Before you go out seeking work, you’ll need a portfolio. Your portfolio is a carefully edited selection of your work, showcasing the kind of photography in which you specialise, and your unique brand of photography.
Some experts insist that a portfolio should show off your career’s best work and the breadth of your shooting skills, while others argue you should have several portfolios, each tailored to a specific client that you’re approaching. The truth is, there is no right way to put a portfolio together—so long as it appears seamless, reflects who you are as a photographer, and eventually gets you hired.
It’s important to note that portfolios change and adapt over time, just as you will artistically. Don’t be discouraged if your portfolio starting out isn’t as robust as you’d like—perhaps you’re still figuring out your specialty and your brand, and this is okay. The important thing is to work on continually improving your photography and progressively curating it into a strong, tight, powerful portfolio, with the critique of experts.
Digital: Having your portfolio readily accessible online, preferably in website form, is essential in this digital age. You should also put together a PDF portfolio to send potential clients directly.
Hard copy: There is still value in having a physical, hard-copy portfolio that you can bring to portfolio reviews, potential clients, and advertising agencies. It doesn’t need to be fancy, leather-bound, or even expensive—a clean, neat, barebones portfolio that lets your work speak for itself is more than sufficient.
Tips for a solid portfolio
Have a theme: Your entire portfolio should flow seamlessly and demonstrate a clear, unified style or theme. You’re essentially trying to sell your brand and communicate what’s unique about your photography. You might be especially proud or fond of a particular photo—but unless it’s consistent with your primary body of work, leave it out. Which leads to the next point.
Be ruthless: Your portfolio should contain no more than 20 images—preferably no more than 15—so do a hard and tight edit. Photo buyers, clients, and production companies are extremely busy, so every photo should wow them and be worthy of their time. If you’re in doubt about a photo, it probably doesn’t belong there.
Consider your audience: If you’re trying to score a fashion photography gig, it might not be a good idea for half of the portfolio to be reportage or nature landscapes. It’s better to curate different photographs into separate portfolios tailored for specific clients. This is not uncommon; rather, it’s highly recommended—if you have the time, patience, and resources.
Start strong, end strong: It goes without saying that the first image should be your strongest—you are ‘announcing’ yourself. That said, don’t put your least strong image at the very back of your book. Leave potential clients with a similarly strong image so they’ll walk away having been blown away.
Get An expert opinion: Once you have amassed a larger body of work, experts can help show you where your images may fall short, or how to better edit your portfolio to attract your desired client. International photo festivals like the Palm Springs Photo Festival and the Hong Kong International Photo Festival give you the opportunity to connect with photo editors, agents, galleries, reps, and book publishers.
What They Didn’t Teach You in Photo School won’t tell you how to take photographs. It will, though, teach you a much more difficult set of skills: how to be a photographer. Passing on hard-earned lessons from a successful career in commercial, editorial and lifestyle photography, Demetrius Fordham shows how to snag the best internships and assistant roles, impress at an interview, develop an amazing portfolio, forge strong relationships with clients, and lay the foundations of your own successful career.