Create a Professional Photography Portfolio
You have some great work. How do you show it to people and how do you get people to look at it? The editors at Yankee have asked me to write about creating a portfolio of your work…and I’m embarrassed to admit that I don’t have one, either. This is hard!
What is a photography portfolio?
A portfolio is a concise collection of your photos created to show people your best work. Its purpose is usually to get a photography gig. Whether you want to do weddings, portraits, commercial jobs, or to work for an environmental group to save a piece of the earth, a portfolio is the tool that shows a customer your capabilities.
Why should you have a photography portfolio?
You’re standing at a fall festival, watching your kids decorate their pumpkins, and you strike up a conversation with another parent. You find out that this person is an art editor at your favorite magazine — and you’d love to do some work for them. You try to convince her that you’re a great photographer but you see her eyes glaze over because she’s heard this a thousand times, and she just wants to watch her kids. You tell stories about your photo-shoots and list the places you’ve been published. She tries to escape, but you follow her to the ladies room. You chase her around desperately. Oh no, this may be your only chance, but you’re not making any brownie points!!! It would be so much easier to give her your business card with your URL. Even better, get her e-mail address and send her a short, friendly note with a link to your portfolio.
Other scenarios—you’re at a business breakfast or a baby shower or a friend introduces you to someone who needs photography work done. A portfolio is a way to show this person that you’re the one to do the job. Or you’re applying to a photo workshop, and they need a sample of your work to recommend a course.
What should be in a photography portfolio?
Some experts say that a portfolio is a printed presentation of your best work until now, showing the breadth of your skills. Some say a portfolio should be tailored to the customer you’re approaching. If your portfolio is a traditional folder of printed photographs, it will be much less dynamic than an online gallery could be. If you’re just starting out, you’ll want to add your latest great stuff often, so choose a medium that’s easy to update.
Consider your audience. If you want to do weddings, your portfolio would contain portraits of couples, groups, wedding events like getting ready throwing the bouquet, and still-life shots including flowers, rings, and invitations. If you want to work for a conservation group, you’ll need landscapes, activities such as clean-up days, close-ups of special plants or animals found in their area, and maybe a portrait of the founder. DO YOUR RESEARCH! Know your prospective customer’s needs and show that you can fill them
What kind of pictures should you include in your portfolio?
Pick a theme. There’s nothing more jarring than seeing a crisp black & white architectural shot next to a soft, dreamy, pastel bridal portrait. If you can do both styles, separate them in your portfolio. A theme could be “Having fun”, “Orange”, “10k Races”, or “My garden”. The theme can unite otherwise unrelated pictures. Choose a variety of subjects and styles. Include viewpoints that are overview, medium distance, and close.
How many pictures and what should you include in your portfolio?
Here’s the killer: your portfolio should contain only 8 to 12 pictures. Photo buyers are busy people. The worst thing you can do is to swamp them with photos that are redundant. You might be the best rose photographer in the world, but showing 35 pictures of roses will mark you as an amateur. Think first: What are you good at? I am good at landscapes, architecture, and flowers, and I can come up with a few decent people-pictures. My portfolio would target buyers who want landscape and nature photos rather than urban street scenes or baby portraits. I would include varied viewpoints of New England scenes, details like stone walls and weather vanes, macro flowers, and people as compositional elements in the landscape. I would not show a portfolio of portraits, because it would imply that I do this type of work very well—a falsehood that I can’t deliver on. A portfolio can include your aspirations as well as your accomplishments, but you must be able to do the type of work you’re looking for.
How do you get images for a portfolio?
Shoot free and shoot cheap. Many of the images in a wedding portfolio are still-life pictures that can be created without a wedding. Get some flowers and practice macro photography. Shoot your own wedding ring. Create evocative portraits of family members and friends. Practice using different styles — photojournalism, romantic, fun. Photograph local buildings to illustrate that you can do architecture. I recently viewed the website of a photographer who did great architectural photos of a Dunkin’ Donuts.
I shot my first wedding for a friend, who agreed to pay for half of my film costs. What a bargain for both of us! I also had a friend in politics, and shot political portraits for his campaign. And somewhere I met the owner of an exercise business and shot her facility and staff after hours. These free photos were used by the people in them, and gave me invaluable experience. (NOTE WELL: When you present your pictures to your customer, show them only the really good ones and edit out the duds.) The brochures and prints from these sessions were an important part of my portfolio for years.