How To Build Portfolio As New Photo Stylist

Apr 03, 2024

Goal has always been to develop a style so recognizable that people would see the image and know IMMEDIATELY that I styled it.  I was interviewed by Creative Director and when looking at my promo card she asked me if one photographer shot all the images on the card.  NO! There are 5 Photographers that shot the images that I placed on my promo card.

I was thinking that was actually a compliment.  While the photographers on the card all had the same lighting, style and “mood”, so did I.  I have a  definite “style” for my photo styling.  This goes to the whole’ “attract and rebel” method, right?  You want to attract the right photographers and clients to hire you via your images.

If you style (& show images) with bright colors, a playful tone, and lighting a certain way, you will attract the right client (for you).  Also, if a photographer with a dark, moody style ~ does not hire you because they do not “see” their style in you/your styling ~ that’s ok!!

You could think of this as . . .  "If I stay to one style, I don't want to narrow my possibilities to be hired".  To a point, I can see that. You want, as a Photo Stylist, to show your capabilities, your range and show you are capable many types of styling.  I get that.   It's been my experience that when you niche tightly and create a style unique to you ~ you become "the one" to hire in that style.  So, that is a benefit.





To give you an example of an image that inspires me ~ It’s the beautiful cover image to this Blog Post.  Photographed by David Koung and Styled by Food Stylist, Veronica Laramie (and surface by one of favs to follow on Instagram for their beautiful props and surfaces is Prop Link.) 

I LOVE, LOVE this image but would NEVER replicate it or try to copy it.  It's very important to style from your own vision, your own creativity, your own thoughts. You don't want to build your business on the creativity and  talent/art of others. AND, you never want to say to a Photographer . . . "Let's copy this image I saw on Pinterest, Instagram, etc." ~ ever. 

Look for images that you are inspired by (but, I think more importantly, photography you are drawn to.) Start an imagery file of what you are drawn to via:


  • Photography
  • Photographers (WHO do you want to style for.)
  • Photography Lighting and Style
  • Niche You Want to Style In.
  • Color Palettes (Some, Stylists specialize very specifically)


I actually style very specifically to a color palette.  (Littl’ “fun fact”.  I actually do not select shades of bright red or gem colors of blues and greens when styling.)  I’m more of brighter (almost neon-like) shades. THAT is probably (along with lighting of images) is why that creative director asked me if one photographer did my promo card.  Because that’s my style.  & if a Photographer is looking for that style, I will probably be their obvious choice. ;) Nothing wrong with being very focused.  It can help you.



While not absolutely necessary when starting out ~ it would be ideal.  There are so many niches to choose from Wardrobe, Food, Home/Interiors . . .  (If you just starting out, test some types of styling out to see what you love and gravitate to.)

I started by career as a Wardrobe Stylist specializing in children. (I still do!)  But, in time, I was hired for assignments in both home/interior and food.  So, now, I have more of an “umbrella effect” of styling niche and consider (& promote myself as) a Children’s Lifestyle Stylist.  Styling that encompasses the “life” of a child including their home, food and fashion.

You can do that too!  It’s a way of specializing even tho’ you are styling several types of niches.  It’s all a process!  Just stay consistent in style and always style, shoot and show the work you want to get hired to do.



Attached sample Styling Portfolio Inspiration Board below. Nothing targets and focuses your goal like visuals you can look to every day.   Vision Cast and have an image (What you want your styling career to look like) that you can look to as a Guide.  We, as photo stylists, can be attracted to SO MUCH in terms of visuals, right!?  It’s easy to get “shiny object syndrome” and be inspired by so much ~ without a clear focus and direction.   The Styling Portfolio Inspiration Board will help you.  It will give you direction as you start to build your portfolio. Ask yourself these questions as you build your Board:

▪︎  Does it look like the same Stylist did all these images?
▪︎  Is the "look" cohesive in styling?
▪︎  What are my styling "vibe" words?  Do my vibe words match the images?

** I do these same type of board "exercise" when I am preparing for a brand headshot session for my business.  It helps you stay cohesive, on brand and focused.



When you first begin to develop and build your portfolio, it can be challenging to be hired, especially in the style (niche) you are looking to style in.   I suggest doing personal projects with photographers.  Select a photographer style that aligns with yours.  While it's not a paid assignment, doing a Collaborative Styled Shoot, gives you an opportunity to get images in your portfolio/website to get hired for styling assignments.  Also, it's a GREAT way to meet other creatives.  You can inspire and learn from each other and also give each other leads to potential assignments. We talk specifically about Collaborative Shoots in How to Build Your Photo and Prop Styling Portfolio.



If you are not able to collaborate with a photographer on a personal project basis, (which usually means no charge) invest in your photographs for your portfolio.  It's worth the investment and a necessary investment in your career.   While I talk about the many skills and traits you need as a stylist ~ your portfolio is important.   

THIS is not the time to "ask a friend who has a camera" situation.  Hire a commercial photographer.  You want photographer that actually works for brands, ad campaigns, etc.  Invest your time and energy in this right away. Select a photographer that fits with your vibe.  Do you prefer "light and airy" or "dark and moody" or somewhere in between type of photography? While getting experience with any/all types of photographers can be benefical, I would have focused target and vision from the very beginning of your styling career.



Don’t place ("stuff') all your photos that were taken into your portfolio.  It’s not about quantity is quality. Carefully edit. When I hire a Photo Stylist to help on an assignment I'm doing or if I'm an Photo Art Director on an assignment and looking at Stylists portfolios to hire, I much rather see less images than a portfolio/website that is “stuffed with images” that are from the same photo shoot.  Tip for Placement of Photos:  While ALL your images should be great ~ a suggestion is to put your BEST photographers both first and last.  Start strong and end strong.



Keep on shooting and adding images to your portfolio.  Work with different photographers, keep learning, growing and evolving.  You will see the growth in your images in time. You will gain valuable experience in both technique, composition, photography and working with a creative team. Don't keep your portfolio the same. (I'm completely guilty of keeping some of my favs in my portfolio!) Some of my favorites were taken on collaborative styled shoots. This is oftentimes when you can completely bring a vision you have to life! (& direct your portfolio to show those dream clients that you would be a perfect fit for them!)  Remember, Style, Show and Show the work you want to get hired to do!



We have to promote our services!  Oftentimes, Stylists will get “caught up” in the visuals of our business.  We love the shopping, sourcing, inspiration.  But, we have to focus on the business side of style.  THAT is what our entire Blog here is about ~ education on the business and industry ~ including negotiation, selling, and marketing your business.   (Check out our Photo and Prop Styling Business Resource Library.)

There is SO much to do in terms of running a business for a sole entrepreneur, freelance stylist.  I would suggest to select 3 ways to promote and GO ALL IN.  You will “spread yourself too thin” if you try to promote everywhere.  Focus on your 3 and then expand out as you have those developed.


 Bonnie ~

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Photo Credit David Koung Photography
Styling Credit Veronica Laramie
Surface  Prop Link


Styling Portfolio | Photo Styling Inspiration Board Example for you.  

To recap questions to ask yourself as you build your board:

▪︎  Does it look like the same Stylist did all these images?
▪︎  Is the "look" cohesive in styling?
▪︎  What are my styling "vibe" words?  Do my vibe words match the images?


Portfolio Styling Board Photo Credits:

All Top Row Images |Canva
All Middle Row Images |Adobe
All Bottom Images |Stocksy

FREE Business of Photo Styling Guides to help with your Styling Business! Check them our in our Resource Library.


Questions or Comments?

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