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Portraits Under Pressure

Lesson 12 of 28

Marketing: Websites and Portfolios

Victoria Will

Portraits Under Pressure

Victoria Will

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Lesson Info

12. Marketing: Websites and Portfolios
Victoria calls marketing the eye roll of the photography industry -- but it's an important part of working as a professional. Walk through online portfolio advice, marketing photo tips and more in this lesson.

Lesson Info

Marketing: Websites and Portfolios

Marketing. I said this earlier, and I'll say it again. It's the big eye roll of the industry. When somebody says you have to do your marketing, I just go, okay. Because I want to be shooting. I want to be creating, I want to be doing. I want to be doing photography. But this actually is photography. It's a big part of our business. Marketing is a lot like connecting in that way with your portrait subject. You have to reach people. You have to figure out how to get to them. The unfortunate news, well, before I say the unfortunate news, I'll say this. Now you have these skills, you're going to go home, you're going to make all of this beautiful work, right? So how are you going to get into the hands of the people that you want to hire you. The bad news is that I'm sure that the answer is you're probably going go put it up on your website. Nobody is looking at your website. That's the very, very sad reality, but it's true. No one is looking at mine, nobody's looking at yours, unless we as...

k somebody to go to it. There's just too many websites out there. There are too many photographers. There's editors, art buyers, creative directors. They do not have time to just start searching the web and looking for things. You have to give them a reason to be drawn into your website. So, one of the things I want to talk about today is when you're ready and you have your website up, how are you going to get these people to get there. So, that's going to be when we're talking about promos and portfolios. We're talking about portfolios. What's the difference between a website and a portfolio? I don't think there's a difference any more. Times have changed. You used to make a printed book, and it would get called in by a magazine, or an art director, or art buyer, and you'd send it off. And then they would ship it back, and you'd get the job or you didn't get the job. Or they say, hey, sure, we'd love to meet with you, you want to come in? And you'd bring your book and you'd put your portfolio down. And that was it, that's how they saw portfolios. Nowadays there's this thing called the world wide web, and it's changed everything. It has definitely changed the way people are finding photographers. So your website needs to be your portfolio. It also needs to be a place, well, let me rephrase that. Your website needs to be your portfolio for sure. However, if you call Vanity Fair or The Gap, because you want to work with The Gap, or whoever, and you say, hey, my name's Victoria, I'd like to come by and bring in my book, show you my book and meet you. And they say great, and you get to go in. And you bring your laptop with your website, they're going to say, okay, I already saw this. This is available to me for free on the internet. So, you actually have to have a portfolio, something printed to show in the meeting. And I also think, it's very important, because this has happened to me, that you have some things that are in your portfolio that are not on your website, and vice versa. Because I have shown up to meetings, and spent a lot of time working on my book then handed them to the editor, and she said, good, I've seen all this. What else do you got? And I was like, okay, um, so I did this project. You know, you figure it out. But that was a really big learning moment for me. So printed portfolios, why do I emphasize printed portfolios. Because this thing, this website, or this printed book, this is all you have. This is your first impression to the world. When people go look at your website, they're going to make up their decision about you really quickly. It needs to be your voice. It needs to be an extension of you, and of your brand, of your art. I'm not sure there's really a difference between all of that. I'm very intertwined in who I am as a photographer. I don't just put the camera down and I go home, and I'm not a photographer anymore. It's all connected. I think it's important to put a lot of effort into this book. I would recommend not using an iPad, as well. Now, I'm one of these people that rants about the iPad, and I'm going to tell you why. It's my opinion, lots of people disagree with me. You put work on an iPad, it's a backlit retina display screen. I think everybody looks the same. Everybody looks great. Great work. The work doesn't necessarily stand out and shine. You look like the other person who came in with an iPad, and there's nothing necessarily distinguishing you. That's why I think it's important to sit down and make a book. Now, it doesn't have to be a physical book. It could be a box of prints. When we talk in our portfolio section tomorrow, I have my old book and some of my new books. And I'll go through them, and you can see how I've organized them and why, and why I went from a box of prints to a book. I think in a lot senses there's no wrong answer except to not try to make a printed book. iPads are expensive, first of all. So is making a book. So, if you're going to have to choose and you're going to invest in yourself, I say make something special. Make