At some point in the journey of every photographer, we need to create a portfolio. In this post, I will tell you what you need to do to create your own, great photography portfolio. And why. And even how.
You create a great photography portfolio by
- Deciding what your photography portfolio is for
- Deciding who you want to see your images
- Selecting no more than 20 of your best images
- Refining the edits to make the photos the best you can
- Putting the images in a logical sequence
- Publishing your portfolio for the world to see
A great photography portfolio shows anyone in an instant who you are as a photographer, what you can do, how you create photos, how you see and interpret the world, and how you create great images.
I have created my own portfolios, which I have used to gain professional photography qualifications and grow my photography businesses, so I am sharing with you what I know and what I have done. If you want to know all about creating your own great photography portfolio you are in the right place!
What is a portfolio anyway?
Well, the word comes from the Italian language.
- Portare – carry
- Foglio – leaf
So the most popular definition of a portfolio is a large case used for carrying drawings, documents etc. That doesn’t help us does it?
The next definition is this
“A portfolio is also a collection of drawings, designs, or other papers that represent a person’s work.”
That does it nicely. A collection that represents a person’s work, a photographer’s personal style. That is what a portfolio is.
And every professional photographer will have their own photo portfolio. That is every professional photographer.
Why do I need a portfolio?
You need to be able to show people what you can do, and how great your photos are. A great portfolio is a collection of your best work, and your best photos, and is also a collection that demonstrates that you can create great photos more than once.
You need a photography portfolio if you want to
- Grow your photography business
- Get work as a photographer
- Get new clients
- Attract potential customers
- Sell your photos
- Make a living from photography
- Take your photography career seriously
- Get professional qualifications
- Grow your reputation and standing as a photographer
So yes, you do need a portfolio. And there is no easy way to do this, this is work that just needs to be done. A portfolio is like a supercharged online business card that you can use to attract, well, whoever you are seeking to attract to your photography world.
And shows others how you can help them to get the photos that they need..
What should a photography portfolio include?
Your best work. Quite simply that. Your best photography work only. It might be the only chance for someone to judge you as a photographer, and this could be in a disappointingly short amount of time.
People are busy, and in the online world, which is the most likely place for someone to find you, you have to make a very big impression very quickly.
If you have a portfolio with hundreds of photos in it forget it. No one is going to look at all your photos.
But, if you show say 10, 12, or 20 great photos, then you have a chance.
How many pictures should be in a portfolio?
Not as many as you might think. I think 12 is a good number. 10, 12, 16, 20 – this kind of number.
And if it is for a specific submission they will tell you how many photos.
The BIPP asked for 20 photos these days. It was 30-40 I seem to remember when I applied to join them. You can find out more on the BIPP website here.
Me? I go with 12 photos. It is a nice number for me, and this is what I use these days.
12 photos are enough to give a good range of what you can do, but not too many that people get bored or distracted, There is an art to getting people’s attention, making them want to know more.
So not that many, but they must be your very best images.
Do the photos all need to be of the same types of things?
Well, this is a tricky one. And this is also why I recommend that we as photographers niche down to a specialist area. When I first created a portfolio I had all sorts of subject matter in there. So much so that it didn’t make sense.
It depends on what the portfolio is for.
If you are trying to get work say as an architectural photographer there is no point in including photos of the Red Arrows in there. And also some lovely sunrise photos.
This is what I did.
No, if you are creating a portfolio to get architectural photography work include architectural photos.
But if it is a general portfolio you can go broader, but the photos need to work together as a collection. Different styles of photos need to be put together with care and thought.
How do I make different photos work together?
There are a few things that you can do.
If you have a collection of photos with say the same predominant colours in them this can work nicely.
And if you have taken a load of photos using the same focal length, or a similar viewpoint, that can work.
But for a broader range of photos you have to come up with a sequence that takes the viewer through the photos.
You need to take time selecting the right images, and also the order that they are in.
Can I have more than one portfolio?
Yes, you can. This is what I have done. But I do recommend that you have one main portfolio that represents you as a photographer. But you also need to think of potential clients, what do you want to show them? And how are you going to show potential clients your portfolio?
If it is online, then you can have more than one portfolio on a website.
