I read an article the other day on building a photography portfolio. And while the article itself was written well and provided a ton of detail, I disagree with the message.
Most people in the photographic industry teach you to put together a generic, boring portfolio, both online and off. “Choose your best image from each session”, they say. “Never have more than a couple dozen images in your gallery”, they say. I disagree.
When we first built our business in the late 90’s (think dial up modems), we put thousands online in our portfolio. Yes thousands. At our height, we had over 20,000 images on our site. People told us we were crazy. “They’ll never look at that many images.” “Take them down, are you crazy?” The comments when on and on. But we didn’t fail with our 20,000 images. In fact we made it BIG. Because we spoke right to the heart of our ideal client.
Your portfolio should never be “normal”. It shouldn’t be what they teach you in a photography class, or a “best of” series that showcases a few great shots. Nope. It should be a whole lot more.
1. Things You Want To Shoot
Too often a photographer will include things in her portfolio that clients’ expect to be there. Yet if you want to branch out and shoot something very specific, something very unique to you, don’t be afraid to include it because it isn’t the “norm”. People will hire you because of what they see in you. If you showcase certain things, they will expect it as their own results.
2. Beyond The Best Of
Everyone tells you to create a gallery filled with your “best of” images. Your best images are great, but if you’ve ever looked at portfolio after portfolio, “best of” series soon all start looking the same. Do a search for wedding portfolios and you’ll see what I mean. Every photographer includes two to three dozen of his or her “best of” images. And they all look alike. Most are shots of the bride, groom, or some combination. You’ll get a sweet looking image of the ceremony. A couple of great scenics from an outdoor wedding. And of course the mandatory couple of candid images from the reception to prove you are “photojournalistic”. Is that really all there is to it? Or can you stretch and showcase more? We routinely would put together montages that would contain 200, 300 or even 400 images or more from one wedding and include them in our portfolio. A potential client would truly get an understanding of what we could do for her – and it worked every time.
3. Beyond An Image
Do you routinely sell wall collages? Do you put together fantastic albums that truly tell a story for your clients? Then why aren’t you including that in your portfolio? A portfolio is all about creating and showcasing what you hope to sell. If you have a true commercial studio, the first thing you’ll learn about marketing is displaying what you want to sell. You can’t sell a 30×40 unless your walls are filled with 30x40s. The same applies no matter what you choose to sell. If you sell story albums, showcase those in your portfolio – people will envision themselves in each album they see and demand the same thing when they book you as their photographer.
4. Specifics When You Can
Why is a potential client contacting you? Give them exactly what they are looking for. If they search and visit your website first, you can’t control their exact experience. But once they make contact with you, control it as much as you can. Find out the details of what they are looking for. Then put together a specific portfolio just for them. Its easy online – create a special page exclusively for the prospect, and include information built just for them. If you mail out a package, you can even include a few images from specific shoots that apply to their interests. The more specific you can get it, the better your chance of actually booking it.
5. Award Winners
There’s something about an award winner that elevates your status. It doesn’t matter if you win a local contest in which you competed against a handful of people, or an international competition in which you were judged against hundreds. Enter a few contests to win. Then include those in your portfolio, and highlight them so people know you’re an award winner.
6. Separate Portfolios
I’m a strong believer in building a portfolio online because of its potential. Online means no printing costs. It also means that with a laptop or tablet and Internet access, you’re portfolio exists anywhere in the world. I also believe you should separate out your portfolios if your niches are distinctly different. That means you shouldn’t have ABCPhotography.com with a gallery of 12 images each for your weddings, corporate and model business. Domains are cheap. Create a separate portfolio for each niche and link them to your main site. This way you have a separate marketing tool for each of your niches, meaning your corporate clients don’t have to wade through your wedding images to find what they are looking for.
7. Don’t Forget The Stories
As photographers, we get caught up in the mindset of “a picture is worth a thousand words”. And while that is true – a great picture can and will take you far in this world – sometimes it’s the story that sells. Talk about your client. Set up the shoot. Talk about why they hired you, how you decided on the location, and what the finished product looked like. The more you share, the more you’ll reach out to people looking for something slightly different than what they’ve found in other places.