something that stands out when it's on the desk of an editor or an art buyer. Now when you make that book, don't just throw in things that you think everybody wants to see. You have to put in here the work you want to get hired to make, it's that simple. I shot events for a hundred years. It paid the bills, it was awesome. And I was able to take that, and then focus on the work that I wanted to do. There has never been, nor there ever will be, an event photo on my website anywhere, because that's not what I wanna do. If you want to do events, by all means, put up lots of events and show how well you do those events. I've had pretty strong opinions about portfolios. I don't know if you have any questions just off the bat as far as why I'm so adamant about the fact that I think you meed to make something. If it comes up, let me know. The other thing, going back to that bad news, the fact that nobody is looking at our website. I'm in the same boat as you guys. So how do we contact those people? You have to do it. You have to send out emails. You have to give people a reason to look at your website. The best plan in my approach is every couple months, you know I'll be making new work, and I put together an email. And I'm really guilty of this myself. I'm the fist person to say it's been a long time since I sent out a promo email. And it's been on my to do list. It's that thing on the to do list that just keeps getting pushed to the next day, next day, next day. So, you make work and you put it in an email, and you have to send it to people. There are lots of ways to do it. You could do the research. There's two ways. There's the targeted email where you find the people you really wanna work for. Let's say you want to shoot for J.Crew, and Brooks Brothers, and The Gap. Maybe that's your jam. Maybe you want to shoot for Vanity, Esquire, whatever. So, you find the editors, the creative directors, the decision makers at those magazines and you target your email to them. You put the work in that email that represents work that you think they would be interested in. But again, I'm not saying, put in work that looks like what they do, because they already have that work. It's your work that you think would be something fresh for them, something that is your point of view. So, that's the targeted way. And you do it every couple months. You don't want to be annoying, because we all get spam. You just have to acknowledge what's the right amount of time. Maybe it's every time you have new work, maybe that's every four months. I hope it's more than that. I hope that you use it as a motivation to create new work. Maybe it's every month. That's borderline a lot, to get an email from somebody every month. However, out of sight is out of mind. I really believe that. So you do have to keep in the conversation. Here's the thing about emails. You have the targeted and you have the other side. The other side, it's like spaghetti. You take spaghetti and you throw it at the wall. There are resources you can find that have tons of the information that you need. Places like Adbase and Agency Access. I'm sure that there's others. These are a paid service, and it's expensive, where you subscribe and you get into it, and you say I want all the email addresses of all of the photo editors of every magazine in the country. Bam! You get a list. Let's say it's 3,000 people, I have no idea. But then you take that list, you stick it in your email and then you send out the email, and you see what sticks. You see who opens it. You see who's interested. You see who responds. And the thing is let's say you send it to 3,000 people, you'll probably get two responses. That's just the way the world works. But that doesn't mean that people didn't open it, and it doesn't mean that they're not interested. It doesn't mean that they have put it in the trash, either. They could have opened the email, they could have bookmarked it. In fact, some of those paid services let you see who opened your email. There's also free services that allow you to do that. But they won't provide you with all the content, all the email addresses and things that you need. They also have mailing addresses, if you wanted to send a printed promo. Printed promos are something like this. It's essentially a leave-behind. These are some old ones. I just literally grabbed a pile of old ones so together we can see what's in here. Well, I've got a tin type one. It's just a card and it has my email address on the back. And I used it for thank you notes. So, after a meeting I would either leave it with them say, you know, here's a leave-behind. Obviously, all of my information is on my website. And I write a thank you note. Thank you notes are really important. I find. It's all about the dinner party experience. I send thank you notes after dinner parties, too. This is one from a story I did, a more lifestyle story. Again, it's the same thing for thank you notes here. What else do we have? This one is a postcard. On the front is two photos, my name. And on the back it has my information. We've got some more, here's some more lifestyle. So, the thing is about promos is that I tend to think that you want to go the more targeted route with these, because they're expensive. You should make the ones that fit. Let's say you want to do fashion, so you find all the fashion brands and you just send a promo to them. And if you wanna do more portraits, you find all the portrait magazines. The thing about portraits is that everybody needs portraits. You really can contact a whole lot of folks. You don't