Things to think about when making a portfolio
Your portfolio is an extension of you and your work so you better make sure it represents it well.
While it is clear to me the best way for a photographer to showcase their work is via one of the printed mediums, getting the content in the right order in the right sizes is no easy task.
“I am a great believer in creating the excitement around the imagery. How you present your images will have a marked impact on how much you sell and what you sell. Give your work the regard it demands and certainly give the clients the experience they crave. If your presenting the images for the very first time and this is the sales viewing use a screen and present images to music. Then ensure you have stunning sales samples. Albums and frames that represent the style of your business and photography. Remember people buy what they see” Catherine Connor Aspire Photography Training‘
‘Portfolio’ literally means “a case for carrying loose papers”, so, a photographer’s portfolio should be a collection of prints? How things have changed! Most photographers these days will show you their portfolio on an Apple (not the fruit) iPad. So what should a portfolio really be ?
Lets’ start with the basics, A portfolio is a collection of work design for the purpose to impress the viewer. This idea of a portfolio is vast and wide one, many people have different views but all have a common aim, to get more commissions. However, creating the perfect portfolio is not so simple.
As a photographer, when you are showing a printed portfolio, you are usually doing it to a captive audience thus, it is easy to ensure what they see is relevant to them, fine tuning a portfolio or book for each viewing can be a great way to impress.
When showing work via a website, it gets a little more tricky becomes more complex. Having a wider, slightest diverse collection of work online is vital to avoid missing commissions that might go floating past. This must be addressed if these areas are going to be a source of income. But, this also can be seen as having a lack of direction and unspecific skill sets. This is a personal call to some extent , it will change how you earn your money and shape your career. The sheer facts are that more people view a website than view a portfolio book Keeping your portfolio specific and website more general is one solution.
In this day and age digital portfolios are fundamentally vital. Using Facebook, Tumblr, 500px and even Twitter in a controlled way is increasingly important.
As a photographer you have a potentially have 6 billion or so clients, these people are not are not judging you by your work alone. They are judging your online persona and portfolio. These days they seem linked closer than ever. When looked at it viewed in this manner like this, the concept of a portfolio is a strange complex? one. Think of it as branding, with the book being a single element in the multi overall concept. How you conduct yourself in the digital world will be noticed and influence how people perceive you way before a potential client does sees a portfolio. Most of my clients know of me via social media before they meet me, we arrange a meeting and then this is when a good portfolio is used to seal the deal. It’s usually my twitter feed that makes first contact. As technology goes forward, the role of the portfolio is changing too.
A first class portfolio is essential when pitching for work. It what validates you. Just think of this little story, a client once booked me just thinking my tumblr account was my portfolio. The digital world has altered who and how your work is viewed.
What are the first steps to making a portfolio ??
When it comes to creating a portfolio, there are several paths to consider.
The first step is online representation via your own website. A simple clear website is the single most powerful way to show your imagery. There are many interesting companies like Zenfolio and SmugMug which will provide you with an online portfolio solutions in a matter of moments in exchange for a few pounds per month. Avoid uploading every photo you have ever taken, look at what other people have done and get an idea of what you want to do. I have gone down the Wordpess route using a flothemes plugin Theme. Client galleries are powed though Lightroom and a plug in from The Turning Gate
Bruce Smith has over 25 years experience in the fashion industry and knows a thing or two about how to present and pitch for work.
Bruce explains: A client will pick you as a photographer within the first 5 or 6 images. These images need to reflect the type of images you want to be commissioned for. The standard, the quality and the maximum impact must run from the first to the last image. In my book (portfolio) I have 40 images.
DKP: How important is the presentation when looking at the bigger picture of trying to get in clients, do you think having a printed book over an iPad portfolio is really that important ? Do you think people using iPad’s run the risk of looking amateur ?
BS: I have mixed feeling about this. I believe it would be better to aim this question at buyers of photography but hear are my thoughts. From my experience clients love to see a real book live with large high quality prints as large as possible i.e.: 14in x 11 in but times are changing. I don’t think tablets look unprofessional. I have had a few castings lately where some of the models brought iPads, I found it strange looking at them and sort of didn’t take them as seriously as the real books. Was too much like looking at the internet and not looking at a personal book so maybe clients think and will look upon them the same.
DKP: What does your portfolio look like ?
