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How To Create An Effective Photography Portfolio That Gets Jobs in 2022

The importance of a photographer’s portfolio cannot be overstated. A strong portfolio is the number one way to get hired in commercial photography. I hate to say it, but even a photographer with a terrible rep can still get work with a great portfolio.

Marketing has so many parts to it, but your portfolio will get you the job or not get you the job. We talk about treatments and creative calls; everything we do is essential, but they’re supplemental to your portfolio. That’s what is going to make or break you. It’s the portfolio. It’s everything.

Your portfolio should not just be the jobs you have already photographed; it should include the jobs you want to be photographing.

Image representing commercial advertising photographer Toby Pederson's portfolio book.
Print Portfolio of Still Life Photographer/Director Toby Pederson

What is a Portfolio?

Nowadays, a photographer’s portfolio can be seen in many ways ­– on a website, in a physical book, on an iPad, and Instagram + TikTok. A portfolio should showcase your best work – either for a client or self-assigned.

Three things clients look for in a portfolio:

  1. The seamless message of your style with a purpose. 
  2. An emotional story, the audience is pulled into feeling, striking a chord with their brand’s message.
  3. The reassurance that their customers feel this emotion if they hire you. 
How To Create An Effective Photography Portfolio That Gets Jobs in 2022
iPad Portfolio for Automotive Photographer/Director Paul Barshon using the Portfolio app

What Goes into Shaping a Portfolio

Quick Tip: Focus specifically on the client/industry you most want to be working with and shape your portfolio around that market. Start with one area and master it. Then you can expand and grow.

1. PORTFOLIO RESEARCH

Industry education and research will help you master the “objective” eye, giving you the skills to edit your work. Familiarize yourself with photographers doing the kind of work you want to make, especially those doing it on a high level. Study them. Understand the difference between a cohesive portfolio with a clear through-line and those with many different styles. Identify your visual instincts and apply them every time you shoot. Learn to become objective in your opinions to be the best judge of your work.

2. CHOOSE THE STYLE

The constant honing-in and forward growth of what your style is about will bring you the control clients can depend on. Clients are always on the hunt for photographers shooting similar vibes as the message their company is portraying. If they are a tech company, they will want to see life scenes created around tech equipment, or a food client will want to see life happening around similar food environments. Build your portfolio showing the look and feel your ideal clients cater to by using “spec” concepts to grab their attention. 

3. ATTITUDE (TESTING)

Owning who you are and finding ways to express it allows clients to know what they get by hiring you. Never underestimate the power of self-assigned projects. Integrating work into your portfolio conceptualized and executed by you is one of the most pivotal ways to expand your photography business into new ventures.

Consultants can be game changers because they know the business and how to shape your website/portfolio to fit the current market. When you aren’t hearing back often from clients, give a consultant a try and see what they have to say.

Steps to creating a phography portfolio that will get you jobs in 2022.

Websites 

There are so many things that are right and wrong about websites – one thing we know for sure is they have to be fast. Include an overview on your website because clients won’t have time to click on different topics. They want a quick read to see if you are suitable for the job. The overview

brings you up a professional level, confidently having them scroll your best images without needing to click and search to get an immediate cohesive impression.

Since websites need to be easy, quick to read and serve the purpose of showing off your images in a constructive way that makes sense, select a company like Photofolio that has many different layouts. If you want to create your design, companies like Squarespace, Format, and PhotoShelter can be good options, but Photofolio has all the details already figured out for you. 

Website of Automotive + Lifestyle Photographer/Director Jeff Stockwell

What hurts your website:

  1. Confusing categories.
  2. A short scroll down or side to side with clicking involved.
  3. Self-designed without professional standards.
  4. Dated work showing images with older looks and styles.
  5. Inconsistent mistakes (spelling, repeated images, etc.).

Physical Portfolio Books

Video of the Print Portfolio of Still Life Photographer/Director Toby Pederson

Printed portfolios can allow the viewer a much-needed break from screens. I prefer one image per page, as it will enable the image to sink in without distraction and project confidence. Exceptions to this could be if you’re using a designer and they are creating a specific look with multiple images per page. But I usually lean towards less is more.

I know photographers who present their work on printed 8x10s inside a beautifully made box as a way to stand out. The client can always see your website or social media feeds to get a fuller picture of your work. Create a well-designed package that feels like you and understand that the presentation might change to reflect current trends in a year or two. Keep it fresh – the bottom line is you want the client to see your style while having your images speak louder than the actual portfolio.

