How To Create Your Photography Portfolio: Part 1

There is no doubt that creating your photography portfolio is one of the first significant steps in moving from an enthusiast to a pro. It can be a daunting task though and involves asking oneself a lot of questions! What kind of photography do you want to pursue? What kind of clients would you like to work with? Which of the thousands of photos that you might have taken should you publish? Thankfully, MisterLocation is fortunate to work with plenty of established photographers. We’ve combined our experience to create this 3-part series on How to Create Your Photography Portfolio.

  • Parts of a Photography Portfolio: What is a Portfolio?
  • Planning your Portfolio
    • How to Find the Right Genre of Photography for You
    • How to Find Your Ideal Client
    • Research Research Research
    • Choose Your Best Photos
  • What Potential Clients Look For in a Portfolio
  • How Many Samples Should You Have?
  • Photography Portfolios: Printed vs. Online
    • Benefits of an Online Photography Portfolio
    • Benefits of a Printed Photography Portfolio
    • Examples of Ideal Portfolio Formats

An Example of a Printed Photography Portfolio
Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

WHAT IS A PHOTOGRAPHY PORTFOLIO?

A Photography Portfolio should showcase the best of a photographer’s work while sticking within the bounds of a specific genre or style. Usually, a portfolio is used to show potential clients what the photographer is capable of and why they should hire them. Whether it’s for a job interview or a website to generate client inquiries, a well-designed and curated photography portfolio is a vital tool for any photographer looking to monetize their craft.

PLANNING YOUR PORTFOLIO

To start with, you need to consider the type of photography work you want to do, and the type of photography client you want to book. If you want to do lifestyle portrait photography for relaxed clients, you probably shouldn’t use corporate headshots or formal photos in your portfolio. In the same way, if you’d like to specialize in studio product photography, it wouldn’t make sense to showcase portraits! Effectively, the very first step in Creating your Photography Portfolio is asking yourself, ‘what do I want to achieve with this Portfolio?’ As a general rule, I’ll go ahead and guess you want a photography portfolio because it’s one of the best tools to find new clients.

HOW TO FIND THE RIGHT GENRE OF PHOTOGRAPHY FOR YOU

First thing is first though – what kind of photography is the right one for you? While you can be an all-rounder, it’s generally best to specialize in 2-3 areas. Otherwise, you might need to consider creating multiple different portfolios for each of the photography genres you would like to specialize in. If you haven’t already figured out which genre of photography you would like to pursue, sit down and look through your photos. Which ones are your favorites? Which ones would you like to take again? What shoot experiences would you like to have more of? Narrow these down and if you still have too many to choose from, go out and shoot!

Contacting experienced photographers and asking to shadow them is a great way to gain more experience and get a taste of the industry. You’ll quickly realize what appeals to you and what is not quite up your alley. Once you’re down to 1-3 genres of photography, start compiling your favorite photos from each genre.


Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash

HOW TO FIND YOUR IDEAL CLIENT

Whether you’re an experienced photographer or a newbie fresh onto the scene, it’s vital to know who your ideal client is. If you don’t know who your target audience is, your photography portfolio probably won’t appeal to them, and they won’t find you. Knowing who your ideal client is will help decide the direction, style, and layout of your photography portfolio. But how to figure out who that is?

There are so many different tools available to find your ideal client, but at the end of the day, it involves sitting down and considering what you want from photography. Envision your ideal day and write it down. If you could work with any client, who would it be – a marketing agency, a young couple about to get married, a new indie fashion label, metal-core musicians? Write it down! Think about the 5 photos that inspire you most. Who took them and what tools did they use to take them? Did it involve creating a photography studio at home or adventuring into the middle of the jungle? The deeper you dive into your niche, the more clearly you will be able to define who your ideal client is. Once defined, you’ll find it so much easier to create a successful portfolio that appeals to that client.

A photo of a woman smiling at a digital camera
Photo by Ionut Coman Photographer on Unsplash

RESEARCH & PRACTICE

Once you’ve defined your ideal client and the genres of photography you want to pursue, look up photographers doing precisely that. It’s no use identifying your client only to create a portfolio that goes entirely against the grain! Do you want to do high fashion editorial images? Then go to Vogue and Marie Clare for inspiration. You’ll quickly realize that your portfolio needs to have a high end-feel and include plenty of portrait-oriented images, like the cover of a magazine. Do you want to take lifestyle photos of families? Search the #familyphotography hashtag on Instagram and find images that inspire you. It’s likely you’ll find their portfolios are filled with fun and color! Make notes of things you like, but more importantly, make note of the things that you could do better. After all, the end goal isn’t to be just another photographer but to make your work stand out above everyone else’s.

CHOOSE YOUR BEST PHOTOS

Once you have understood exactly the kind of client you want and the kind of photography you would like to do, you can start planning your portfolio. This part should be relatively simple! Go through your photos and find your favorite images that showcase the kind of work you want. Do they match the ideal client profile that you put together? Is it a style of photo you’d like to take more of? Great! Add it to the list. That doesn’t mean the photos need to be all the same though – you should still be sure to show your versatility – try to include photos that were taken with a wide angle, close up photos and everything in between. Then at the end, cull those photos down until you’re left with the right amount for your genre of photography.

