Creating a Body of Work – Getting Started in Photography

Chantal Thomass Apartment Paris Tango Copyright Carla Coulson

This was a subject I spoke about in the Get Published workshop this summer and I thought it maybe of interest for those of you who are considering putting together a portfolio or body of work in the coming months.

For all those of you dreaming of launching a photography career there is a vital component that you need to carefully consider before you do.

So let’s say, you have done a photography course or you have assisted photographers and you are confident your skills are ready to start a career. You have chosen which type of photography you would like to pursue whether it be travel, interiors, food photography, fashion or portraiture or one of the many other specialised forms of photography. In theory you should know who you want to work with before before you even create your first portfolio/body of work.  Your future clients might be magazines, private clients or publishers, image banks or you maybe you want to seek an agent.

Without a portfolio or body of work you can’t make this step.

Le Petit Moulin Paris Tango Copyright Carla Coulson

Putting together a body of work.

The great thing about starting out is that you can decide who you want to try and work with, what type of photography you want to take and the type of images that you want to show to represent your style. It is a great chance to do the work you love.

Lets’s look at building a portfolio/body of work for an interior/lifestyle photographer.

Most photographers have their own particular vision and taste. So if you have chosen to be an interiors/lifestyle photographer you might only love hippy chic style, or minimilist or classic French or lived-in artistic!

Lets say you love hippy chic and lived-in artistic and minimalist style leaves you cold.

Who is your future client?

Probably not Belle Magazine but it could be Inside Out (Australian mags). Ask yourself where does your style sit? Know the answer before you starting taking photos for your portfolio.

French Essence Copyright Carla Coulson

Start by asking everyone you know if they know someone with the kind of house you are interested in photographing. Show them images of other homes that you love. You might find a small apartment, a cool beach shack or an artist’s home. Ask the owners permission to photograph their home and explain if you would like to eventually have it published. Often this is a great opportunity for publicity for the owners business or art.

You need to create a story with your images. Tell the story of house and someone’s style. Look at the magazine you would like to work with and analyse the images that make up the story. You will probably find that over an eight page story that the following types of images are included.

1. Shoot all the rooms in the house if possible. Some wide shots and others medium crops.

2. Connecting spaces – So that people interested in that kind of a home can understand how it works.

3. Details – Interesting vignettes that give an insight into the style of the home owner.

4. Focus on corners of the room that are interesting, architectural details like fireplaces and cool doors.

5. Colour Palettes – A lot of homes have a similar colour palette, see if the house you are photographing does. This can assist with layout.

6. Portrait of the home owner/dogs/kids

7. Outside spaces


French Essence Copyright Carla Coulson

Photograph the house the way you see it and the things you love about the home owners style. Shooting a house can take an entire day so take your time and don’t leave without having all the images that you love. You should end up with between 30-50 finals images and make sure you have a variety of crops, horizontals and vertical images.

This should give you a story that you can use as a part of your body of work or you can pitch to your eventual client. Maybe you want to shoot houses for architects?

Repeat the above process with other homes, highlighting your style. Each home you photograph can be part of your portfolio. Build up 3/4 houses before you decide to contact your first client. You can also include smaller shoots if you can’t find entire homes. Cool offices, working spaces, artist studios and lovely vignettes of still lifes. Try and have variety in your images so that the client realises you have shot more than one home.

Make sure you are 100 percent happy with the images before starting. If you aren’t happy don’t worry, keep practising till you have the body of work that you are proud of.

“Imagination is the beginning of creation. You imagine what you desire, you will what you imagine and at last you create what you will.” George Bernard Shaw



Check out my Portrait Lightroom Presets here.

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Melissa G
12 years ago

Thank you for your perspective, Carla. I look forward to reading your next post [though this really goes without saying].

12 years ago

Gawd I love where your ‘body of work’ takes you.
Oh to be in your shoes at C Thomas’ or Le Petit Moulin…
miam miam

This is Belgium
12 years ago

super interesting as always.. wish I had met and red your blog 20 years ago allowing me time and op to change careers and start from scratch!
but I am not complaining, i get a lot out of your insights
I think you are truly fantastic because you share your tutorials with the world and in the way you do it!
grazie mille come sempre ..

12 years ago

Thank you dear Carla for sharing your expertise with all of us. I wish we could have a coffee right now as I need lots of advice!

12 years ago

Great advice like always! P.S. Love the site redesign.

Catherine Bedson
12 years ago

Hi Carla, very helpful, insightful post, thank you so much for sharing this information. Could you do one like this about food photography?

Anya Adores
12 years ago

LOVE these posts Carla 🙂
Hope your easter was relaxing and warmer than ours 🙂

12 years ago

Thank you so much for sharing! Waiting for Fridays post to unravel…

La Contessa
11 years ago

Hello!I have a fun story to share!I was in Florence a week ago and bought some black & white postcards!One especially,struck me as I was married there 27 years ago!Anyhow, your name rang a bell!I looked yesterday and YES YOU WERE THE ONE who did VICKIE’s books!So, I follow her BLOG and wrote to her yesterday and not one minute later LOST IN ARLES BLOG pops up with a post about YOU!Just had to share that!Now I will follow you too!XXX