People photography can be a tough gig sometimes, especially when you’re just starting out or when you are trying to elevate your work by collaborating with an entire crew. When you start adding up the costs of things like location fees, crew fees, talent fees etc.. It’s hard to image how these shoots happen outside of being financed by a high paying client. In this article I’ll recommend a few ways that you can build your portfolio and experience without breaking the bank.

Eric Valind: Photography on a Budget

Everything from here on out is going to be about trade. Think “You scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” kind of mentality. This is where the word collaboration really comes to life. Fortunately you – the photographer – aren’t the only one that needs pretty pictures in your portfolio to get hired for the next job. Models, Makeup Artists (MUAs), and Stylists all need to keep creating a fresh body of work to share with potential clients. So why not find people on your level and work together to produce it!? Lets take a look at the different members of the team you’d possibly like to assemble for your next shoot.

  • Model
  • MUA (Makeup Artist)
  • Assistant


We’re going to start with the models, because without a person in front of the lens, we don’t have much to go on for a portrait, fashion, or lifestyle shoot. Professional models aren’t hard to find if you live near a major city. Modeling agencies will have a database on hand of models in every shape and size you could ever want, usually searchable right from their website. Unfortunately with a service like this, and top-notch talent, you will have to pay a premium… modeling agencies aren’t cheap. Fortunately there are plenty of models out there that aren’t signed yet, are only modeling part time, or are just starting out like you may be. There are even a number of websites designed to put you in touch.

These two sites seem to be among the most popular, and cater to a variety of creative types. They require that you to setup a profile, with username and password. As a photographer, you then upload a 20-30 image portfolio, state where you are based, and what kind of photography you do. Now you are all set to interact with other photographers and models on the site to coordinate future shoots. You can even use a more defined search to locate a specific type of model in your area to collaborate with. Best if all its free. When you’re just starting out you need to build up experience behind the lens – and in front of the lens as a model. These sites are a great way to build that without having to pay for it. There is a trade though remember? As you wade in, you will see the acronym TFP a lot. TFP stands for “Time For Print”, which means no money is changing hands but the model and photographer have agreed to work together to create mutually beneficial images or prints. TFCD (Time For CD) is the same thing, but referring to digital image files on a disc. This means that after the shoot you can’t get lazy, you’ve got to edit some of those images you just created and get them over to the model ASAP. It’s usually a good idea to discuss how many images, and a time frame for delivery, before the shoot so that everyone’s on the same page.

Makeup Artist

Now that you’ve got a model you might want a makeup artist to really bring out the best in her. You’ll be happy to know that the websites we just mentioned play host to MUAs as well. It doesn’t end there either, keep browsing around and you’ll find hairstylists, wardrobe stylists, and basically anyone you would ever want to have on set with you for a big photoshoot. Outside of searching the web, you’re probably surrounded by talented MUAs right at home in your own zip code. You’ll want to find people who are also building their portfolios, and one of the best places to look is the beauty schools. Students are graduating all the time and will need to build experience working outside of the guidance of their instructors, and will also need photographs showcasing the skills they’ve just learned. It’s a perfect opportunity to work together on a concept that’ll help you both grow.


Finally we have the assistants. If you’re just starting out you won’t need a sage-like assistant who can setup different lighting rations in the dark, but rather you might only need a VAL… or Voice Activated Lightstand – no experience necessary. Just having an extra set of hands on set can be invaluable. Having someone to help carry the gear to and from the car to the location, or someone to hold onto a lightstand so the wind doesn’t catch that big umbrella of yours and knock it right over. Attitude over all else is what matters here. Finding someone who is excited to learn and be involved in the image making process is key. For this reason students make great first time assistants. Photography students usually have basic photo knowledge from their current course load, but more than anything they are passionate about being photographers and in dire need of real world experience. Look into your local community college to see if they have a photography program. The professors usually have a short list of students that have expressed interest in assisting and whom they feel would be a good fit.

In all of these instances there is a trade, usually not in the form of money, but in people’s talent and time. So make sure that every member of team is able to creatively contribute and you will be producing images on a level you didn’t have access to before!

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