Leave The iPad at Home, Print Your Portfolio

Every photographer today has a digital portfolio of some kind but only a very few have spent the time to create a printed book. In this video, we look into three very differently designed printed portfolios. 

Saal Digital recently reached out and offered to print three books for us. Instead of printing our own work, we gave these books to three photographers whose work we truly admire, Mike Kelley, Ben Shirk, and Jason Vinson

In the video above, Mike Kelley and I go through each book and compare and contrast the different design and marketing techniques. 

Here are some things to think about when designing a printed portfolio:

Who Is It For? 

Are you showing a client this book to simply present your work, or are you also trying to get them to purchase a book of their own? Mike Kelley's architecture clients won't be buying an album from Mike so he doesn't have to consider upselling them on some expensive album. Instead, Mike designed his album with the intention of mailing it out to prospective clients. Because of this, he chose a lower priced book that didn't have any glossy elements that would potentially pick up fingerprints. 

If you are a wedding photographer howerver, a large portion of your income might be coming from marked-up album sales. In that case, I would suggest showing your clients the most expensive and impressive options or at least having a few options to show when you meet with them. 

Standard Paper or Lay Flat Pages? 

This is a personal preference but lay flat pages are certainly the current trend in the wedding and portrait world. Standard paper pages are a classic that will never go out of style and usually are cheaper to produce as well. If you're unsure, you can't go wrong with paper.

Matte Vs Glossy?

Once again, this is personal preference but it's important to consider the preferences of your potential clients and not just your own. I personally prefer a matte paper but I think the current trend in wedding photography is glossy. If you're a professional photographer, having multiple books with different page types is probably the best decision. 

What Should I Put On The Cover? 

There are three main choices you have when designing the cover of your book: it can be blank, it can have your logo only, or it could have a photo printed on the cover. Personally, I lean towards only printing my logo on the cover of my books but none of the three photographers in our critique chose this option. Mike Kelley left his cover totally blank, Ben Shirk put his client's name and photo on his cover, and Jason Vinson had a photo without any text or logo on his printed album. 

Obviously, there is no right or wrong answer, but it's important to think about how your clients will be viewing your book. Is there a chance they will forget whose work they are looking at? If so, putting your name on the cover is probably a good idea. 

Should I buy a Presentation box? 

If you own a physical studio that your clients will come visit then you probably won't need one. If you are mailing your books out or if you are traveling to meet with potential clients then a custom box is probably a good decision. A custom box at the very least will protect the book from damage while it also enhances the overall experience of viewing your work. 

Keep in mind that different clients will appreciate different types of materials. Mike Kelley went with a cheaper, simple box that would simply protect the book in transit while Jason Vinson chose the leather box to market to his wedding clients. The same leather box would probably look silly to a commercial client and Mike's paper box could look cheap to a couple getting married. 

When Is It Time To Buy A Book?

As digital portfolios have become easier to create, it's becoming more and more rare to see printed photographs. If you're a professional, it's probably a good decision to have some sort of printed portfolio. It certainly couldn't hurt.

If you're an amateur or a part-time professional, you may not be able to justify a luxury leather book, but there is something incredibly satisfying about holding your prints in your hand. You don't have to spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on a book, you may actually be able to print one for less than $100. 

Use the code "FStoppersBook" at Saal Digital to save $25 on any order over $45 through December 31, 2018. 

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Patrick Hall's picture

I know this is a critique of different styles of portfolios but I have to say the photography in these examples is top notch. People always complain that we are too harsh when critiquing images on here sometimes but this should show you just how high the bar is for these different genres of photography.

Simon Patterson's picture

I agree completely. Each book had a cracking set of images, the quality of which we should all aspire to as we shoot in the genres we each prefer.

Simon Patterson's picture

As someone who has had "make a photo book" on their to-do list for quite some time, I found this video very helpful and inspirational all at once.

I've been really keen to do this for a while. There's no point doing it though if the quality is not great. At the same time though I don't want to just shell out for the most expensive option if I'll get the same quality cheaper. Online reviews for these are a bit useless as well as you have no idea what standards a random reviewer on google is bringing to the table. Any tips welcome.

michael buehrle's picture

ben shirk is on a whole different level in the stuff he does. that book only scratched the surface of his stuff. his sports composites are crazy.

Deleted Account's picture

I have made several "family heirloom" style photobooks over the last few years and I love them.But only today I was going through some of my "old school" wedding portfolio display albums and I still think there is a place to do that. A lot quicker than making a photobook in someways and a unique thing to have. I did an album for my nieces 30th birthday a couple of years ago and she said it was the best birthday present she had ever had.It helps of course if you have an extensive archive to work with.

Michael Kormos's picture

Completely off-topic, but a big thumbs up to Mike Kelley for getting his airport time lapses published in the National Geographic. Nicely done.

Motti Bembaron's picture

Seems it's for US shipping only.

Kurt Hummel's picture

Just did seven days in Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons photographing wildlife and some landscapes and would love to do a book. This video came out at the perfect time and gives me things to think about that I probably would've missed.

#1 Always do something unique to market oneself. When others do digital, do print or something else ;)

#2 Physically tangible high-quality print will always have a place in a digital world. The reason for this is routed in biology, we are tactile creatures and respond well to real vs. virtual, it is our hard-wiring from millions of years of evolution. I love AR and VR but I still know intrinsically it is not real but a really fun and amazing interpretation of real. Holding and flipping real pages is sexy.

#3 The senior year book example was extremely well done for several reasons...using the same model did not distract the viewer and kept a consistency of focus, a primary goal in marketing.
The numerous setups and looks demonstrates mastery of the photographer's skill set and artistic interpretations of a scene. A focus on the photographer which is the goal.

#4 I've been in the game for a long time, have shifted my skills many times, and have been successful for many years. If I can offer any advice to anyone reading:
- Be communicative and empathetic to your clients with relatively quick responses. Be kind.
- Strive to lose your ego yet retain the feeling of commitment to your interpration of what you consider is your art
- In the end of the day, did you make your client happy? If you did something that was boastful or egotistical try again tomorrow :)

Chris Thomas

Ben Shirk's picture

Hey! As the saying goes, if you want to sell it then you have to show it! Albums are a huge part of my portrait studio business. I have a ton of albums sitting around on tables and shelves and I make sure my clients have an opportunity to see them during their session. If they pick one up then they are much more likely to buy one (and the albums I create are not cheap)

PS - the client in the video was all shot in one session but I take my time and enjoy what I do!