Lilly Red Photography captured wedding callejoneada and models during a wedding styled shoot to help build a photography portfolio without clients

How to Build a Photography Portfolio Without Clients

Becoming a photographer can often be a Catch-22. To be a booked-out, luxury photographer, you need clients. To get clients, you need a portfolio. 

Out of all the questions we get from up-and-coming photographers, this is one of the questions, without a doubt, we hear most often: “How can I build a photography portfolio without clients?

We’re sharing our number one way to build that coveted portfolio. And it doesn’t involve being a second shooter!

Our Favorite Way to Build a Photography Portfolio Without Clients

While being a second shooter is a great way to gain experience, it’s not always the best way to actually build a portfolio. Because you’re photographing the wedding alongside and on behalf of a more experienced photographer, you’re often not allowed to use these images in your own photography portfolio.

That being said, even if you could use the images you capture as a second shooter, you may not necessarily want to use them. Especially if you have a completely different style from the photographers you regularly work with.

That’s why we suggest one very specific thing to new photographers who don’t have a portfolio:

Build the photography portfolio that you don’t have through styled shoots!

Instead of spending years struggling to build your style and attract the right clients, you can fast-track your success through styled shoots. 

You’ll get the opportunity to network with fellow wedding vendors. You’ll also have a safe space to practice your skills and cultivate your approach to photography, with the added bonus of an intentionally curated portfolio that speaks to the very clients you want to work with.

Keep reading for our top tips on how to build a photography portfolio without clients through the magic of styled shoots!

Our Top 4 Tips for Using a Styled Shoot to Build Your Photography Portfolio

If you’ve never done it before, planning, designing, and executing a styled shoot can feel overwhelming. And once you have the images from it, knowing how to use them to your advantage is still a challenge you have to face!

We understand because we were in your shoes when we first started out. But we’ve since put together countless styled shoots. So we’re sharing our top 4 tips for using a styled shoot to curate your photography portfolio:

#1: Design and photograph for your dream client exclusively.

As a newbie photographer, it’s all too easy to take any and every wedding that comes your way. While it may be tempting to think any styled shoot you plan will attract clients, you don’t want to take a grab-bag approach to planning yours.

How to Keep Your Dream Client In Mind

The goal of a styled shoot is to curate the best possible shoot. One that is sure to attract your DREAM clients.

While you may not be attracting them now, try to plan a styled shoot or series of shoots that will exclusively attract the clients that you’d like to be working with. That way, when you are more booked out, you can say no to anyone who is not that ideal client. That’s ultimately the goal!

For example, you may be like us—an editorial photographer who’d like to attract high-ticket clients in your location. If that’s the case, then every detail, down to the shot list, needs to be made with this in mind.

Take the time and do research to figure out what would make a solid photo. Then plan out how to approach the shoot.

Let’s say you want to attract adventurous couples, you may want to stage a top-of-the-mountain elopement versus a ballroom wedding.

The Design of a Styled Shoot Says It All

Think carefully about the design, as well. Would your ideal client rather see more luxury and elegance in the wedding details? Or would they be more drawn to a boho and wild vibe?

Photography portfolios are a way for us to visually express how we want to work, who we want to work with, and in what way we want to tell their stories. 

Remember, as a photographer it’s a *good* thing to have a prevailing style, so don’t be afraid to niche down to the people who will get it! That’s how you set yourself apart from all of the other photographers in your industry.

#2: Plan your styled shoot in a style, design, location, and venue that you love.

I’ll come out and say it. Styled shoots are NOT easy. They take time to plan, schedule, and execute. Most of the time, styled shoots involve collaborating with other creatives. That will mean scheduling a mutually beneficial time that works for the venue or location, the models you book, and anyone else who will be coming alongside you in the styled shoot.

With that being said, you don’t want to rush your styled shoot. If you’re going through the hassle of bringing it together, make sure that you are happy with the location, confident in your chosen style, and feeling good about the elements in the photos. 

While they’re hard work, taking the time and effort to plan a styled shoot is the best way to build a photography portfolio without clients!

Villa Balbiano in Lake Como Italy serves as wedding venue for styled shoot

#3: Create marketing materials around your styled shoot.

Once you put together your styled shoot and have the final photos, it’s time to start using them in your marketing materials. Update your website with the photos, share them to your portfolio, and post with these images on Instagram. Begin building the photography portfolio you want to have now, with photos you’ve taken. 

Couples who are looking for a wedding photographer will be that much more excited to choose you because they’ll see photos in their desired style. What may have seemed impossible before may become much more within your reach once you have a styled shoot portfolio to attract dream clients.

#4: Start building your wedding sales funnel early.

Equipped with your new and improved portfolio, now it’s time to start thinking about how you’ll sell your packages to dream clients. Begin building that wedding sales funnel. 

Spend time thinking about how couples will find you, what their first impression will be, and how your inquiry funnel will work so when they reach out it’s easy to book a compatibility call, send the proposal, and get that signed contract.

Lilly Red Academy Styled Shoot Guide eBook for destination wedding photographers

Want to create your own styled shoot but not sure how to put your own together? We’ve got you! Check out our styled shoot guide to get a behind-the-scenes look at how to curate, photograph, and share a styled shoot that will get you noticed by your dream clients.