I’ve spent some time over the past couple of weeks looking at photographers’ portfolios in search of new talent for upcoming projects. I started my search online; then, once I had a short list of photographers whose work I liked, I arranged individual meetings to discuss their work in more detail and review their print portfolios.
Through this process, I was struck by a basic difference between print and online portfolios. Print portfolios, on the whole, are similar in format and presentation. Usually, the portfolio is either book-style with some elegant Helvetica on the cover indicating the photographer’s name, or the print-box-style contained within an outer case. Both styles include prints that vary in technique and size, as one would expect from individual tastes and preferences — but overall, a consistent approach.
The same can’t be said for online portfolios. And this can present challenges in fairly judging the talent and experience of different photographers.
Getting to the Point
I am not suggesting that there should be a single template for photographers’ Web sites, or that they should simply mimic the functionality of a print portfolio. On the contrary, Web sites enable photographers to communicate in a much fuller way with their audiences — showing not only their work, but also something about themselves as individuals. This is invaluable to anyone considering commissioning the photographer.
However, if the Web site makes viewing a portfolio difficult — and a surprising percentage of the sites I looked at did — then the photographer is missing the forest for the trees.
Yes, your Web site’s design says something about you as a creative professional. But ultimately, I’m not hiring a Web designer; I’m hiring a photographer. So more than anything else, your site needs to be coherently organized and easily navigated.
Value in Consistency
Guess what? I don’t have time to chase a small, spherical, lime-green object around the screen with my cursor to access your next photograph. I’m sure your designer told you it was cool and edgy — but it just cost you a potential client. And you can bet I’m not the only one.
First and foremost, commissioners want to review your work — quickly and efficiently. Some of the better sites I saw used inexpensive, off-the-peg templates such as Apple’s iWeb, which allowed me to easily view the photographer’s images.
If you choose a custom-built site, I’d encourage you to consider your site’s design in relationship to the other marketing materials you produce, including your print portfolio. Having a clean, consistent look that communicates your brand is far more effective than throwing in the kitchen sink simply because you can.