Your First Portfolio

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Assembling your portfolio - photo by Beo Beyond

Once you’ve been in photography a few years, it will be time to put together a portfolio.

The most common mistake new photographers make is trying to include all of their very best work.

The goal of a good portfolio is to organize your work around themes and demonstrate your ability to capture the essence of that theme.  Sometimes, the request for a portfolio will be aligned with a particular theme.  So if you have one good landscape, avoid the temptation to try and slip it in with a series about people.

When it comes to selecting the specific photos in a portfolio, you might consider asking for help from friends or relatives with artistic talent.  You might look at your own photos differently than gallery owner or magazine editor.  You might be tempted to pick the pretty ones, an outside observer might make choices that are more reflective of your unique style as a photographer.

That’s really the key for assembling a compelling portfolio; selecting pictures with a compelling and unique visual style, not necessarily the pretty ones.

Another factor that will determine your shot selection for a portfolio is the intended audience.  Is it a portfolio for a gallery or print magazine?  There is a very large difference in shot selection between an artistic audience and a journalistic audience.  For an artistic audience, you’ll want to select pictures for visual talent and uniqueness. For art you’re usually making a statement and, sometimes, that statement doesn’t make a lot of sense for many people.  That’s okay in an artistic setting.

For a journalism customer all the decision factors change.  In journalism you’re not making a statement, you’re telling a story.  It’s okay if your subject is making a statement, but not the photographer.  Your job as the photographer is to tell the story of the person or persons making the statement or being acted upon by the outside world.  It is a largely different point of view that inspires and requires a different approach to capturing images.  In journalistic shots, you’re trying to capture the gritty reality of the situation and reality is rarely pretty.

Displaying your portfolio can be a challenge.  Most people will set up a slick web site with some nifty JavaScript or Flash.  That’s all well and good, but then you have to convince a busy person who probably has dozens of photographers pushing work at them to visit your web site.  I’ve never been comfortable with that strategy.

Another common distribution medium is CDROM, DVD or some type of storage device.  I don’t like that option, either.  It’s shares a problem with web sites in that it depends on the monitor of the person accessing the site or playing the CD.  Computer monitors can vary widely in their display qualities and color rendition.

My preferred method of delivering a portfolio might seem terribly old fashioned in the internet age, but I like getting prints and putting them in a binder.  Along with the binder I send a postage-paid return envelope.  Yes, it’s old school technology, but it works on the train, bus or the back of a taxi.

In this days of iPads and smart mobile devices, a plug-in storage device may be turning into the default option. Portability becomes more important as fewer people bother with heavy briefcases.  Everything is on their iPad.

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