So you’re a gifted and passionate photographer! But, do you know how to build an amazing photography portfolio in order to turn this passion into a successful career?
You need to stand out
Photography spurts are rampant everywhere. With the spread of social media and the advances in technology, pretty much anyone who can afford a smart phone can label themselves a photographer. One way to stand out as a true master and separate yourself from the crowd is to build a top notch photography portfolio for yourself.
Whether you are creating a portfolio to apply to a school, for consideration to be featured in a gallery or because you are starting your very own photography business, these tips will help you stand out and create something exceptional.
Tips on How to Build an Amazing Photography Portfolio
Tip # 1 – Make your portfolio into a strong message
Think for a while about what your purpose is as a photographer? What do YOU think? What is your purpose? Don’t make the mistake of always thinking about what everyone else is doing and what everyone else is thinking. This is your portfolio and will be the strongest if its honest and comes from you!
The key to capturing attention is to make sure you are not only displaying your greatest pieces but that those pieces demonstrate what kind of photographer you are. You want to show that you are smart, that you have depth, that you are inspired and creative and that you have messages you want to share with the world.
There are different ways to do this that have already proved successful but remember that you can always mix and match or even better, create your own personalized style from scratch. Don’t be afraid to be bold. Many will tell you that you should attempt to “appeal to a range of audiences” but guess what, every other photographer on the planet is doing that. You need to be bold and daring if you want to stand apart and be great.
Some examples of what you can go for is: tell a story, make people think about something, make people feel a theme of emotions, show off your skill with trick shots.
Tip # 2 – Every photograph needs to reflect your message
Contrary to the belief of some, your portfolio should NOT contain all of your work. Only between 5-10% of your work should be included in your portfolio. In fact the lower this percentage the better. If you do not have enough work for that, then its time to put your nose to the grindstone – or should I say to the viewfinder- and start taking more shots.
You want to be able to pick and choose the pieces that will best come together to demonstrate whatever strong message you are going for. In fact, the best photographers have various portfolios showing that they can approach their work from different angles.
Side note: you should always finish off your portfolio with contact information and an offer to see more work. You can even add some sample thumbnails from other portfolios.
Tip # 3 – Write all titles/descriptions to strengthen your message
Title your portfolio. You want this title to be fairy short, to the point and reflective of the angle you are taking with your portfolio. Some good examples are: “Capturing the Human Heart” or “One Last Step to Sundown” .
Notice how these are short, they immediately make you anticipate what’s coming next and they are already evoking visual imagery in the readers mind. This is what you want to do but you want to make sure that this leads effectively into the work you are about to show.
You want to think about taking your audience on a journey through your work as a writer would take their reader through the world they’ve created. Its ALL ABOUT the viewers experience and its your job to make it as easy to understand and enjoyable as possible.
You don’t want them to just see images, you want them to feel your work and resonate with it. Of course some people just won’t resonate with your work and thats OK! You can’t appeal to everyone. I’ll repeat that: you cannot appeal to everyone! Your job is to appeal extremely well to the people that do resonate with your work.
You may or may not choose to title your shots and add descriptions for them. Some places will require this and some won’t give you specifications. If you do add titles and descriptions, make sure that each and every one of them is contributing to the overall message of your portfolio. If you have existing descriptions and titles – you need to modify them so that they contribute to whatever your message or theme is if they don’t already.
Tip # 4 – Make a bold statement and DON’T BULLSHIT
You will often be asked to include a statement accompanying your portfolio. Again, do not be afraid to be bold here. This does not mean start swearing or telling stories of drunken escapades. This means writing down on paper who you are at the core. Why are you an photographer? What is your message? What do you hope to show other people? What is your purpose?
I know it can be a foreign concept not to bullshit on things like a personal statement. But the ones that stand out the most and are the best are true and sincere.
The key to doing this well is to tie it to your portfolio’s message. I recommend having a different photographer’s statement for each of your portfolios if you have several. I hope you are starting to understand that your portfolio package has to make up one cohesive unit that will present you to the viewer in the way you would like to be seen.
For example, if you are trying to evoke emotion in your portfolio, then your photographer’s statement should explain why you are depicting emotions. Perhaps you believe that photography should be an emotional experience for your viewers and you enjoy communicating with them that way? Perhaps you find yourself to be an extremely emotional person and you feel relief and joy to express those emotions through your shots because now they can become beautiful things for others to enjoy?
It doesn’t matter what you say as long as it i) ties together with your portfolio’s message ii) it truly comes from the heart.
Tip #5 – Package it personally & professionally
If you are working with a physical portfolio – rather than a digital one – there’s some further room for personal touches. You can play with the compilation folder to put your work into. You can use anything from leather-bound journals or folders to indigenous materials. Think outside the box and be creative but always remember that you are working to strengthen your main message.
All other details relating to your portfolio that are being requested need to be done with the utmost professionalism. This means your resume, your cover letter, your mailing envelope, your choice of stamp even. Every little detail needs to be paid attention to and perfect.
I understand that these are semantics that you don’t want to be wasting your time with when you could be creating, but unfortunately we live in a world now where those semantics may get you the opportunity you’re looking for because its that one little thing that separates you from the 20 other great applicants.
The last thing to remember is that if you’re doing this for college or a job or feature opportunity, you need to be following the instructions of whatever institution or gallery or company it is. Before you finalize and submit, you need to go through step by step and double check that you’ve followed all their instructions. Deviating from their instructions is not a good way to show creativity.
The final touches
I know it can be tough and even scary, but it can seriously help to share your final product with your family and friends and ask their opinions. In fact, the best thing to do is ask them directly to criticize you. You don’t have to take into account anything they say or you can take all of it into account. This is your work and as a professional, a vital skill is knowing how to sift through criticism to find the good bits!
If you have any other comments or questions on how to build an amazing photography portfolio, please leave them below and we’ll be happy to help!