If you are meeting a client face to face with prints, then that is a different matter altogether.
I cover this later, I have a separate portfolio for each of my main areas of work.
How do I choose the photos for my portfolio?
This is the difficult bit. This is where the time is spent. If you go with 12 photos, or 20, that is a great start. Because you know where you have to get to. And if you have loads of photos this can be a challenge.
Now I can tell you the physical process that I go through to select the photos for my portfolios. I will write about this next, there is too much for this post.
But in terms of how you select the photos you need to be clear
- Who is going to be looking at your portfolio
- What do you want someone to do when they have seen your portfolio
This is hard to describe, so the best way that I can do this is to create a new portfolio all of my own. Every photo in your portfolio has to be a hero image. Every photo.
And will you include new recent work or older work? Another thing to think about.
How do I know if my photography portfolio is any good?
Get a critique. This is the best way. You can do this by applying to join a professional body, such as the BIPP. Or you can pay someone to critique your work. You will probably have to pay someone to do this.
But there are two very important things
- Get a critique from someone who knows what they are talking about
- Act on the critique
There is no point in paying for a critique and ignoring the comments. You have to go into this process prepared to take whatever you get on the chin.
I have had a critique and my portfolio is not great
Then you are in a great place to get better. Really. This is excellent news. Well, it might not feel like it but believe me, it is better to know than to not know!
And once you have that feedback you have something to work with.
When I had my first portfolio critique it opened my eyes, and I began to understand things more than I ever did before.
And I got the grounding that I needed – I was nowhere near as good as I thought I was.
What happened when I got a critique?
I will link to another post all about this below, but I will tell you this. When I had a critique of my photos it was an absolute revelation to me. My portfolio review was done by a Hasselblad Master no less. And the photos that I put together were just not good enough.
In this and other posts, I am sharing my experiences with you, which I hope will help you.
But prepare yourself for what I went through. I thought I had my style, my look, my own thing. I didn’t, I was all over the place, and my photos were not that great.
How do you show people your photography portfolio?
On your website. An online photography portfolio is a must these days. It just needs to be a page with all your great photos on it.
An online portfolio is accessible to anyone anywhere anytime. When you have your photos the first thing that I think you should do is put them on your website or another part of the internet that you occupy.
And you will see the term photography portfolio website a lot when you search the internet, but any website can be a portfolio website. The only downside is that you don’t know who is looking at your photos. But we have no control over that.
The best photography portfolio websites are easy to navigate and make the photos the star of the show. And now I think about it my website does not do this. So more work for me to do.
Your website is your online store, and also your online, 24/7 portfolio! So it matters right?
In a Lightroom Collection
This is a great way to always have your portfolios with you. I do this. I have added all my portfolios to collections in Lightroom mobile, meaning that I have them with me at all times, on my phone and on my iPad if I have it with me. Lightroom Mobile is a great mobile app, one that I use all the time.
So wherever I am I can show people my portfolios, which is an incredibly useful thing to be able to do.
And let’s not forget good old-fashioned prints now.
I have done this too. For my second BIPP portfolio assessment, I had to bring prints, which was a real eye-opener for me.
Prints look so different to viewing photos on a mobile device or PC. There is something about prints that I just love. Photos become more real and are much more impactful. I still have that set of prints in a box in my office and love looking at them.
I love my printed portfolio, the problem is it is inconveniently heavy! That pesky digital world eh?
Can Instagram be a photography portfolio?
Yes, it can. If you are happy with that then go for it. I don’t myself, not being a huge fan of social media. But yes, Instagram is a place where you can have a portfolio, and do whatever you want with it.
For an Instagram portfolio to be effective though you need to have a following, and probably need to be active on that platform.
Much better on your website though, but you could always use Instagram as well.
What about other social media?
The same applies really as for Instagram. Go where your audience is, but have your online presence, your website. Social media platforms come and go, and you don’t want to put all your work into a platform that you have no control over.
And you have no idea how many, or probably how few people see your photos on social media platforms.
How do you introduce yourself in a photography portfolio?
A strange question for sure, but one that keeps on popping up in Google! Simply be yourself. That is all. Your photography portfolio should be a true representation of you, and everything that you say and do should also be.
