A couple of years ago on Photofocus, Scott Bourne published a post about a way to test your portfolio – "look in the middle of the book and see if the quality is representative of your first images." It’s such an easy thing to do, but it deserves a little expansion on the concept.
To start, your portfolio as well as the galleries on your website need to be considered one in the same. I'm so tired of photographers who make excuses to clients, "This is just the way it looks on my site. The real image in the album was stunning!" Seriously, don't take shortcuts on your galleries. Every image needs to be spectacular. If it's not then take it down.
The challenge of showing only your finest work doesn't just rest with new photographers. A couple of years ago I had a terrific evening with Cleveland’s ASMP chapter. I was one of four judges doing portfolio reviews. It was a kick to see some outstanding work, but there was a common theme in both seasoned and new photographers alike: not enough depth.
While the best example is what I saw with the student portfolios, almost everybody was guilty. Almost every student portfolio is the same. It’s always a collection of assignments with a still life, portrait, table top of a reflective object and the traditional editorial images the photographers feel they need to make on some political statement.
Many of these images will be perfect, but that’s not what anybody is looking for if they’re considering hiring you! The portfolios never have enough depth in any category. Seeing one great shot of a crystal bowl isn’t enough to show you’re great at table top work. Seeing only a handful of wedding images aren't enough to sell a client on your ability to be a storyteller and put together an outstanding album.
But it’s not just an issue with new students entering the photographic workforce. I saw the same with seasoned professionals. I saw some outstanding work with many of the ASMP members, but if I was looking at the book and considering hiring some of them I’d want to see more!
Here are a few suggestions to give your book and your galleries more impact:
· Consider having no less than six images on any one topic.
· Don’t mix too many specialties in one portfolio or gallery. My suggestion is no more than two and they should be related.
· If you’re going beyond two specialties, for example table-top, architectural and editorial portraits, then break them up into separate books. You've got the same challenge with your website. If your areas of expertise are too far apart you might need to consider two different websites. An account exec from an ad agency will not go through your galleries with the same eyes as the mother of a bride.
· It’s great to be diverse, but consider a closing section to your portfolio that shows your diversity with the front section of the book being the specialty you’re most interested in sharing. For example, pitching an ad agency on your architectural work would make it important for your portfolio to be 95% images in the category. However, you could close with some composite pages showing your diversity in other areas – just make it at the back of the book.
· Quality – Quality – Quality! You need quality in every image as well as in the style of the portfolio case itself. You don’t have to spend a fortune on a portfolio case or album, but you do have to spend something. Showing a potential client a portfolio that has all the class and style of a seventh grade book report isn’t going to land a job for you! Again, just like the caption above, you're being judged on the contents of the portfolio and galleries, not the case! Just don't go overboard.
Just remember the purpose of your portfolio and your galleries – they might be inanimate objects, but they're still your representatives! They're your agents working to get you an assignment, working hard to get you hired! Don’t compromise on the images. Don’t compromise on your message! Most important of all, make your work habit-forming, so the viewer can’t stop looking and sharing.
Illustration Credit: © Walshebnik | Stock Free Images & Dreamstime Stock Photos