Shooting for Yourself: The Importance of Building Your Portfolio with Sal Cincotta


Shooting for Yourself: The Importance of Building Your Portfolio with Sal Cincotta

Not everyone has the luxury of shooting for himself, but it’s something we all need to do. I know you must be thinking, wait, the business guy is telling me to shoot for myself? Translation: No paying client? Yes, yes I am. Shooting for yourself is probably one of the most important things you can do for your creativity and your career.

This past summer, I took an amazing whirlwind trip through Iceland, Ireland, Scotland, France and Britain. It was something I decided to do for me, for my portfolio, for my creativity and, most importantly, my career. I am a wedding and portrait photographer based in O’Fallon, Illinois. I have been at this for almost 10 years now, and I have to admit, I feel like I have hit a wall. Don’t get me wrong, I love what I do, but I have been shooting in the same city for a decade. Where do I find inspiration? How do I push myself? How do I push my limits? Can you see what I am saying here? We all hit a wall from time to time, and we have to find a way to break free.

Shooting for yourself is one way to break free from your norms. When I am shooting weddings or portraits, I experiment and try new things from event to event, but the reality is, my clients expect a certain level of perfection from me. They expect consistency. So what do you do when you want to change direction or try something that’s not your normal or go-to shot? There is only one thing you can do.

Make no mistake, shooting for yourself is not about showing up with your camera and just taking some loose pics. There is a lot of thought and planning that goes into it. Every year you should make at least one big investment in you. It’s hard to do, I know. For some odd reason, I didn’t think I would be able to carve out enough time for myself in this crazy thing we call life. This past year, I realized I had to start shooting more for me if I were ever going to grow as an artist.

Every year, carve out time for you. You don’t have to put together a whirlwind tour. You just have to carve out some dedicated time for your craft. We are professional photographers, after all. So make this commitment: “I will make time for me and my craft.” There, see? That wasn’t so bad.

Ok, great, so you committed to this. Now what? Next, I will take you through my thought process, goals, objectives—and how to get the most out of your investment.


My goal when shooting for me is to do something I might not ordinarily do. I take my time and work through the process. It’s that process that will help you perfect your skill. Without the pressure of clients watching and judging you, you can fail and not feel too badly about it. Fail without the worry of being judged. You have no idea how important this is to growing. Our fear is what holds us back. It prevents us from taking chances. We don’t want to fail. No one does. Through failure, we grow—in photography and business.

In addition, we need to produce something that we can use in our portfolio. That is the ultimate goal. I always create something I can show potential clients, which means more revenue for my studio.

Location 1 – Dunluce Castle, Northern Ireland

What an amazing, gorgeous scene. How do we capture the beauty of the scene and tell a story at the same time? That was my challenge. I wanted this to be a bridal portrait set against the backdrop of this dramatic cliff-top castle and the dark, stormy clouds.

We had everything planned out: wardrobe, couple, lighting. The one thing we couldn’t plan beforehand was the exact location. We had to get there and see what the scene was giving us. This location just felt right. We had the cliff in the top left with leading lines taking you right to the couple.

For lighting, we used the Profoto B2 and a Profoto Octabox to bring in some lighting to further add to the drama. We wound up with a beautiful shot I can show at bridal shows to get the attention of my clients.

Location 2 – The Dark Hedges, Northern Ireland

This location is heavily visited by tourists and tour buses. I wanted to do something a little more fine art here to really showcase the dark feeling of this location, and tourists and tour buses in the background do not paint a dark picture.

We waited nearly two hours for the traffic to disappear and the sun to get lower. Taylor, our model, started to improvise with the scene, and we just kept shooting. There was no real pose we were looking for; we just wanted something that matched the scene and the vision of the shoot.

Rather than use natural light, which anyone can do, we added off-camera flash in the form of a Profoto B1with an Octabox and a Profoto B2 for the kicker light behind her to create some separation. We did not Photoshop her into the scene. She was really there.

Location 3 – Eilean Donan Castle, Scotland

Here, we wanted to create a beautiful bridal portrait. This is a perfect example of a plan gone wrong. Model, check. Dress, check. Location, check. Well, sort of. When we arrived at the location, we found that you needed to pay a thousand U.S. dollars to shoot on site. That wasn’t going to happen. So, the very nice lady at the castle told us we could shoot anywhere off property for free. Yes, I will take free.

We headed about two minutes down the road and set up this beautiful shot in which we wanted to tell a story. We needed to create something more than just a bride standing there looking at the camera. We painted a picture of her walking to the castle by using some of the leading lines and the path she was walking on.

Once again, in order to hold the drama of the shot, the sky and clouds, we used off-camera lighting. It’s imperative that you use lighting to create the drama you want for your imagery. Anyone can be a natural-light photographer, but a professional must learn how to control and shape light to create gorgeous images no matter what time of day you are shooting. It’s the difference between an average image and one that just screams, Wow!

I’m now committed to shooting for me throughout the year. In fact, I have been averaging one shoot per month just for me. As a result, my photography has grown leaps and bounds. Get out there and create your own agenda and mission. Creating shoots for you and your portfolio is liberating. More than any lens or plug-in, it will be the single best investment you can make in your career and your craft.

Get the full story

To read the full article, launch the digital version of the April 2016 magazine.

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