Glamour Portfolio Building for Photographers

For several months after my self-inflicted glamour bootcamp, my main focus shifted from shooting, to creating the business. I continued educating myself, watching course after course from creativeLIVE; amassed an enviable makeup collection; expanded my studio to the rest of my basement; upgraded my camera; designed my branding; built my website; and then got stuck on deciding what to offer, what to charge, and how to make a reasonable income. I spent months researching products, creating pricing models, and being indecisive.

Then I met a beautiful couple who photograph weddings. When I showed my ipad portfolio to the wife, her husband leaned over my shoulder and gasped. "These are incredible. How much do you charge for a shoot like that?" I got nervous, and stammered the numbers I'd been trying to pin down for months "oh, I'm not really sure, since I'm trying to figure it out, but I was thinking somewhere between x and z..." As I tried to explain why it's so expensive he interrupts me, saying, 

You’re not very comfortable talking about this, are you?

He then went on to say that the numbers I mentioned were probably too low, and that many women would be happy to pay much more if I'd be creating images like that for them (pointing to my ipad).

This was my aha moment. I still wasn't completely comfortable with raising my prices, however, so I designed an experiment: I would continue my portfolio building efforts, this time aiming for two shoots per week, and I would implement my new pricing structure with a voucher system. This would give me plenty of practice having the conversations about pricing I was so uncomfortable with, extra shooting practice, test the viability of using vouchers, and help me update my portfolio. If I made any income at all, booyah!, but I honestly didn't expect that I would.

I searched Model Mayhem for women within a couple hours of my studio (a wider range) who were willing to work for free and either had a very limited portfolio or were just plain gorgeous. I sent out the new email to over a hundred models, saying:

My name is Emily, and I'm a photographer based in Provo. I specialize in magazine-style portraits. I came across your profile and think you're beautiful and I would be so proud to have images of you in my portfolio. 
Please check out my website (, and if you're interested, give me a call and we can book your shoot and discuss wardrobe and styling. 
Your photoshoot will include hair and makeup for two, so you can bring a friend (or sister/mom/daughter) to be photographed with you (we'll get great solo shots of each of you, as well as a few with both of you together). 
A session with me is normally $249, but I would do your shoot for free, and will also include one fully edited print + digital file of your favorite image from the shoot. You are welcome to purchase any additional images you like, but there is no obligation to do so. 
Because I shoot with natural light, and lighting is best in my studio in the mornings, hair and makeup needs to start at 8:30 am. I am currently booking shoots in May.
I look forward to meeting you! If you have any questions, please feel free to call.

Notice how confidently worded this message is when compared to my first? My goal was to establish credibility, as well as the value of what I was offering. (It was helpful that I had lots of strong work to showcase on my website.) I also emphasized (twice) that we would need to speak over the phone as the next step. During the phone conversation I would explain what they were getting in very clear terms, my prices, and how to prepare. I wrote out a script beforehand, and even carried a copy in my purse. 

Update: What does my script say? I had a very safe script that conveyed the message that this was a free shoot, with a free picture, and that they could always buy more if they wanted to, but that it was no big deal if they didn't. Looking back, it kind of bugs me, so I won't even tell you that version of my script. Instead, I'll share what I say now. Keep in mind that my pricing is now listed right on the website, so I assume they already know and I'm just giving them a refresher.

"My images start at $275 on the wall and go up from there. My big, beautiful folio boxes start at $1200, and go up depending on how many images you order. Most of my clients spend $2000, since we usually have so many beautiful images that most people want them all. :) At the end of the day, though, what you spend is completely up to you. My job is to create portraits of you that are so beautiful, you simply must have them all. :) It’s not to sell you anything you don’t absolutely love – so there’s no obligation to buy, and no hard sell.
Does that make sense? Great.

Now tell me how you want to be photographed; let’s make this your dream photoshoot…”

My 'script' is memorized now, so I don't have to have copies in my purse anymore. For any other questions about what to say during that first phone call, I highly suggest you watch 28 Days with Sue BryceDay 15: Phone Coaching & Scripting.

So, back to the story: I received many responses to this email, but after hearing about my pricing, only a few booked in. Even so, I was able to fill my calender further than a month ahead, and I had a much lower percentage of cancellations/no shows (maybe 5%). This could be because they were getting more prepared for their shoots, because they had to book so far in advance, or because I contacted them within a week of their shoot to say how excited I was to work with them, and to see if they had any questions. 

Building a glamour portfolio using vouchers, Emily London Portraits in Utah tells how she did it and what she learned.

Before each shoot I would watch an educational segment from Sue Bryce, with the goal of learning and implementing a new facet of my craft with each client. While I did get stronger as a shooter and a retoucher, this round of sessions taught me more about pricing, selling, booking, and phone consultations. 

As far as sales went, I was pleasantly surprised to have any at all, with half of my clients purchasing 10 or more images. One might argue that if I had expected to sell (and therefore interacted with the clients in a "what would you like me to create" rather than a "if you decide to buy" style), that I might have had more success. The fact that I was able to sell to even one woman taught me that some women really are willing to pay for the incredible, luxurious experience and high-end products I offer.

Now I just need to go out and find more of them! I am ready to learn how to kick marketing's ass, and that is my next step. The women who want my services haven't heard about me yet, and that's got to change. Once I have some solid experience and advice about marketing, I'm going to post again. In the mean time, I would be thrilled to hear any advice or suggestions.

I don't pretend to have all the answers. I am still learning and growing, still trying to figure this all out. What I already have learned, I'm happy to share. From brand design projects to portfolio building adventures, I hope reading about my own experiences has been helpful so far. If so, stay tuned!

