I'm in the midst of creating a photography portfolio. To be honest, it's harder than it looks. Here's what bugs me about the whole process, and why it's ultimately fulfilling.
Why Create A Photography Portfolio
The answer for many people is pretty straightforward. It's a representation of your work to show clients and earn their business.
The photography portfolio does more than show them your technical skill with photography or post-processing. It shows them your creative vision. It's your way of telling potential clients “This is what I can do for you.”
My issue is that I'm not trying to get hired. Quite the opposite, I turn down work because I just don't have the time for it right now. It's not at the top of my agenda. There are more important issues in my life right now, like trying to bring my family home through a pedantic U.S. Immigration process.
If I'm not trying to earn business, why should I go through the hassle of creating a photography portfolio? I'm glad you asked.
The portfolio is a great way to assess the status of where you are as a photographer today. That's what makes this process so extremely frustrating, but also rewarding.
Choosing Your Portfolio Structure
A portfolio ought to have a purpose, both for you and the people who view it. You need to narrow your field to show photos that fit within a category or a theme.
The first step in creating your portfolio is to decide who you are as a photographer.
Do you concentrate on portraits, events, travel, landscapes, or architecture? People want to see consistency in your photography portfolio. That's not to say you can't show more than one category, but you shouldn't toss a little bit of everything into the mix.
I've dabbled in a lot of different photography genres before deciding that I enjoy travel and portraits. That means I'm not going to show any event or concert photos in my portfolio, even if I think they're strong images.
Because it's not what I do. I don't have enough work to create a concert gallery, and I don't plan on shooting any more concerts. I tried it, enjoyed it, but ultimately decided that I'm not that good at it. So why in the world would I put those images in a portfolio gallery?
Show what you do best. Show only your best. Show the kind of work you want to do in the future.
How many photos should you show?
As many as it takes and no more than you need. I know, it's a vague answer. It's also true.
You could listen to someone who tells you a specific number, like 20. Well, what if you don't have 20 great images? You'll end up shoving crappy photos into your portfolio and that doesn't help anyone.
Show your best. If that means you only show five photos of a category, then it's fine as long as those are your best work. Don't feel pressured to add more photos to fill out space.
Presenting Your Portfolio.
I'm a fan of seeing large images on the web. Not full resolution, but large enough to fill the width of your browser. With that in mind, I created a sample portfolio to see how it looked.
These aren't necessarily the images I'll ultimately choose in my portfolio, but it's a place to start seeing the layout. Once I put it together, I realized the problem this layout presents.
It doesn't work very well with vertical images. While I have some wide shots that I like, there are also some vertical shots that I may consider for a portfolio that just don't work in this format, like this shot below.
My other option is to go with a thumbnail portfolio gallery that opens in a lightbox.
It solves my issue regarding vertical photos, but I think it lacks the impact of opening with full-width images. Unsurprisingly, creating a photography portfolio is another exercise in compromise.
Selecting Images For Your Photography Portfolio
Your portfolio represents the work that you do. For me, that means leaving out some images that I really like because they were set up by someone else at a workshop. Here's an example.
I think it's a nice photo, but I can't show this in my portfolio as an example of my work. The entire scene was set up in a Joe McNally workshop in St. Lucia.
I didn't choose the location. I didn't choose the model. I didn't set up the lights. I didn't even strike a match to light the flambeaus in the scene. Hell, Joe even gave the attendees suggestions for the exposure settings. I popped on his PocketWizard to trigger the flash and clicked.
Mind you, I would absolutely love to re-create a scene like this on my own. When I do, I can put that image in my portfolio. This one is a guidepost. It's an example that helped me learn, but it doesn't go in my portfolio.
The Frustrating Part Of Creating A Photography Portfolio
The problem is that I've changed my opinion of photography over the years. My thoughts on post-processing are also different. When I look at some old images, I cringe when I look at the way I processed some of them.
Quite simply, I won't put those images in my portfolio as they are. However, I'm still happy with some of the original images and I'd like to re-process them to my current taste.
That's why I'm frustrated. As much as I would like to announce a portfolio today, I see that I have work to do before I'm truly satisfied and proud to show the work as my own – today.
While frustrating, it's also a good exercise to help me grow. Trying to put together a photography portfolio shows me that I need to give critical thought to the entire process. It also guides the kind of images that I want to take in the future.
That's why you should spend time creating a photography portfolio, even if you're not trying to win clients. It's one of the best ways I've found to evaluate your work and determine your future as a photographer.