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Portfolio Building Plan

Lesson 31 from: Integrating Animal Photography into your Business

Norah Levine

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Lesson Info

31. Portfolio Building Plan

Lesson Info

Portfolio Building Plan

Building your portfolio. Pet photography, you need a portfolio, so doesn't matter how much you've figured out your marketing and your sales and your price for your prints, you've gotta have a portfolio. So, share your work with people and get feedback as much as possible. And share the work that you want to get, so as you start to develop a portfolio, put work out there on your website and your social media and things that you really want more of, because that's how you're gonna get it back. You're gonna start to attract that type of work. So think about what's drawing you in, what type of work is speaking to you, and hopefully animals can play a role into that. After today, my hope is that you can incorporate them in some way into your work. So, what can you do today? Make a list, I'm a big list person. You can make a list or two of at least 10 potential subjects. This can be your friends, your own pets, your family, your neighbors, make that list of some subjects and give yourself th...

is assignment. Make a list of animal organizations in your area and narrow them down to three organizations that you're interested in connecting with. Practice on your own pets. Most of you have pets, I think all of you do, so they're there, they're willing and available models. Working with pets with your own pets is definitely different than going into a home and dealing with that different pressure or even going into a shelter, for example, but it's a great way to hash your ideas out and get some-- make mistakes without pressure, you know? They will love you no matter what and you don't have a time constraint, so they're there for you, and I would suggest using them and getting creative with that. It's very low pressure, and there's lots of opportunity there to experiment and get comfortable with the technical side and maybe posing side, so you're kinda building your own bag of tricks there. What can you do this week? Schedule a photo session from that list this week. Schedule something as soon as possible. Don't wait 'til you feel ready, you know? I feel like that's held me back on some things in my life, it's like, "But I'm not ready." And really what that is about is fear, it's about taking that next step because you are going to come up with, "I don't have this, well, "I don't have this full-frame camera. "I don't have this lens." You know? It's like, that's an excuse for yourself, so you're never gonna be ready and you're only gonna be ready once you start doing it, right? So get started. Schedule your session, get something on the calendar. Visit an animal shelter if you feel inclined. That's something you could do this week to get involved with your community, get started volunteering. And doesn't mean you need to volunteer every day, every week, every month, but see what you can do for yourself within your means with what feels right and good for you, and get started with that, get started with that process. And the week after that, you can schedule another photo session, and again, don't wait 'til you're ready, schedule another session. You are going to learn by doing. You could take class after class after class and it's all great, but the next step is to do it and go through it, and hopefully what I've done for you is given you a lot of ideas, tips and tricks, and ways of thinking about things that will set you up for success faster, but you also have to align that with your end. You have to show up to that and do your work as well. Don't be afraid to explore, play with action, play with movement, I want you to play with your creative compositions and your style. Try not to pigeonhole yourself too soon with your work. Give yourself the opportunity to play with it and decide how pets can play a role in your work, what your style is, don't try to commit yourself too early, too fast, because I think that's limiting, so really explore and really be free with it. Be curious. So I talked about this a little bit earlier with the project-- These are my curious guys. So I talked about this a little bit earlier with regard to starting projects, it's enough to be curious about something. I love Elizabeth Gilbert's book Big Magic, it's like, follow stuff that you're curious about. You don't have to have a hard-core passion about one project, it's like, just enough. Because once you start that, you might find that something else comes from it that you couldn't have figured out if you hadn't started down that path. So follow those breadcrumbs down the path of curiosity. The next step after you've started to develop your portfolio, you've started to get some images together, you've had some people look at your work and get some feedback on your work, is to start marketing. We need to constantly reevaluate what we're doing, what's working, what's not working, but keep it simple. Don't get overwhelmed. There's so many things, especially now, there's so many platforms and options for marketing your work, find one or two platforms right now that work for you. So maybe that's Facebook, maybe that's Instagram, maybe that's email marketing, maybe it's your blog, try something for a period of time, whatever you decide that is, and see how it works. And maybe add to it later and you'll build kind of a collection of marketing tools, but don't try to do everything at once. So, I've done a lot of things over the years. And some of it worked and some of it didn't, and I tried to say yes to the things that worked and pass on the things that