Today’s world is indeed an all-digital space, which is why a printed book can stand out even more. It’s old school, but it can demonstrate your style and allow people the luxury of taking in each photograph more thoughtfully than clicking. It can also provoke more conversation than simply clicking through a series of images. I highly recommend printed portfolios.

Quick Tip: A handy rule for promos and portfolios is never putting the date on them because it makes them unusable very quickly.

Instagram 

Have your IG work for you instead of against you. We all know that Instagram is the way to be seen and discovered – it’s a portfolio and email promo coming together. We must stick to the times and lead the way if we want to get the jobs.

Websites and Instagram are two places you must keep strong and constantly updated, allowing them to sell you. Some clients will go to your website, and some will go to your IG account – some will go to both. Just as your website has your ABOUT section, which brings a bit of personal info to it – the same goes for Instagram. I suggest your Highlights be 80% portfolio images and 20% more personal or BTS.

Personal images should still be images that are interesting and educational to your clients. They want to know who you are and your hobbies, but they don’t need to know what your pets look like. They love seeing fun locations they’d want to visit, knowing where you are working, and learning interesting information about you. 

You should post to Instagram as much as you’re comfortable. You don’t have to post daily, but it’s great if you can. The main thing is to be consistent – every two weeks is the minimum. You don’t want to be a month out from posting something and a client to come to your account and see that you haven’t posted in a month or two – you don’t look current, which can work against you in getting the job.

Instagram profile of Automotive + Lifestyle Photographer/Director Caleb Kuhl, using a stylized design method that spans three posts at a time to create a dynamic sense of story.
Instagram profile of Food + Beverage Photographer/Director Vinnie Finn, whose feed uses color themes and image styles to maintain a consistent and branded feel.

Portfolio Reviews

Portfolio reviews are a savvy way to get that one-on-one memorable personalized attention. These in-person and online events can connect you with the right potential clients that may offer valuable feedback. Be ready with your purpose to get the most out of your online/zoom portfolio reviews. What do you want to get out of it? Have your points of interest and questions ready to keep the topic flowing in the direction that fulfills your goal. 

Standalone: Portfolios image selection has a different purpose with Ad Agencies vs. Client Direct work. Client-direct companies will be more understanding of various types of images. Ad agencies have so many photographers to choose from with an ever-changing artistic flow that they will choose the one who specializes in each specific topic repeatedly. The smaller, in-house companies will often use one photographer for all their photo needs. If Ad Agencies are your goal, identify your specialty and commit to excellence in that category.

What to Have Ready for a Portfolio Review

We know you probably aren’t a salesperson if you’re reading this, but you are a creative business. You need a sales or elevator pitch for portfolio reviews. It should express who you are or how you dealt with something on a shoot that makes you more valuable to them. You need to know your client, who they work with, and what scenarios might come up for them. Have a few stories or topics to discuss that show you can handle the job. Have these talking points ready so when you’re in the moment, you have these keywords to remember if there’s an awkward moment of silence or you only have one minute to make an impression. How are you going to say what you need to say? What would you say to this person? What do you want from this person? Do you want to take them to lunch? Do you want to have a meeting? Do you want to talk to them about an idea you have? Have it prepped and ready.

Do’s and Don’ts of Portfolio Reviews (in-person and online)

Do:

  • Research the reviewers, especially on LinkedIn before choosing them.
  • Use that research for those you weren’t able to see by connecting on LinkedIn.
  • Make sure technicalities are in order – double check technical specifications.
  • Have a plan set in advance for who is controlling the screen – you or them.
  • Start with an icebreaker to make a personal connection.
  • State your intentions – Do you want a job or feedback?
  • Prep questions and topics specifically for them and what they work on.
  • Listen and ask questions instead of talking too much.
  • Find out what format your reviewer prefers – most like a prepared pdf but I like to see the website so I can remember the photographers in the future.
  • Give them a take-away pdf leave behind.
  • Remember the reviewers are exhausted, so be personable and give them a reason to smile. 
  • Reference other same event reviewers’ perspectives to see if they align with the current reviewer’s opinions (helps reviewer collect their thoughts). 
  • Have an “elevator pitch” ready to go or an interesting educational story to share about an image of how you handled some situation.
  • Give a goodbye gift like chocolate or something personal to them, as the gift goes a lot way and will be remembered (in person).

