How to Make a Fashion Photography Portfolio on a Budget

All the glamour, luxury and exclusivity of the fashion world can make getting into fashion photography seem difficult - even impossible. But if you’re determined and resourceful, you’ll find a way in.

Image of Christin and Ian

That’s the message from two professional photographers, Christin Snyders and Ian Jacob. We chatted to these two Karl Taylor Education members recently about how to make a fashion photography portfolio. Both agreed that it’s possible to build a fashion portfolio on a budget - and that doing so is the best way to kickstart your fashion photography career.

Our conversation with Christin and Ian is part of an 8-class series, ‘Getting Started in Fashion Photography’. Here are some of their tips.

Portrait by Ian Jacobs

© Christin Snyders

1. Everyone starts somewhere, so don't be put off

Christin started out as a model, but always dreamed of being a photographer. “What the photographer was doing looked more interesting than what the model was doing,” she says. Practicing her photography in her spare time, she built up the confidence to sell the business she had started so she could focus full-time on pursuing her dream.

Ian also knew early on that photography was his passion, and studied it at college, specialising in fashion as well as beauty and product work. But only after a decade of building up his portfolio in his spare time (while working as a graphic designer) was he able to make photography his full-time focus.

Portrait by Christin Snyders

© Christin Snyders

Portrait by Christin Snyders

© Christin Snyders

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Getting Started in Fashion Photography

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2. Source clothing however you want

“I remember when I was studying, I had no money to spend on portfolio work,” says Christin. She recalls borrowing clothes from friends, renting them from shops, or sourcing them affordably from online retailers. “You always find a way.”

Ian shares a similar tip: buy the clothes you need with a credit card (yours or someone else’s), then return them after the shoot for a refund. Genius!

Portrait by Christin Snyders

© Christin Snyders

3. You don't have to find and fund top models

Because she had worked as a model herself, when Christin started out in photography, many of her friends were models, too. That made finding subjects for her early portfolio shoots relatively easy. But if you’re not sure how to find models, or how to work with models, don’t worry.

“You don’t need that much to start building your portfolio. You just need the sun, the camera, and your eyes. There are lots of beautiful people out there!”

When Ian was studying photography in college, he and his classmates shot one another. (In fact, that’s how he met his wife!) A decade later, as he tried to get his photography business going, he asked family and friends to pose for him as he built up his fashion portfolio.

4. Think of portfolio work as training – and advertising

Though portfolio work doesn’t pay in the short term, it can lead to paid work down the line. For example, Christin did a ‘sun and suncream’ shoot for a model’s portfolio, and no money changed hands. But soon after sharing the shots, she heard from a commercial client who wanted to recreate the images. “Even free shoots can earn you money in the end.”

“It's about trying to build the work,” agrees Ian. “That’s how you get into fashion photography. You have to have it to get it. So you have to lean on whatever resources you have.”

A lot of his portfolio-building shoots brought him work later, even if the clients didn’t necessarily want images as creative and surprising as the ones that first caught their eye.

“One thing I’ve realised in fashion and beauty: you need to show how creative you and your team can be - the heights that you can rise to - to be hired for the less creative but better paying jobs.”

Portrait by Ian Jacobs

© Ian Jacob

Portrait by Ian Jacobs

© Ian Jacob

5. Get networking – even if you're an introvert

Christin and Ian both emphasise the importance of networking. Not sure how to network as a photographer? Just think of it as making new friends, one person at a time.

Creative people love to meet other like-minded creatives, so it can be as simple as introducing yourself and suggesting a hangout. Christin recommends being nice! “You just say, ‘Can we drink a coffee and talk about your project? Or my project? Most people will respond positively.”

The main thing is not to hide away in your home studio, working alone. "Try to get engaged with the industry and people working in the industry,” she adds. “Then it just takes time.”

As a bit of an introvert himself, Ian sympathizes with shy people struggling to launch their fashion photography career. He encourages other introverts to get out of their comfort zone. Once he knows people, he says, he enjoys working with them – a fact that he reminds himself of whenever he gets nervous about making a new connection.

Portrait by Ian Jacobs

© Ian Jacob

6. Rejection is part of the process

Sending your portfolio to agencies can be scary, but you have to do it anyway. No one likes to be rejected, but you won’t get to where you want to be without it. The more you can view rejection as an essential part of your journey, the better. The main thing, Christin says, is to keep shooting.

Ian agrees. “You’re going to get a lot of ‘no’s, a lot of shutdowns. You’re going to get people knocking you down and you have to be able to internalise that, make yourself better from it, and move on.”

If you hang in there and don’t give up, something positive will happen. “Enough ‘no’s are going to turn into a ‘yes’ at some point, and that could be the one single yes you need.”

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7. Keep shooting

As you pursue your dream of a fashion photography career, there will be many ups and downs. The most important thing of all is to persevere. “It’s a process,” Christin says. “You just have to keep on doing it.”

Ian echoes that sentiment. “I didn’t get here overnight,” he says. “It’s been a process. You’ve got to build the portfolio. You’ve got to network. And then it’ll just slowly grow and grow.”

Portrait by Christin Snyders

© Portrait by Christin Snyders

Portrait by Christin Snyders

© Portrait by Christin Snyders

For an in-depth introduction to fashion photography – including how to plan a fashion photoshoot, how to work with models, and many more fashion photography tips – sign up as a member of Karl Taylor Education to access all eight classes in our ‘Getting Started in Fashion Photography’ course, plus everything else the platform has to offer.

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