The Art of Making a Portfolio

If you’re ever asked to submit a portfolio for a project, gallery, contest, etc. — make sure you know what a portfolio is before submitting anything! I won’t go into all the details, but this topic reared its head a few days ago in that password-protected post that many of you are probably wondering about. Don’t worry, you’ll find out soon enough… Nevermind, I’ve opened it up so everybody can check out the discussions.

Being able to produce a decent portfolio is a skill worth having. A poorly constructed portfolio can be the sole cause of rejection, even if you’re the most amazing photographer on the face of the Earth. So here are a few lessons on the art of making a portfolio.

A PORTFOLIO IS…

a small collection of topic-related photos presented for the purpose of evaluation. And “small” typically means 10 to 20 photos. Any less and it’s hard to evaluate; any more and it’s hard to digest. Traditionally, a portfolio was in the form of prints bound into some kind of book or folder. With the digital age in full swing, portfolios can also take the form of a web page (which is actually the focus of this article). The photos should be your absolute best while also representing your style or capabilities as they relate to the given topic.

A PORTFOLIO IS NOT…

a photoblog, a gallery, a collection of galleries, or any other large collection of images. Photoblogs and galleries take too much time to navigate and generally contain too much information to paint a clear picture. If somebody has to review 50 or 100 electronic portfolios, you don’t want them to spend their limited time just looking for the photos. If they have to search too hard, it will only leave a negative impression and you’ll go right into the “No” pile. If your images are not closely related to the given topic, you only give yourself the appearance of not being skilled on that topic — again, right into the “No” pile.

WHAT’S A PHOTOGRAPHER TO DO?

Put some portfolios together right now! Don’t wait until you’re asked to present a portfolio on a moment’s notice. With tools such as Flickr, Zooomr, SmugMug, Picasa Web Albums, other photo-sharing sites, and personal websites, there’s no reason not to have some portfolios put together and ready to go.

Remember, keep them concise and constantly updated. Evaluate your collection of images and make the determination on which topics you could make a portfolio for. Some ideas might be landscape, macro, flowers, black & white, bright colors, street photography, portraits, abstract, fine art, weddings, religious, beaches, travel, countries, colors, architecture, interiors, neon signs… you get the point. If you’re a Flickr user, you can check your tags to give you an idea of which topics are good candidates. You can see my current portfolios on Flickr.

UPDATE: If anybody has a portfolio or collection of portfolios they’d like to share, leave the links in the comments.

If the occasion arises to submit a portfolio already in your collection, GREAT! You’re done! If somebody asks for a portfolio on a different topic, at least you have the experience to know what a portfolio should look like. For further reading on this topic, see “Creating a Photography Portfolio” over at photocritic.org.

18 thoughts on “The Art of Making a Portfolio

  1. kRiZ cPEc

    Just read this in my reader and I feel like to say thank you for the concise details of what makes a portolio. Thanks. I added a star to it.

  2. Antoine Khater

    Well Brian I wish you posted this before the project :) I did try to prepare something and present it but I just didn’t know how to do it !

    Thank you it is indeed very helpful

  3. Brian Auer Post author

    That’s awesome! Nice work — it certainly helps to give people a quick overview of what your areas of expertise are. Anybody else have a portfolio or collection of portfolios they’d like to share?

  4. Hitesh Sawlani

    I use smartsetr for flickr to automatically create “portfolio sets” according to tags

    Some of them need refining, but they generally show my “good work” and the plus is its automatically generated and sorted by interestingness

    Some of the sets are manual such as “Explored” showing images that have been on explore and may not be of the same theme. Another “A visual treat volume 1″ is of a seemingly random set of photos – its the photos I used to created my first (and so far only) photobook based on my photoblog

    Heres the link:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/hitkaiser/collections/72157600198474205/

  5. Luis Cruz

    My portfolio has 24 images in (more actually – the portrait oriented shots get combined into one frame) and it is my homepage. It’ll probably grow to 36 (or another multiple of 12, maybe 6) and eventually start getting split up into categories (or in the future, photographers) – but that’s for later.

    As for flickr, I do have an account, but I’m not too keen on presenting that to clients as a folio. As a business owner, I don’t think hosting my folio on another site seems particularly impressive. Besides, I have total control over how my images are displayed on my own site.

    Another good thing about flickr is that I can use it as a slush pile of sorts. I just keep posting images I like, and if I realize that people REALLY like a certain image, I would consider putting it in my folio.

    That’s my two cents worth.

  6. Brian Auer Post author

    Good point about hosting a portfolio on a site like Flickr. For professional work, a self-hosted portfolio is probably best. But there are many other opportunities to use Flickr as a portfolio host.

    I totally agree that Flickr is a great tool for evaluating the impact of a photo. I’ve seen the same thing happen — you upload 10 photos, and there always seems to be a few of those that really take off with comments and faves. It’s a good indicator of what works and what doesn’t.

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  9. Corey

    This is a great explanation of the hows and whats of building your portfolio. You can tell a lot of time was put into it. I will be recommending it to some of my photographer and artist friends because I know they can benefit from it.
    Thanks.

  10. Artist Easel

    Wow! Very good explanation here and I learned a lot of things that I didn’t know too! Thanks for posting such a great explanation on building a portfolio.

  11. Lexi

    I would love to see someone’s portfolio as well. I am still trying to put mine together. I learn so well by example. Thanks for the info and I will check back to see other portfolios … hopefully.

    Personally, I love animals, natural settings and nostalgia.

  12. Chad Timms

    Photography is actually very interesting. I have not been into photography for about 10 years but I remember I chose to take photography as my Art credit at my community college. It actually turned out to be one of my favorite classes and reading this blog brought back those memories.

  13. Winston-Salem Dog Training

    I am getting ready to upload my portfolio to flicker and my site Any suggestions one can recommend? I hear that many people will steal your work and use it as their own.

    Of course, my portfolio consists of dogs. Hope you like it.

  14. Tasha

    One of the best tips I ever got about a portfolio was to put your second best image as the lead image, and your best image as the closing image – that way your viewer’s first impression is a good one, but the last image they see (which is the one they are most likely to remember) is killer and will really stick out in their mind.

  15. Brian Auer Post author

    I’ve heard that too — and I usually do the same for the posts here on the blog that exhibit a bunch of full-width photos.

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