Portfolio Zen 1
I always felt if the world was organised properly I’d be besieged by people asking me to shoot great photographic jobs because of course it’s obvious I’m a cool dude, a knockout creative professional as well as an all round wonderful person – so what is there to worry about? The work should roll in!
Unfortunately for some unknown reason the personal charisma strategy proved to be a total dud in generating work. Clients of little faith or vision have this curious notion I should present a portfolio of some relevance to the job at hand before they will even consider coming across with anything for me to point a camera at.
So, over the years I’ve spent a lot of time pondering what I should include in these portfolios and what I should exclude and how I should structure the flow of images so that clients are inspired and convinced that I’m the guy for the job. The hardest thing of all is getting free of how you think it should work and getting to where you have a handle on how it actually works.
What got me much more on track was attending a seminar in New York a few years ago where a bunch of photographers got together for an afternoon with 6 of the top NY photo agents and talked about portfolio presentation.
After a while everyone seemed to agree that generally a portfolio should be about 20 to 30 images. Among other things various ways of structuring and theming a portfolio were discussed – making photographic transitions through content, colour, composition etc. Several photographers said they looked upon their portfolios almost as a “stills” movie introducing their work and viewpoint to clients.
One of the agents then made a comment that stuck with me. She said:
I’m all for a portfolio having a smooth flow with a beginning, middle and a great finish. In my opinion a book should have pace with surprise, intelligence and wit.
Having got that out of the way, I would also like to add that in my experience of showing photographer’s portfolios for over 20 years in the real world an art director generally makes up his mind on you and comes to a decision very quickly.
So my best advice to get work is to go for it and shoot your wad in your first 8 images – if the client isn’t sold on you by then nothing you show subsequently is likely to shift that initial impression. If you save some of your best images for later in the book you are essentially wasting them.
It’s the best advice I think I’ve ever heard about portfolios and something I’ve always followed – go for it all straight up front in the first 8 images with material aimed directly at your client’s needs and then use the rest of the portfolio to flesh out the favourable and focussed impression you’ve already established.
Remember, if you don’t nail the client virtually as soon as they start to look at your book it’s unlikely you’re going to change their mind later on in the portfolio.