When you pitch to potential clients the biggest asset you have is your body of work to date. And what a client wants to see is a thick, diverse and vibrant portfolio. But getting to that point is a classic chicken and egg situation – you can’t get new work as your portfolio isn’t big enough, but you can’t expand your portfolio without getting more work.

In this quick guide we’ll explain some simple ways to navigate this impasse and show you how to build a photo portfolio that’s true to your style but will impress your clients.

01 Offer to assist

This is probably the best way for any budding wedding photographer to quickly build a volume of work. Find an established wedding photographer in your area and offer to be his or her second shooter for a day.

Every professional has been in your shoes, and most will be happy to help you out provided you have the skills. And that you don’t steal their clients. But that’s just good manners.

When you offer to be the second shooter, though, it’s important to be realistic about what shots you might get. You want to be careful that you don’t get in the lead photographer’s way, and you must remember that the bride and groom will want to pose for the photographer they hired.

That said, there is plenty of opportunity to capture detail shots, guests on the dance floor and all sorts of great images.

It doesn’t have to be weddings, either. Family and lifestyle photographers are often in need of assistants, and they can also be quite good for helping you with other contacts.

02 Offering to shoot groups or organisations

Theatre grounds, up-and-coming bands, small business organisations – these are just some of the many groups out there that need help with their imagery but have no money to pay for it. Offer them an hour of your time, and this can be a great way to build a varied portfolio of work.

03 Be realistic about travel commissions

Most photographers fantasise about a rich client commissioning them for an all-expenses-paid journey to an exotic location, but in reality these gigs are few and far between.

Even many of the world’s top travel and documentary photographers fund their projects themselves. That said, there are ways to build a portfolio of this type of work on a budget.

Try contacting an NGO which is active abroad and offer to document its work on one of its projects. NGOs always need promotional material to assist with their fundraising and often are quite happy to trade some help with accommodation and food costs in exchange for images they can use to this end.

Likewise, you could also approach a tour company or hotel. They, too, might be willing to give you accommodation – or at least a discount – in exchange for images they can use in their marketing. Going to travel industry trade shows is a good way to network and make yourself known to these companies.

04 Shoot for free

Yes. I know. It violates all of our principles of not undervaluing ourselves. But it’s that chicken and egg scenario again. When you need to build a portfolio quickly in order to get the paid work, the quickest way to do that is to offer your services for free.

Maybe you can compromise and offer your unpaid work to family and friends. Every family would like a nice portrait of their kids, their pets.

05 Contact local press

If you’re looking to build a variety of documentary work, your local newspaper can be a great source. Local newspapers won’t have much budget to pay you well, but they will have no shortage of interesting stories you can cover.

Again: you shouldn’t expect to be paid much, but it will get you out there shooting and the work will be varied.

06 Join a club or aim for a distinction

The best way to get a bigger portfolio is to get out there taking more pictures, but if you need motivation – or deadlines – to do this try joining your local camera club.

Clubs often hold competitions, which will encourage you to get out there more (indeed, entering more camera competitions generally is good advice…).

Aiming for a widely recognised distinction, such as those organised by the Royal Photographic Society in the UK, will also help you concentrate on putting together a really good portfolio of work and hopefully give you some letters after your name.

07 Brush up on your writing skills

If you know enough about photography to be able to talk to other people about it, why not write about it too? Set up a blog, or even reach out to an established website – like Camera Jabber! – and offer to write for them.

Blogging is easier to break into than writing for a magazine, and the more you are published, the easier it is to attract new work.

Why your own images are all the inspiration you need