You’ve reached the point where you have some confidence in your photography skills and are looking to expand your horizons. Whether you are looking for clients or applying for college courses, one of the most important steps is putting together a body of work to present for review. This body of work is called a portfolio and may take different forms. For a photographer, a portfolio is a key ingredient in getting work and advancing a career.

Identify Your Audience

The first step in marketing your photography skills is understanding your audience. Your first portfolio might be meant for a paying customer, a college reviewer, an art gallery or a presentation. In each case, put yourself in the recipient’s shoes and think of what she or he might be looking for while reviewing your work. Be specific in your thought process.

photographer checking on his camera and view

If your audience is an art gallery, look through your photos and find ones that represent a certain style or flair. If showing your portfolio to a marina owner, put together pictures of boats and people enjoying the water. If you don’t have shots that are specific to a potential client, find ones that are similar or take new photos.

Taking the time to understand what your audience is looking for is a big step toward getting hired. New clients will have their own wants and needs, so realizing their perspective is paramount to pleasing them and getting a positive critique. This is also the best way to keep them coming back for more and establishing an ongoing relationship.

Establish A Theme

From your perspective, consider what you are trying to accomplish. Do you need to tell a story with your images? Do you need to include certain types of images to align with a potential client? Having a clear understanding of your message can help you cull a cohesive set of photos from your body of work. Design your theme around your client’s expectations and what you have available from your photo history.

A theme for your portfolio could consist of a style, like black and white, or composite photos. Conversely, it could be a genre, like architectural or food photography. The photos could suggest an idea or tell a story. Your theme should combine what the audience is expecting with what you hope to express as an artist. A good combination will garner results.

Choose A Format

In deciding whether to create a print portfolio or a digital portfolio, the audience will most likely dictate the decision. In some cases, the specifics may be laid out for you. For example, a college admissions office might have dimensions specified for a potential candidate’s portfolio. They would specify the limits of width, height and page count. A new client might prefer the ease of use of a website that displays your work. In this case, a simple link would be provided, and your photos would be accessible.

photo albums

A print portfolio can be a work of art in and of itself. With high-quality materials in a professionally-bound volume, it can be a pleasure to thumb through. Showcasing your work in this manner when you have a meeting can be powerful. The intimacy and physical nature of the pictures can be impressive. This can also be backed up with an online presence linked from a follow-up email.

One of the negative issues with a print portfolio is the cost. Putting together a professionally bound book with high-quality paper can be expensive. If you are sending out physical portfolios, the mailing costs can also be high. If money is no object, consider having both a physical and digital portfolio. At the end of the day, this might help you nail the next client.

Many of the newer digital portfolio platforms feature a dynamic interface that may complement your work and kick it up a notch. There are a number of sites that will host your portfolio, making ease of use on your end quite painless. Providing a link may be impersonal, but it also extends your “range.” Email can be sent around the world instantaneously, and your photos can be viewed just as easily. Beyond this, updates to your portfolio can happen quickly and be immediately available to your audience. In our digital world, this format will often be expected.

Using a digital device to display your work comes with some potential downsides as well. Never assume the person who receives the link will be able to view the portfolio. Browser updates, code issues, operating system variables and other obstacles can prevent an end user from having the experience you are trying to create. A follow-up email asking if they were able to view the portfolio might also be used to ask about their thoughts and opinions on your work.

Beyond potential coding issues, digital devices may view your interface in different ways. It is important to be aware of this and check your online photos from different equipment. Mobile devices require responsive websites and have different aspect ratios than a computer monitor. Also, there are variations in the actual image with respect to color and brightness. An uncalibrated monitor might not display your images as you see them. The best thought here is to not select images that are very dark in case a reviewer cannot make out the detail on her or his device. Taking this precaution could save a potential job or project.

Select Proper Photos

Reviewing your body of work and culling exceptional pictures is time-consuming, but it also offers a chance for reflection and remembrance of times past. And, if this is your first time going back through your work, it might be a chance to organize your photos to help you in the future. In the digital age, there can be many files since they are easier and cheaper to create.

searching on laptop with coffee on hand

Your first round of selections should be a global thumbs up or down. In other words, put any images that have something wrong with them, even if it’s slight, in the thumbs-down pile. This will hopefully leave many remaining for the thumbs-up pile. Next, review your thoughts on audience and theme and go through the yes pile looking for potential matches.

At this point, it might be a good idea to ask for opinions from another photographer or friend with an “eye.” Go over your thoughts on theme, and see if this person concurs. Look through the photos you have selected and get her or his thoughts. Having another set of eyes may help you see potential issues as well as help you hone in on your theme.

In terms of the number of photos for the portfolio, less is more. Select 15 – 20 images and cut them down to around 10. One mistake could cost you the contract, so keeping the count down should decrease your chance of failure. It can be hard to evaluate your own photos, so the second set of eyes should guide you down the correct path. This is the most important step in the process. Take your time and get it right. Being selective and objective is sure to pay off in the long run.

The Proper Order

The order of your photos follows the tried and true example of many other items in a presentation. Start and end with a bang. Having a very strong image up front makes a good first impression. Wow the recipient here and she or he is sure to continue with positive thoughts. Close with another exemplary image and the presentation will sit well in the minds of the audience.

Even with the prime photo up front and the end photo being one of the best, the inner images need to maintain quality and fill out the theme. If you have even one doubt about a picture, don’t include it. Keep the count concise and there will be less chance for error.

Beyond having a consistent quality, there should be no repetition. If one image is reminiscent of another, cut one from the count. Assume that the reviewer’s time is vital. Similar images can be considered a waste of time and energy and do nothing to further your cause. A critical assessment is key.

Although a proper order is not as important as the overall quality of the pictures, putting thought into this process and adhering to your theme will get you one step closer to your goal. A reviewer’s thoughts have been refined by viewing numerous portfolios, so you need to stand out in the pack. Let your unique voice be heard loud and clear.

Additional Resources

Final Thoughts

In many cases with a photographer, your calling card is your portfolio. A resume is nice, but it does not convey your skill and artistic ability the way a portfolio can. Each photo you display on a website or flyer directly represents your talent. Take the time and energy that’s necessary, and put effort into your advertising. If you want to get ahead and keep your career in motion, your portfolio is the best tool in your arsenal.

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