LeightonD, Photographer

LeightonD's Photographic life.

Build your portfolio without spending a dime?

I know, what an inflammatory title to start out a blog with. Especially in an industry where not only is time money, but the value of investment may have exponential returns, or losses. A model or an agency might invest $5000-10,000 on a model’s initial marketing portfolio, to then be featured in a major ad campaign bringing that model several thousands of dollars, and that agency, and client much more as well. A Photographer, could spend $4000 on one lens, and earn 10 times that over a lifetime. There is that old adage, “it takes money to make money;” but what if you don’t have any money or are very limited on resources?

If one would traverse the many model sites out there online, you will see a constantly reoccurring phrase. TF*, which in most circles means “Time For” or meaning that you trade your time as a photographer, model, stylist, makeup artist or other participating party in exchange for images. What used to be referred as TFP, Time For Print, is now often referred to as TFCD, Time For CD(I wonder if it will change to TFFD, for Flash Drive? I digress). Now, TF isn’t anything new. I am pretty sure it has been around for hundreds of years. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a little 5×7 of the Mona Lisa laying around in some Italian wine cellar.

The rising problem with TF projects though is that more and more participants are not looking at these as “trade” shoots, but more or less, as free shoots. The problem with this philosophy is a premise of noninvestment. Once someone on a team is divested in that project, they have a tendency to not perform to his or her best. Think back to high school or college when you did that first group project. There was one person in the group, if not more, that really didn’t do any work but got the same grade as everyone else. Heck, that person might have been you! That person knew that they had nothing to lose and everything to gain. They were betting on at least one person in the group to want to get an “A” which would balance the lack of performance. I see this in today’s world of photography a lot. Photographers giving models not only “tons” of photos, but either “untouched” or badly edited photos which if the model was a paying client, they would never even let the model see, much less give them away. The same as models, who go to these shoots with bad hair/wardrobe/makeup/attitudes, and a host of other drawbacks.

So here is where the dilemma lies. If a model, wants a great start to a great port, how would they go about getting one if they had no money. PAY THE PHOTOGRAPHER! Or hairstylist, or MUA, or other support member. “But wait, Leighton, you just said you were going to tell me how to build a port without spending a dime!” That, I did. Remember that the oldest form of currency, is not cash, and it isn’t even gold, but that of the Barter System.

Shamika and Ebony

Working as a photo assistant to offset the costs of a shoot or portfolio is a good way to not only build a portfolio quickly, but also help in getting you familiar with other people and methods used in the industry

You see, while a photographer may not be open to doing TFs, there are some photographers who are open to having an assistant or two for a shoot. If a photographer shoots weddings as well, they may pay an assistant anywhere from $50-150/day on average to assist. That means holding bags, umbrellas, stands, going for this, going for that. Yes, a lot of work, but work that you would be compensated for. Either a rate towards your shoot, or partial rate and pay depending on the arrangements between the parties. Let’s say for example, you want to do a $2000 portfolio shoot, but don’t have any of that. Working for that photographer twice a week for two or three months, may REALLY get you closer than you may think.

Now I know some of you might be thinking that two or three months is a long time to work for photos, but think of the alternative. Going YEARS and never really developing a good portfolio, i.e. what is the cost of a weak resume? Now, understand, not all photographers will work this way, but some might. And in this day and age, having a model who is so serious, and so hungry that they are willing to “work for food” is a good sign. Another benefit is that it will really show you how that photographer works during a shoot. Are they a jerk, are they helpful, do they give good instruction, are all questions that can be answered by observation. Along that note, I would advise having a written agreement, and a clause that states what happens if one of you decides that the arrangement should not go forward, that you should still receive monetary compensation for work provided. This way, the relationship will not become abused. Some may think this is a radical approach, but it really shouldn’t be. This should be fundamental. If you can’t pay for it, work for it. And you may be more impressed with the end result.

Shamika posing for her head shot

A great addition for a portfolio is always worth it!

Remember, if this is a business for you, then all business has a cost associated with it. Sweat equity is still equity!


About Leighton DaCosta, Photographer

International Wedding, Portrait, and Fashion photographer based in Miramar, Florida. Also a Pilot and a LEAN technician.

3 comments on “Build your portfolio without spending a dime?

  1. Interesting topic. Great photo!

  2. Pingback: Photo Shoots – What to Do « I Introduced Myself to Digital Photography

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