Last week, I promised that I would take a look at building a portfolio. As this is something that I am doing myself at the moment, I am learning as I go along, but I thought that I would share in some of the wisdom that I have found.
Your portfolio is one of the most important aspects of being a professional photographer. It is the sole embodiment of your work. Your prospective clients will not really care about how much you have grown from your humble beginnings, learning to play with your camera and getting to know the ins and outs of the trade. What they will care about is the polished professional before them, and your portfolio will show them the professional that you are.
Your portfolio will show what kind of photographer you are and where your artistic vision lies. No two photographers are the same, the same way that no two people are the same. Two photographers will look at the same scene and take the same photograph, but from a different angle, a different perspective. You want to show your angle and perspective towards life in your portfolio. This means that, while you should value the opinions of those around you and which photographs they think are your best and should be included, you should also value your own opinion. It is you who will be taking the photographs, and it is your slant on life that will come out in the photographs that you take for these prospective clients. They should know what it is that they are getting. This may lead to clients not agreeing with the way that you take photographs - your clients will have a specific idea in mind for what they want, and if you do not meet that criteria, do not try to change yourself to suit their needs. Other clients will come along, and they will often be a better fit. rather wait for the clients who will appreciate your work than attempt to change your style for those who don't. What you will likely find if you try to change is that your photographs will be an uncomfortable mixture of your artistic vision and your client's, leading to something that neither of you is particularly happy with.
So, which photographs should you include and how many should you include in your portfolio? I have taken thousands of photos in the course of the last year alone! I have taken photos of every kind of situation, of every event that I have attended, of each of my friends, of every place that I have travelled, and I have favourites from each of the sessions that I have taken. How can I wittle these down to a few that will show off my depth and my range? Well, most likely you won't want to. You will likely want to decide on a specialisation and stick with it. Are you going to be an events photographer, taking pictures at weddings and parties? Then pick a few of your best from those kinds of events. Are you going to be a photo journalist? Pick some pics of the rallies and gatherings that you have attended. A shot of a couple in love is not going to convince an editor to hire you, and a photo of a riot is not going to convince an engaged couple to hire you either. If you intend to dabble in the different areas, you may want to consider having a variety of portfolios to show for specific meetings.
In terms of how many photos to whittle your portfolio down to, there is no guaranteed formula. How many photos you have will depend on how many great photos you have taken, to be honest. You obviously don't want to have your clients sifting through your pics for hours on end, but you also don't want them to be finished in a minute. Pick a couple of photographs from different sessions. I limit myself to having no more than 5 from each session, and try to cut it down to less than that even. Choose photographs that show variety and skill - choose photographs that show different poses, different lighting, different situations and different settings. You don't want to pick photographs that look exactly the same in each session, otherwise it tends to be too repetitive. Choose only your best photographs, and ask around to see which photos others think are your best as well. As I said earlier, you will want to have some photographs that you choose yourself to show your own unique style, but you will also want public opinion on your side, so while there can be a couple of your own favourites thrown in, having some photos that others think are your best will also help you along.
A final piece of advice that I read from blogger and photographer, Scott Bourne, is that when you create your portfolio, you should be sure not to put what you consider to be your best images in the front. Many people think that prospective clients will only look at the first few pages and decide from there whether they will hire the photographer or not, but this is often not the case. Often, people will turn to the middle of the book and flip through from there, taking note of only a few photos that catch their eye from time to time. You therefore want to spread the best of your work throughout your portfolio, keeping some at the front, some in the middle and some at the end to ensure that your clients see the best of your work no matter where they start.
I hope this helps someone out there in the process of putting their portfolio together. I know that the advice that I have learned has certainly help me put mine together and I look forward to showing it off once my site is up and running and my first wedding shoot has been done! Let me know if you have any further advice for people trying to build up their own portfolios.