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How to Start a Home Based Portfolio Photography Business

Updated on April 3, 2016
LuisEGonzalez profile image

I enjoy photography and have been doing so professionally and independently for over 30 years. Hope you enjoy my hubs!

Sample Two Shot Portfolio

CC BY 2.0
CC BY 2.0 | Source

"An artist's portfolio is an edited collection of their best artwork intended to showcase an artist's style or method of work. A portfolio is used by artists to show employers their versatility by showing different samples of current work. Typically, the work reflects an artist's best work or a depth in one specific area of work.

Historically, Portfolios were printed out and placed into a book. With the increased use of the internet and email however, there are now websites that host online portfolios that are available to a wider audience. Sometimes an artist's portfolio can be referred to as a lookbook." Wikipedia

Working with a seasoned model is always a plus

CC BY 3.0
CC BY 3.0 | Source

Most models will at one point or another need a professionally made portfolio featuring the models in various outfits and in various poses, sometimes including nudes, boudoir, beach wear, formal dress and casual.

Most portfolios feature about 4 to 6 photos of the model's best looks. However, the vast majority of photographers who do portfolio work can charge upwards of $1000 for a 3 to 5 hour session.

The good thing is that if they charge this they usually have a large studio, offer make up and hair stylist and it is included in the price.

The more reasonable ones charge about $400 to $500 for a 2-5 hour session and a bit more for half day's work. Some offer the services of a makeup artists and hair stylist but more often than not their services have to be paid for separately from the photographer's fees.

if you want to complete in this field and have some experience, decent photography gear, know some digital work, then your rates can be very competitive.

You do however have to let the model know about your experience and your rates ahead of time and this should be in writing. Plus you need to set your rates on a timed basis and name how many photos will be included in the package.

Good makeup artists can charge around $175.00 for a one look work , $400 for half a day or $600 for a full day. This includes giving you several looks; looks to fit the shoot. Add about $100 for the hair. The hair is usually done the day off or the day before the shoot and off location. The makeup is mainly done on location.

To be competitive you have to try to make it comfortable for the client (the model) and packages which offer these extra amenities work best.

Make a deal with the makeup and hair artist to offer a better rate than if the model went to each separately. You can often end up saving the client about 10% per artist (make up and hair).

Offer at least 6-9 images; two 8x10, and five 5x7. Do one or two main head shots (one in color and one in black and white) one formal attire, one beach wear, two face close ups and that is usually it unless the model wants to include boudoir and or nudes.

Do at least one head shot in a studio like setting where you can have absolute control of the lighting and the rest should be done on location; beaches, parks, old looking buildings, and so on make for great locations.

Good to do is to research various publications featuring models in poses similar to the ones that you may be asked to do. Discus poses with your model/client but always suggest rather than impose your views.

The cost of your photos if printed by a local service should be around $30 to $40 dollars. Add about $15 for traveling expenses and you are now going into the $45 to $55 range.

Don't forget to add a CD with the photographs which is another $9 bucks.

Adding a nice looking album for the photos is a great idea and makes the experience that much better but they can get to be pricey.

Entrance fees to a location can be discussed ahead of time with the client or included and the cost/price range can come up to about $80 for a group of three to four people.

Please note that I am basing this on the entrance fees to some popular photo locations like Vizcaya in Key Biscayne Florida. Yours can be totally different with private locations costing more and government owned being less.

Now if you are looking to make a name for yourself and assuming your photography is technically perfect plus you have some creativity in posing the model, you can expect to expend anywhere from $75 to $250 more or less determinant on any agreement that you have reached with the makeup and hair stylist and what you offer plus amenities.

Often the model knows in advance the poses that she or he wants and this makes the work easier, plus your models usually bring their own clothing line because it is what makes them feel good about themselves and how they look in them. If you add your own clothing line then everything changes and but this is more adept for large photo operations.

Keep in mind that many models know how to do their own makeup or usually have a friend who will do it for them. I have found that seeking the services of makeup and hair styling schools works best.

The students will usually do the work for free or at a nominal fee if they their work gets credited to them and I have no problem doing so plus many instructors will often do the work themselves as a way of reinforcing their teaching skills and for publicity purposes.

Perhaps add some personal touches like some refreshments and finger foods and you have now made a better impression plus your profit is reduced only slightly.

If you were to charge about $300 to $375 for half a day's work then you made a profit of roughly $125 for about 3 to 6 hours of work (or fun, depending on how you look at it).

Here is a simple breakdown:

Photo printing 8x10=$9.00=2 for $18

5x7=$1.00 =5 for $5.00

CD=$9.00 1 for $9.00


Traveling/parking fees, gas etc.=$15.00

Amenities=$20.00 for finger foods, water etc.

Your total cost $86.00

Add initial one time set up costs of $85.00 for business cards, web presence, advertising etc. and you can add an extra $85.00 to the $86.00 making your grand total of true expenses come to around $171.00. Makeup, hair and any entrance fees are separate.

Your fees $275 (which is really inexpensive for a half day’s shoot)



Net profit of $104.00 for your first shoot and $189.00 thereafter. If you do at least two sessions per week your profit grows to about $378.00 per week.

This is probably not a leave your day job scenario, especially in the beginning, but as your reputation grows and word of mouth gets around you may eventually find yourself doing portfolio work for a living and notice that we are assuming that your office will be your house!

These profit margins are averages and yours can vary widely depending on several factors; having the model do her own make up, bring her own clothing, and the entrance fees to locations if you should choose to use them.

Research the various services offered in your area and adjust your prices accordingly. Pay attention to the reputation and the prices of those within your region and special attention to any amenities that they may or may offer.

Remember that you are competing with those who are already established and one good way to get your feet wet is to do a few portfolios at cost for family and friends in the beginning.

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Other things to consider are how much you want to spend on extra things like really fancy business cards, the type of advertising, a web site presence and a digital program.

I use Portrait Professional to re-touch the face area,especially the eyes since this is usually the most important part and what editors look for first.

Other programs are great too and some can be obtained free like Gimp.

However Portrait Professional is quite easy to use and does the work for you and you do not need to be that computer literate to use.

Just follow the simple onscreen instructions plus the results appear side by side to the original image.

Another thing is to shoot pictures that do not include a cluttered backdrop. The focus is on the model (your client) and a cluttered backdrop takes away from the main point of interest.

Digital backdrops should not be used either. Concentrate on simple yet interesting backdrops.

Head shots are a must in a portfolio

public domain
public domain | Source

Sample portfolio poses. Natural, digitally edited and themes

Click thumbnail to view full-size
NaturalNaturalDigital backgroundSoft glow filter
Natural | Source
Natural | Source
Digital background
Digital background
Soft glow filter
Soft glow filter | Source

Head shots benefit from a simple yet colorful backdrop

CC BY-SA 3.0
CC BY-SA 3.0 | Source

Black & White are very popular portfolio inclusions

CC BY-SA 3.0
CC BY-SA 3.0 | Source

Basic start-up photographic gear: One digital camera body, two prime lenses in the ranges of 55mm to 80mm, one camera mounted flash unit, a flash mounted diffuser, one reflector, one tripod, memory cards, digital editing program, creativity and some market savvy.

Add more gear as your experiences demand, your business expands as well as how your creativity develops.

There's really no "one setup fits all" scenario but these are the basics and they do not have to be top of the line models just as long as they are good and you know how to use them well.

© 2014 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Ericdierker: Thanks.Hope he gets some ideas from it.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      5 years ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Cool stuff to think about. I forwarded to my son the model (otherside of the camera) I think he should enjoy.


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