by Nancy Hill
At some point in your journey into photography, you will know the time has come to show your work to people beyond your circle of friends and family. As wonderful as it is to know that time has arrived, it can also fill you with self-doubt. Letting those doubts hold you back could keep you from doing something that will bring you great rewards, and, the truth is, everyone has doubts. So take a deep breath and move on to a new step: develop a portfolio to show to art directors, gallery owners, and prospective clients.
Building Your Portfolio
A portfolio is a body of work with a central theme. It shows your vision and holds images that showcase your photographic talent and insight into your subject.
Every portfolio has a theme. Before you put your work together, find the themes that run through your images, then determine one that showcases your work. What subject matter shows the most insight? Pretty pictures alone won’t impress an art director or gallery owner. Your work has to have your unique stamp on it. Which body of work does this well?
It’s sometimes hard to judge your own work, so you may want to ask someone you trust for an opinion.
Purpose and Audience
Clearly define your purpose for assembling a portfolio. Who do you want to reach? Do you want to get jobs or have your work shown in galleries? Know this before you begin so you can select images and prepare your portfolio accordingly.
Once you figure out who your audience is, familiarize yourself with the kinds of photography that will interest it. An ad executive specializing in high-end clients is going to want to see slick, cutting-edge work. A portrait photographer who specializes in families will want to know you can capture groups of people. Art galleries also have their own preferences, so do your homework and make sure your work is something the gallery you are interested in shows. Don’t show nudes to a gallery that specializes in landscapes. No matter how striking your nudes, if that’s not what they’re looking for, you’ll be wasting your time, and theirs.
Selecting the Images
Gather all the images you think will interest your audience. Now sort through your prints or slides, eliminating anything that isn’t perfect. Slightly out of focus won’t do. Forget about trying to slip in any shots that are less than original. And keep your theme in mind. Don’t even let yourself think, “But everyone raves about this one. I’ll just slip it in at the end so they can see I really have an eye for things besides landscapes.”
If you have more than 30 prints after your first round of elimination, go back and eliminate some more. Aim for between 12-20 images. Maybe you can stretch your portfolio to 25 prints, but beyond that and you will tax the viewer’s patience and show that you are not yet a pro. Gallery owners, clients, and art directors are never shy about asking to see more of your work if they’re interested, and they will set up another appointment to meet with you to see it.
Either color or black and white is fine, but don’t mix the two together. The same usually holds true for the format you used when you took the pictures.
There are several ways to go here. Some people send prospective buyers or gallery owners to a web site or send a CD. I advise against this. If your images will be shown as prints, provide prints. Computer screens simply don’t have the same color and textures as actual prints. You also have no idea how the viewer’s monitor is set up, so what looks great on your screen may be way too dark on the one your viewer will use. Don’t risk it.
One of the popular ways to organize your portfolio is in a binder that zips on three sides and has rings inside that hold clear pockets for your prints. These come in a variety of sizes, are professional, and you’ll be able to find one to fit your budget. Some photographers also use a briefcase style. Look around until you find one that fits your style.
If you’re going to show your images to a gallery, I recommend you purchase a portfolio box, which a photo store geared for professionals will carry. You can also find these online at lightimpressionsdirect.com or similar web sites that carry photo equipment for professional photographers. Always mat your work for this type of presentation. Neutral mats are best. Mats should be identical for every print in your portfolio, although the windows in the mats can vary.
Present your images in a logical order. Choose a cover image to represent the portfolio as a whole. This doesn’t mean it should have the name of your portfolio on it, but rather it should be the first image in your portfolio and should be an excellent representation of your theme.
Choose a size that works best for your work. Make sure your presentation case holds your prints comfortably.
Always keep your images fingerprint and damage free. If a mat is damaged, replace it immediately.
Other Things You Can Include in Your Portfolio
While your work is certainly the most important part of your portfolio, some photographers like to include additional information, including:
• an artist statement,
• a list of the photographs in the portfolio,
• a CD of the portfolio to leave behind, and
• thumbnails of photographs to leave with the art director or gallery owner.
Where to Find Supplies
Photography stores and web sites geared to the professional photographer will sell quality portfolio products, from carry cases and boxes to mat supplies and plastic sheets through which to view your work. Art supply stores are also good places to check out.
Putting together a portfolio is one of the best things you can do for your work. Even if you don’t feel quite ready to hit the galleries, your portfolio is a statement that your work is worthy of a professional quality presentation. There’s no feeling quite like the one you get when you have completed a cohesive body of work.
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