How to Build a Portfolio | Ask Katharine

It's a common thing for photographers to wonder, and I've definitely been there at one point or another over the years - how do you build a photography portfolio? No matter what, if you're starting out you're going to feel awkward. It's just a fact. I felt awkward giving directions and asking for what I wanted out of my models until very recently, and I still have a long way to go, but hey, there's no shame in that! Everyone starts somewhere and there's always room to learn and grow as artists. With that in mind, the best thing you can do to grow your photography portfolio is...

Ask Your Friends to Model

This is absolutely, positively, without a doubt the best place for photographers trying to grow their portfolio to start. Your friends already like and feel comfortable with you, and you already feel comfortable with them! Imagine how much easier it will be to have feel no pressure from working with a model you don't know and are only seeing for a few hours, as opposed to hanging out with your friend, setting up a shoot, and then hanging out at your house and editing the photos together afterwards? If you're just trying to build your portfolio then it's likely you don't have a whole lot of experience directing models or working with them at all, so why not make it easier on yourself and take the pressure off?

When I first started photographing I would use my friends as models because they were around, willing, and excited to create together. I also didn't feel silly giving them posing directions, asking them to wear strange outfits, or having them lay in the mud in the park because we were already close with each other. To be honest, when I would ask my friends to model I would spend the time leading up to the session feeling a little nervous, but once we were actually out in the woods together we would spend most of our time laughing and goofing around! If you find yourself feeling awkward like I warned you you might, stop think about it - who doesn't love getting their picture taken by their friend, let alone by their friend who's a photographer? 


Some of my favorite photographs of myself have been taken by my friends, and I know that my friends value in the photos I take of them in the same way I do. By taking pictures of your friends you'll grow your expertise in posing models with a gentle hand, you'll feel more comfortable setting up shoots and potentially working with models in the future, and best of all you'll be growing your portfolio all while having fun with some of your favorite people. What's not to like about that?

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Katharine Hannah

Katharine’s work has graced the walls of institutions such as The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Harold Washington Library of Chicago, and local galleries such as Dreambox Gallery, Siragus Gallery and Blick Art Materials. She has also been featured on websites such as the Huffington Post, Phlearn, Fstoppers, Tigress Magazine for Girls, Bitchtopia, and Golden Boy Press.

In addition to photography, Katharine has been a mentor and educator in the arts since 2013. She has worked with students in various organizations and projects over the last two years, including Hive Chicago’s PROjectUS initiative and Digital Youth Network’s Digital Diva’s and Chicago City of Learning programs.