One of my regular followers, Mike Nelson, said that there are plenty of resources on WHERE to buy portfolios, but very little information on HOW to make a photography portfolio. He suggested I do a blog post and share my personal perspectives and advice on the subject. I’ve also included contributions and tips from other photographer friends (such as Luke Copping whose work is featured in the video above) in the industry. Hopefully the following post will teach you everything you need to know.
As a commercial photographer, most of my clients hire me through referral, seeing my website or blog, or seeing my work published out in the world. These days, I rarely show my actual print portfolios, BUT it is crucial that every photographer have at least ONE killer portfolio book. Although, it depends on where you are based or who you are marketing to. My New York City based photographer friends show multiple books nearly several times a week to agencies, which is pretty common there.
Every once in awhile, a possible new client will call you in to meet with you in person to “check out your work”. This typically means that they want to see more than what is on your website and to get a chance to size you up in person (aka a print portfolio). Also, when ad agencies are pitching a new campaign to a client, they will request a bunch of photographer’s print portfolios (sometimes its a few, sometimes its dozens), to try and choose who would be best to shoot the project. Some big magazines also do this when they want to try out some fresh blood in their publication and they will look over many photographer “books” to see who they want to give a shot.
“Printed portfolios are slowly becoming relics in the age of internet and portable tablets. However, I strongly believe the impact you can make to a client by showing them a printed portfolio shows passion, professionalism, and crucial attention to detail. Detail you just can’t duplicate with an iPad or website. When competing with literally 1000s of other photographers, every inch of impact helps…Usually a client views my website or promotional mailers first. Showing up in person with a printed portfolio is most likely last in line. I wouldn’t advise showing up empty handed, and a printed portfolio is my weapon of choice.” – Clint Davis
“I was immediately 100% credible in the eyes of my client when they opened my book. We were able to move on to the next phase of discussing their project, and how we could possibly work together. It didn’t mean that I had the job, but it put me in the running — rather than excluding me from consideration. That is why creating a strong portfolio is of utmost importance to any photographer looking to expand his/her business.” – Mike Oliver
CHOOSING THE RIGHT BOOK FOR YOU
Print portfolio books can easily range from under $100 to something over $1000 for a custom made book. You don’t necessarily always have to spend top dollar to have the BEST portfolio, but you do have to choose the book that best matches your photographic style.
“I don’t think having a souped up customized print portfolio with bells and whistles is anything that makes you memorable. The work is memorable. Basic rules apply – less is more in terms of pages. The pages should turn easily. Make sure the work that is in the book is work you’re proud of and can speak about. The iPad is a good supplement for tear sheets and personal work. I always enjoy seeing a photographer’s personal work in addition to assignment. It helps me get to know them as an artist, and a person.” – Amy Wolff, photo editor for Fortune Magazine
I personally believe that a portfolio should be at least 8×10, but no larger than 11×14. Your photos should be big enough to be appreciated in all their glory, but not so big they are impossible to ship to clients or so small they can’t see the detail in your work. Although, there are exceptions to the rule. I have seen incredibly talented architectural and landscape photographers, for example, go 16×20 and larger to show off their photos taken with large-format cameras. Although, as I said, you should choose a book that matches your work.
Sometimes you can even do loose pages, like Clint Davis (see photos below), but you also risk that your images will be handled roughly or that the client will not see your photos in the order in which you would like them to be seen. Although, like Clint’s book, you will stand out, but you have to have the work that is strong enough to stand on its own.
PRINT PAGES OR SLEEVES?
There are a variety of ways one can actually display their work within their books. 2 of the more popular ways are sleeves, which are essentially pockets in which to place your images, or print pages in which you print your images directly onto the pages of the book.
I’ll say it now, I really dislike plastic sleeves. Sure, they are an easy and affordable option, but over time they scuff and crinkle and attract fingerprints from use, temperature changes, hard handling, etc. If you can afford it, go the printed page route. You will thank me in the end.
