A digital photography portfolio is the ultimate advertisement of your creative ability as a photographer. It should showcase not only your technical skills like lighting and Photoshop mastery, but also your unique perspective in the world and your position as an artist.
And what better time to get your portfolio in tip-top shape than now? Consider it spring cleaning for your career! It’s certainly easy to procrastinate updating or creating a portfolio when there are deadlines to hit, edits to deliver, and hard drives to back up, but a well-groomed portfolio can position you for your next step in the industry–be it a first foot in the door or a step up to something bigger.
Whether you’re an experienced professional looking to clean up their existing site or someone just getting started in the photography game, this guide on how to make a photography portfolio that sets you apart from the crowd will help you cater your portfolio to your individual needs.
Step #1: Define what you’re looking to accomplish with your portfolio
The first step in creating your portfolio should be to take a long hard look at what you’re looking to accomplish with this project. Are you new to the game and looking to assemble your work for the first time and get a couple of gigs? Are you an established photographer looking to rebrand or diversify your offerings with film or video work? Are you a pro who simply wants to refresh your content and better reflect where you’re at in your career?
The answer to these questions will be essential in determining the scope of your portfolio and how much time, money, and effort you should expect to spend in your design.
Step #2: Assess your work
This is a great time to take a look at what you have either in your files or on your existing site and determine whether what you’ve got is the best representation of your work and your current aesthetic. Is this work recent? Is it work you’re incredibly proud of? Is it incredibly high resolution without taking a year to load on your phone? Since this is basically your visual resume, it should only display your most outstanding work to date and should make clear to potential clients what you excel at. Don’t feel the need to keep pictures on your site that don’t showcase your biggest and boldest photography ideas.
Have a small edit of photos on hand that you know you’ll want a viewer to see when they immediately land on your site – this will ensure that you’re making a strong first impression and will help you curate a layout that will display this work in the most impactful way.
Step #3: Categorize and organize
If you’re someone who works across various verticals, you may want to consider dividing your portfolio into easy-to-digest sections or folders, so a potential client can find the work that is most relevant to their needs. For example, Sandy Soohoo has separated her Wedding and Travel photography from her Portraits, as they are essentially three separate offerings.
Alternatively, if you’re someone who consistently works in one format, like editorial or print, or you’ve really worked with well known name brands, you may want to consider Natalia Mantini’s approach and divide your portfolio into folders of work by client name.
Once you’ve got all of your photos organized and your links ready to go, it’s time to move on to selecting a platform to host your portfolio on.
Step #4: Find the platform that works for you
There are tons of low cost, beautifully designed tools out there that will allow you to build a great site without learning how to code or bug all of your programmer friends. If you’re just starting out and don’t want to break the bank, you might want to consider some free or very inexpensive options on the market like Virb, Cargo Collective, xhbtr or Wix. If you’d like to do things like allow potential clients to book online or purchase things like merch, books or gift cards, Squarespace can be a good option for a slightly more advanced setup.
Because there are so many options out there, you might want to let the site designs that resonate most with you dedicate the platform you choose. Most site creators have galleries that show off great examples of their product in use, or you can always look to see what fellow photographers are using for sites you admire (pro tip: you can always use the “Inspect Element” function if you’re using Google Chrome to see what a website is built on).
Make sure that whatever tool you choose allows you to set up a custom domain (and that it’s included in the price!) so that you’re ready for Rule #4.
Step #5: Make sure you’re Google-able
For this rule, stay away from setting up a domain name that isn’t your first and last name if you can. The goal here is to make sure that your portfolio is the first result on Google when a potential client searches for you–it’s also the most professional way to go. Pseudonyms, Instagram handles, or AKAs should be avoided.
This could also be a great opportunity to learn a thing or two about SEO.
Step #6: Create a Standout Artist Statement
A strong artist statement or bio page should help potential clients understand why you’re the right person for the job. It should also reflect your strengths and unique perspective within the photography industry. Keep it short and sweet–no more than a paragraph or two–and make sure to highlight and accolades or educational information that may help you shine.
When it comes to writing the statement, the style should be 100% your own. If your art is playful and bright, your words should be, too. Similarly, a more introspective or subdued photographer will want to lean into those strengths. If you need inspiration, try checking out photographers you admire to see how they’ve encapsulated themselves and their work.
Shaniqwa Jarvis, for example, has crafted an exceptional statement that describes her style, ability and one-of-a-kind accomplishments.
Step #7: More about you
There are a few more essentials that every good photography portfolio should include. Namely, making sure your contact information is up-to-date, easy-to-find, and professional (it may seem like a no-brainer, but make sure your email address doesn’t include any description of your physical appearance).
All relevant social media or professional networking links should also be easy to spot: Instagram, LinkedIn, Behance–wherever you’re posting your work that isn’t this portfolio. If you have a blog or a Tumblr that you think could give your audience a better insight into your creative process, don’t hesitate to include those as well.
And, a tip for the more advanced professional, a press page with write-ups or interviews is always a great touch and lends an air of credibility to your work. Similarly, links to your work in action on a publisher’s or brand’s site can also be a proof point for why you’re the right hire for the job.
Step #8: Promote–and then don’t stop promoting
Now that you have everything you need to get your site up and running, don’t forget to share it with the world. Post about your new or renovated portfolio on your social channels, add a URL to your Instagram or Twitter bio, email all of your relevant contacts out there, and let them know about this major update.
And, once you’ve done all that, don’t let the promotion machine slow down. While this isn’t a one-time effort, building a community online is something that will require time, patience, and curiosity, but can truly pay off in the long run. Using the internet and the tools it provides for meeting other photographers, casting agents, models, producers, and all the creatives in between can make a huge difference in getting your work out there, and getting you hired! Check out 15 Artists On How They Cultivated Online Influence And Boosted Their Careers for more tips on how to leverage social media to get your work out there.
Now that you have a beautiful snapshot (no pun intended) of your work to share with the world, don’t be afraid to seek out collaborators and create connections with like-minded pros.