10 Tips for Creating a Photography Portfolio – Part 2

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Welcome back to the 10 Tips for Creating a Photography Portfolio. I hope you enjoyed last Wednesday’s first half of the article on the same subject. It was getting so long that I thought dividing it into two parts would be better for everyone.

6. How should I choose which photos to use? – Here comes the hard part. The shots absolutely have to be your best work. That doesn’t mean your favorite work. I would recommend selecting fifty to a hundred of what you consider your best work. Then have a knowledgeable friend or acquaintance help you winnow it down to twenty to thirty. Think about going through this exercise with more than one person; maybe even three or four.

Let’s say you want to pursue portrait photography. I hope you have some experience at this, even if it’s just with one person. Review the images you have and pick out the ones you think are the best. Now, look at the ones the subject selected as their favorites. Now analyze why the subjected selected ones you didn’t. Be diligent in this. The subject is a potential customer. You aren’t. True, not all subjects will be the same, but knowing what the client is looking for and likes is really valuable information. You can’t sell to a client what they don’t like.

You can also try a “trick” I like to use. Once I have decided which 20 or so photos I’m going to use, I put them in the portfolio in the order I think they should go. Then I show the “draft” portfolio to a friend or neighbor and ask for their reaction. Keep in mind that most people are going to respond with comments like, “Oh, that’s a beautiful picture. You must have a great camera.” Of course, that’s not what you’re looking for. Play it cool and ask them which ones they like and why and which ones they don’t like and why. Valuable information. Then ask them if the portfolio would encourage them to hire you as a photographer. If they say yes, I then ask, “When would you like to schedule a time?” Hey, sometimes it works.

When choosing the photos, using portrait photography as an example, use photos of different subjects, different lighting arrangements, different poses, studio shots, outdoor shots, etc. You want to show the client how versatile you are and that you have the ability to take the photos he or she wants.

If your target market consists of mostly middle aged and older adults, a portfolio made up exclusively of beautiful, young, female models isn’t going to gain very much traction. I try to weight the portfolio to the demographics of my target market. However, because older adults may have children and grandchildren, I’ll always have a few photos of attractive young women and men in the portfolio.

7. Is there a certain way I should organize the photos? – Short answer is absolutely. Arrange the photos so they tell a story. If it’s a wedding, arrange the portfolio so that pre-wedding photos are first, then the actual wedding photos, then the formal after wedding photos/portraits, then the reception and lastly, the departure of the newlyweds. This is important. You want the bride to visualize her wedding as she’s reviewing your portfolio. You want her to see herself in the photos.

The first photo the future bride should see when she opens the cover of the portfolio is the bride’s portrait. This sets the mood. Next would be one or two engagement portraits. By doing this you’re making use of the psychology of selling. The bridal portrait sets the client’s frame of mind. Then the engagement portraits set the chronological order of what is to come. I’m sure many very successful wedding photographers use other approaches, but this is what works for me.

8. As I take more and better photos should I replace the old ones? – Some people would recommend that you don’t. You’ve put a lot of work into choosing the photos in your portfolio and arranging them so they tell the story you’re trying to achieve and if you start changing photos haphazardly, you’ll negate much of the work you put in to creating the portfolio.

That said, if I included a photo of the bride and groom cutting the cake and a wedding or two later I captured a much better photo of the bride and groom cutting their cake, I’d replace it without a second thought. I’m from the school that your portfolio should be dynamic and not static. Just make sure you put the same amount of time, thought and effort into choosing the new photos as you did the originals.

9. I think I’m ready to leave the nest but I don’t really have enough images to put together a portfolio. How can I get more? – I’ll use portrait photography as an example again. Photograph your family, the neighbors and friends. Work with them in your studio in exchange for a few electronic images. Let them select the five or six you’re willing to part with and put the images on a flash drive once you’ve finished post-processing them and give them the flash drive at no charge. Let them know that if they want prints you’ll be more than happy to have them produced but that they’ll cost whatever price you want to put on them. I’d suggest enough to cover the cost of the print and maybe 5 or 10% over just so you can make a little profit.

You get practice, they get a few images and everyone’s happy. You may also get that shot or two that you want to use in your portfolio, which was the goal in the first place. Just make sure you get a signed model release.

10. How do I present my portfolio to a potential client? – First, don’t just hand it to them and sit back in your chair holding your breath. Now, this part is easy for me. I’ve been in public speaking in some form or another for most of my life. Large groups don’t bother me and one-on-ones don’t bother me. I don’t have to imagine the audience in their underwear to be able to make my presentation. That is to say that I know this part may be much more difficult for some of you than for others, but here’s what I do.

I much prefer to sit at a table with the client. I hand them the book and immediately begin explaining (making my pitch) before they have a chance to open the cover. That way they know that I’m going to be speaking about the contents. As they turn the pages I give a very brief description of the image they’re viewing. Brief is the keyword. I want them to have an opportunity to ask any questions about the image before they get bored with my talking and with the image. The goal is to make sure they look at the images and to get them to start talking. All the while I’m getting to know them and know what they like.

I would rather photograph models to use for my portfolio. How do I find a model? – I’m so glad you asked that question. That’s the next article which will be available tomorrow.

Photo Credits:

All photos by Rick Marshall of Rick Marshall Photography

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