“I think one of the most important things, and what I hear from a lot of creative directors, is you must have your own printed pages. The paper doesn’t even have to be super expensive. If you want to be taken seriously for big jobs …absolutely no sleeves!” Tim Coburn
“The route I took with my printed portfolio is clean, flexible, and easy to update. The case is a Pina Zangaro box with my brand etched on the front and back, and inside I decided on single 11×14″ loose prints. I chose that size because I felt it was big enough to determine fine detail, yet small enough to not be cumbersome when sifting through the prints. This is great when I have meetings with multiple art directors at once. If someone says “Oh! I like that!”, I can simply remove it from the pile and slide it over to them for a closer look. Fortunately digital prints are inexpensive, so throwing in the line “take the print, hang it in your office” comes second nature at interviews. Being loose sheets, the portfolio is extremely easy to modify for individual clients, depending on what audience I’m targeting.” -Clint Davis
GETTING THE RIGHT FLOW
There is no exact science as to how to organize your images in your book but it should “flow”. I equate organizing a portfolio to making a great music mix. You wouldn’t put Three 6 Mafia before Ray LaMontagne (hardcore rap to heartfelt folk/blues), the change would be abrupt and unpleasant to the flow of your music mix. The same goes for the way you organize your prints. You probably shouldn’t put a dark high-fashion image following a happy family portrait on the beach. Kind of getting the idea here? Your photos should support or play off each other. If you have very dark and happier light work and want to put in the same book, you should at least ease into it with some transition images that are somewhere in between. I also believe you should have a few of your strongest images up front and a killer closer or last image.
“The print portfolio is not an archaic tool. Even in this age of iPads, websites, and PDF delivery you cannot overlook the tangible charm a print portfolio adds as a necessary element of your marketing mix. One important tip I can offer is to work with a designer to present your work in the most aesthetically pleasing manner possible. Your portfolio is an object that deserves forethought and care; layout, paper choice, orientation, brand reinforcement, image flow, construction, and similar factors may be secondary to your images, but when tied to a physical book they support your work and help in presenting it in the best light. Working with professionals helps you look more professional.” – Luke Copping (check out the feature video to see how awesome his portfolio flows)
“If you’re showing your book in person or dropping off/shipping – research your potential client -
past work they’ve used – their clients/campaigns ect – show work that is relevant to their needs and the specific project-
- You may create several portfolios – one for products – one for architectural – one for food – one for people – one for b/w -etc - Don’t necessarily show a number of landscape images if the potential project is about selling Vodka.
- Your book or portfolio/case represents you – and an important first impression
- If it’s cheap then you’re sending a message to your client before they even look inside.
- It’s better to have fewer great images than to fill it up with mediocre images to add quantity- 15 great images are much better than – 15 great images with 15 so-so images.
- Spread your strongest work through out the book – don’t necessarily frontload with your strongest work - I’ve seen more than a few art directors put a book down – open it up and start reviewing from the back
- 8×10 or so is fine – no larger than 11×14
- Try to show a consistent style – Show your unique perspective – for most projects (at least the ones you want to work on) the art director is typically selecting a photographer based on their vision and style
- Try and show that you have a style and perspective – one that lends itself to the project Don’t be afraid to mix in some personal work – many times that’s what art buyers respond most positively to.