really know what people are looking for. That's why the spaghetti email situation is my approach, versus with these promos where I make it more targeted. I mean, I've tried to think of an example but advertising changes all the time, and you never really know. Sometimes a brand is doing something lifestyle, and the next thing you know they're doing still life. You never know. If you're a still life photographer, how do you know who's looking for one? Well, you don't. So, you just send it out to everybody. Let's say Levis decides they want to start doing still life, well, they have some bookmarked still life photographers that have sent them stuff before. Same thing with portraits, it's no different. You just never know. Absolut Vodka, for example, sometimes they shoot just the bottle on the table. Sometimes they do their weird, funky, you know, those iconic Absolut ads. And sometimes they do lifestyle where it's people at a dinner table. You just never know, so you really should push your work out and let it be seen. I think that's really important. Let me move these over here. When you're emailing these people and you're trying to drive them to your site, I do think it's important to also try to make a connection. Obviously, that's what we do, we're portrait photographers. Try to meet them. Everyone's very busy and it's increasingly more difficult to get meetings with people, which is why I started attending portfolio reviews. There are free ones and there are paid ones. My attitude about them is it's unfortunate that you have to pay, but that's where we are. If I wanted to get a meeting with 10 photo editors in one day, that would never happen. If I wanted to get a meeting with 10 photo editors, it would probably take six months, maybe. Because these guys are busy. They don't have time to see every photographer that wants to meet them. So, portfolio reviews, what that is, are you guys all familiar with portfolio reviews? Okay. Not everybody. Not every, okay, sorry, let me explain. A portfolio review is a place, it's put together by, like The New York Times had one. That was a free one where you have to be accepted. And then there are paid ones where you apply, and you get accepted, and then what happens is you pay for a meeting. So, let's say I buy 10 meetings, that means I then get to pick the 10 people, the reviewers, people that are going to review my book, I get to pick my meetings with them. So, I could have the opportunity to meet with the creative director of J.Crew or the photo editor at The New York Times, or the photo editor at Vanity Fair. That means that I bought, but regardless, I now have 15 or 20 minutes, whatever the allotted time is, to sit down and present myself and my work to that person who I want to hire me. It's really important because having that connection, looking that person in the eye and shaking their hand is important because if I'm up for a job and they're deciding between two photographers, let's say it's a two-week job and it's all around the world shooting an iPhone. And Apple is sitting there trying to decide. Well, she's really strong at X, Y, and Z, but he's really strong at A, B, and C. They're both really good, which flavor do we want. And then somebody chimes in and says, well, I sat with Victor during a portfolio review and she was a real diva. They're probably going to go with this guy. Or someone chimes in and said, you know, he never looked at me in the eye, he didn't listen to anything I had to say, he wasn't interested, he was just pitch, pitch, pitch. Then maybe they'd go with me. Or maybe they'd say, you know what, I had a great conversation with Victoria, I really would enjoy spending two weeks with her. Let's go with her. There's a lot of photographers in the world now, and there's a lot of really beautiful work. So, there are other factors at play here, especially when the work is equal. And I think that when you have the opportunity to sit in front of an editor and they know, oh well, if I send him to go shoot the CEO of Dell, I don't know why I'm on a computer thing right now, I know that she is not going to embarrass us as a brand. I know that she's going to represent us well, and I know that she's going to come back with good work. I think that's really important, which is why I think that portfolio reviews are a good idea. I know that paying for them is unfortunate, because we should be able to meet with these people. But times have changed. People's schedules are busier and busier, and it's almost impossible to get these types of meetings, one-on-one, anymore. So, this is the opportunity now. This is what exists for us, so I think you should take it. Take it and think of it as an investment in yourself, because that's what it is. You could also get really, really valuable feedback. If perhaps your book isn't in the right spot, or maybe you end up meeting with a car mechanic magazine and you are a fashion photographer. It feels like a weird match, right? I bet that that photo editor could still give you really valuable feedback that could help you. That person has been in the photo industry for a very long time. Just because your work doesn't necessarily fit doesn't mean that there's not practical knowledge that you can learn when you're at these reviews. And I think it's just as valuable to go and get constructive criticism, where they look at your book and they say, this is so close but it's not quite there yet. This is what I think you're missing. And then it gives you the opportunity to grow. So that's why I think portfolio reviews are a good idea.

