If you build it will they come?  Learn how to put together a freelance resume/freelance portfolio to wow potential clients and employers

Build a photography portfolio they say.  It’s critical for your business they say.  And they are right.  Having a professional, well designed portfolio freelance resume/freelance portfoliois an important step in growing your freelance photography business.  With some planning and critical evaluation, you can create a visual representation of your work that can help wow clients and win gigs.  Here are six things to think about as you learn how to put together a freelance resume/freelance portfolio.

Know Your Audience

Before you start gathering images, you need to identify your target market.  In photography, we often call this our “ideal client.”  But it’s the same idea…who do you want to shoot for?  What type of work do you want and who will give you that work?  Are you looking to attract brides?  Models?  Moms?

Knowing your ideal client will help you build a freelance portfolio and resume because you will select images and write with your client in mind.  If you are trying to book weddings, you’ll want to show photos that will be of interest to brides.  Want to book newborns sessions?  You’ll need photos of newborns to show your experience and style.  Are you hoping to get into shooting sports?  Athletic directors, coaches and parents will want to see your action and sports photos.

Your ideal client wants to see examples of the kind of work you’ll be doing for them.  Expecting mothers will have MUCH different needs and expectations than a business owner, school principal or high school senior.  So you’ll need to gather images that will speak to that ideal client.

If you shoot different kinds of jobs, you’ll need to have a separate portfolio for each discipline.  So if you’re a family photographer who also shoots newborns, seniors and events, you’ll need a portfolio and possibly even a resume for each area.

Find other tips for jump-starting your freelance photography career here!

How do I make a freelance portfolio

Choosing a Format – Digital Portfolios

Back in the day, a portfolio was a physical thing.  I would show up for a job interview with an actual physical, leather portfolio stuffed with examples of my public relations work and writing.  I just had to decide if my portfolio would have handles or not.

Today our options for a freelance resume/freelance portfolio are endless.  The first decision is do you want a physical portfolio, a digital portfolio or both?  Most photographers will find a digital portfolio to be the most versatile option.  But if pitch yourself  a lot in person, a tangible portfolio full of beautiful prints and products may be a smart option.

A digital portfolio could be a page on your website where your images are displayed, an electronic file with images that you e-mail potential clients or a digital presentation you give to clients in in-person meetings.

Digital portfolios have several advantages, including:

  • Ability to change and update photos quickly and easily
  • No printing costs
  • Easily sent to clients electronically
  • Can display what your images will look like online
  • Can be seen my many people via a website, even people you don’t know are looking for a photographer

Choosing a Format – Physical Portfolios

A physical portfolio would include actual physical prints and products.  This might mean a collection of standard prints or, depending on your target audience, samples of your images on products like a canvas, magnet, coffee mugs, clothing or in high-end albums.

Advantages of a physical portfolio include:

  • The ability of a client to see, feel and hold a product.
  • Displaying your work on different papers and mediums
  • Displaying a variety of products you can provide
  • Can double as a collection for in-person sales ordering
  • May hold interest longer as people can’t wander off to another section of your website

Digital portfolios displayed via a website have become the standard today, but there is something intrinsically special about the paper format.  Several studies over the years have found that people retain and comprehend information better when reading from print versus reading from screen.  That might translate into your images being more memorable.

Deciding how to prepare and present your images may depend on your ideal client and how you interact with them.  If the majority of your clients find you online and you correspond over e-mail, a digital portfolio makes sense.  If you are taking a lot of in-person meetings, a physical portfolio could help set you apart from your competition.

Another option is to do both.  Have a digital presence AND a physical portfolio to close the deal in person.  It may mean more work, but you get the advantages of both formats when you need them.

What should you include in a portfolio

Choosing and Curating Images

You’ve identified your target audience, you know how you want to display your work, now it’s time to select your images for your freelance resume/freelance portfolio.  I once heard a photographer compare the job of building a portfolio to that of a museum curator.  Museums have thousands of pieces of art.  They preserve much of our history, but only the very, very best work gets displayed in the building for the public to see.

That’s the approach you should adopt with portfolio images.  Choose images with a highly discerning eye and curate mercilessly so you only display your very best work.  Not just your good work.  Your VERY BEST work.

Browse your work and pick out your top 25-30 images that you want to show your target audience.  Remember we are building a portfolio for a specific audience, not just showing off all our great photos.  What will wow that bride, that mom, that business owner?

Gather them in a digital folder and review them again.  Try to set aside personal feelings about the subject or location the image was taken in.  Your ideal client isn’t going to have an emotional connection to when the image was taken, they only see what’s in front of them.  So put your best work in front of them.

Things to keep in mind:

  • Don’t fill your portfolio with similar images. Meaning if you are building a wedding portfolio, don’t load it with 8 ring shots.   Show your best work but also show your creativity.
  • Don’t fill your portfolio with the same people. A prospective client wants to see images from different families, different babies, different shoots, etc.
  • Order your images so that you begin and end with your two strongest images.
  • Remember if you shoot multiple styles (newborn, family, event) you’ll want a portfolio for each area targeted to your potential audience

Now cull those images again until you are down to 10-15 of your absolute best and most amazing work.  That’s your portfolio!

