As photographers, we’re constantly re-crafting our portfolios, building new work, and (hopefully) growing as artists. Along the way, many of us will face challenges, get burnt out on locations, and ultimately feel in a rut. Through time and education, we invest so much into our portfolios, however the best advice I can give is to invest financially too.
A few years ago, I was living in Michigan, photographing various models and subjects as often as I could. I had been doing that for a few years and honestly, I was getting incredible bored with it. Lake Michigan is gorgeous, the models were exciting, but the days felt all the same to me. Rather than being discouraged with my work, and describe my career as in a rut, I decided to invest more into my portfolio, but this time…I decided to invest financially.
I moved to New Mexico. I didn't move there because of anyone, or anything in particular. I moved there because it was something I was in no way familiar with. Certainly, I have spoke of this before, but perhaps not in this light. When I moved here, I found a plethora of new faces, of new scenes, of mountains (finally), and a new rush of work. My portfolio and general body of work improved 10 fold in the course of 12 months. Not because I learned some new technique for skin retouching, or learned how to properly add contrast to my images - but because I had an entirely new body of diversified work. People from Michigan looked through my portfolio and wondered where I found vast open spaces of desert, with plateaus sitting comfortably in the background. People from New Mexico wondered where I found gorgeous and green fields, lakes, and deep forests.
Certainly I’m not suggesting you move to find a new outlook - that is only for the extreme cases. However, too often we look at amazing and interesting subject and locations, hundreds of miles away and think “Man, I’d love to shoot there someday”. Well I’m here to ask you, what’s stopping you?
A month or so ago, I decided that I missed beaches in my portfolio, and decided I wanted to travel to Los Angeles to set up a couple photo sessions with the local models of Los Angeles. Not only is Los Angeles the home of some gorgeous locations, but its where some of the top talent for models and actors in the world also reside. I contacted local talent there, and agreed to test shoots, where no one would have any financial gain from the shoot, and then I booked a flight to L.A. My inspiration for this was nothing more than just knowing of an amazing beach in Malibu that I've seen photographer friends take advantage of, that I've always had an interest in shooting at.
For about $300, I was able to get to and from L.A., and by staying with a fellow photographer friend, I was able to make the entire trip fall under $500 in total expenses. In those three and a half days, I was able to shoot on the beach with talent I wouldn't be able to work with in Albuquerque, putting three or four solid new photos into my portfolio, only to help my business grow - as now my portfolio is different from everyone else in my main market.
And $500 is a small chunk of change to be able to diversify your portfolio with oceans, and deserts side by side. For very little money, I'm able to make my portfolio look radically different than everyone else in my market, and able to attract more business because of that. Before having this new train of thought, I'd spend $900 on a lens that wasn't going to drastically improve my work. I'd invest in getting a new brand of strobes, because they were built better. I was convinced that in order to make my work and portfolio better, I needed gear, not vacations. I couldn't have been further from the truth.
What I'm preaching here is that in order to find success, you need to financially invest into your portfolio. Too often, we decide that we either need to be getting paid for our sessions, or that we need to have a good piece of inspiration to work for trade. But rarely do we take the time to invest in ourselves and the work we create. By bank rolling your own shoots, you're able to remove any limitations you may have otherwise. Want to shoot at that ridiculous bridge in the Pacific Northwest? You can for just a few hundred dollars. Is there a model in Miami that you've been wanted to collaborate with for years now? Why haven't you?