A professional photography portfolio is something that every photographer should invest in. It’s a great way to showcase your work and create interest in your art or business.
I’ve created many different photography portfolios in the past, either documentary, fine art, portrait or interior photography.
It’s easy to look back on them now and cringe. Because of that, I decided to write a post that will help you learn from my mistakes.
This is your photography portfolio, so it’s important that you only share your very best photos. Like any competitive sports team, the group is only as strong as the weakest individual.
Consider Your Audience
Over the years, you will create different portfolios, of varying amounts of images, sizes and types. This is because your audience will change.
Think about it. Why are you creating a photography portfolio in the first place? You are either using one to bring in more clients, in print form or to your social media outlets online.
It might be to land yourself a new job or show it to an agency interested in supporting you.
You may even be applying to university, where a portfolio is mandatory.
Each one of these will require a different portfolio, so you’ll need to research and think about exactly what you need.
If you are looking for more clients, dropping your best portraiture images on Facebook or your website can be your best bet. This is because people may want to see your work as they search for photographers in your area.
However, applying for a job will require a printed photography portfolio so the hirer can see it first hand. It is a lot more impressive than giving them a memory stick.
Newspapers or magazines may want to see an online portfolio first, requesting a printed one to be left at their reception.
Just because we live in a digital world, doesn’t mean we only look at Facebook and websites. If this were true, those electronic photo frames would be everywhere.
Your images need to reflect what you can do, purposely chosen for what your audience wants to see. I wouldn’t take my documentary photography portfolio to show a client who is looking for interior photographs to show on Airbnb.
If this is your first photography portfolio, then this is probably going to take a few hours. Set some time aside where you can concentrate.
No doubt you have thousands of images, and hopefully, you have been editing and culling your photographs as you have been going along. If not, then you need to do this.
Use Lightroom, set the system to ‘Auto-Advance’ and go to the folder, collection or entire photo library. Look at each image and give them a rating, colours or flags.
As soon as you press a shortcut, it will move on to the next image for you, saving time. For help in this area, look at our Lightroom workflow article.
You may find that the further back the images, the less relevant they are. They could also have a lesser quality, saving time in your selection process.
Next, you can separate all of your files by your rating, colour or flag selection method. These images are the basis of your photography portfolio.
If you are a seasoned photographer who likes to capture many different fields, you’ll only select the images you are going to show to your specific audience. Keeping the others will help you in the future for your next portfolio.
If you are like me, you’ll have many portfolios, ready to go at a moments notice. Apart from street photography, my passion is documentary and photojournalism.
On the side, I photograph bands (both live and in a studio setting), couples and interior spaces for the likes of Airbnb and rental websites.
Now you have your selected images, culled and rated/coloured/flagged, its time to go to the next step. This is when you are going to reduce the number to around 12-15 images.
If the audience (hirer/gallery owner/newspaper) has requested more, then bring more.
Narrowing Down the Selection
Give yourself a little time between the culling of the herd and the narrowing of your selection. Use this time to look at other people’s portfolios.
How many images do they have? Are they a series of work or a collection of images that work well together?
Look at your competitors and imagine how you can set yourself apart. Is your style strong and developed enough? You may find that your competitors may be applying for the same work or clients, so it is important, not to walk in with the same images.
It may seem a little silly, but make sure you read the brief exactly, to the letter. If they say they want to see 15 images, don’t think you are increasing your chances by bringing backups.
They may not even look at a portfolio from someone who can’t follow instructions. Very important.
When you come back to the photos, you will have fresh eyes. Now it’s time to get the selection of photos down to less than 50. This doesn’t mean 50 images overall, but 20 images for the different fields you may photograph.
20 photos of musicians, 20 images of strong street photography, etc etc.
What I do is go through my selection over and over again, removing images each time. This way, I can see how the portfolio is shaping up. I can look at styles, angles and the content.
You don’t want to end up with a portfolio all shot from the same angle. That is more boring than daytime television.
This is your portfolio, so it’s important to only showcase your best work.
Once you’ve produced a more selective collection of photos, it’s time to share them. The first step I recommend is to post the entire collection on Facebook. This way you get to share them with your friends, where they give you feedback.
It’s important to know which images are the most popular with the ‘average’ person because these images are the ones that you will want to put front and centre in your portfolio.
Once you have your images down to around 25, the final step to narrow down your portfolio is to ask a photographer. Or failing that, your most photography savvy friend of a friend.
A friend will be nice, yet perhaps not helpful. Find someone who can be cutthroat
They will be able to give your their honest opinion on what they think of your photos and point out the best ones. When I did this, I had help from a friend who spent hours looking at specific projects to show.
We narrowed the folders down to 12-15 images each. You can see them on my photography page here.
Print or Digital?
Photography lives in the print, but the world we live in is digital.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t have a printed version of your photography portfolio (I thoroughly recommend one), I’m just saying that you absolutely need a digital version.
This, of course, means creating your own website, or at the very least, an online account such as Flickr or 500px. With Wix or Koken, you can create your own for free.
You just need a domain for the latter, but we all have friends who know how the website world works.
I’m personally using an Iconify account at the moment, and I can’t help but recommend it, and you’ll see why in the next section.
The benefit of a digital version is that you can leave it with prospective clients or companies. Even after an interview, the best person is one who leaves me with a version I can look at on my own. You could give them a business card, but that takes time.
You could have a stock of a few pen drives or CD’s that you could leave with the person you are seeing. Leave them a self-addressed envelope so they send it you back.
If they are personalised, then even better. If you want them to remember you, make some postcards, and leave one as a reminder of who you are.
You may find that even if they can’t help right now, you’ll stay in their minds for the future.
Displaying Your Photography Portfolio
I’m specifically talking about an online photography portfolio right now.
The very first thing you need to know is how to professionally share your photos on the internet. It’s an important step, so don’t skip it.
There are many different routes you can take, and I’ll explain the three I’ve tried in the past.
I originally started using a platform called WordPress, which runs millions on websites on the internet (including this one). It allows you to install your own theme, and get your website up and running in no time.
You need to be a little bit tech-savvy, and you also have to pay hosting fees, and pay for a theme. It’s worth it, but it’s a big step if you don’t know what you’re doing. There are many themes and plugins you can use, allowing you to construct one easily.
My website was made through Koken, which allows me to do the majority of things I need for free. Nice and simple. Do not create any flash based websites. It’s horrible, it takes time to load, it doesn’t work on any iPhones or iPads and they are prone to hacking.
While we’re on the subject of horrible website ideas, don’t have any music which auto-plays either. Don’t even use it for Tumblr.
Iconify will cost $5 a month, and it is pretty easy to upload images. This means you can make a website without actually knowing how to make a website.
If you have access to a domain, go for WordPress. It is free and more professional. It does take a little more time to get the hang of.
For the purpose of this tutorial though, I wanted to show you how you should be displaying your images, regardless of platform.
Just to recap, the important thing is that you need a photography portfolio that addresses its purpose. If you are bringing more clients, share your best work on social media.
For a job opportunity, find some time to create a small and concise website. It can just have one page, so you don’t need to go all out.
For me, if you are printing your portfolio, concentrate on how the images work together.
Are they showing a range of your work or 15 images from a few different series that you are working on? Does the portfolio flow, or does the reader have to constantly flip between portrait and landscape?
Create a few versions of your photography portfolio, so you are never caught short when asked to see your work.