Every one of us understands the importance of a portfolio to represent our work, yet many of us still struggle with how to create it so that it shows us as artists in the best light. How often have you found yourself a bit hesitant to show the collection of works that you have on Instagram or any other social media or your website, because you were not sure if it’s updated, or if this is what the person you are showing it to wants to see? I’ve been there a lot and I learned a few lessons along the way. Today I’m going to share them with you to help you really showcase your best stuff effectively.
Your portfolio is not just about the beautiful photos and fancy website. A great photography portfolio is also easy to use, simple, consistent, very strongly curated and offers your images to the viewer in an evocative way. Here are my 5 steps to creating a great photography portfolio
1. Know your audience and what they want to see
It’s important to understand why you’re creating your portfolio and who you are creating it for. “Well, I just want to show my best stuff!”, but your best stuff has to be RELEVANT to the audience you’ll be showing it to. Let’s say you’ve just picked up your camera and took a lot of travel pics and maybe some street ones. But you want to go into the wedding photography business. Your portfolio of travel pics, even if they are really nice, won’t work, it won’t attract your new clients.
Another example: you want to get into fashion photography, but currently you are a wedding photographer and you are trying to make a switch and get maybe even small brands as your clients. However, it might be impossible, since wedding pictures will never prove that you can shoot great fashion editorials or advertising campaigns.
The most common situation is, however, when you, like I was at some point, are trying to shoot everything. You have wedding pics, family portraits, interiors, events, newborns, some product photos, you name it. Well, I have to disappoint you, this one-size-fits-all style or rather a one-me-shoots-it-all style of a portfolio will never help you get the clients of your dreams or get you to the place where you want to be (job, gallery, magazine, etc.).
The solution here is to have different portfolios for different audiences. If you want to do photography full-time, there are situations, when you have to take every shooting gig out there to make a living. And that’s ok for some time. So, get several pages on your website that represent the best collections of your works in the areas of photography important to you, for example, say it’s wedding, interior and objects. One thing here is that if those portfolios are all visible to anyone, they might still confuse your main target audience. So you need to choose the area that you’re interested in the most and make it most prominent on the website. You can still keep the pages with other portfolios, but make them not visible to all the visitors. You can always send those links on requests for example, or when offering your services to a client directly.
If there are two areas that interest you equally and you can’t decide which one is a priority for you, consider creating two websites that will be targeted at different types of people. Like I have a website for my commercial photography and this one, which is home to my artworks.
What should you do, if you want to go into the area of photography that’s new to you, like in my first examples, but you don’t have any portfolio to show yet? Should you show something else, your previous work? That would be the obvious answer, but it’s not the right one.
You need to get a portfolio first. In most cases, clients won’t hire you if they can’t see the proven results of your work. The solution here is to create a relevant portfolio from scratch.
Yes, you read correctly. Just do the non-paid personal work that will look like the photos that your potential clients might be interested in. If you want to build a sports photography portfolio, go and shoot sports events for free. If you want to get into weddings, organize a perfect wedding session, ideally not just one. If you want to shoot fashion, find collaborators and make your perfect fashion photos.
Yes, it’s not quick and it might even require some investments, but if you want to have an effective portfolio, you need to do whatever it takes to make it relevant to your audience.
2. Quality over quantity
People’s attention span is now shorter than that one of a goldfish, so don’t overload your potential viewer with information. It’s better to show 5 irresistible photos, than 105 mediocre images.
In different situations, people/organizations will require a different quantity of photos from you to evaluate your work. But in general, it’s good to keep the number of your best relevant images close to 15 or 20. And by best, I mean outstanding. If you doubt that an image is strong enough, don’t include it in the portfolio. If you need it, get a second and maybe even a third opinion.
Then set your photos aside for a while and look at your competitors. Imagine how you can set yourself apart. Remember, that you don't have to be the best, you need to be different. Then review the portfolio once again, and make changes, if needed.
3. Start strong, end strong
This simple rule implies that you need to place the best of the best images at the start and at the end of your portfolio.
Your first strong image will grab the viewer’s attention and will make them want to look further. Your last strong image will stick in the viewer’s memory better. This is how our brains work. Why not use it for our own good?
4. Sequence is important
Here you have to take into consideration everything: lighting, color, composition, mood, movement, etc. I’d suggest ordering your images so that they create a soft transition of one color palette, mood, movement pattern to the other. You don’t want to have images that have almost the same composition in your portfolio, it will look boring. Same is true for portraits taken from a similar angle. They won’t look good together.
If you want to create a portfolio that will make an impact on your viewer, think of the emotions that you want your potential client or reviewer to feel. It might be a strange example, but if you have seen Pixar’s Ratatouille, the end episode is exactly about this emotional impact on a reviewer. The restaurant critic wasn’t very impressed by the fancy meals, as they didn’t bring up any emotions in him. On the contrary, the simple French ratatouille recipe brought back all his childhood memories (having the right, desired impact) and won the prize. Watch that scene, if you haven’t and you’ll understand what I mean.
5. Choose the right medium
In most cases today an online portfolio is the best, most convenient and the easiest option to showcase your work. However, it’s not always like that. If you’re going to a photography festival or any other place for a physical portfolio review you might want to choose to print out your works. Generally, at any personal client meeting or portfolio review having something real (not digital) to show is a great advantage. When people can touch, turn pages, look at your works at different light it makes a world of a difference in how your work will impact them. Also, consider the place of your meeting, if it’s a bright sunny day and you’re meeting your reviewer outdoors, a computer screen will not be the best way to offer your work to somebody’s eyes.
This list is by no means complete, of course! If you have your own tips on how to create an effective photography portfolio, please comment below!