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People ask me how and why I decided to become a photographer, and honestly, this question is really hard to answer.

Photography wasn’t something I decided one day to just try out and then boom, I wanted to be a photographer.

Ever since I was little, I loved looking at photos. I was so enthralled with my mom’s old Canon film camera.

We always had some kind of point and shoot camera, and one year for Christmas, I got a Nikon PowerShot – my very own camera!

For much of my life, photography was a passion, a hobby. I never wondered where this passion came from because it was always there.

But I didn’t think it was something I could make money at.

And when I finally admitted to myself that I really wanted to make photography my career, I already had a master’s degree, I was already a couple years into the start of a “successful” office career, and I had no idea what I wanted to do or even how to get started.

I did know what I didn’t want to focus on, though.

I didn’t want to shoot weddings.

I didn’t want to photograph families.

I didn’t want to do standard headshots or ultra-serious studio work.

I just wanted to capture people being their authentic, amazing selves.

Was that even a thing?

So, the very first thing I did was…

#1. Create and execute a passion project

I had an idea of the kind of work I wanted to do, but I didn’t even know if it was possible. And if it was, how would I even structure a shoot to get the kind of shots I wanted?

I called my project, “Women in Toronto.”

I wanted to document women just being themselves, without stressing about getting the perfect hair and makeup, and with minimal posing.

I posted in a couple Facebook groups asking for volunteers. I pitched my idea and said, “I’ll basically follow you around and photograph you doing things you would normally do anyway.”

I wanted it to be as authentic as possible.

I had SOOO many people volunteer. And it wasn’t just because it was free photos for them – the purpose and intent behind my project resonated with so many women.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but this project was my first dive into what is now called “personal brand photography.”

Taking an idea of what I think I might like, then actually bringing into life, confirmed for me that this was the type of work I wanted to do.

Here’s How a Passion Project Can Help You Get Started in Photography:

  • You gain clarity on what you actually enjoy and want to shoot
  • You get really familiar with the structure of a photo shoot
  • You have an opportunity to refine your whole process and decide what works for you
  • You make new connections and friends
  • You end up with a whole portfolio of fresh photos

How to Start Your Own Portfolio-Building Passion Project:

  • Think about what specifically you’re interested in capturing
    • Is this something that people already pay for? If no, then…
    • How would you describe your vision in 1-2 sentences?
  • Outline what you might need to make this vision come to life
    • A particular lighting setup?
    • A specific location or scenery?
    • Hair, makeup, wardrobe?
    • Special effects?
  • Figure out your costs
    • Can you fund this yourself?
    • Do you want to partner with other service providers and split the cost? (A la styled shoot)
    • Do you want to ask for a fee from your participants?
  • Pick a date or range of dates to shoot
    • Think about the weather, how much time you need to prepare, location access/availability, etc.
  • Post in local, online Facebook groups (or other forums)
    • Pitch your project (the 1-2 sentence summary from above), the dates, what’s involved, and ask for participants!
    • Make sure they sign a model release
    • Use a spreadsheet to keep track of contacts and relevant details
    • Make sure you have an easy, stress-free way to share photos (I used Google Drive for my project)

Things to Consider:

  • My passion project was very low-cost for me, but depending on your vision, you may need to plan for expenses or ask for a small participation fee from your “volunteers.”
  • Many people will say to NEVER work for free, and I don’t care how controversial it is, I am not one of those people. HOWEVER, working for free does not mean you work for 0 value. Every time I provided “free photos” to someone, there has been a value exchange. For my passion project, this meant I had complete creative control. Of course my project was about capturing women being their authentic selves (so their input mattered quite a bit), but if something clearly didn’t fit with my vision (i.e. someone really just wanted a free portrait session), I didn’t accept them into my project. They were all agreeing to participate in my project based on the specific parameters I outlined.
  • After photo delivery, ask your project participants for testimonials so you can kick off your career with social proof in hand!

#2. Make an introductory offer

Now you feel like you’re ready to really start working. You have a portfolio, you have some glowing testimonials, and you want to actually earn money from personal brand photography – and maybe make it your career!

When I was finally ready to make that leap myself, I made $1,500 in personal brand photography before I was known by anyone as a “personal brand photographer.” You can do it too! You don’t need a huge following or an expensive website. I had a tiny audience and I had a website that was pretty much only visited by my family and friends.

I made money because I (a) Declared my intention (AKA shared with friends and family what I wanted to do and took action toward it), and (b) I asked for it (you don’t get what you don’t ask for!).

Why an Intro Offer Helps:

  • If you’re brand new to photography, asking for and receiving money goes a LONG way for your entrepreneurial and money mindset.
  • It’s a great way for you to test the waters and see if this is the niche for you.
  • If you’re already a photographer and switching to or adding personal brand photography to your services, this is a great way for people to work with you at intro prices and get to know you as a (brand) photographer (it’s a test run for them too).
  • You can also test your whole process and approach to brand photography without the pressure of needing to delivery at a higher price point (plus your new clients know this is what you’re doing with your intro offer, so they’re more forgiving and open to helping you learn).

Here’s How to Get Your First Paying Clients in Personal Brand Photography:

  • Make a post on your PERSONAL Facebook page (and whatever other social media accounts you have – I think I also posted on Instagram).
    • Say that you’re getting into personal brand photography and offering heavily discounted portfolio building sessions, after which, the price will go up.
    • Only offer a few of these – I offered 3 (if you offer too many at this low price, you’ll feel burnt out, undervalue your work, and people will associate your work with this low price – this offer is JUST to build your portfolio).
    • Have super clear parameters for the shoot, i.e. how long it is, how many photos they get, etc. You want to make sure that when you present your full-priced package, you didn’t just massively undervalue it by providing more/the same value in your intro offer.

Things to Consider:

  • You need to be able to accept payment from people – this could be e-transfer, PayPal, Stripe, etc., but make sure you know what you’ll use and you’re familiar with the process.
    • Make sure you collect payment upfront!
  • A contract and model release! This should go without saying, but of course I couldn’t leave it out. Make sure you know what you’ll do in terms of refunds, cancellations, and rescheduling, and include language about these in your contract.
  • An easy way to deliver photos (I used Google Drive at first, and then switched to ShootProof, which is what I use today – I especially love that I can upload directly from Lightroom, which saves me multiple steps and loads of time).
  • Don’t forget to ask for feedback and testimonials!