Most photographers think about building a portfolio, but many don't get around to it, while for others the portfolio is just another album of photos. In this article we are looking at the the motivation behind building portfolios, what they should contain and their use.
There are a number of types of portfolio including those used to promote certain types of commercial photography, such as weddings, portraiture, or more general portfolios showing the range of skills of the photographer, with other types in between.
Portfolios also serve several different purposes. A portrait photographer may use it to not only show what he can do, but to get feedback from the clients about the type of portrait that they want, and therefore have quite a lot of photographs within it, while a photographer promoting their ability is a more specific area, may choose to have a very small portfolio showing only outstanding work.
The error that many make is in trying to have a one solution fits all approach, where the portfolio is just a collection of their favourite work, often with a mixture of styles, and including what can best be described as memory shots, good to remind you of a place or experience, but otherwise not of any interest.
The solution for most photographers is either an adjustable portfolio, perhaps with loose leaves or ring binder based, allowing you to configure the portfolio for the purpose or alternatively having several portfolios.
When someone looks through a portfolio the images that they remember tends to be the first, last and only anything really unusual between. The first and last photos need to be your very best, and in between these ideally you want a representative selection showing your work in a particular area, or speciality. Anything less than perfect should be removed, anything only relevant to you, and of no interest to others also wants to be removed. Beyond this you need to consider anything that is controversial, or will really stand out, and think if this as the image that you want people to remember your work by.
One portfolio I saw, represented the work of a photographer who specialised in property photography, and the standard was quite high. In the middle he had some other work he had done including a couple of wildlife photos and a photo taken of a nude model in a studio. You can see the problem with this, in that the one shot most would remember would be the nude, and while it was a nice photo, it was not what he wanted to promote as his main area of expertise.
Portfolios can be printed books see Making Your Own Photography Book, ring binders, or in special portfolio cases.
You can get portfolio cases in a wide range of sizes and styles. Most have a zip around them, and removable pages. Often the page holders are bought separately to the portfolio case. I use two sizes, A2 and A3.
The A2 portfolio case can hold an 'A3 plus' photo that is 19 inches in its widest direction, in a card mount, or behind mount board. It can be carried without to much difficulty, but with mount board is quite heavy. You need a lot of desk space to look at it, so usually its put on the floor, so you don't want to put multiple small images on a page.
The A3 portfolio can hold A3 photos without mount board, or smaller with it. Another approach that I use with the A3 portfolio is to create an A3 image that includes a border, and looks like a photo in a mount. The advantage of this is that it is thinner, allowing more pages and weighs less. You also get a photo not very much smaller than A3, so still quite impressive.