Use model calls or styled shoots

What happens if you don’t have the images or experience you need for your freelance resume/freelance portfolio?  Say you want to break into the newborn market but don’t have 10-15 great images from different newborn sessions.  How can you get images to attract clients if you don’t have clients to shoot images of?!?  It’s Catch-22, right?  Two potential solutions are to offer model calls or participate in styled shoots.

Model Calls

A model call is a deeply discounted or even free shoot that you conduct with models you choose and direct.  You shoot the images you want and need for your portfolio and “pay” the model with a discounted session, free products or by some other means.

I’m using the term model loosely here.  You don’t need professional models by any means.  Just people willing to participate in a shoot so you can get the images you need.  That could be your family, friends or acquaintances.  It could also be someone who wins a contest you host and the prize is a free photoshoot.  Think cutest baby contest, most dynamic pet, craziest family…anything to build excitement and get people interested in completing a session with you!

Styled Shoots

A styled shoot, on the other hand, is something of a group model call.  Several vendors come together to produce a mock wedding, gala, bridal shower or other event.  Each vendor provides their services for free in return for something they need – images for a portfolio, photos for their social media or printed marketing materials, reviews, etc.

Styled shoots require more coordination.  For a bridal styled shoot, you’d  need a bride, a dress and accessories, hair and makeup artists, flowers, a ring and some wedding details.  Then throw in the groom, his tux and his accessories, too.  The downside is the time and effort it takes to set up a styled shoot.  The upside is you get high-end images without the stress and demands of the actual event.  In the case of a styled bridal shoot, you get beautiful bridal portraits and detail shots without the time constraints of a wedding, the hassle of in-laws or the lack of experience shooting a wedding.  You can organize styled shoots or find opportunities to participate in online forums or social media groups.  Be creative and partner with other up-and-coming vendors and professionals so you can all build your freelance resume/freelance portfolio.

Want more ideas on styled shoots?  Click here!

Writing a Resume

After you compile your visual portfolio, you might also need to create a written resume.  A written resume can be particularly daunting for us photogs – we aren’t writers, after all!  But don’t let it intimidate you.  Just consider a resume a written description of your employment or photography experience.  Most individual clients won’t require a resume, but some corporate clients might ask for one.  A written resume can also be a prerequisite for a staff photography position.

Start your resume by getting the pieces together.  Compile a list of your relevant experience and write brief job descriptions of each position you’ve held.  If you’ve started a freelance photography business, include that as a position and describe the kind of work you do.  Also make note of your education, including college degrees or formal training programs like art schools.

Then make a list of relevant trainings you’ve participated in and skills you possess that a potential client might find helpful.  Trainings could include online classes you’ve taken or workshops you’ve completed.  Skills might include what kinds of cameras you shoot, what software you use, any video skills, etc.

Once you have that information complied, you can put it in a resume format.  I prefer the ease of typing and formatting something in Microsoft Word, but you could use Photoshop or InDesign.   You can find templates through Word or download one from a site like Resume.com.

Renew and Refresh

Don’t forget to update your freelance resume/freelance portfolio on occasion.  As you continue on your photography journey, your skill will improve, your style will change and you will grow in creativity.  Your portfolio should reflect that.  You should update your portfolio at least once a year, if not several times a year.  And don’t neglect your resume.  You can add new clients, skills and trainings you’ve completed to keep it fresh and current.

One idea I’ve found extremely helpful is to identify potential images from each session you shoot.  Choose your two best images from your shoot and save them to a “Potential Portfolio Images” folder.  Then when it’s time to update your portfolio, the images are ready and waiting for you.  You simply choose the new best of your best and either upload them to your digital portfolio or print them for your physical portfolio.  It makes updating a portfolio and marketing materials much less intimidating because the work has been done for you all along!

How do I create an online portfolio

Get a Review

Finally, when you have your freelance resume/freelance portfolio ready to roll, find someone, or a few someones, to review it for you.  This could be a review by another experienced photographer or even just a close friend.

A professional portfolio review can really help you grow as a photographer.  You’ll learn what worked well in an image, get tips for future shoots and maybe even get some editing tips and ideas.  Photographers like you and I are emotionally attached to our work.  We pour our hearts and soul into our images so we aren’t exactly unbiased.  A fellow professional photographer doesn’t have that intrinsic bond with your work and can offer a more discerning opinion.

If you don’t use a professional photographer for a review, at least run it past someone you trust to be honest and upfront with you.  Having a fresh pair of eyes helps you see your work from another perspective.  Fresh eyes are incredibly helpful for a resume review to find spelling and grammatical errors or identify gaps in information.

Pulling it All Together

That old saying of you only get one chance to make a first impression applies just as much as photographers as it does to other areas of life.  Your portfolio can be your first impression.  It will communicate your style, talent, creativity and technique to potential clients.  A resume can help clarify your expertise and discuss the depth and breadth of your experience.  Both speak to who you are as a photographer and creative professional.  Take some time to make sure both only say nothing but the best.