How to Set up a Day of Portfolio Shoots

The objective:

Book several shoots back to back in 1 day so you can get a variety of new photos to use for your portfolio, advertising, and because practice is necessary for becoming a better photographer. It’s a great way to learn new poses and new lighting techniques without the stress of performing for a client. You will also speed up your editing after working on so many images at once.

What does a day of portfolio shoots look like?

I book 1-hr time slots on a weekend day, usually from 10am-4pm, with an hour break in the middle. DO NOT FORGET TO SCHEDULE YOUR BREAK. Each person is asked to arrive 5-10 minutes before their appointment so you can begin right away. People will end up being late, which is a bummer because it just cuts into your shoot time. If someone is late, you still have to end their shoot at the end of their hour or everyone else will be off for the rest of the day, and you want to be respectful of everyone’s time.

When you start with each new person, have them sign your model release, then pick out the first outfit, unless it has already been decided upon, and start shooting! Just jump right in. I always let them know right away that I usually don’t keep my phone on me when I shoot, but I have to have mine ready in case the next person gets lost or has trouble funding us. They will always understand.

You can do an outfit change if it’s quick. You don’t want to spend half the session messing with clothes. At the end of the hour, thank them, remind them when you’ll deliver the photos, and invite the next person in.

How do I ask people to model my portfolio shoots?

I am very honest with my intentions for the day. I tell everyone it’s for me to practice new poses and create images for my portfolio, social media, and for advertising purposes. It’s really important to tell them about the advertising part. If they are not comfortable with their photo being used in an ad, I will not ask them to do the shoot. I have no desire to put the work in if I’m not getting paid and I can’t use any of the images.

I have a model release that they must sign, giving me explicit permission to use these photos for commercial purposes, and restricting them from editing them in any way. I can’t have someone taking my work, changing it, and then posting it. It hurts my brand if someone sees something with my name on it that I didn’t make. It’s almost never going to be up to my quality standard if a client edits my photo.

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What do I offer everyone who participates?

I usually deliver 12-15 finished images in low-res for a 1 hour shoot. I choose the best of the best images from each session and whichever ones I choose to use for myself are the ones I share with the models. You must let them know ahead of time so they are not expecting 100 images, or the choice as to which ones they receive. As long as you communicate ahead of time, you shouldn’t have any problems with people bugging you for more. And since everything is in writing already (on the event page, your social media posts, and in your emails) there shouldn’t be any confusion.

If they want more, they can purchase more. That pricing is up to you. Just make it worth your while. They are receiving value just like you. You shouldn’t feel like you owe anyone anything above and beyond what you have already promised. If you want to deliver more, you certainly can. Just don’t let anyone bully you into giving away more free photos or taking more of your time than was originally agreed upon.

How do I schedule each shoot?

For portfolio shoots where I don’t require payment for booking, I will just coordinate with the people I choose and we will decide on a time together. I don’t use a calendar booking program for them. If you already have one, go ahead and use it. Since I’m only booking 6 people, it’s fairly easy to manage the schedule.

If you are doing mini-sessions and would like to charge a session fee, I use eventbrite.com to create an event and then I make 1 ticket for 10:00am, 1 ticket for 11:00am… so when someone buys the 10:00 time, no one else can sign up for that. It’s free to set up your account and make events with Eventbrite. You just have to pay a transaction fee when someone purchases something, which is normal for any system that accepts payments for you.

How many people should I book in one day?

This will vary on the types of shoots you are doing. I generally do about 6 1-hr appointments. That’s a loooong day of shooting and I’m usually exhausted by the end of it. For your first one, you might want to try 4 sessions and see how it goes. You can always do another day of shooting later on. What you don’t want to do is find out that you’ve overbooked yourself and either have to cancel appointments or be too tired to do a good job and actually learn something.

Where do I advertise my portfolio shoots?

There are a number of different places to find models. Facebook is a great option. You can post on your personal page, or post in local groups that are centered around photography/modeling. You can also try Model Mayhem. There’s also nothing wrong with asking your friends to do it, or to see if they know anyone else who might want to do it. Do not post this on your business page. There are ways to get paying clients from ‘model calls’ but this is not one of those strategies. If you put it out there that you do free work for your clients, you will have a much tougher time booking regular paying clients. 

How do I choose the best models?

This is probably the most important part of this whole article. You must choose people who match your ideal client profile. Do not just photograph beautiful young instagram models if that is not who your regular paying clients are. It is also important to have a variety of different ethnicities and body types, unless it directly challenges your brand. If your main focus is plus sized women for boudoir, then stick to that. If you only photograph Indian weddings, stick to that. Otherwise by keeping your portfolio 1 consistent demographic, you are turning off people who don’t fit that specific look.

Remember that this shoot is so you can get more practice doing what you do. So this is a great chance to photograph people you have not yet photographed. If you have not photographed any dark skinned clients, this is a great chance to do so. Not only do you get better at your craft, but you are opening yourself up to new markets.

Do portfolio shoots and mini sessions cannibalize my regular business?

Nope. The only way that it would is if you were offering the same services for both the paid sessions and your portfolio shoots. This is so you have the freedom to try new posing and lighting techniques without compromising your clients’ experience. I will still try new poses during client shoots, but I also make sure I deliver my normal amount of great photos.

My portfolio shoots usually don’t include hair and makeup styling like my regular sessions do, and my client shoots are usually 90 minutes, not 60. I also do same-day sales sessions for my clients, and I show them 50-60 photos. The portfolio shoots include 10-15 and I promise the photos within a week of the shoot. Since I will have 6 shoots worth of photos to go through, I want to give myself plenty of time. I also don’t usually book more than 1 client shoot in a day. After travel, hair and makeup, the shoot, and the sales session, I’m too tired to try to do it all over again. 

If you find it hard to distinguish between your own portfolio shoots and your client shoots, you are either not giving enough to your clients, or giving to much for your portfolio shoots. Or both. There should be a very obvious difference between them.

Where do I start?

Pick a day that you can dedicate to shooting, decide on your theme, and start talking about it online. Ask your friends to share the posts too. Once you get it scheduled and start booking people, it will all come together. You just have to get started.

About the Author Mike Lloyd

Mike is the Tim Burton of photography. He tells powerful, imaginative stories with cinematic photography. He specializes in dramatic, film-noir style boudoir and epic cinematic portraits. He's also the creative force behind Photogs Unite! which focuses on learning from professionals outside the photography industry to learn marketing, sales, branding, and everything else you need to know to build a thriving photography business. And burritos are the key to his happiness.

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