How to Create a Winning Portfolio — It’s About More than Good Pictures

As the editorial director at Black Star, I’m fortunate enough to look at between 10 and 15 portfolios every week. Unfortunately, very few of those portfolios lead me to take on the photographers who created them.

The photos might be very good. The photographer could be very talented. But when I look at a portfolio — and when a photo editor looks at a portfolio — we’re looking for very specific things. Of course, we want to know that the photographer is skilled and creative. That goes without saying. But we also want to know who the photographer is.

We need to trust the photographer. We have to know that he or she is both independent and dependable. We have to believe that when we send him or her on the assignment, they’re going to bring back the images the editor needs.

That impression starts with the look of the portfolio. Too many photographers put all their effort into their images and none into the settings in which they place them. Editors are on tight deadlines and they want to see quickly that the Web site and the pictures are well done. A poorly designed portfolio creates a very poor first impression, and that’s often the only impression you get to make.

Getting the look right is really the easy part — even if it’s often overlooked. Much harder is choosing the right images to display.

One of the best portfolios I’ve seen recently is that of Boston photographer Tanit Sakakini. Not only are her pictures outstanding, but they also tell me a great deal about her and about the way she works.

Tanit’s pictures all have a clear style — and it’s the same style throughout. They don’t all look the same, but they do show her “voice” and her approach. Tanit says that she’d rather people feel that she does one thing well than many things, and although she’s right, her portfolio actually does a lot more than that.


  • She’s made a point of including portraits — something we always need.
  • She’s included shots that show off particular techniques to impress commercial clients.
  • She’s included pictures with stories that explain how she thinks and how she goes about her shoots. (Usually, I look for this in a photographer’s personal projects — but with Tanit, I can see it in her commercial shots, too.)Not every photographer has to do everything that Tanit has done in her portfolio. But they do have show themselves as well as their work.

    (Photo by Tanit Sakakini)

    [tags]photography, portfolios, photography portfolio, portfolio advice, photography advice, anh stack[/tags]

  • One Response to “How to Create a Winning Portfolio — It’s About More than Good Pictures”

    1. Hi,

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