don't. So what might work in one city for marketing might not work in another, so you've gotta kind of find your way wherever you are. Having a presence in a lot of areas is really helpful in terms of marketing, so that's something that you can generate over time. Social media, I talked about just starting with one platform, just pick one. I do everything. I'm not such a great blogger, I try-- You know, we're only one person in the beginning, maybe you get employees and that's great. For me, I pick a couple things that work and what resonates and I go from there. Consider your budget, you know? What can you spend money on, and maybe you have a bigger budget and you can hire people to help you and kind of streamline the process, which would be great. There's e-blasts that you can send out, start collecting a mailing list for targeted clients that are interested in potentially working with you, so I've talked to some people, you can do some portfolio building and kind of marketing combo where you're building your portfolio as a promotion. Maybe you charge a little bit of money as just a promotional thing as you're starting out to build your collection. Even if you're already a photographer that does other types of work but you wanna introduce pets into your work and you're not feeling like you have the confidence to do that and flow it into your regular process, maybe you say, "For this month only I'm gonna build "my portfolio of dog and cat pictures "and so I'm promoting that, and at this rate, "you can get to be in my portfolio." So there's ways to involve your social media and try to do as many things that will give you the most bang for your buck, so to speak, as you can. So is there some action that you can take that has a bigger reach? So I'm always thinking about that. Is this action going to kind of, not just reach a lot of people, but could it serve multiple purposes? So think about things along those lines. Business relationships. I'm a huge supporter of business relationships and very appreciative of how my relationships with animal-related business have-- how that's helped me in my work and my career. So talk to other pet-friendly business owners and get a sense of the market in your area. So if you're just starting out with the pet photography, you can talk to them about their clientele, what's their experience? Find out what their price points are, are they expensive? Do they find that price is an issue for lots of their clients? And just get a sense of what their experience in that target-- They're in the pet field as well, not in the same industry, I mean, in the same focus as that industry, but they have some feedback to share. So build relationships with those business owners and refer business to them. Maybe offer to photograph their pets and their family so they can start to know you, get to know your work. You can establish a relationship. You might share an event, so there might be an opportunity to collaborate on an event together, so if you don't have a studio space and you wanna hold an event, you might be able to have some sessions at a dog daycare, for example. So I showed you, I don't know if I showed you images from, but we've done the doggie daycare calender. I had people come to me, and with every person they were coming to me, that's a targeted potential client who spends money to take their dog to doggie daycare, I give them my card, I treat them really well, give them nice service and a good product, and that's a targeted reach, a target market for me. So try to collaborate with some businesses, think about what shared events you can possibly do. Keep your business cards, put flyers out at these businesses, and maybe some display work. So they have walls that-- Their clients are shopping and they have walls that potentially need to have images on there. So keep that in mind and maybe offer to do that as a trade for them referring your work, so... There's lots of, you know, dog walkers, pet trainers, pet sitters, all those people are resources for you, who already have, especially the established ones, already have a reach to your potential client base. I mentioned this before too, is work with a consultant if you have the means to and if you have the opportunity. I really feel like seeking out professionals that already are doing the work and already have experience behind them is a way for me to jumpstart into the next level without having to learn everything they learned. These types-- CreativeLive is an amazing tool for that and take advantage of it. So I love talking to people and helping them with their career and as they're starting out and I have also gotten the ability to be that person because I have learned from other people. So it's trickled down. Strongly encourage you to continue to volunteer and collaborate with animal organizations, with animal welfare groups, and not all your work has to be free and donated, although I feel like that's an important part if you're able to do that. But sometimes you can see if there's a budget for projects. They sometimes have budgets for projects, and if you can approach it in a way that is honest and you can share with them your intentions behind what you're able to give and donate and maybe sometimes you need to have some kind of compensation for it as well, it's sometimes a possibility. So consider that and continue to build those relationships. In terms of marketing, word of mouth for me is a huge way. And unfortunately it's like the slowest way to get business. It takes time for people to kind of make decisions and talk to each other, but you need to-- For me, encouraging my clients to tell their friends about me, and not in a pushy way, but it's like, "Hey, if you really liked my work, "I meet a lot of my