(Ask any art director – when viewing a photographers website – if there’s a “personal work” section that’s most often the first area they may review) Think about creating a little Blurb Book as a leave behind portfolio” – Randy Santos
“Before you even go to the trouble of printing a portfolio, create the spreads in Adobe. Since you have limited time with the viewer, it is best to create spreads with multiple images that tell a story or work well with each other so they can understand your brand. Once you have the sequencing and images selected, it is very important to test the best paper for your images. You must also decide if you portfolio pages are pre-scored and hinged, will be tipped in with a hinge like Tyvex or in acetate sleeves (not recommended). If you are going to print the portfolio yourself, make sure your printer is calibrated for your images. If you can’t print the portfolio yourself, then check out quality printers likewww.pushdotstudio.com they print portfolios for any of my clients who need external printing. Make sure you purchase a screw post portfolio so you can change it. Printed books like Asuka and Blurb are not seen as a professional portfolio and since you need to update your portfolio a perfect bound book is not a good option. A screw post portfolio can range from $150.00 to over $500.00. The ice nine collection is a good option can can be found at www.lost-luggage.com in the off the shelf collections. If you get a transparent cover than your logo can show through so you don’t need it engraved or etched. But I think the most important thing to realize if you are going to print a portfolio, is that you must get it out there!!! For every 10 calls you make, plan on only 1 meeting. When you call a prospective client tell them you are going to e-mail them with possible dates to meet. If you leave it open as “do you have time?” they won’t make time for you but if you say “I would like to see if I meet with you on either x date at x time or x date at x time” they are more likely to pick one. Good Luck and get out there!!!” – Suzanne Sease (photography consultant)
MAKE YOUR BRANDING CLEARLY VISIBLE SO THEY KNOW WHO YOU ARE
I mean think about it, if you send clients your fantastic portfolio, but forget to include your name anywhere in/on/around your book, then how are they supposed to know who to hire? Trust me, I’ve made this rookie mistake myself before. Sure, they can look at the fedex slip or search around for clues, but in most cases agencies won’t take the time to figure out whose book it is if you didn’t take the time to announce who you are.
You can have your name printed or etched on your book cover, or if that is too expensive, you can also just print your name and logo on the opening page of the book so it’s the first thing they see. Also, don’t forget the leave-behinds. I always include business cards and a custom made postcard with my portfolio or in its shipping case. Hard for them to forget you if they have a sweet promo or business card of yours that they can keep
iPAD/TABLETS vs THE PRINT PORTFOLIO
These days, more and more people are showing their work on tablets. Although, in my honest opinion, most accomplished creative and art directors that hire photographers prefer to see your work printed out. Some have told me that your work just looks better printed out.
My custom iPad (above) has been awesome for most of my corporate and individual (consumer) meetings with clients to showcase my work. Tablets are easy to update and carry around. Although, when showing my work to magazines and the major ad agencies, I try and keep at least one print portfolio around to show them my best work. That being said, you should have your portfolio available in every possible format (from digital to print).
"Some go all out. They send me an Ipad in some custom box, or a cool custom pelican.... it's nice but you could have just emailed me those images and I would have seen them the same way. A print book shows you took some time and effort to put it together and being that I work in print it stands out to me.... SUPPORT PRINT!" - Andrew Link, Photo Director of RIDES Magazine
"One thing to consider as well is the variables that come with viewing content on a screen display, as visual artists with a digital medium we concern ourselves with ensuring that our monitors are properly calibrated, however many clients don't have the need or knowledge to concern themselves with the accuracy of their colours, contrast, etc. and may not be seeing your work as you intended. The consistency of print, while slightly limiting in the gamut of achievable colours will ensure that everyone's seeing the same thing." - James Robertson
HELPFUL LINKS AND INFORMATION
- Lost Luggage portfolios (maker of my portfolio books)
- Brewer-Cantelmo make custom portfolio books. They are exquisite.
- Pina Zangaro – portfolios, cases, and boxes
- Brand-Envy – a division of Lost Luggage. They can handle your entire branding from logo, to business card, to the actual design and construction of your custom portfolio book
- Moab Paper makes paper for screwpost portfolios
- www.pushdotstudio.com (portfolio printing company if you don’t want to do it yourself)
- Shutterfly.com – They print your book out from cover to cover and make it into an actual book
- Suzanne Sease – photography consultant. She will go through your work and help you decide how to organize your books / website / marketing material
Thanks to all of the great photographers and friends that contributed! Make sure to check out their websites hyperlinked to their names following each quote.
Keep updated on my unique shoots and behind the scenes: http://facebook.com/sondersphoto