Beginning Photography Marketing and Networking

How to Design a Professional Portfolio

How do professional photographers create impressive portfolios? There are many considerations, but it all starts with these basic guidelines.

If you're thinking about moving away from photography as a hobby and into photography as a business, one of the first steps is to design a professional portfolio. Photographers of every variety – wedding, portrait, product, fine art and more – use portfolios as a way to showcase their work for galleries or potential clients. In fact, your portfolio will be one of your most important marketing tools, which means you need to make every effort to get it right. Here are a few tips that will help you put together an impressive collection of images.

1. It Starts with Quality over Quantity

The one mistake that I see most often is the portfolio that attempts to overwhelm the viewer with a plethora of images. That massive collection of photos isn't really necessary – a dozen of your best images will be much more impressive than a book of 50 mediocre photos. In fact, even if you do have hundreds of museum-quality images, you're still better off choosing a limited selection. The people looking at your body of work will find smaller collections easier to examine in detail.

2. Identifying Your Audience

The most important facet of portfolio design is your audience. Once you've identified your audience, then you'll be able to make larger decisions about what your portfolio should contain.

There are two key things to consider in regards to your audience. The first is your audience’s preferred genre. If you're a wedding photographer, for instance, then keep landscapes and abstracts out of your portfolio unless they relate to weddings in some way – like a landscape showing the wedding venue or an abstract of the wedding ring.

The second thing to consider is your audience’s preferred style. If you're presenting at a gallery that specializes in soothing natural scenes, not only would you want to avoid gritty urban photography, but you'd probably also want to focus on images that are stylistically similar to those that the gallery displays. If on the other hand, you’re a portrait photographer, your clients will be shopping for a style that they like, which means you can safely showcase images in a variety of styles to show your versatility.

3. Print versus Digital Portfolios

Lots of beginners assume that high-tech portfolios are the more impressive way to go – high-resolution images on a thumb drive that you can show on a large TV or monitor, or even an iPad loaded with your best photographs. However, there is something special about a high-quality print that you'll never replicate with a digital display. In fact, the allure of a printed photograph is likely the reason that digital photo frames aren't more popular!

Prints also come with several major advantages. People can look at your photographs under various types of lighting and they can more easily flip back and forth through your collection. If you have your portfolio mounted or you use a binder with sleeves, people will also be able to lay our images out to make a comparison or to see how well each image works with all the others.

Of course, this isn't to say that you'll never make a digital portfolio – some places do request them. And, digital portfolios have a few advantages of their own. It’s much easier to share them online or mail out DVDs to faraway clients.

4. Putting Your Portfolio Together

There are hundreds of ways to go about building a portfolio, from mounting boards to binders or hardbound printed books. To choose the right method, it helps to consider what your audience might prefer. Art buyers and gallery owners may well like mounted or matted images because they can pair your photos and rearrange them. Binders or books of mounted prints don’t offer you quite as much flexibility, but they're much easier to transport and you can find them in any number of shapes sizes and colors.

Finally, there are printed books. This option is best left for wedding or event photographers. Although a printed photo book looks nice, the print quality isn't generally as high as it is with professional photo paper. However, if you offer a book as part of your package, then a printed hardbound portfolio can double not only as a showcase of your work but also as a sample of the type of book your clients can expect to receive.

There are many different things to consider when putting together your portfolio. Stick with these guidelines to create a professional portfolio that impresses your clients.

About the author

Will Moneymaker

Will has been creating photographs and exploring his surroundings through his lens since 2000. Follow along as he shares his thoughts and adventures in photography.