An example of a printed photography portfolio that tells a story
Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash

WHAT POTENTIAL CLIENTS LOOK FOR IN A PORTFOLIO

If you haven’t already joined a few different photography forums or groups on Facebook, do yourself a favor and do that now! Groups like the Rising Tide Society are usually very open to answering questions and encourage open discussion. But what does this have to do with what potential clients will look for in your photography portfolio? Well, one of the first things many experienced photographers will tell you is that photography clients aren’t usually photographers themselves. This means they see things differently! It’s unlikely that your client will see the extra noise from shooting at 3200 ISO instead of 1600. Just like they probably won’t notice if a photo isn’t tack sharp! So, don’t bother focussing on technically perfect images (unless of course, you’re looking for more technical photography work). Instead, use your images to showcase your abilities and to tell a story.

That’s right! Tell a story! Regardless of the industry, selling a product relies heavily on emotion. One of the simplest things you can do to boost results from your portfolio is to engage in that emotion. Start and end with your strongest images. Show that you’re capable of taking photos from different angles to tell a story. Add in text where it will add to the experience of your portfolio.

HOW MANY SAMPLES SHOULD YOU HAVE?

How many samples you should include in your photography portfolio depends on the type of photography you’d like to do. Clients looking for wedding photography often want to see more rather than less – think galleries with 50-100 different photographs. Clients looking for commercial photography though will likely be happy to see 10-15 images of outstanding work taken in different situations and circumstances. Of course, how many photography samples you should include in your portfolio also depends on the portfolio’s format. Keep reading to find MisterLocation’s list of ideal formats for photography portfolios for different genres, including notes on how many sample photos to include.

Examples of both a printed photography portfolio and an online photography portfolioPhoto by rawpixel on Unsplash

PHOTOGRAPHY PORTFOLIOS: PRINTED VS. ONLINE?

These days, it would be easy to think printed photography portfolios have lost their place, but just like digital, printed photography portfolios can be incredibly useful. For most genres of photography, it’s best to have both digital and printed portfolios ready and available. Where print works great for casual client meetings or job interviews, an online portfolio in the form of a website will help potential clients to find and view your work

Another great example of an online photography portfolioPhoto by Anete L?si?a on Unsplash

BENEFITS OF AN ONLINE PHOTOGRAPHY PORTFOLIO

We live in a digital world, so there is no doubt that having a digital online photography portfolio should be a new photographer’s top priority. Between social media, blogs, and websites, it’s never been more critical to maintain an online presence. Not to mention, prospective clients are much more likely find you through a well-constructed and thoughtfully curated online presence than a printed portfolio. A digital photography portfolio is also easily updated, allowing you to keep your work current, showcasing the best of your work at all times.

An Example of a Printed Photo Portfolio by CJ Williams Photography
Photo courtesy of CJ Williams Photography

BENEFITS OF A PRINTED PHOTOGRAPHY PORTFOLIO

Just because we live in a digital age, doesn’t mean photographers should discount the benefits of a Printed Photography Portfolio. Especially for photographers working with people, a printed portfolio allows clients to touch the images and appreciate all the details. It will also be more natural for clients to imagine themselves in printed photos over a digital portfolio, and this is a key to selling your services. The form your print photography portfolio takes is up to you, but to help you get started, MisterLocation has put together a list of ideal formats for photography portfolios for different genres.

Examples of Ideal Portfolio Formats

  • Wedding Photography
    • Printed: price booklet or information brochure featuring best 10-15 photos; sample wedding albums; sample thank you cards
    • Online: website featuring a few wedding galleries, with 50-100 photos per gallery
  • Newborn Photography
    • Printed: sample photo book and/or prints
    • Online: website featuring a few newborn galleries, with 10-30 photos per gallery
  • Family Portrait Photography
    • Printed: sample photo book and/or prints
    • Online: website featuring a few different galleries. For studio family photographers, 10-20 photos per gallery. For lifestyle family photographers, 30-50 photos per gallery
  • Product and Commercial Photography
    • Printed: sample magazine featuring your images in advertisement formats; a traditional printed portfolio
    • Online portfolio: website with galleries showcasing work you’ve done either in different styles or for different clients. Include 10-15 photos per client/style
  • Adventure Photography:
    • Printed: sample magazine featuring your images in a story format; photo books showcasing the best of your images
    • Online: website with galleries or blogs showcasing the best of your photos from various trips. Include anywhere from 10-50 photos per story.

The first part of our ‘How to Create a Photography Portfolio’ series should be enough to kick off your portfolio. Begin carefully considering the type of photography you wish to pursue and who your ideal client is. Before you know it, we’ll be back with Part Two, ‘Producing Everything You Need For Your Photography Portfolio.’ Who knows, if you start work now, you could go from nothing to having a well-considered, beautifully curated Photography Portfolio in just a matter of weeks!

Tell us below what steps you’ve taken to kickstart your Photography Portfolio! We’d love for you to join the conversation.