Don’t:

  • See irrelevant people for your topic when choosing reviewers as it can be a waste of time for both of you.
  • Lose the connection you just made.
  • Mail to people’s private home addresses without asking.
  • Waste time on unimportant matters, as they go very fast.
  • Talk too much – it can distract clients from seeing the images.
  • Show too much work – tailor your portfolio to the reviewer.

Quick tip: We have better odds that clients will remember our work if we don’t speak as they flip through the portfolio pages.

Portfolio Reviews to Watch For / Favorites: 

  • Reps/Consultants (ASRconsulting) – Hire a consultant or rep that you trust to review your portfolio and offer feedback and insight
  • APA – American Photographic Artists
  • ASMP – American Society of Media Photographers
  • AtEdge 
  • FotoWorks
  • FocusOnWomen
  • Art of Freelance
  • Agency Book Showings – Request a portfolio review with a creative agency or watch for agencies to share an event for portfolio reviews

Where to Promote Your Portfolio

The business of photography depends on who sees our images; we have to find every potential method to put ourselves out there. Depending on your type of photography, we have some excellent options today with companies like Komyoon, Workbook, At-Edge, Blvd, Behance, Wonderful Machine, PhotoPolitic, LeBook, Production Paradise, and Found. They all have different purposes; go through them and see where you fit best. I suggest asking clients you want to work with where they look for new talent. After you give one of these a try, you can SEO your website and use Google Analytics to see where the traffic is coming in. It’s a timely process with no easy answer, but if you pay attention to your analytics, you can see what works for you.

Automotive + Lifestyle Photographer/Director Caleb Kuhl on Behance
Food + Beverage Photographer/Director Vinnie Finn on Workbook
Automotive Photographer/Director Paul Barshon on Production Paradise

Where Do Creative Directors Look for New Talent?

Q:

Where do creative directors, art buyers etc. look for new talent? I would appreciate any advice I can get.

A:

The business of photography depends on who sees our images; we have to find every potential method to put ourselves out there. Depending on the type of photographer you are, we have some really good options these days like Komyoon, Workbook, At-Edge, Blvd, Behance, PhotoPolitic, LeBook, Production Paradise, Found and Wonderful Machine. They all have a different vibe, go through them and see where you fit best. I suggest asking clients you want to work with where they look for new talent. After you give one of these a try, you can SEO your website and use Google Analytics to see where the traffic is coming in. It’s a timely process with no easy answer, but if you pay attention to your analytics, you can see what works for you.

Where We Stand Now

Q:

What if we don’t have enough clarity about where we stand now?

A:

It’s a constant challenge to get a barometer reading of where we stand, but it’s also one of the most critical ways to keep business moving in the right direction. So how do we do it when feedback is not readily available? Like many parts of our sporadic business, we need to be inventive and find ways to put ourselves out there. Yes, we have SEO analytics and email promo clicks to monitor, but there are also undiscovered ways unique to us to explore and invent as we go. The more we reach out, connect, stay plugged in wherever possible, and engage, the more we will get a sense of which open doors to follow.

Designing a Website

Q:

How do you make a splash with a new website?

A:

The two-pronged answer to this is to hire a rock solid design team who understands our well-categorized fast paced industry and then knowing how to show it off in all of our potential platforms with a dynamic in their face publicity. Remember, your website must comply with our industry norm of giving a 2-second quick read along with options for those who will have time to dig deeper and see more of what they are on the hunt for.

Website + About Section

Q:

I’m trying to add verbiage to my website. Any advice on what I should be saying on it? Right now I only have pictures.

A:

The “About” section on your site is vital as clients want to know who they’d be hiring. Have an informative balance of personal and professional to give them a sense of what you bring to a photo shoot. They don’t really care what you like to eat, drink or what your favorite movies are. They want to know the facts that make you relevant to them. Sound as if you are talking in quick snippets to keep it short and fast. Express your passion for what you shoot, like how you are a foodie if you shoot food. Have a professional writer put it together and provide your client list.

Website + Branding

Q:

I am in the process of launching a new website which has a different front and color of font than my print promo and business card. It is not ideal. Do I create an interim solution or am I overthinking branding?