UPDATE: What do I say if a client wants to buy 'just the files? My prices are for the print, image file, and print rights together. The later two are what make the cost of the images so high, not the physical print products. When asked, I say, "What you're buying is the image itself - so these are the prices for "just the files." The fact is, I'm actually including the beautiful prints at a loss to myself, because it's so important to me that you have them."

My Photography Beginning - A Glamour Boot Camp

When I first took up photography in May 2012, I discovered New Zealand Photographer and Educator Sue Bryce. Immediately taken by her modernized glamour photography and amazing teaching style, I bought her Glamour Photography Course and never looked back. 

I connected deeply with this new take on glamour portraits. I could do makeup. I could learn hair. Sue Bryce made everything look so easy, I was sure I could figure it all out eventually. So I asked a few friends and my mom to enjoy a free makeover and photoshoot. Once I had done five modern glamour shoots, I knew I had found my true love. I also realized that it was not at all as easy as it looked, and that I needed some major practice if I was going to become great at this. 

Images from my first five photoshoots, (including one mother & daughter shoot).

Images from my first five photoshoots, (including one mother & daughter shoot).

So I cleared my calendar for two solid months, hiring a full-time nanny and conning my husband into taking over most of my mommy duties temporarily. We stocked the freezer with dozens of meals from Costco, and the fridge with my favorite caffeinated juice drink. I emptied out a spare bedroom in the basement, bought some sheer curtains, polyboard reflectors, a futon, ottoman, and stool. 

While preparing my family, home and studio, I started the process of booking in photoshoots. I posted my new, very small portfolio on Model Mayhem. I then searched the Model Mayhem website for women whom I wanted to photograph, trying to find women over 30 and/or over 135 lbs. Once I had a list of over 60 potential models, I sent each one the following message:

My name is Emily, I'm a local photographer based in Provo. I've recently decided to specialize in contemporary portraiture, and would like to set up some TFCD shoots to build up my portfolio. I came across your profile and think you are very beautiful and I'd love the chance to work with you. 
Check out my current portfolio, and if you like my style, let's schedule your photoshoot!
Because I prefer to shoot in natural light, and lighting is best in my studio in the mornings, hair and makeup needs to start at 8:45am.
Right now my next opening is in mid-July.

I then booked a shoot on almost every weekday for about a month and a half. I also signed up for a makeup course at a cosmetology school in my area. The course was for ten days, and since it was in the evenings (5-10pm) I was able to go to my classes right after my shoots wrapped up.

What followed was a brutal boot-camp style two months that kicked my ass and taught me so much. About 30% of the models rescheduled, cancelled, or didn't show up for their shoots. Since I was pretty overwhelmed, I was usually glad when they didn't. I would use the time to edit or sleep. By the time it was all over, I had done 24 shoots, gotten a certificate to be a makeup artist, and built a respectable portfolio.

Glamour Bootcamp Photoshoots - 24 shoots in under two months.

Glamour Bootcamp Photoshoots - 24 shoots in under two months.

I also learned a few key things that anybody attempting their own Glamour Bootcamp should know:

If you plan to do hair and makeup for your shoots, check your local laws about licensing requirements. In my state, there are no requirements, and therefore, taking a makeup course was not necessary. I had hoped to learn a lot, but honestly, it was a waste of $2400. Each of the ten days of class contained only one hour of instruction (once you factor in lunch and practicing on each other). After I had finished taking the Makeup Artistry Course, Sue Bryce launched her Hair and Makeup Course, where, for about 5% of the cost, I was able to learn about 200% more. Youtube is also chuck full of free education for aspiring makeup artists. 

I also learned that 20-30 images was far too many to promise for free. Most models would be game to work for 10-15 images, and with this kind of volume, editing 30 images per shoot was wretched. Looking back, if I had to do this over again, I would promise to show 20-30 unedited photos, and to provide 10 of their choice, fully-edited, for free. Then if they wanted to buy any extras, I would be happy to include (and edit) them for $10 each. (No unedited photos would be provided.) This way, I would still be learning how to shoot for 20-30 great shots, get some practice with showing and selling, hear some legitimate feedback about which images actually sell, all while still providing a fair trade. 

My final lesson was that daily photoshoots are exhausting. I'd suggest to space your shoots to every other day, instead of back-to-back. That way, you can fully edit your last shoot before the next one takes place. The main benefit to this (besides staying caught up) is that you'll be able to critique your shoot, make note of problems and mistakes you made, research what to do differently to fix them next time, and make an actionable plan/goal list for your next shoot. (Example: "Damn. Her hand is a claw in every single shot when she was in that position. I can't believe I didn't see it in person. Note to self: Look at hands tomorrow.")

To answer the question of why I did all these shoots for free: I considered this boot camp to be my photography education. I was brand new as a photographer, and so had to learn everything - lighting, posing, composition, makeup, hair styling, which clothes suit which poses, which poses suit which people, and how to cull and edit photos. I did not ask for any compensation from the models, because I had absolutely no photography experience and felt uncomfortable with representing myself as a professional. I was still a student, I made a lot of mistakes, and they were helping me out.

For seasoned photographers who are transitioning into the glamour genre, and have less to learn about lighting and composition, and more to learn about posing and pricing; promising to do 30 TFCD photoshoots for free is over-kill. You're already a professional, and your work is already sell-able. A more reasonable way to learn the new components of glamour specifically, would be to set your prices and implement a voucher system.

I'll share my own experience with a voucher system in my next post. This was for my second round of portfolio building, when I was able to produce my strongest work, and create the images you see on the website today. Included will be how I became comfortable with my pricing, how I presented myself to the models and clients, and the formula I used to consistently improve with each shoot.