Creating the Perfect Portfolio

One of the most important rules for shooting professional-quality images has always been to take a lot of pictures and do it often. Digital photography has made that easier. Memory cards are cheap, reusable and can squeeze in far more photos than a roll of film ever could. There’s no hanging around in the darkroom to see how the picture came out, and an obviously poor shot can be quickly deleted and the space filled by a better one.

But all of that convenience comes with a price. The additional, higher quality images filling hard drives now means that deciding how to organize a portfolio is tougher than ever.

At the same time, it’s also more important then ever though. With potential clients able to browse online portfolios at will without ever leaving their desks, the images you present and the way in which you present them have become vital marketing decisions.

It all starts with the design.

Showing Photos without a Photographer
Once, the only thing that photographers had to worry about when it came to the setting of their portfolios was what sort of bags they should carry them in. When it came to the presentation, it was their hands passing over the images while they supplied the narratives that explained how the pictures were taken and why.

None of that happens when a potential client browses an online portfolio. The photographer isn’t present and the client is left with nothing but your photos and your website. As a result, whether the client approaches your first images positively or negatively will be influenced by the design of the site they’re placed in.

That might seem unfair. Surely it’s the images that count, not the quality of the website?

While the photographs will certainly be crucial, it’s important to remember that when a client looks at a portfolio, her or she is not just assessing whether the photographer has the technical skills to create the images they need. The client is also asking whether they can trust the photographer to do the job. As Joey Lawrence, a Canadian band photographer, put it to us once when describing how clients assess photographers,

“They are putting a lot of money down and have to be confident he/she can pull it off.”

A website that looks unprofessional then will lower a client’s confidence. If this is the sort of effort they put into something that’s important to them, they’ll think, how much effort will this photographer put into something that’s important to me?

When you’re placing your photos on your own website, you don’t have to go as far as Sacha Dean Biyan went with his super-hi-tech site, but it is worth investing in a good template and even a designer to make sure it has exactly the right look. A reliable slideshow program like SlideShowPro can go a long way too.

Once you’ve got the design sorted out, the next big decision is going to be much harder: you have to pick the images you’re going to show.

Again, the fact that client wants to understand the photographer as well as appreciate the images should help to guide you. A sequence from personal projects can go a long way towards demonstrating why you take images, the sort of shots you like to take and what the client can expect from you.

Present a Style
That means making sure that all of the images in your portfolio have a clear style. You might be able to shoot lots of different kinds of images in lots of different ways but usually a client will want to hire a photographer that he or she knows can get the job done the way they want it done. If the job they have in mind matches your signature look, the job should be yours. To quote Joey Lawrence again:

“This does not mean all your work should be the same… but it means that your work should scream ‘Oh, ________ must have done this!’”

Of course, the images should be highly selective which seems obvious but it’s not always followed, especially when you move away from dedicated website towards photo-sharing sites such as Flickr.

These might not be professional portfolio sites, but the images shown on them do generate sales. Unfortunately, because they also offer free storage, many photographers make the mistake of trying to get their money’s worth by uploading every image they have instead of only showing the images that can win them work.

In short, creating a portfolio is probably harder today than it’s ever been. You’ll have more images to choose from, you’ll have to be more creative in the way you display those images and the competition will be tighter too.

But if you get the combination right, you should also find that it’s easier to put them in front of potential clients too.

[tags] photography portfolio [/tags]

3 comments for this post.

  1. Richard Said:

    Thanks for the tips! I just wanted to tell everyone that they should give viewbook a try. I made a portfolio in minutes and it looks much better than most other sites too! AND it's for free:)

  2. Steven Said:

    Presentation is an enormous part of building a client's confidence in a photographer's abilities and I agree, too many photographers organize their portfolios to showcase everything they have. We keep our templates elegant and accessible, which in the end, allows clients to put their attention towards what's really important.. the photographs.

  3. David Pearce Said:

    I have been Freelancing Photography for many years and a job here and there and would like to get more serious to draw a larger client list and to create more income but the Photo's are my larger passion which causes me to give myself away or not make any money for my efforts!alot of times are there sources out that could give me acurit information to get started on a solid foundation? I think I need a mentor to guide me, is that true? I want to build a nice Proffessional website but don't have a lot of knowledge in that area... So, I feel stuck!

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