A:

You are not overthinking branding because your look and vibe should remain consistent. Then again, if you are the start of your career and have not cemented your look + feel then you are more free to explore. We all have to keep revising our look but hopefully there is a consistency to it that continues to grow. The worst part is that your printed promos and business cards should not be used anymore and right now, during this Covid time, that is just fine.

Website & Marketing Strategies for Success // Navigating the Unknown Episode 12

Navigating the Unknown Episode 12 is now live on YouTube! This week we speak to photography consultants Amy V. Cooper and Julie Skarwecki about designing a website and discussing marketing strategies for your brand. 

Guests:

Amy V. Cooper – Photography Consultant https://www.amyvcooper.com/

Julie Skarwecki – Photography Consultant https://www.julieskarwecki.com/

Navigating the Unknown is a Q&A series in collaboration with APA-LA where we speak to different members of the photo community about all aspects of the commercial photography business. https://la.apanational.org/

With Co-Host: Photographer Hugh Kretschmer https://www.hughkretschmer.net/

Website Top Tips

Website Top Tips

  1. Have an “Overview” to create a quick and concise view of your style. 
  2. Use a “Project” section on top to show the images collectively in the campaign. 
  3. No sound. Please.
  4. Images should be draggable to help the creative show you off (easily) to their clients. 
  5. A natural/real image of you in the “About” section to help warm up your intro.
  6. Your email should be clickable as a one-stop-shop without extra work for the sender.

Inside View: Photographer Dana Goldstein’s Top 7 Tips to Prepare for Online Portfolio Reviews

  1. Have copies of your presentation in two locations! I used Canva’s pro app to make two shorter ports of recent work, and it worked great – I used the app in presentation mode when I shared my screen EXCEPT during 1 of my 12 reviews, the app was having issues connecting. NO PROBLEM – I had already downloaded the PDFs of the final apps so I switched over to the PDFs without missing a beat. So I would say have two locations open just in case one has a glitch.
  2. If possible, use images that aren’t already on your website. I am fortunate to have had recent shoots and images for a new project, so I was able to avoid the chance of it just being a repeat of things they could have seen just by checking out the website.
  3. Have your website open and waiting ANYWAY. In one review, the reviewer asked if I had additional images from specific shoots, besides the portraits. I quickly logged into a specific gallery on my website and began sharing that screen. For all reviews going forward, I also had that page up and ready to go if I needed it.
  4. LinkedIn is always your friend. In my last review, I got the reviewer on the schedule, but she was also joined by an associate as she had been having childcare issues and couldn’t be sure she could stay on. I had five minutes to look him up and found that he’s a skateboarder, like my daughter, so I was able to open the conversation with that connection, and I mentioned it again in my thank you email. He shared a link to a friend’s project with a young girl skateboarder in response, and it helped solidify a new connection (who is now a LinkedIn contact himself).
  5. I thanked each reviewer for participating in this new type format, and asked how it was going from their side, since it’s all a work in progress. They all said they were so excited to be able to meet photographers from all over the world. One said, “I just met a photographer in Africa!” So if you’re outside the main cities, emphasize how meaningful it is for you as a creative to be able to participate from where you are. Gratitude is important and memorable.
  6. I had a digital promo card ready to go in the chat as soon as the review started. (Also created on Canva) Don’t wait till the end to give this, as you might get cut off rather abruptly in a group review format, and not have a chance to exchange information. I also mentioned that I was dropping it in, since not everyone keeps their chat tab open in Zoom.
  7. Do a run-thru with someone who’s not on your WiFi. Some formats do these lovely dissolves between images or virtual “page turning” but depending on the other person’s connection, it may look choppy. I wanted to do the dissolve, but my daughter told me from school (she was on Zoom on her phone) that it looked halting and choppy and was distracting, so I did clean image breaks instead.

Lifestyle + Portrait Photography

Q:

How can a lifestyle photographer that only shoots natural light portraits and documentary style photography have different sections when it’s all essentially the same things?

A:

If you shoot one type of photography with similar situations, you don’t necessarily need different categories but it could be a way to show more and give you more credit. When you are up for a job, it gives the client some satisfaction to dig in deeper, explore, and research you. Projects that show off other clients/past jobs is a definite boost to give them reassurance that you are trustworthy. Give the viewer the option to see it all on one overview or keep them longer, by offering sections which suggest you have a lot more to show!