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The Proactive Shooter Catches the Gig: Tips to Build Your Portfolio

If you want to be a professional photographer or videographer, you need a portfolio. You want your portfolio to be the distilled essence of your style of image capture for a given subject. This can be anything from the look that you give your photos in composition to the use of specialized shooting styles like long exposures with lighting props. These need to be the equivalent of an elevator pitch; you have 30 seconds to sell someone on why they should hire you, and no more.


Build a Physical Portfolio

Even in the digital age, have a physical portfolio. It’s a nice touch; when you meet with potential clients, they’ll have something they can hold in their hands to get a sense of who you are. Going with a photo book style portfolio gives a good sense of weight to your images and makes you look more professional. If you specialize in multiple areas such as weddings and portraits, have multiple portfolios rather than mixing these images together. This shows that you have a real knack for whatever the portfolio is geared toward rather than being a jack-of-all-trades photographer. But within a single portfolio, showcase both day and nighttime photography and various subjects, including such things as pets and wildlife, children and poolside photos with lighting props.

For video, you may even consider a small tablet to present to anyone on a moments notice, with different folders dedicated to different areas of work, or even just your demo reel. This could make for an interesting alternative to having just one demo reel for a client who may be looking to see a wider range of your work. Of course, always have your work online as well so that you can direct potential clients to check out a wider range of your work independent of a meeting. There are numerous site dedicated to presenting video work beyond just Vimeo that help you present your work in a manner pleasing to the eye. Having your own website is always a great idea as well, and can house your portfolio or simply link to it.


However, keep in mind that the way you order and present your images can have a large impact on how the clients perceive your work. Use the opportunity to juxtapose images on opposite sides of the book either in terms of the color pallet used or the scene being shot. Having contrast in how your images are shown can be as helpful to your style as having good contrast within the images themselves.

For photos, the quality of the prints themselves plays an important factor in a good set of work. This isn’t the time to save money by using a big box store or your local drug store. These can be a good option if you need something quickly, but the quality control on their printers often is not very good, which can turn your stunning images into flat, boring or outright bad ones. Go to a professional photo or print shop. Remember, you are selling yourself. Better quality prints will let your vivid colors stand out and show the true contrast in a black and white image.

Things to Avoid

It can be easy to get hung up on all your personal favorites and include too many photos or videos in your portfolio. Ideally, a portfolio should have 12-24 shots in it. Keep all the photos in your style, but make sure the images don’t look too close to one another. Try to vary things like the angles, colors and subject; this makes it more interesting and shows off your diverse skills. And while it may seem elegant to get your portfolio professionally bound, it is best to keep a master portfolio you can update on a moment’s notice as well.


For video, include clips of your work, keeping in mind the idea behind internet video: no one wants to sit and watch a video on the go for more than a minute. Make sure each clip is short in duration and there to convey something about your work on that piece, whether it’s camera work, cinematography, lighting, image manipulation, etc.

Have other people look at your portfolio and give honest critiques. This means that it might not be best to give it to your friends and family to critique, as they might be too nice to try to spare your feelings. Instead, show it to colleagues or maybe a local photography/videography group. Let others who have a similar eye take a look and find the strengths and weaknesses before it is in it’s final form.

Portfolios are a great tool. Don’t rush the process — really sit down and spend the time planning the subject matter, the presentation, the editing and the final product.

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