I see a lot of good photographers struggling to get work, scratching their heads and wondering why. Well one of the biggest mistakes that they make is with their portfolios. I don’t necessarily mean the quality of their work (let’s assume I’m talking about photographers who know how to create decent images) I mean what images they actually put into their portfolios.
Let’s first establish what we mean by portfolio. When I was starting out in the late 90’s my portfolio or book was a set of 10×8 inch prints of my work that I physically showed prospective clients. Very few people had websites in those days and digital was still in its embryonic stage. Nowadays the vast majority of photographers have portfolios on their websites. Not only that but on social media sites such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and specialist forums such as Purpleport, Flickr, 500px etc. It’s never been easier to show off your photos.
So it’s simple, right? Stick all your favourite images in and potential clients will see what a creative, talented photographer you are and will trip over themselves to book you for shoots.
This doesn’t happen to you? Here’s why.
Your portfolio probably contains too many genres/styles. It’s hard out there and you want to catch any work you can get so you end up putting in fashion images alongside portraits, wedding photos, architectural images (photos of buildings and bridges), pet portraits, landscapes, glamour shots, fine art, abstracts etc. I once saw a portfolio that had baby photos right next to ‘glamour’ shots (read porn)! I mean what’s going on in his head?!?! Although that’s an extreme example it hopefully illustrates my point. It’s all a bit random. Becoming a successful photographer means building a clear, cohesive identity based on style, values and quality. To do that your portfolio MUST reflect that identity. If you put too many genres in then this is all muddied and a potential client looking for a specific kind of photographer might think that you’re just a jack of all trades.
Another common mistake is putting far too many images on your website portfolio. Whilst it’s ok to have hundred’s of images on your Instagram feed, putting hundreds of images on your website is not a good idea. Firstly this suggests an issue with content management (see point 1) and if that’s not the case then you probably have a problem with repetition. We all (should) have shoots where we come back with an abundance of great shots but although it’s very tempting, that doesn’t mean we should put them all into our portfolios. I make it a rule that you should never put more than 3 images from the same shoot in your portfolio. Any more is overkill and clients want to see consistently high quality shoots, not just images from a couple of good ones.
Break your portfolio up into sections according to subject. For example if you’re a general portrait/social photographer you might want to have a portfolio section for weddings, another one for family portraits, baby photos etc. Therefore you’re not overloading your potential client or, god forbid, boring them. Approx 20 images in each section is plenty.
If you want to be a successful photographer you have to be honest with yourself when it comes to your images. You should only select your very best work for your portfolio and to do that you have to be very self critical. Just because you like an image doesn’t mean it automatically goes in your portfolio. It needs to fit in with that brand and identity you’re building. You might have a new macro lens and you’ve just taken an epic close-up of an ant fighting a centipede – but how’s that going to sell you as a fashion photographer?
We all get attached to certain images for all kinds of reasons but you have to ask yourself if it’s your very best work. Similarly I’ve seen portfolios where some of the images are 5 years old or older! Seriously if your best photos are that old what have you been doing!?!?!!?
Be honest, be ruthless, be good.
Getting your portfolio right is massively important. After all this is so often the first point of contact you will have with a potential client and if you’ve got it wrong, your last.
Hopefully this will have given you some food for thought. If you think that you need more help I offer a Portfolio Review Service on a 1-2-1 basis where I can evaluate, critique and help you restructure your portfolio to give you more chance of hooking those elusive clients. Just head to my 1-2-1 Tuition page and purchase the number of hours you require. Then contact me to book an appointment This can be done face to face in my studio or online and at your convenience via Skype/Facetime.
If you’re serious about getting more clients then this is one of the best investments you’ll make.