One of the biggest highlights of a photographer’s career is a great photography portfolio, and there are always something to discuss when it comes the time to build a photography portfolio. The time to put your face out there and put your portfolio on the street it will always bring new challenges, new questions and this will all be very stressful.
But it is also the time that much will be answered and defined about your career as a photographer. Don’t forget that your portfolio will say a lot about who you are, how you think and what is your style, so pay close attention when preparing your photography portfolio.
A bad portfolio will not only paint you as a bad photographer, but will also put you at a disadvantage in acquiring new customers. And a bad portfolio goes deeper than just bad photos, but most of the time the we can live with a bad design portfolio if the photos aren’t too bad.
Often a great photographer with a bad portfolio is outnumbered by a mediocre photographer with a great portfolio. And as we always tend to “accept” what seems most “reliable” and this will not change anytime soon, so the way you demonstrate your work will make all the difference.
What is a photography portfolio?
A photography portfolio is simply a collection of the best in your work, aiming to attract the attention of new potential customers and start creating your reputation. This portfolio can be divided into series, themes or type of photographic works, carefully selected and organized to make life easier for those who are viewing.
The main objective of a well build photography portfolio is to show potential contractors what you are capable of and the quality of your work. Or just to show your style as a photographer.
How to build a photography portfolio
So, here are some factors to consider and steps or tips for building an excellent photography portfolio the way you’ve always dreamed of. Best of all, you can have a great portfolio without spending a dime.
1- Digital or printed ?
The first question you should ask yourself is: How will I present my work?
Today we have more than one option to present our work. Depending on the type of client we want to reach or how you want to express yourself, it is worth thinking about the type of presentation you will give to your work.
We can present our work in several ways, among them the good old print, where the photos are printed and organized in one or more catalogs. If you’re trying to win more conservative clients or an art gallery curator, this format may work better.
After all you have the material in hand, palpable, and ready to show. The problem is that you will definitely have to travel to a meeting for your portfolio to be appreciated or to depend on postages with risk to damage your work. It is also true that if you do more than one type of photography, you will have to have more than one type of printed portfolio.
Here it is worth remembering that in addition to your work being perfect the print quality must also be up to date. There is no point in a great click with bad print of it.
When we enter on to the digital sphere, the possibilities to build a photography portfolio increase a lot. Today we have many digital platforms where it is possible to have your work hosted and thus create a beautiful photography portfolio. We can go from the options at no cost like Instagram, Facebook or even Pinterest to some more costly and industry oriented portfolios like SquareSpace.
Some platforms work better than others to show your work, especially if you are a photographer. The problem with many digital platforms is the lack of control by the user, you cannot always choose certain aspects of the demonstration of your photos. Or sometimes you have no control over who is misusing your material, due to the lack of clear rules on the topic on some platforms. This is a great problem with Instagram and Facebook as an example. The great advantage of these platforms is that they are free and practically everyone knows and uses some of them, which brings a little more credibility to the work.
However, many free platforms can disappear at any time, taking with them your beautiful portfolio. So I would be very careful to only rely on totally free platforms as the only way to disseminate the work.
Below are some digital platforms where you can build a photography portfolio.
- Behance (Free)
- Crevado (Free and paid)
- Salon.io (Free and paid)
- Wix (Free and paid)
- WordPress.com (Free and paid) *
- WordPress.org (Free, domain and hosting required) *
- SquareSpace (Paid) *
- PortfolioBox (Free and paid)
- 500px (Free)
- Viewbug (Free)
- SmugMug (Paid) *
All of these above are digital platforms where you can create a great portfolio, the options marked with * are my favorites.
Of all the options above I chose WordPress.org, which is also the platform for this blog, as it is the most complete of all, and also the most complex. In it you need to have a domain, the famous .com, .ca or .net and also need to have a web hosting service.
All of this has an annual cost that can vary a lot according to the chosen plan. The advantages of having all the controls in your hands is that you can choose how everything will be shown to the public, from the order of the photos to the font type of the letters and the overall design of the page.
Simple and complete
Despite not having full control over the presentation of things, both SquareSpace and SmugMug are great platforms for building a photography portfolio. In addition to exclusive themes for photographers, these platforms also have integration with the virtual store, where it is possible to sell products or services over the internet.
2 – What is the purpose of creating a portfolio?
Defining the purpose of your portfolio is very important to achieve your goals. Defining things as the objective of this portfolio, to whom and under what circumstances it will be presented are the first directions you should take.
Take, for example, a job interview where your portfolio will be appreciated. In this case it is possible for you to separate the photos that fit best with the intended vacancy. Or if you are wanted to cover a wedding, it is best to take only the photos that have to do with the situation to show to your next couple.
It’s no use creating a portfolio that doesn’t say anything about your style, whether it’s just a bunch of photos on a website or in a folder. Your portfolio must show what you are about. A portfolio can also be just a personal collection of your best work in order to track your development, and so, this can be a little more free. A portfolio designed for an exhibition is sure to portray your style, philosophy and specialty in photography. Whatever the reason, if well defined, it will help to structure your portfolio and the best way to showcase your work.
3 – Design and photography style
Every artist has his own style or perspective on his own art. His own perspective on telling viewers the story behind each scene. This may have been perceived by someone else or probably discovered and developed by you intentionally. Once you have identified the purpose of the portfolio, it is much easier to outline the style and design you want the portfolio to have.
