How to Find Models + Build Your Portfolio as a New Photographer


Nicole Hill


Getting started as a photographer is, hands down, theeeee most rewarding thing you can do — but it’s also really scary, and it’s also really tough. When you look around at social media and at other photographers you admire, it can be so easy to get caught in the comparison trap, wondering how the heck you’re going to find models for your portfolio when you just… don’t know how (or don’t have a portfolio in the first place).

It’s the ultimate photographer’s dilemma, huh? You love photography, you know it’s what you’re meant to do, and you feel so connected to it, deep down in your gut — but it’s hard to figure out how exactly you can grow your business when you can’t find people to shoot with.

I get it — and, even though it’s been a while, I was 100% there, too. In fact, we all were! Every single photographer you follow or admire has been in the same spot, wondering how to grow their businesses and get more practice. But, while a portfolio is everything when you start a photography business, you have to start somewhere. The way I see it, somewhere is the best place to be. So, if you’re feeling anxiety and overwhelm around building your portfolio, or just taking a photo of a stranger for the first time, I want you to close your eyes for a second. Ask yourself: does photography light you up, from the tip of your toes all the way to the top of your head? 

If it does, you’re okay. You’re going to be just fine… and I’ll help you get there.

Why you need a photography portfolio in the first place

First off, building a photography portfolio really is, hands down, one of the most important things you need as a photographer. It’s how people can see your work, get a better grasp of your style, and find your incredible photos. A photography portfolio is key to booking the clients you want — and it can be such a powerful tool as you grow in your business and as a photographer. 

What you don’t need, though? A crazy fancy portfolio packed with high-dollar shoots, a complicated (read: expensive) website design, or professional models. Your potential clients can get just as great of a glimpse of your style from a streamlined, simple portfolio as they can from a fancier one — and everyone starts at the beginning. The best portfolios grow over time, and building up your portfolio as you scale in your business and grow your own skills is the best way to do it. (Side note: we’re big fans of ShowIt for simple, intuitive portfolio designs.)

How to find models for your portfolio

To actually build your portfolio as a photographer, you need things and people to take photos of — and that can be a hard part when you’re first starting out. Luckily, though, it’s not as hard as you might think. There are tons of resources (lots of which are riiiiight at your fingertips), and it’s possible to be creative with whoever you find. The trick? To put yourself out there every single chance you get

And, at the risk of sounding like a broken record here (it’s just so important!), remember that you’re not the only one starting out — and people WANT to help you. Also, a lot of people like getting photos taken of themselves, and getting them on the cheap or for free from a newer photographer like you? Heck yes. Here are some of my favorite tips for finding models for your portfolio:

Bring the friends & fam into the picture:

The people you love WANT to help you grow your business — you just have to ask! When I was first getting started, my friends and family were my muses — and there was a period of time where every single day I’d ask a friend or family member to run around town with me while we thought up shoot ideas and created them. (Best one? My friends and I dragged a 300 pound organ into a field because I had a crazy idea for a Myspace photo. #truefriends)

Incase you wanted proof 😉

That time I spent with my friends and sisters and family as my muses still hold some of my very favorite memories as a photographer to this day. It’s where I learned how much I loved shooting with people, where I got super comfortable with directing and posing, and how I really discovered and uncovered my true passion for photography. Plus, working with your friends and family as your models takes the pressure off! It’s such a great way to learn posing and directing like the back of your hand, and it’s like having unlimited practice rounds — which you’re not ever going to want to do on a job. I also used to reach out to friends of friends and people I thought would be super photogenic, too. People want to help, I promise!

It’s all about you!:

As photographers, I know we love to be behind the lens and not in front of it… but doing both can be SO helpful as you grow! Trying out a series of self portraits can be a great way to feel more confident in your own skin AND in your camera settings so that you can feel super comfortable shooting with other people. Self portraits are also a great way to try new and innovative things with your camera that you may want to try out before doing them with a paid client. I love searching Pinterest or the magazines at our local bookstore for fun self portrait ideas, and it’s a good challenge for stretching yourself creatively.

Join Facebook communities and use Instagram:

There are also tons of models doing the same thing as you (looking for people to take pictures of them to build THEIR portfolios), which is why Facebook groups and social media can come so in handy when you’re searching for models.

There are so many Facebook groups for aspiring photographers and models, and they’re always coming together in these groups to do free or less expensive shoots to build each other’s portfolios. You can look up groups in certain areas, and you can even search for TFP opportunities (trade for print, or free photoshoots where the photographer and model collaborate together). I always recommend posting on IG stories for what you’re looking for, following hashtags local to you, and scoping out people via the ‘gram, too.

Here are some bigger groups you can check out! A lot of them have regional offshoots too that are more geared towards specific locations:

I want to leave you with this: I know that when you’re getting started it can be really hard to reach out to people, no matter if you know them or not… but it’s your job as the incredible photographer you are to remember that you have something really, really special to offer. You didn’t decide to become a photographer without that visceral knowledge that you can do it (even if it’s buried deep down in you), and I, for one, KNOW that you can. A huge part of being a photographer involves getting out of your comfort zone, and for good reason — it’s what lies outside of your comfort zone that makes magic, that creates art, and that helps you build the life you’ve been dreaming about. 

Come hang out with us in the Horizon Found Community, and you’ll find tons of other photographers who are waiting to connect with you, give you advice, and be your sounding board as you walk this new photographer road. We’re so excited for you — so now go find what lies outside of that comfort zone!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

meet the photographer


I've spent the last decade of my life traveling the world as a fashion photographer and I created Horizon Found to give you everything I wish I had when I was starting my career. Here you'll find community, inspiration, and education - to help guide you down the path towards building the photography business of your dreams. My dream is to use this platform to help build a supportive environment in the photography industry.


keep reading

The Photographer's Path is currently closed.
Get on the waitlist to get early access and special bonuses not offered anywhere else!

The Photographer's Path is currently closed. Get on the waitlist to get early access and special bonuses not offered anywhere else!