Professional Photography Portfolios: A Guide to Setting Up Yours

Posted 9/26/2017 7:07:40 PM

Are you ready to begin soliciting clients for your photography business? You probably have chosen equipment, practiced and likely taken a few pro-bono jobs to build your skill set. Now, the time has come to separate yourself from the competition and build your client base.

The first question that comes to mind is “Where do I start”?

To begin with, it’s important to understand that the success of any service-oriented business is to create an identity and service portfolio, to help garner new clients. Photography is no different and your professional portfolio is likely the first tangible introduction any potential client will see when trying to solicit them.

A good professional portfolio will be your resume, business card and likely your storefront in the photography business. It is a key tool that allows a potential client to judge your work. It will likely be the key tool you use to procure new clients, and the key piece of marketing that will effectively convert potential clients into paying clients who subscribe to your service. The following guide will run you through the steps of making your professional photography portfolio.


 Step 1: Identify the Purpose & Audience

The main goal of any photography portfolio is to garner new clients and showcase your unique, specialized skills. The first thing to take into consideration, when building your portfolio, is to understand what purpose you want it to convey and what audience you’re trying to reach. It’s important to identify these to factors prior to beginning the photo selection process, as it will help immensely when choosing what media to include. The purpose is to get work, but more importantly, it’s to identify what kind of work you will be looking to get. For example, if you are looking to procure wedding clients, it would make no sense to include shots of your weekend nature hikes, as they wouldn’t serve that purpose. So, first choose what your main goals and purpose for your portfolio is.

After identifying the purpose of your portfolio, it’s important to think of your audience. Use the same example as above. The bride and groom or their close relatives, for example, will likely scrutinize a wedding portfolio. Likewise, if you are trying to get a job covering sport events, your portfolio will likely be “checked out” by the coach and players. By identifying these two main factors, you can ascertain what to include and what will not resonate with your audience.


Step 2: Choose Your Photographs and Theme

Now that you have identified the purpose and audience of your portfolio, it’s time to choose the pictures and the theme.  When choosing your pictures, it’s important to choose pictures that fit a similar theme. An example is choosing all black and white photos as a theme. Also, ensure you choose the best possible work you have. Make certain that they will hit a note with your audience.

Another tip is to make sure you choose relatively similar-sized pictures, with the same orientation. Orientation is either landscape or portrait and you should choose pictures that maintain a similar orientation throughout the entire portfolio. This will make it easier for your potential clients to look through it without having to rotate the pages or screen. Conversely, if you must include a mix of landscape and portrait shots in your portfolio, group them together in your portfolio for ease of viewing.


Step 3: Edit Your Pictures and Choose Your Layout

Once you have picked approximately 10-20 pictures, the next step is to edit them and make sure they look their absolute best. In the event you have chosen photographs that don’t match in theme or orientation, this is the time to adjust them so they do match. Try using professional editing software, a great one is “Adobe Lightroom,” but a few other great options exist, also.

Another tip is to choose 20-25% extra photographs, and edit them all. Once they are all edited, choose the best ones to include. Discard or archive the ones that don’t make the cut.


Step 4: Put It All Together

Now that you have the pictures edited, and are absolutely sure they are the best possible representation of your work, it’s time to put it together. Begin by choosing a layout that will best suit your work. Programs like “Adobe InDesign” are great for this step, but using any program that can output PDF pages and let you move the elements around will suffice.

Other things that should be included in this step are a brief list of your past work history, along with a small section about you and your contact information.  Also, include any past awards or major projects that you have worked on, and a section describing why you would be the best photographer for your audience. Refer to Section 1 and think of what your audience truly wants to know, that would convince them you are the best person for their needs.


Step 5: Get Feedback & Update Regularly

Once you have completed steps 1-4, it’s time to test your portfolio. Send it to a few friends or family, and ask them to critique the portfolio. You want to use people who will be absolutely honest and will give you usable feedback. Listen and update your portfolio based on the suggestions you will receive. A great portfolio takes time to develop, and photographers rarely get it right the first time around. As you show it to more and more people, their feedback will give you direction on how to improve it further.


Step 6: Publish

The time has come to publish and make your new photography portfolio available. My suggestion is to make two sets, hardcopies in printed format and a digital version that can be used online. The reason to have both is that everyone is different and prefers to inspect your portfolio in different ways. Also, make sure to check it out on a few different screens, prior to sending it off.  This is because sometimes the size difference in screens can cause parts of the picture, specifically the margins, to be effected. Make sure to export the final version as a PDF, to ensure the formatting doesn’t move around or can’t be displaced by accident.

Another important factor is to always update your portfolio to be as current as possible. As your work history grows, you will likely have better shots than the ones you originally use in your first portfolio. It is important to update your portfolio regularly to include new work experience, awards and your latest best shots. Photography is a journey and your portfolio will only get better in time. If you follow these steps, you should have a decent portfolio to begin that journey and start obtaining clients to grow your business.