Tips for Creating a Winning Portfolio


As part of my work for Black Star, I review a lot of photographers’ portfolios. Usually, I treat it as a perk of the job. I’m getting paid to look at beautiful pictures created by some of the world’s most talented photographers. What could be bad about that?

Not the photos, of course; they’re usually fantastic. It’s the portfolios themselves that often fall short. They may give me a good understanding that the photographer is talented, creative and skilled — all of which I’m looking for.

But too often, they don’t give me a clear idea of the sort of pictures I’ll get back if I send the photographer on an assignment. That’s the other thing I’m looking for — and it’s no less important.

Don’t Tell Clients Everything

Many photographers go about creating their portfolio the wrong way. They try to assemble a collection of images that shows off all their skills. They want any prospective client to understand all of their capabilities.

But clients don’t need to know everything that a photographer can do. They just need to know that they can do the job — and while that job might change, the demands of different types of clients tend to be fairly similar.

Most of the clients Black Star works with are either commercial or editorial. They’re looking for different things, but if you focus on just those two categories — and they’re very broad — it becomes much easier to create a persuasive portfolio.

Start by choosing the images that appeal to you the most. All photographers have images that give them that gut feeling that says, “This one’s special.” That’s a good place to begin.

You have to be careful, though. You want to choose images that are special because of their arrangement, lighting and look — not because of what you had to do to get them. That’s not an easy distinction to make sometimes, but you have to try to look at your photos objectively.

After you’ve selected your best images, group together those that have a common style. This is very important. Photographers often display lots of different styles to show their versatility, but I’d much rather see a portfolio with a clear voice.

You might not be suitable for every job, but I’ll know which jobs you are suitable for — and whenever they come up I’ll turn to you because I’m confident you can do it. If you show lots of different approaches, I won’t know which one you’ll use on the assignment.

Editorial vs. Commercial Clients

As for the types of images you should choose, this is where an understanding of what the different client types are looking for is so important.

In general, editorial clients want to see how you handle both concepts and people. If they send you to take a picture of a personality to match an interview, they want to know what you can get out of him — just as the journalist’s editor would want to know what the reporter would get out of him.

So to appeal to editorial clients, make sure you have plenty of portraits. Celebrities, if you have them, are good even if they aren’t your best shots.

Also include some images with a good story. I might ask about them, because those stories can tell me a great deal about the way you work and how you might handle a future assignment.

Commercial clients tend to be more interested in a photographer’s visual style. To win these kinds of assignments, make sure you include images that place an emphasis on appearance rather than concept. Shots that use particular lighting techniques can be a good choice.

Again, you’ll want to have a clear voice — no one wants a big surprise when they get back their photos — so try to keep the style consistent.

Finally, save a little space in your portfolio for your personal work. I always enjoy looking through those, and that’s where you can show off some of the versatility you’re so keen to share.

Creating an effective portfolio is time-consuming. It takes time to find the right images, let alone edit them, arrange them, caption them and display them. Not only that, but it’s a project that you’ll never finish; you’ll continue updating it throughout your career.

And when you’re done, inevitably you’ll find that people react in completely unexpected ways to your photos. You can consider that a perk of your job.

[tags]photography advice, photography portfolios[/tags]


One Response to “Tips for Creating a Winning Portfolio”

  1. I dont think africa deserves htis type of living ithink we have to change it.

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