BS: On the outside, its a 14in x 11in hand crafted dark brown leather portfolio made by Brodies Portfolios in Covent Garden London. Inside is a selection of my best images covering the main subjects of fashion that I shoot, including a mixture of location and studio, bridal wear and couture, lingerie and hosiery, swimwear and high fashion. I will add or remove images to suit the type of client that I am seeing or sending my book to.
The value of Brodies book sometimes go beyond the physical book. The time and effort gone in to every print will give you a boost when you begin to show it of. Especially when it is all lovingly worn, hand crafted and printed to perfection. Sometimes that inner confidence is what the client is looking for.
Over a cup of coffee Damien Lovegrove explained the way he presents himself.
“I have the same portfolio that I sell on my website, before going to see a client, I will make sure only the relevant photos are in the portfolio. Using this style of portfolio lets me change the photos quickly”
What Damien means is the very traditional portfolio, very similar to a Brodies portfolio that Bruce uses for his portfolio. Hand selected, hand printed sheets of fine art paper bound in a heavy leather. When printed correctly, this is a very impressive way for photographer to showcase their work. Damien has the skill and time required to build such a book. Fine Art printing can be an art form in its own right. This is also an expensive route to do properly. An A3 leather portfolio would set you back almost £300 before any printing has begun. In the case of Fashion & Fine Art Photographers this is a worthwhile investment . Even more so if you are looking to showcase your ability to print as well as shoot. If you are going to print images in this style, I would press upon the idea to outsource the printing to start with. Talk to a printer and ask advice for how to print them to get the very best out of the images. A would suggest a company like Fotospeed, (http://www.fotospeed.com)
The other option is a printed book. Album Epoca make a wonderful product called the Compat book, it has a slimline design and continuous binding. It’s design allows for to display double page spreads and portraits in an editorial style. When you just nonchalantly reach into your bag to produce a book like the Compat book, the reaction is always impressive. It is clear time and effort has been used. The format of a well printed, well laid out book is timeless, it looks as admirable closed as open. I just ensure I have the right book with the right content with me for each meeting. The Compat books are £150 to £180 for about 40 pages. An advantageous investment.
The printed book idea is that of impact. If you notice high end companies always rely on packaging to sell their products more than the actual product itself. Tiffany & Co, Chanel, Hermes, it’s about the package, so the printed books are part of my packaging and branding. I much prefer to hand over a printed book over a digital tablet.
Over the years, Blurb have built up an amazing reputation and are continuing to grow. With online tool s like BookSmart to fully custom builds using Adobe Indesign, Blurb can cater for all your needs. Just upload a PDF and the book drops though your door or to where ever in the world you need it. The print quality or paper quality is something that I would want to use for client work or my own portfolio, money wise Blurb are impressive though. A 50 page portrait book with all the extras was about £37.00. At this costing, compared to a potential cost of £500 for a leather book with 40 Hahnemühle FineArt pages, you have to be ensure you are using the right portfolio for the right end of the market. Do keep in mind your day rates, your clients exceptions and how this factors in. Personally speaking, Blurb are offer the all round best products on the market unless you are looking for a wedding album.
So. How do you actually go about making a set of photos that will be representative of you? This is an age old conundrum, and sorry, there are no answers here. However, some advice can be given. The idea that your portfolio should be relevant to the sort of work you want to do is the most basic element. Show the content of which you want to be paid for. Let’s take music photographer Tom Barnes as example.
Tom explains: The Idea behind my portfolio is to try and wow people, show my work off as much as possible and to really try and get that work or job. It has to be impressive as the picture editor or client might be seeing quite a few photographers. I’m primarily a music photographer so my portfolio is cased in it’s own custom case, it’s the same type of case that touring bands use.
I used to have printed books and a huge aluminium book at one point but I just found them too heavy/big. Now my portfolio is on an iPad, it’s great as the pictures look identical to my editing macs so they are exactly as I want people to see them. It also is great as I can update the iPad the night before a meeting with my most up to date work and tailor the portfolio content to the client.
Leo Nicholas is a brand manager at Universal Music Group, Leo is one of the people that if you impressed could open the doors to working in the music industry. In a nutshell, if you want to shoot bands, make a portfolio to impress him. Leo was kind enough to offer this advice.
We are always looking for great new and established photographers to bring something unique to a project. Generally I will ask peers to recommend people and then check out their portfolios, constantly badgering someone to look at your portfolio is the worst thing you could do in my opinion, it just comes across as desperate. I think a photographer that is ingrained within music is great, they need to know how to work with bands, enabling them to have fun on the shoot and make them feel comfortable. I couldn’t really elaborate on how working with a music photographer is different to a Fashion or Art photographer, I assume they are similar disciples but require a particular eye and attitude.