clients from referrals, "so if you're happy with what we did, "I'd love for you to tell your friends about me." It puts the idea in their head to do that, 'cause not everybody's thinking like that, they're kind of on their own pace, so encourage people to share the word and get testimonials and ask for the referrals, you know? Ask for testimonials that you can put on your website or online, there's things on Google that people can post testimonials and other types of platforms like Yelp and things like that can be really helpful. One question that had come in when you were talking about making that list and reaching out to, whether it's friends or organizations, if people are reaching out to organizations and not getting calls back, because I know everybody's busy, especially when it's maybe a volunteer place or what have you, how do you keep up that motivation, especially if you're still working a day job, or what are some other strategies to get in touch with organizations to offer your help? Yeah, I mean I've heard this can be an issue and I've experienced it on some level as well, so try to be patient, understand that animal welfare organizations are running on all cylinders and they just... They will get back to you in most cases. And if they're not, you know, it might not be in alignment, so try not to force it if it doesn't feel like it's gonna be the right fit. It may not be, but try to be patient and understand that it's not about you, you know, I know you might feel really ready to get started and really excited and you don't get as much response right away, and that can probably be frustrating or disheartening, but they are very busy, so just try to be persistent with them and follow up, give it some time and follow up and maybe schedule a meeting for a chit-chat or drop a portfolio off, a little booklet or maybe send a PDF of your images, or some way to share your work so they can start to see what you might have to offer and you might have to-- If you're trying to work on maybe campaigns, for example, that's gonna be a little bit more involved, so you might have to kinda pitch ideas and throw creative ideas out to them and have them respond in that way, but try to be patient about it. Do we have any other final questions? Okay, couple of little questions then about your project, in particular, if people are wanting to do projects like life finds, for a project like this, is there any kind of special model release required? What do you do for those types of projects where you don't know what the end use might be? Sure, so I did have model releases signed from all of the people and property releases for the animals, and it was basically in conjunction with the project, and my model releases and property releases said that. It was basically, anytime I want to use the images in association with this project with this intention, that that would be permitted. I'm not selling these images on stock, that kind of example. I have to have integrity with how I do the project and they had to trust me with how I was gonna present the images and so, so yeah. But having releases is very important. So, we talked about social media and somebody had-- Renee had asked, "Do you ever ask your clients "for a testimonial or some kind of review "that you share on your website "or your social media account?" Is that another way to get word of mouth, per se? Yeah, I think testimonials are great. I think it's good to get them really quickly after the session experience, after you've delivered the final product so it's kind of fresh in their mind. Sometimes the clients will send me emails in response to the image gallery that I post and I will ask them if they're okay with me using that as a testimonial, because that's not a requested testimonial, it's a very authentic response to seeing the images, so I will collect those as much as possible and then put them on my website and yeah. I think it's helpful for other people to see how your images and the experience have impacted them. I remembered what I was gonna mention. It was something I was thinking about yesterday, and it's something in line with the rescue work, because yes, that is something I do a lot of, and... I run into the problem of not being able to say no, and that is a huge problem of mine. I really only do business stuff sort of part-time, but the rescue stuff takes up a lot of my time, and then I have a hard time balancing, you know? Because the rescue stuff has a different kind of time limit, or a time constraints on it because it's stuff needing to get out there really fast, so I don't know, can you speak to that and the balancing that? 'Cause it's really hard, that has always been really difficult for me. Yeah, it's a great question, thank you for asking it. So, how do you say no, you know? There has to be a boundary, right? And I think-- you will never be able to fix everything, solve the world's problems. There has to be, at some level, the ability for you to sustain whatever it is you do, and that's hard, I'm not saying it's easy. What I have to do is think about going back to those priorities and what's important to me and figuring out how I can stay true to those priorities while at the same time, for example, with the business, if creating a business is important to you, treating it as a separate entity and saying, "What can my business support?" And really being real about what you're able to do before somebody's calling you or emailing you asking you for something and really being honest with yourself about what it is you feel is doable for you in order to sustain your business or maybe other parts of your life. Do you have other interests in your life, or do you have relationships you're trying to sustain? So, evaluating it when you're