It can be hard to produce new work, especially if you have tight deadlines and it’s not a project you love. But at the end of the day, the work you make is the work you will have to show. If you rush through a shoot just to get it done, you might miss out on an opportunity for an awesome portfolio shot. Planning ahead can go a long way to building a strong portfolio, and, as such, there are two painfully common missteps that can drag budding photographers down.
It’s common, especially among photography students, to photograph your friends. You’re comfortable with them, they can be flexible, and if they’re in the studio at the same time as you it’s quick and easy. (Also, you may just have very good looking friends.) The problem with this is that the same faces show up in everyone’s books. If three of your classmates were to attend a portfolio review with you, and you’re all in each other’s projects, it makes the scope of your work seem small. Unless your project is specifically about moody portraits of second-year photography students, you should try to expand your talent pool.
There are online resources to connect models, photographers, make-up artists and the like. Try ModelMayhem or Craigslist, but beware sketchy characters. If you have samples of your work, you could contact a modeling agency and see if any of their new talent is willing to work on a ‘time for images’ basis. At the very least you should try to work with people who aren’t in your class. You want to show an art director that you can work with people you haven’t known since kindergarten, because you’re not going to know everyone you get hired to photograph.
If you’re working on a high-fashion, Mad Men-inspired shoot, where everything is supposed to be slick and glamorous, don’t shoot it in your ratty student apartment. Details make a huge difference, (and Don Draper wouldn’t be caught dead on a beat-up corduroy sofa from Goodwill). Gaining access to the places you’d like to shoot isn’t impossible, it usually just requires some planning, research, and sometimes a permit. Think about if the location is what’s best for your shot, or if it’s just convenient.
You can usually rent the space you need, be it a studio, hotel room, or vintage car. Find the person who can grant you access (see: Detective Skills for the Digital Age), and explain what you’re doing, and what you need from them. Having a written proposal can help show that you’re serious. If you’re working on a project for school, most teachers will be willing to write you a letter of recommendation if it will help. These are not things that can happen the night before the project is due. Sometimes it won’t work out, and you’ll have to settle for your parent’s kitchen, but whenever possible, you should be trying to get the space you really want.
If you’re building a portfolio, you should be trying to take the kinds of photographs that you want to be hired for. You want images in your book and on your website that show the people doing the hiring that you can handle the job, because you’re familiar with that style of working. Just because you haven’t been hired yet doesn’t mean you can’t present professional looking-images.