But put your contact information on there if it is not obvious so everyone knows that those great photos are yours ok?
How do you create a great photography portfolio?
Well, you have got this far. So this is how you do it, step by step. Ooh, I feel a step-by-step guide coming on here.
- What is the portfolio for?
- Who do you want to look at your portfolio?
- What types of photos are you going to include?
- How many photos are you going to include?
Ok that’s a good start – now this is what you do next
- Choose some photos – anywhere between 50-100.
- Study the photos
- Narrow down by critically looking at every photo
- Get down to your target number
- Arrange the photos in a logical order
OK – you have a set of photos
- Do you need to edit the photos more?
- Get feedback
- Publish your finished portfolio and tell the world all about it
Want to know more? Fine, I will walk you through my creating a brand new portfolio from start to finish. This will be a single portfolio that covers everything that I do in 12 photos.
Blimey, sounds like a challenge.
And once I have done this I will publish this portfolio on my website.
What have I done so far?
I created my first photography portfolio in 2013. I created It to support my application to join the BIPP. The BIPP (if you don’t know) is the British Institute of Professional Photography. I am now a proud Associate Member, having the letters ABIPP after my name.
But back in 2013 I was new to all of this, including how to create a photography portfolio. And I thought that I was a great photographer back then.
You can see my first portfolio in this blog post – How I Created My Photography Portfolio In 2013. I am quite open and honest about what I thought were my best shots, and what others thought.
And here is my website portfolio page.
And as you will see from this page, I have more than one photography portfolio. I have portfolios for my
Architectural photography – https://rickmcevoyphotography.com/my-architectural-photo-portfolio-40-pictures-im-proud-of/
Construction photography – https://rickmcevoyphotography.com/51-great-examples-of-my-construction-photography-in-dorset/
Landscape photography – https://rickmcevoyphotography.com/portfolios/landscape-photography/
Real estate photography – https://rickmcevoyphotography.com/real-estate-photography-portfolio/
Travel photography – https://rickmcevoyphotography.com/portfolios/travel-photography/
Yes, separate pages for separate portfolios. I cover more than one type of photography, so I had to work out how to cover all of these.
But some of my portfolios are blog posts.
Yes, I know, and these are things that I need to work on. I write about photography, and I use blog posts to get traffic to my website. I work in a slightly different way from many photographers. My website is not just a professional photography website, it is an actual part of my business. Each of my portfolios is a separate landing page but designed and optimised so people can find them through internet searches. Search engine optimisation is an important part of my online business.
For you, a simple collection of great photos might be all that you need.
And now some work for me to do!
Yes, I have some work to do. I have to create a new portfolio, and also make it more prominent on my website. I am going to practise what I have told you in this post.
Now I have set myself the challenge of coming up with a new photography portfolio things are going to change!
And some other stuff that I want to tell you about
The Photography Explained Podcast
I am the creator and all things at the splendid, small but perfectly formed Photography Explained Podcast. In my podcast I explain one photographic thing per episode in plain English without the irrelevant details in less than, well less than 27 (ish) minutes these days.
I talk about all aspects of photography in my podcast, and welcome questions from listeners that I love answering.
And my real estate photography course
I have created a course, How To Become A Real Estate Photographer. No nonsense, straight talking advice from me to you based on my many years of experience doing this stuff. All you need to know to quickly start making money from real estate photography.
My You Tube channel
Yes I have an ever growing You Tube channel, where I talk about what I have written on my blog. Check out the video for this post right here.
Again no frills, no bull, just me telling you the stuff that you need to know.
Get a weekly email from me to you
Don’t worry I won’t bombard you with stuff, just send you an email every Friday with some thoughts from me. Just fill in one of the boxes and I will send you some good Lightroom stuff as a thank you for trusting me with your email address. Or click on this link right here. See I do the stuff that I teach!
Finally – how can I find out more about this stuff?
Get in touch with me – email me – email@example.com
Get in touch, ask me a question that I can answer on my blog or podcast, or just say hi – it would be great to hear from you.
Thanks for visiting my small but perfectly formed website, and I look forward to hearing from you.
Cheers from me Rick