You may have the eye, the talent, and all of the other necessary hard skills to make it in the commercial world. The only thing you lack is a portfolio relevant to the stuff you want to get paid to shoot. It’s a classic chicken and egg problem.
Creating your portfolio is easy. Assuming you have everything else up to par, it’s as simple as three steps: Concept, Connect, Create. This is something I recently did to expand my Asia portfolio while traveling through Hong Kong and Taiwan. I assembled a team like for any other shoot, albeit a limited team because it was a test shoot.
The first step in the process is a test of your creative vision. This is the absolute first thing you must have before proceeding. There are only two tools you need here: Google Image Search, and a blank document. You’re going to create a mood board.
Come up with a few keywords to describe your shoot, then search. For example, my search for this search was “Hong Kong/Taiwan Street Fashion Shoot”. Because I wanted to shoot on the street, have it be focused on fashion, and have be in Asia. This was my start, and I worked from there.
Finally, pick the images that really inspire you, or just simply align with your vision, and throw them in a document in no specific order.
Being able to assemble a basic team is what will set you apart from the rest of the photography world. A basic team costs of a Model, Hair and Makeup, and a Stylist. Often times, the same person can do multiple things. The size of your team does not matter, as long as you can effectively manage them.
There are two resources to accomplish this. Facebook and Model Mayhem. I understand that there is a stigma which surrounds Model Mayhem, but you’ll have to swallow whatever is stopping you, and just do it. Remember, the singular purpose of using these resources is to create enough content to no longer need to use them.
I won’t instruct you on how to use Model Mayhem, but it’s just another social network site to help you find talent and a team. To start, you’ll want some images of people in your profile.
As for Facebook, you are looking for Time for Print (TFP) groups in your city. They are everywhere, just search for “city name TFP group” into Facebook’s graph search, and you’ll find it.
The key to connecting with others is effective messaging. This is where your mood board and writing skills will come in handy, as you want to be as professional as possible.
Here is an example of ineffective messaging:
Yo, I checked out your profile and want to shoot you next week, are you down?
I will guarantee you are not going to get a reply to that message. Instead, be as professional as possible, and try this:
Hi [Model Name],
I came across your profile through a quick search, and wanted to reach out. I’m working on a [name of your concept] concept and thought you would be a great fit for it.
You can check it out at [link to your concept]. I’m planning to shoot in the next couple weekends. If you’re available and interested, let me know!
You’re going to repeat this until you have a confirmed model, makeup artist, and any other relevant talent you’ll need. You’re also going to repeat this until you have backups, because people will flake.
Assuming you have done everything, you’re going to want to meet your team and have a production meeting. This is where you inspire everyone about your creative vision, and get to know everyone on a personal level.
On the day of the shoot, be prepared for the worst, you’re going to have flakes, and the weather won’t always be your friend, but you’ll have to deliver images to make it worthwhile. If you are not comfortable in these situations, then you need to go back and become one with your gear some more.
But, granted everything goes well, you can create some amazing imagery, at no cost to you, or anyone. Here’s a few from my Hong Kong shoot:
Getting to your first paid commercial gig not only requires a relevant portfolio, but soft skills as well. These are the professional networking, the writing, and the people-pleasing skills that set you apart from the hobbyist. You’ll need these skills everywhere, from gathering a team for your very first test shoot, to working with creative directors on a concept.
I’ve also been lucky enough to have a mentor along the way, guiding me through this crowded and often hazy industry. Having a mentor is like the Dehaze slider in Lightroom. Without one, you’re working in six to eight different ways (sliders).