In this moment will appear things like logo and visual identity of your brand, which are things that can go beyond photography, but they will surely add a lot of value to your work.
You will have to think about a lot of things. The size you going to print your photos, the type page / paper, the color scheme of your portfolio and so on. This works not just for online photography portfolios but as well as form printed ones. On online portfolio think about eh use experience, and make everything to make your customer’s live easier. Don’t fall in the trap to make a online portfolio the pleases only you.
Regardless of whether you choose the digital or print format, it is important that you choose the photos in order to corroborate what your design and style are saying. As a beginner photographer, don’t worry if you don’t already have that kind of experience or amount of material to show. Keep compiling and consider shooting for free for your family, friends and low-paid jobs so you can grow your portfolio, this way you are not just getting more material for your portfolio but also gaining more experience.
4 – Choice of photos
This is the most difficult piece to fit the puzzle. In the beginning everything will be easy, it is easy to choose the photos you don’t like and filter the ones that don’t fulfill the purpose. But choosing your best photos will never be simple work. Of course, this is because we place a lot of value on our work, we take into account everything we went through to get that photo.
But this work is not always something that needs to be shown or taken into consideration for a portfolio. Keep in mind that the photos have to fulfill a goal, they have to send a message, just so you will have an exemplary portfolio. You will have to make a mental exercise and just choose your 5 star work, not the photos that you ‘love” for X or Y reasons. Start by separating all the photos that you think are 5 star work and start from there.
I will not go in this post on how to do this culling but if you are using Lightroom you can see this article that can help you.
At this stage it will be good to have someone you feel comfortable with to help you choose the photos, choose a sincere person who understands a little about photography and that you know that will tell you the truth no matter what, maybe your mother is not fit for this job. Don’t forget the reason why the portfolio is being created, this way you will only have great photos to put in it.
5 – The first impression is what remains!
First impression remains! Choose to open your series or portfolio with the better photo you think you have, the one that creates a question in the mind of the viewer.
Put the best of the best in front and try not to slow down the pace on the rest of the series or portfolio, don’t forget that a general story is being told here. This way you will keep the viewer much more entertained in your work. From time to time, give some space to the viewer to breathe. Creating some space for photos that are more thoughtful will create an pause, a movement, in your portfolio, and this will give a space for the viewer breathe and think about your work.
6 – Organization
It is not just a matter of beauty, but a well-organized portfolio helps to tell your story much easier. Dividing your portfolio into themes or type of photography, if you work in several areas, is something mandatory for building a great portfolio.It makes no sense to have a landscape photo in the middle of a lot of portraits, or vice versa.
Organize your photos to create a particular mood, try to anticipate the reaction of whoever is viewing your photos, create something other than just a bunch of photos together. Create subcategories or sub-themes if you feel the need to organize things more deeply. Think that this is not just a beautiful photo album organization and you will be on the right track.
7 – Title, description and internet stuff
This works when you build a photography portfolio but is also true for the person who will use the printed portfolio. This tip refers to your photo titles, captions, photo inspiration, and other important details that helps to tell the history of the work. People will understand your style and perspective and they will also be able to relate to the portfolio as if they were at your side.
There are no very strict rules on what exactly to include, but it is worth considering including some details:
- Photo captions
- A statement about the inspiration or concept of the photo
- Date and location of the photo
There are people who like to add technical details, like angle of the photo, camera and lenses used, things like that. Particularly, I don’t think this is totally necessary, it is up to each one. I believe that people have to like your photo and not the camera with which it was taken.
8 – Search engine optimization (SEO)
One of the things that people forget is that internet technology changes a lot every day, and today anyone who wants to have some kind of relevance on the web has to know a little bit of SEO. SEO is a way for internet search engines to find your website, therefore your portfolio. There is no point in having a beautiful website and including your portfolio if no one can find it.
There are millions of websites and blogs on the internet where you can learn more about the subject, so I’m not going to go into too much detail on how to do things here. Use friendly URLs, unique tags, keywords, trackable content to help people search for you and be able to evaluate your site and reach you easily. A great place to how more about how to use SEO is on the Neil Patel website. These resources will generate more traffic for your portfolio, all thanks to a good optimization for search engines.
9 – Get feedback
Before putting the whole work live, it is very worthwhile to get some opinions on how the work is doing as a whole. Ask friends, photographers or not, to give a sincere opinion about how your portfolio is doing. As for photo quality is more than advisable to gather a mentor opinion about your work, look for photographer that are willing to give you their sincere opinion about your work.
It is crucial not only for improvements in your portfolio, but also for your career as a photographer. Over time you can also put your customers’ opinions on your website / portfolio telling how it was working with you at that time.
10 – Ask permission
This one is for those who like to photograph people. People do not always want to appear on the internet, each for their own reasons. So if you have not specified in your contract / model release that the photos would be used in your portfolio, this will have to be done before your put your portfolio online.
Whenever we post someone’s photo on the web, we can be held responsible for this. Do not forget that each person has the right to their image preserved by law, therefore the importance of a prior contract or a model release.
If you follow the tips I gave you here I have no doubt that you will know how to build a photography portfolio. Besides that, your portfolio will be much better than many people out there. Don’t forget that the main character in your portfolio is your photos, not you or your equipment.
Be sure to share this article with anyone you think will need! And leave your thoughts on how to build a photography portfolio on the comment section.