by J. Rae Chip

As a photographer, how your portfolio is constructed and displayed can sometimes be the difference between booking a shoot or not. It could be the difference between booking a gallery showing or not.

What should I put in my portfolio
First of all, what is a portfolio? Most people think a portfolio is a display of your best work. That is a major, detrimental misconception. A photography portfolio is NOT a display of the artist's best work. 
A photography portfolio is a compilation of shots the photographer would like to shoot again.

If you have more than one good shot from one particular shoot, one in your portfolio is sufficient. Including multiple shots that look like they come from the same exact shoot can make you look like you lack experience.

On what platform should the portfolio be displayed
My portfolio is displayed the old-fashioned way. If a potential client asks to see it, I pull out a black book from my brief case. It's a normal 8 1/2 x 11" dimension with page protectors and full-size 8x10 prints in it. The cover is a plain black.

For some photographers, a portfolio on a tablet or iPad is sufficient. Some clients who are older might not like that display medium, but some clients might find that to be satisfactory. My paper and hard-bound book portfolio shows fore-thought about the images I displayed in it. It shows that my images print well (which is very important if you are booking a magazine or art gallery.) Moreover, most people still find it satisfying to thumb through a book.

Some photographers might prefer to carry their portfolio in a tablet or phone. It can get heavy to carry around a book. There is a limited number of pages to display my work on, but in reality a client isn't going to look through all of the ones I have there anyway. There's no need to show them a hundred thousand pictures. 

It can get expensive to make that many 8x10 prints, but it's not that much in comparison. It cost me about as much as two months worth of a data plan to print them for the book. I find the expense worth it to show that I'm a real working professional and serious about my work.

If you are marketing to a company that would want digital copies of your work, you might prefer the digital portfolio so they can see how the image looks on an HD screen.

How should a portfolio be arranged
Images next to one another in a portfolio should complement one another. This has multiple meanings, and I mean this in every way it can be taken.

Photographs oriented to be printed on the landscape setting should be next to another oriented the same way. Photos taken to be printed portrait style should be next to another image oriented the same direction.

Colors of the images next to one another should not clash. Subject matter should not clash either. What does it mean to have clashing subject matter? Well, putting an image of a cat in HDR with a beautiful landscape behind it would clash with a photo of a bunch of fake blood and gore. 

Place photos of the same genre with one another. Portraits should be with other portraits. Gore with other gore. Landscapes with landscapes, etc.

Landscape photographers might want to put photos from the same state or region together, in case the viewer is interested in one area more than others.

Portraits are trickier. Portrait photographers should take notice of the way the model is looking. Top high-fashion models and designers arrange their own portfolios so that the model is looking toward the center fold. Therefore, as a photographer, you want to match that so you portfolio does not make them feel awkward when they look at it. Of course, some shots will be straight-on to a model. In this case, it's best to put the most space toward the center flap.

Watermarks in the portfolio
Some of the people who are reading are now cringing. It's okay guys, settle down and just read.

I don't watermark the images in my physical, printed portfolio. What's the point of that? Watermarking serves several purposes in my mind: a) to identify yourself as the artist and get contact info out there, b) to try to discourage theft of the image, c) to generate web traffic from the contact information on the watermark. 

None of those seems like it has a place in a portfolio, so I don't watermark the portfolio images. 

Every once in a while, I come across a designer, gallery director, or person who decides they like the image in my portfolio so much they want to keep it. Or maybe they want to bring it to their publisher, boss, etc. and get back to me. In this case, I just use an art pen to write my information on it. It's much more personal that way.

How do I present my portfolio
Portfolios are best presented in person. With words. And face-to-face social interaction. This scares some artists and drives others. However, if you are passionate about selling your art, you need to do it this way instead of just emailing a link or trying to say it over the telephone.

You don't have to wear a three-piece suit, but it's best to look like you care about yourself. Looking crazy like an artist is okay in this profession, but I wouldn't wear something covered in paint. Crazy hair dye is fine, but it's best to stick with business casual, or at least a polo shirt with some jeans. If you're showing your portfolio to a fashion designer or model agency, it's best to look like you know something about fashion.

Some people like to speak to you while they flip through your images. Talk about yourself. Tell them what inspired the creation of the work, and ask them what they feel from it. Ask them about their job and take an interest in their life. Most people like to have that warmth in a personality. Arrogance does not sell art, unless you are selling art on social media.

Remember to say thank you when they say they like something you made.
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(Above) "Tiny Dancer in my Head" studio shot starring Perris Knox. This image could do well on either side of the center fold, because of the gaze of her head compared to the position of her feet. It should be placed next to another portrait shot, but would go well with a shot in color or black and white.
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(Above) "Zombie Coming" - Studio shot starring Tegan Loving. This shot should be placed on the right side of the center fold with another edgy shot on the left.
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(Above) "Coca Cola Reminiscing" studio shot starring Angela Newsome. This photo should be with another photo that is printed in the landscape direction. If they are side-by-side, it should be on the right side of the center fold.
 


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