularly is SO easy! All you have to do is tell Lightroom to find you all of your best portrait images since the last time you’ve updated your portfolio. And obviously, if your building it for the first time, you’ll need to look at ALL the best images you’ve taken so far!
Here’s an example. Let’s say that Sarah and I were sitting down to update our portfolio for the first time since March of this year. We can click “All Photographs”, then use the Metadata tab to tell Lightroom to fetch us only images from April, May and June of this year, only select the type of photography that we want, and only show us images that are 3 or 4 stars. As a reminder to our Post Production Secrets series, these are all images that were so good that we either posted them to social media, or featured them on our blog. Plus, they’re already edited!
Once we have this selection in front of us, it’s just a matter of selecting the best of the best, adding them to a collection so we have them for future use, and then exporting them!
Once the images are exported, it’s as simple as uploading them to an online gallery. If you’ve watched our videos in the past, you know that we use Pixieset because we love the way that the final galleries look. For reference, here’s what our engagement session portfolio looks like!
That’s it! You’ll just repeat this process every month or two. Just don’t forget to remove the oldest or weakest images each time you update your portfolio, as you want the overall quality of your portfolio to grow each month!
If you’re interested in learning more from us personally, and joining a community of other photographers also striving to grow their businesses, click here to join our Facebook Community, Mastering the Wedding Photography Biz with Hunter and Sarah!