Every two weeks, we revisit some of our reader favorite posts from throughout the history of Phototuts+. This tutorial was first published in October of 2010.
Collating a photographic portfolio can be a daunting experience. Many have the intention to create one, or even get as far as collecting materials, but believe that their work isn’t good enough and don’t know how best to present it. Putting together a portfolio can be a very beneficial activity and hopefully these simple steps will guide you through the process!
Step 1. What Is a Portfolio?
A photographic portfolio is quite simply a collection of work. The common misconception is that it is required to be a ‘best of’ of all the work you’ve ever done. Although this can be true in some cases, it is more likely to be a series of work with a unifying theme, style or taken through a specific medium.
Step 2. What Is It For?
A portfolio is an opportunity for you to present your work, but it is important to consider what the portfolio is for. Are you taking it to a job interview, or are you looking to get your work exhibited at a gallery? Maybe you just want to bring your work together to present it?
Whatever the reason, it is vital that you create your portfolio with this in mind. A job interview might require you to display a variety of skills and techniques, whereas a collection for an exhibition would require a single unifying theme and will need to be presented with the gallery setting in mind.
Step 3. Your Audience
Once you’ve decided your intentions for your portfolio, you need to consider the audience your looking to reach. Try to consider what reaction you want to evoke – do you want them to be pleased, surprised, shocked? Not everyone is going to want to see your favourite landscape shot or generic shots that they see day in day out, so do you best to make your shots stand out and get the reaction you want.
Step 4. Paper vs. Digital
At this point you need to decide what format you portfolio is presented in. In the past, everything was on paper, but technology has introduced the option of presenting your portfolio on a PDF, JPEGs or through an online medium. Being able to email a link to your portfolio through to potential employers is obviously extremely convenient.
I would argue that the process and final product of a beautifully printed out paper portfolio far outweighs the option of viewing photos on screen. For more on presenting an online portfolio, check out our Quick Tip article on the subject
Step 5. Style & Design
It’s now time to consider the style and design of your portfolio. You’ll need a folder or portfolio case to hold it all in, but before you head out to buy something, consider what size your want your printed out shots to be. I would recommend something fairly large – maybe 20x30cm or about A4.
You then need to select the paper to print on and the print quality, preferably as high as you can afford. This said, remember there are no restrictions on size, shape or style – the more personal it is and the more it says about you as an artist, the better.
Step 6. Theme
Next you’ll want to consider what theme or style you want your portfolio to have. This will depend upon your audience For a job taking portraits, you should only include your portrait work. You could have a collection of black and white or sepia work, a set of shots taken with a specific camera format or a collection of shots from a specific time period or geographical region.
If you are looking to mix up types and styles of shots, make sure you have a valid reason for doing so. Remember that regardless of the theme, you should ensure a consistent colour balance and quality throughout the set of work.
Step 7. Choosing the Shots
The most difficult part of creating a portfolio is selecting the shots. There’s always a huge temptation to just select your favourites, but a photographer isn’t always the best judge of their own work as they take into consideration the setting, effort and editing taken to create the shot.
Try to get some help from someone whose judgement you trust and will be impartial. I’d suggest aiming to end up with a set of 20-30 shots, but start with maybe 100 and gradually take them out until you’ve got the desired collection. If a shot has any flaws, or is out of focus, leave it out. It’s much better to have a few perfectly executed shots, than a large collection of fairly good shots.
Step 8. Presentation
The presentation of the shots is vital to the reaction from viewers. A badly presented collection of great photographs just won’t do them justice and you’ll come away disappointed. Think carefully about how to enhance the images through presentation techniques, borders and the colour of the backing sheet.
It’s also important to consider the order of the shots, whether they are arranged chronologically or to create a particular mood. When choosing a title image, don’t just choose your favourite. Try and select something that captures the essence of the collection.
Step 9. Contents
Once you’ve got the shot layout sorted, you need to consider what other elements you might want to include in your portfolio. It’s totally up to you, but things to consider are:
- An artistic statement – outlining your concept or theme and personal information
- A list of shots included
- Titles for shots and a brief explanation
- Date/location of shot
- A thumbnail contact sheet
You may feel that you want the shots to do all the talking, or it might be necessary to give each shot some background contextual information. It’s up to you, but remember to keep it brief. You want people to be looking at the shots, not reading waffle about how you climbed a mountain at 5 AM to get the shot.
Step 10. What Do I Do Now?
Try not to be tempted to add to your portfolio once it’s finished. You’ll always take better shots in the future, but I’d suggest that a portfolio is a collection of what you’ve done, and adding to it will spoil the continuity and thought that you’ve put into collating it.
Now it’s time to show your portfolio to the world. Share it with family and friends and get some feedback, which may give you a chance to practice talking about your work in preparation for any potential interviews you might get. Good luck!