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We're Erica + Jon, professional photographers, Mr + Mrs and Mom + Dad. We like to share insights into our industry, behind the scenes and stories about our life and chips + salsa obsession.

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How to Build Your Portfolio for Brand Photographers

One of the things we’re asked by people who are looking to get in the brand photography space, or even those completely brand new to the space is, “How in the world do I represent myself with a portfolio of images when I haven’t shot for any brand work!?” This can be particularly challenging for people out of the wedding and lifestyle photography space because brands definitely aren’t gonna want to see wedding photos or family lifestyle photos if you’re presenting yourself as a brand photographer. 

The biggest thing brands are going to want to see brand-specific work. They’re going to want to see you know how to work with brands because it is completely different! The planning process is different. The thought process with how you execute the photos is different. And while we walk through all of those details in the Planning + Styling Course, what we want to talk about today is specifically How to Build Your Portfolio for Brand Photographers even if you’re just getting into the space. We want to help you show your capabilities and talents with your camera to potential brand clients!

Shoot Content for Your Portfolio 

Haven’t worked with a brand or a product? We want to challenge you to change your mindset to…I just haven’t done it, YET! If you want to start working with brands and products, there is NOTHING wrong with grabbing some products that inspire you, shooting flat lays and styled photos for that product, and doing it today! This is a great way to get practice under your belt, but also an amazing way to build a portfolio showing you know how to work with different elements. Now one key point we’d like to mention is that we recommend shying away from products that are labeled. So for example, if you’re going to shoot a bar of soap, something like a custom soap line, we wouldn’t have it in the wrapping and packaging. Shoot it so that the soap bars are out of the packaging and styled with things that would support the brand message. Also, make sure the logos don’t show, if there are any on the packaging. The main reason for this is that you don’t want to be misleading and seem like you actually did a shoot for that brand. BUT, this makes a great way to convey the message and show potential brands that, ‘HEY! LOOK HERE!’….this person knows what they’re doing with products, or whatever type of brand you’re wanting to shoot with!

We actually have a friend and designer that did this SOOO successfully. She was sick and tired of not getting the type of design clients she wanted, so she went ahead and designed an entire line of packaging and did a full mock up for an imaginary makeup and care products brand that she completely made up. She then posted all of this work that she spent time doing across different social media platforms and lo and behold, her dream client, Anthropology, found this work that she had done for this imaginary brand and contacted her! She now works with them today as a designer! This really does work, makes an immense impact, and is one of the quickest and easiest ways to show brands you know what you’re doing and what you’re capable of. You could be next working with your DREAM client!

Network Up

What we mean by networking up is simply, taking advantage of opportunities to build your network and in return build your portfolio. The key with networking up isto take everything into your own hands. Oftentimes, we’re approached with opportunities to collaborate or do different trades. While there is definitely a time and place for those, what we found in our experience is that most of the time we aren’t necessarily the ones that benefit. Now, don’t get us wrong, some do bring value, but in these cases the value is usually weighted more heavily on the person who is approaching us. 

Early on we decided that we would absolutely love to bring value to a brand and build our portfolio, but we wanted to be the ones to initiate it. You know how people tend to wait around for someone else to make the first move? Instead, we said ‘NOW’ and built up the bravery to just start going for it! We wanted to make sure that if we spend our time, energy, and talents creating something in exchange for the portfolio building process, then we really wanted it to be a brand we wanted in our portfolio. 

So when we say network up, we recommend proactively reaching out to brands that are an ideal client for you and ones that YOU would love to have in your portfolio. Make it a big ask and one that may even seem uncomfortable, as if you are reaching a little high. One that makes you question in your gut of, “Omg, what if they’re going to say no?!?!” The truth is some might say no, but there is probably going to be one that says yes and it will be a great opportunity for you! 

This is our story exactly. We reached out to a brand that we REALLY wanted to work with. We typed up the email and Erica sat on it for a handful of days before she worked up the courage to finally send it. When she finally did and we got a YES, we were in and it felt AMAZING!! This free session ultimately turned this brand into a paying client for us and led into multiple other job opportunities that all happened as a result of that one free networking job we did. The worst thing that can happen is a brand saying no. So don’t be afraid to network, just make sure you’re networking up!

Constantly Market on Social Media 

Showing up consistently on social media is something that most people know they need to be doing. You have to be on social media promoting and showing your work, BUT you really need to be intentional about the way you show up on social media. You have to be consistent and show up everyday with something to add to the community. Consistency is one of the biggest keys to having success marketing yourself on social media. The other thing is making sure you’re really leveraging and taking advantage of all of the tools and resources different platforms have available to you. Our favorite platform is Instagram, and I mean our stories do have some pretty killer dance moves from Erica. Just saying. Believe it or not, we’ve booked household brand names through Instagram! It still blows our minds, and still makes Jon think, ‘How the heck are people finding us on Instagram that work for these big companies?’ But it happens. Everyday. Single. Day.

Think about it though. Many of the people working in marketing departments skew a little younger, and younger people spend a lot of time shopping, searching, and networking on social media! It really does make sense why agencies have contacted us through our DM’s.

The way to make sure you’re found on social media, especially Instagram, is to make sure you’re taking advantage of the tools they have built into the app and hashtagging. Even if the hashtags don’t necessarily gain any more traction or engagement in your actual post, consider those tags as planting ‘marketing seeds’. This way when people are searching hashtags in the future, potentially one you’ve used, they can find you! That’s our story again with a household name we shot for. They discovered us on Instagram by searching a hashtag, and they noted to us after the consultation that every single picture they clicked on that they “liked”…they noticed was ours. It was because we were consistent and utilizing all 30 hashtags to plant those marketing seeds that we were later able to reharvest 🙂
So those are our best tips on how to build your portfolio, whether you’ve been at this for a while, you’re looking at making a transition, or even if you’re brand new to photography! We hope that they’ve helped a ton! By the way if you’re transitioning to brand photography and looking for more direction, feel free to check our free masterclass Three Secrets to Becoming a successful Brand Photographer! Inside, you’ll learn valuable information that will help you on this journey of starting out in Brand Photography!

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