not in the moment I think is important to do, and then doing what you can and then saying no and maybe offering referral to somebody else where somebody else can kind of take over, but you're not gonna be able to please everybody all the time, and you're not gonna be able to do everything, and for me it's just not sustainable. And I do understand that it's hard to say no, 'cause I've had to say no to things, but if I don't say no to stuff, I'm not gonna be able to move forward with the things that are yeses, that are bigger-picture projects, or-- I haven't done a lot of work with animal shelters in the last couple of years, I've not photographed a lot of animals that are up for adoption because I've been doing these bigger-picture projects. And it's not one's better or worse, it's just what I've been interested in lately, so I had to say no to working in one avenue so I could say yes to something else. So it's just a choice there, but I mean, I think it's awesome that you're volunteering, but yeah. Saying no, it's part of everything. The same with, are your friends gonna ask you to take pictures of them all the time and now that you're the person that goes and takes pictures for free, it's like, at some point, hey. Just because we like what we do and we love what we do doesn't mean it's not a business, doesn't mean we don't need to make money or that our time isn't valuable. So it's not just about the money, it's about your time, right? So, I think that's an important consideration. Yeah, that was kind of another thing I was gonna bring up too, is kind of speaking to some of the other things that I'd heard from other people as well, it's that whole knowing that people will do things for their friends and that you're this person who will do this and that, and I think it's also an innate thing with people who do this kind of work that it's not always rewarded in the same way as other work as well, so... Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, it can be hard, but I think that setting boundaries is a practice all of use can continue to learn, but there's nothing wrong with saying no when you need to, so yeah, Kenna? Alright, well I have some great final questions coming in for you, and one is about community. So I know that there are so many people out there who are interested in doing this type of work, are you involved in any communities of people or do you have any suggestions for where people can find others who are, so that they can continue to get ideas or reference or network with people doing the same type of work? In terms of photography? Pet photography. And pet photography Pet photography, yeah. specifically? I mean, you're welcome to stay connected with me and there's lots of pet-- I mean, there's a lot of pet photographers and pet enthusiasts out there that are interested in getting out there, so I'm sure there are lots of forums out there. It's something I don't directly participate in at the moment, but yeah. I think there's lots of ways-- Connect with people whose work you appreciate and get feedback from them and collaborate with them and comment on what their image-- Stay connected with them about their images and their work and start to build your community that way. Awesome, thank you. Sure. So, what's on the horizon for you? What inspires you now? I mean, you've been doing this such amazing work, now teaching us, writing books, are there any more projects on the horizon for you? What inspires you now? Yeah, so I like having kind of a what's next, so the book was a huge project, a huge undertaking, and kind of connecting with people about that will be kind of a next step for me on a marketing level, and hopefully staying connected with lots of folks as a result of this class, I'm really excited about that. And in terms of projects, I've got-- So the animal welfare group Emancipet, that has been merged with the other, the Animal Trustees of Austin, I'm working on developing a project for them that's kind of similar to the life lines project in capturing connections between people and their animals, and I'm hoping to start to be able to do some shoots for that and really, maybe even do some audio, 'cause that's something that I'd love to learn more about and kind of expand creatively with. So that's kind of on the horizon over the next, probably photoshoots and I'm hoping in Philadelphia and in Houston, so it's like, if I can get started with that I think it's gonna be really inspiring and exciting.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Norah Levine Book Coupon Code
Norah Levine Resource Guide
Pet Packing List
Pre Shoot Questionnaire

Ratings and Reviews


Norah is really great and I learned a lot watching her. Even non-pet related things, like how she's continually trying to better herself were really inspiring to me. Since watching this, I've learned to take every shoot as a learning opportunity by evaluating what went right and what didn't, and thinking of what I can do next time to do better. I liked the way she showed interacting with animals in a way that doesn't stress them (well, depending on the animal there may be some level of stress anyway I guess...) too. Great class.

Chelsea Beauchamp

So inspiring! Great information on both family pet photography as a craft as well as the business side. Norah obviously knows what she's doing and has tons of experience, so it's a good chance to hear/see what it's really like to take this on as a specialty whether it's the focus of your work or one of many parts of your work. She focuses not just on the mechanics, but on the personal side of working with people and animals. You can tell she's passionate about what she does, too. It's only been one day of class and I already feel totally inspired!

Student Work