photography do's and don'ts

How to Make a Photography Portfolio – Some Important Dos & Don'ts

A portfolio allows a photographer to quickly and simply share their work with potential clients. A great portfolio will bring you plenty of work, while a bad one will make work few and far between. But what constitutes a good portfolio? And how do you recognise a bad one, even when reviewing your own work?

While portfolios are just as varied as individual photographer’s personalities, there are a few tricks to determine if your portfolio is ready to go, or if it needs a bit more building. Watch for these dos and don’ts when building a photography portfolio.

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portfolio dos and don'ts

Don’t include similar images

Your portfolio is a collection of all your best work. Include two similar images, and potential clients may think you’re a lazy photographer that just takes multiple photos of the same thing. It’s okay to include photos from the same shoot, especially if you’re just starting out, but make sure those photos are different in more ways than one. If you’re building a portrait portfolio, for example, don’t include a second shot that just involved readjusting the subject’s hands, but you can include a photo from a completely different set-up from the same session.

Do cut back

A portfolio with hundreds of images quickly becomes overwhelming. Your portfolio should include your best work, and only your best work. If you can identify one small thing that’s off, don’t include it. Showcase your best images, not all of your images. If you find yourself wanting to include more than you should, use a blog to display images from each photo shoot, and a portfolio with just the best ones.

Don’t use images inconsistent with your style

A portfolio doesn’t just show a potential client that you’re a competent photographer, it helps them determine if your styles will mesh well. If you have an image with perfect composition and exposure, but it’s not your typical style, don’t include it. Your portfolio should state more than just the fact that you know the technical aspects of photography. It should display your artistic style too.

Do specialise

A bride-to-be doesn’t want to sift through your photos of corporate events. Specialising in a certain area of photography is a good idea for starting a photography business. But if you shoot in multiple subcategories, have a separate portfolio for each. If you shoot both maternity photos and newborn portraits, keep separate albums or use different pages on your website.

Don’t forget to consider the audience

Who is looking at your portfolio? It’s an essential question to consider. A bride-to-be isn’t looking for the same thing that a business is looking for. When choosing the elements of the image, like what cover to use or what template to choose for your website, consider who your audience is, and what will speak to them the most.

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Do consider multiple formats – printed or online?

Do you need a printed album or just an online portfolio? Or perhaps both? A printed album displays your work as it was meant to be seen and can show greater detail. If you often meet potential clients face-to-face, be sure to have an album to show them when you meet. If you don’t often meet, an online portfolio is likely all you need.

It’s an easy way to showcase your work and style, share your work with clients or social media for exposure, or just get feedback from peers. Professional portfolio builder platforms make it really easy to set up one for yourself without any technical knowledge or work, and at a minimal cost. A great example would be which makes creating a portfolio website quick & easy, offering you lots of flexibility with themes, styles, mobile-responsiveness and lots of other features. You can also check out this article on best photography portfolio websites to get further clarity.

Don’t be afraid to shoot for free

New photographers should focus on building a solid portfolio. Of course, if you don’t yet have a portfolio, you probably don’t yet have any paying gigs, and that’s OK. Shoot for free or cheap for friends and family until you have a complete portfolio. Once you have a complete portfolio, clients will be willing to pay for your work when they can see what they’re paying for.

Do get another opinion

As photographers, we tend to get attached to our images. One image we think is absolutely great may not really be that good. Get a second opinion (or third or fourth), preferably from someone who’s also a photographer if you can. If another photographer isn’t available for a portfolio review, reach out to a friend that’s also in your target audience. Consider the feedback carefully, and make adjustments from there.

Don’t use images that need an explanation

Remember that image that you fought through rain, debris and all kinds of obstacles to shoot? Don’t include it simply because it was a challenging photo. Share it if it is a great photo, but don’t include it in your portfolio if you need to explain just why that photo is so great. The best photographs will speak for themselves. If the wow reaction only comes after an explanation, don’t include it.

Do start and end strong

The first image in your portfolio should be just amazing, but so should your last. Don’t give in to the temptation to put all your best work at the front, or potential clients may stop looking through the album once they reach your lesser work. The first photo should be the best, and the last photo should be excellent. From there, mix in your favourites so that they’re not all at the beginning.

A photography portfolio shouldn’t just show that you know exposure and white balance. Your portfolio should also convey your style, and what type of work you do. A portfolio could be printed or online, or even both, but should also include only your best work. Select through your favourites, then go through them again with a strict list of standards to wind up with only the best. Keep in mind the dos and don’ts for building a photography portfolio, and continue to update as your skills evolve.

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