10 Tips for Creating a Photography Portfolio – Part 1

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This article is the continuation of the three part series I promised in Monday’s article, So You Want To Be A Professional Photographer, in which I said I would talk about how to create a photography portfolio. As it turns out, this one became so long that I’ve had to divide it into two parts so now it’ll be a four part series and will conclude on Monday and Tuesday of next week.

I have been asked why you need a portfolio. The reason is both simple and logical. When you go to interview for a job you would usually take a resume’ with you, right? In photography your portfolio is your resume’ and you should have it with you when you meet with a potential client. The portfolio shows your potential client a lot about you and your abilities as a photographer.

What is a portfolio? A portfolio is a collection of photos taken by the photographer that best presents his or her work. Think of it, for now, as a photo album. A really good photo album, but still an album.

What should you be thinking about when you’re creating or revising your portfolio? Here are a few tips designed to get you on the right track.

1. Focus your portfolio on the work you want – Do you want to be a wedding photographer, portrait photographer, event photographer, commercial photographer or some combination of these and other disciplines. If you want to be a wedding photographer and you’re meeting with a potential client, your portfolio absolutely must be about wedding photography and not filled with photos of your kids and pets. Don’t laugh, I’ve seen it before. Okay, you can laugh. I did. This means that if you want to work in some combination of the above areas you’ll need a portfolio of each area. If I’m looking to hire someone to photograph a high school football team, I’m not going to base my decision on a portfolio of someone’s wedding photos.

2. Should the portfolio be electronic or hard copy? – I think we’re getting closer to the day when electronic portfolios will be the norm. Technological advances like the iPad from Apple are getting us closer to that reality. However, savvy clients will know that there is still a huge difference between how an image looks on a computer screen and how it looks printed on 16×20 paper. I think that today the answer is you should have both. A lot depends on the potential client. If you’re calling on a large corporation that wants a group of company or product photos, you be better off with hard copies of your work. If you having a first meeting with a couple looking for a wedding photographer, I think it would be fine to show them your work on an iPad or similar device and offer to show them prints if they would like to see them. There are very tech savvy people out there that would think you were too old-fashioned if all you have to show is a hard copy portfolio. Welcome to the age of transition.

3. What should the outside of the portfolio look like? – Clearly this only pertains to the hard copy portfolio. Note that I said at the beginning to think of the portfolio as photo album. Always remember, when you hand your portfolio to a potential client for them to review you are saying, “This is me.” (You’re not saying it out loud but that’s what you’re saying.) How do you want to be perceived – as an accomplished professional photographer or someone who sat in their kitchen and cobbled together something that looks like a 10th Grade history report? The physical portfolio represents you and your business. I would seriously consider a leather bound album with pages that are acid free pockets that you slip the photos into. This should be considered as much of an investment in your business as your camera, lenses and lights.

Keep in mind that even great photos poorly presented will be viewed poorly. The potential client will look at your work in the context of the manner in which it’s presented.

4. What size should it be? – Again, it depends on your clientele. Regardless of your clientele, it should contain photographs that are no smaller than 8×10 (20×25 cm) or 8×12 (20×30 cm). Forget 4×6. Yes, 8×10 and larger costs more but again, you want to appear as a professional. I think 8×10 or even 11×14 (28×36 cm) are a great size for a wedding or portrait portfolio. If your sights are set on the commercial and/or corporate market, you may want to consider a larger size.

5. What photos and how many should I include? – This is not Facebook, Flickr, SmugMug or other photo sharing sites although there’s nothing wrong with using those sites with your business name so long as you remember that it’s your business site and not a place for smart phone photos of you and your buddies taken last Saturday night at your favorite bar. The portfolio should contain your very best work. Photos that are going to convince the client to hire you. You could probably get by with ten to start with but twenty or so would be better. I wouldn’t exceed 30. You’re trying to show the client your capabilities as a photographer, not brag about all the photos you’ve taken.

The title of the article is 10 Tips and so far I’ve only discussed the first 5. The problem is as long as this has become, I’m still only skimming the surface. For example, I don’t really discuss what I would call common sense items like if you’re trying to sell your services as a portrait photographer, make sure all the photos in your portfolio have a portrait orientation. Don’t go back and forth from portrait to landscape. If you have both, keep the portrait orientation together and all the landscape orientation together. You don’t want the client having to turn the portfolio book back and forth.

The next 5 tips will be Monday’s article

Photo Credits:

Bletchley Park Photoshoot by db_fotos on Flickr Creative Commons
Portrait by Joe Hsu on Flickr Creative Commons

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