Should I Offer Discounted Photography Sessions To Build My Portfolio?

Portfolio building can be tough.

When you are first starting out as an amateur photographer you will photograph anyone who will let you and most likely for free! I see no problem with that at all. You are just learning manual mode on your camera, you really have no idea what or how to get a proper exposure and you’re missing focus left and right! And guess what?! So did I! We all have to start somewhere. As my assistant always says . . . “everybody has a day one.”

Discounting portfolio building sessions: the pros and cons

Should you charge for portfolio building?

This is a tricky question. Depending on how much practice you are getting I would give it a full year before ever charging anyone. You need to hone the craft and perfect your style before you ever think about designing a logo or building a website. A service should be paid for when it’s worth being paid for, and I hope you don’t take offense to the next thing I’m about to say (I’m a straight shooter). But in the beginning you don’t know what is good and what isn’t just yet. I sure didn’t! When I look back at images I thought were amazing way back then I just cringe. Haha!

But when can I start charging for my work and how?

The first part of this question can only be answered by you. The second part I can help you with a little more here in this blog post. Before you can charge you have to know your costs. That’s a lengthy discussion that I will save for another time. But just know that selling digital files doesn’t mean there are no hard costs.

Here are some things to consider:

  • Your time

  • Print costs

  • Marketing costs

  • Studio rental

  • Equipment wear & tear

  • Editing time

  • Childcare

  • Liability insurance

  • Taxes

  • Internet & phone

  • Mileage & travel time

  • So much more

Let’s get back to the main question . . . should you offer discounted photography sessions to build your portfolio?

My thoughts on this one is yes, but only for a limited time. And that needs to be very clear to your potential clients. There are several ways to go about this. You will more than likely adjust your pricing as you go along. I did several times! Once you run a profit and loss statement and are hit with more loss than profit when you thought you were doing so well, you really start to pay attention to real numbers. From the beginning you need to run this business like a business, not a hobby!

Here are some common mistakes to avoid when portfolio building:

  • Pricing yourself too low and trying to charge more to the same clients later. They will drop you like a bad habit!

  • Not collecting a session fee. Hello no shows!

  • Collecting too small a session fee. They never come back to order!

  • Placing images online with a very small or no watermark at all. You’ll see those later on Facebook with absolutely no credit to you. Ugh.

Wanna know how I know all of that? I’ve made every one of those mistakes first hand. And I want to keep you from doing the same thing!

How To Discount Your Portfolio Building Sessions The Right Way:

Charge a session fee and get it up front. Make sure it is large enough to cover your time to drive back & forth to the session, cull down & edit the images, your time for the in person ordering appointment or online hosting for the gallery & the time you spend on the phone & email planning the session. So yeah, $25 isn’t going to cut it here. Ok? :)

Make sure your pricing is set to where you want it to be in the future. It should scare you and make you pretty uncomfortable. But don’t apologize for it. Own it!

You have 2 options at this point:

  1. Let your clients know up front that this session is meant to help build your portfolio so you will be offering them a discount of 30 - 50% (you decide) at the ordering session or give them a coupon code to use for their online order. Most hosting platforms offer this option. I know that ShootProof does. They are my all time favorite for hosting galleries. The big thing to emphasize is that this is a limited time opportunity and pricing won’t be like this forever. Set expectations up front for when they come back ;)

  2. Give them a gift certificate for a few hundred dollars (but please make sure your pricing is high enough to handle this option). I personally like this option the best, especially if you have packages or collections. These will bump the purchase up a bit because it tells them what they need and what “most people” purchase.

I sure hope that helped answer the question we have all asked when starting our photography businesses. Whatever you do, please do not release images without payment in full and do not even edit images with some sort of partial payment towards their purchase. That’s a topic for another day! See you soon friends :)

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