I have never hired a music photographer though an agent. I think a lot of people start shooting for friends in bands and then it progresses as their skills progress, doing a good job for bigger bands and labels will help move you up to a higher level. I believe the first shoot I commissioned Tom (Barnes) to do was for Deaf Havana’s first album campaign, “Meet Me Halfway, At Least”. He was already shooting bands like Bring Me The Horizon at that time and the band and I really wanted to work with him.
Leo’s views are very typical across the commercial world. Most people you are going to pitch to are incredibly busy. When you do contact them, be polite, be direct and be relevant to their needs. If they like what they see, and have a need for your services they will get in touch. The worst thing you can can do is annoy these people to the point they add your name to a spam filter. If you take Leo’s advice and translate it over to your industry, be it fashion, or wedding, it makes perfect sense. When you have a potential wedding client in your studio, you wouldn’t force them to look over every wedding you have shoot. You would show them one or two albums that have a diverse mixture of photography. If they want to see more, they will ask. Keep it simple.
Once you have decided the format of the portfolio, you need to choose the photos you are going to use. Select these very carefully. Having a criteria for why each photo is in the book can be very important.
- What does the image say that other ones in the portfolio doesn’t ?
- Is the image relevant to the type of work you are looking for ?
- Is this the best example of my work ?
- Do you feel it is representative of you as an Artist ?
Only if a photo or image can stand up to each element or reason, then it might go into the book.
As to portfolio length, only you can be the judge of that. If you think you can say all you need with ten photographs then do it with ten. Some people have forty. Just ensure the overall message is coherent and clear with no repetition. Create a book that echo’s the style of work you want to be paid to do, this goes for layout also. If you want magazine editorial work, use tear sheets and show you know that industry, if you want to shoot music album covers, use the actually covers, or maybe the PDF version.
Try and show you know the business as well as how to make the images and remember – less is always more.
It is worth noting, this is not easy. It can take a number of weeks to bring your work into line, especially if you have never really attempted this before. Using programs like Adobe Bridge and Adobe Lightroom can really aid the process by using the colour markings or start ratings. Making new collections and always whittling the collections down. Personally speaking, I place 100 finished images into a folder then start the process of removing ones that are not going to fit.
How the photos sit together in the book is vital.
During the laying out process, it becomes clear some images just don’t feel right after you have made the selections and started the layout. Contact sheets are a great way to visualize layouts. A portfolio should have a flow and overall message. Think of it as a story from start to finish. It is a story about your clients will want to buy into. The order is vital. As Bruce says, most people will judge you on the first five images they see. Some people look at books back to front, so do be aware of this. During my layout, the strongest image is the last one, with the second strongest on page one accompanied by contact details. Once the running order is sorted, focus on editing and printing. Ensuring your book is consistent in style and colouring page to page never a bad thing. Having a portfolio that is in harmony in the key goal.
Even with the increasing popularity of iPads and digital portfolios, the running order of photos is critcial. Creating PDFs and showing on tablets is a great idea. Blurb will sell you a PDF version of your book for £1.30. Showing your work in context is always going to be better than a random slide show. There are so many cool apps to help show your images, but, if you are not showing them in your work in context you are missing a golden chance to show how powerful your imagery can really be. Have a look about on your app store, be it Android or iPad, but never let the technology get in the way. You are there to sell you, not Apple, they can do that well enough on their own.
Fashion Photographer Neil Snape says,
Although a print book will still be required for print clients, a digital portfolio viewer allows different categories, more material, even different presentations depending on need. It wouldn’t be possible to have all these separate books with you at any given time.
A tablet cannot replace a print book for print clients but can be an excellent supplement if the viewer want to see more or different subjects.
As a final summarize. Ensure your portfolio fits your brand, your pricing structure and you. It should be a teaser and something to entice people to buy into what you can offer. Make them want you. Underestimating how powerful social media can be is vital, why waste your time having a beautiful portfolio to then just upload everything and anything to your website or Facebook account. Think about how people view you.
Be inventive and don’t forget to show off a little, be proud of your work. Being able to self edit is a challenging, don’t give up! As for the iPad portable digital portfolios, they are great for snap shot view but, just don’t beat a fine printed body of work. Use both, use everything you can, after all , it is YOUR portfolio.