Photography 101: Portfolios

If you’re working on a portfolio of images, it’s worth keeping a few things in mind to make sure you don’t blend into the masses or worse, end up in the trash can!

First, decide what it is you actually want to achieve. There’s no point in taking a hundred photos of your grandparents at the family picnic if you want to become a fashion photographer. Research photographers in your chosen field and read up on them as much as you can – don’t just focus on their images. Find out how they made it to the top, their journey and their influences. Go to exhibitions and look through physical books! The Internet is a fantastic tool but not everything you find there is accurate and true. Books can often give more relevant informaion and are likely to have had more endorsement from the actual artist than sites on the net. It also beats sitting in a stuffy house trawling through various virtual pages of rubbish. If you find research boring, then you’re not doing it right. You should only be looking for information that is of interest and benifit to you.

Next, analyse your work so far. What’s your “thing”? Many great photographers have a trait that separates and distinguishes them from the rest, whether it’s a certain shooting technique or particular type of styling, atmosphere, location etc. It could be any one of a million things. You may not even have your own distinguisable style, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The main point is you need to be able to analyse and critique your own work from a subject give point of view. This can be very difficult at the start because we all like to think that what we do is great. Truth is, it’s not. And learning to identify great shots from good ones is what will help your portfolio come together a whole lot better.

It’s a good idea now to layout a rough blueprint of what you want your portfolio to look like, in all aspects. You’ve decided what time of photography you want to do, now choose how you’re going to go about it. For example, a portrait photography portfolio could be split into sections or themes such as studio & location, black and White & colour etc. Don’t pigeon-hole your sections too much, leave room for a broad range of images and don’t have more than 3 sections. Keep it simple and effective. Afterall, you’re being judged on your artistic talent, not your elaborate filing skills. Maybe you want a small portfolio with a series of images encompassing a certain theme or a broad range of images covering a plethora of techniques you’ve mastered. Whatver it is, keep the presentation simple and don’t stray from what you now decide you want your portfolio to be about.

So you’re ready to do some serious shooting now, yeah? Well, almost. Before you begin, you need to be honest with yourself about the level of commitment you can make to your project. If you are making a high fashion portfolio, are you able to make time to organise the shoots, studios, clothes, models and make-up? If so, great. If not, try a simpler approach. Look at magazines such as Dazed & Confused rather than I-D and Vogue. Use charity store chic rather than Gucci and Versace. Can’t get to that perfect location for a killer landscape sunset? Do some scouting for an alternative closer to home. There are ways around every obstacle and money or transport should not mean you can’t still produce the genre of images you want. You may just have to alter your initial approach and think outside the box.

Now you should feel confident enough to set out on a mission to create a great portfolio! Pick up your camera and run. Bring it everywhere and keep your battery charged. 100 spur of the moment photos that turn out to be rubbish is better than finding yourself in the middle of the perfect picture without a camera. Experiment. Try different approaches, ideas, techniques. Post on Sites such as Flickr and get some feedback on your work (just remember most Flickr users are not professional so take all praise and/or criticism with a pinch of salt!)

Finally, when piecing together your portfolio, remember to stick to your blueprint and original goal. It will alter slightly as you go along, but don’t get carried away. Physical portfolios should be presented in the best way you can comfortably afford. If all you can get is a £10 plastic folder, then go with it. Your images should speak for themselves so don’t worry too much about what they are cased in. But obviously try get the best quality you can as unfortunately first impressions do count for something!

And one last tip: no pictures of pets or flowers. They are awfully uninteresting and unoriginal. Unless you’re working for a florist’s website or making prints for a vetenary clinic’s waiting room. Even then they’re still boring!

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