Class Description

Short on time? This class is available HERE as a Fast Class, exclusively for Creator Pass subscribers.


  • Leverage new techniques for choosing the light and locations for a successful portrait
  • Know how to build a rapport and utilize clear communication with your subjects
  • Set up a developed concept as well as how to light on the fly
  • Use successful strategies for marketing yourself as a photographer and how to get your work in front of editors


Portraits require more than just great lighting and equipment. Sometimes a shoot doesn’t go as planned. The location is drab, the client isn’t in the best mood, or you forget to charge your camera batteries. Great portrait photography artists are able to think on their feet, connect with their subjects -- and capture great images under pressure. The best portraits often come from portrait sessions that didn't go exactly as planned, when challenges turn into assets.

Celebrity portrait photographer Victoria Will shows you how to use your environment to capture a unique, sharp image that reflects the person in the portrait. She’ll also highlight how to quickly evaluate a less than perfect situation and make it work for you and your subject. Take your portraits from amateur to near Mona Lisa gallery worthy by learning how to shoot portraits under pressure.

You’ll watch Victoria photograph real people in limited settings, discovering multiple opportunities in a limited space. Learn her three portrait musts for preparation, point-of-view, and connection. Gain insight into how to make every frame count and how to get the shots the editor requested, as well as those that speak to your vision. Learn how to make your subject feel comfortable in only a few moments while capturing exquisite photo collections in Portraits Under Pressure.


The photographer looking to improve their portraiture through thoughtful lighting, creative techniques and leveraging the environment around you to get a consistent appearance.


Victoria Will’s background as an American photojournalist and celebrity photographer has helped her to develop techniques on editorial assignments to quickly connect with a subject. Her career began as a photojournalist for the New York Post and grew into a sharp portrait photography focus that opened opportunities to photograph celebrities. She continues to work in New York as an artist specializing in portraits and commercial work.


Helena Sung

This was a great class and I learned a ton! It was amazing to watch Victoria Will in action -- shooting portraits under pressure. I learned a lot watching her walk into an unknown situation -- not knowing the location, what the natural lighting situation would be, and only knowing she had 15 minutes for the shoot. I loved watching her problem solve on the spot with lightning and tight, dark spaces. She also taught a lot about how she interacts with her subjects -- always putting them at ease (like you're the host at a dinner party -- gem!) It's much easier for a photographer to take pictures in their studio, but this course was not about that. This was watching a photographer handle real world situations under time pressure and think on her feet. Loved it! I also loved the parts where she culled her photos afterwards and picked out the ones that caught her eye. In most instances, I found myself agreeing with her!! When she gets subjects to stand up and sit back down, it is the in-between moments she is looking for, or the moment right afterwards -- genius!! Oh, lastly, I loved how she went through stunning images she shot of celebrities like Brad Pitt and Janelle Monae and gave us the backstory of how she creatively problem-solved to get the shot! Hello, showing up two hours before a shoot and knocking on random hotel room doors for furniture?!! Of course she could do that because she has a lovely, warm personality! Oh, and by the way, the bits she shares about her early career path is very inspiring!

Robert Negrin

Great course! And the best part was the honesty. I was an executive in a fortune 500 company and what the critics watching this course missed is that there are a lot of talented photographers, actors, singers, accountants and even landscapers, but there are very few that are successful and accomplished. Yes, part of it may involve a certain degree of luck, but most of it is the drive and desire to suceed. It is obvious you have both. I used to beleive that a true image could only be captured by styling the shot, metering light and controlling the subject. (Yes, I shot film...complete with developing and printing all my images) Then, one day I realized that, if deliberate-shooting was the right way, why then most of the great images I have were the result of quick, rather than deliberate reactions. I get it Victoria. Love your style and how you get there. Three things I learned today are that the conditions... even the background, do not have to be perfect if the image is strong enough to carry the message. Second, setting up to capture the perfect image, misses all the imperfect, epic moments. Third, I disagreed with almost every image you picked until they were isolated from the rest. Then they made perfect sense. Well done. :) Robert Gabriel

Meredith Zinner Photography

I really love Victoria and her work. She's something suuuuper special and showed me a fab new way to look at portraits. I love her openness, honesty, the whole 'you're at my dinner party' intimacy, care and respect for her clients and am SO impressed at how quickly and reliably she's able to transform any location to suit her needs. She's super impressive, professional and inspiring thank you!