Portfolio Review Dos and Don'ts

Photos by George Long http://GeorgeLong.com, used with permission.

Photos by George Long http://GeorgeLong.com, used with permission.

(Originally published in 2014, updated January 2019) I just returned from 4 days of photo-related festivities in NYC. The mothership of the week is the PhotoPlus Expo at the Javits convention center, with other events happening around the same time to capitalize on having so many photographers in town at once. Every night there are parties and book signing and openings.

Aside from all seeing old friends and meeting new creatives and photographers, I spent most of my time during the day doing portfolio reviews at the PDN/Palm Springs Portfolio Review. This was probably my 15th organized review event and I thought it'd be helpful to give some guidance on how to get the most out of one.

I also reached out on twitter and facebook for creatives' pet peeves. Below are some of the most popular answers.

DO

Be honest with yourself about if you are really ready to show the work. Maybe you need another year of shooting before you start showing your book to art buyers, art directors and photo editors. You only get one chance at a first impression, don't rush it if it's not the right time. Ask people who you trust for their honest opinion.

Research your reviewers and make sure that your work is relevant to what they do. You have 15-20 minutes, often with some pretty influential and powerful creatives in the industry, don't waste it. Would you roll up to a job interview without knowing anything about the company?

Have a purpose for each review and communicate that purpose to the reviewer when you sit down. Example: "I've been following your magazine for years and feel my work would fit in. Do you think I'm ready to shoot for you, and if not, what needs improvement?"  Or, "I would love get feedback on the book and recommendations for colleagues in the industry who may respond to my style of work." Or, "This is a new personal project that I'm working on, would love to know if you think it's ready to show to galleries."

Come armed with 1 or 2 specific questions that are pertinent to your reviewer's area of expertise.

Do bring the actual portfolio that you intend to show to clients. Hopefully the reviewers you meet with are also potential clients. They're not going to give you a pass because you intend, later on, to make a better book. So don't bring a hastily thrown together book and then say that you are going to change it later. The whole point of the portfolio review is to get feedback and how can someone give you good feedback if what they are looking at isn't what you really want to show?

New Orleans Photo Alliance's PhotoNOLA portfolio review session at the International House Hotel conference facility. Photo by George Long, used with permission.

New Orleans Photo Alliance's PhotoNOLA portfolio review session at the International House Hotel conference facility. Photo by George Long, used with permission.

Make sure your prints look great. This is especially important when seeing galleries.

Leave behind a well-printed leave behind. Invest in a graphic designer to help you create something that looks professional. Just because you know Photoshop doesn't mean you are a designer. If you are seeing a dream client, kick it up a notch and leave something more unique than a postcard. However, don't go overboard. See below.

Keep notes. By the end of a long day, all the reviews can start to blend together. Make a separate page for each reviewer and mark down which images they pointed out liking, where they paused a bit longer, what questions they had about your work and specific feedback they gave you. You may also want to record audio of each meeting, if the reviewer is cool with that.

DON'T

Don't default to an iPad presentation. After having looked at about 20 people's work this weekend, I’ve seen that the iPad is not necessarily the best way to show still photography.  The glare in some rooms makes it very hard to see the photos, especially if your images tend to be dark. I often found myself looking at my own reflection instead of the photos.

Also, unless the iPad presentation is really slick, it can feel like not enough care was put into the portfolio. I mean, let's admit it, how hard is it to create a folder of images for someone to flip through? When I see a beautifully printed portfolio, it lends the photographer some legitimacy, makes them at least appear to have invested a lot of time and effort into their work, all which helps me take them more seriously.

Everyone spends so much time on their phones now, consuming an almost endless stream of imagery. It doesn’t feel as unique to be swipe through an iPad. Print feels special.

All that said, pay attention to your budget and don’t spend the extra money on printing if you can’t afford it.

Don't force your leave behind on the reviewer. Some people flew in for the event and may not want to tote a bunch of promos and books back. Or they may feel it's environmentally wasteful and rather not have the extra 'stuff' in their lives. Or they just may not have liked your work enough to want to take a promo. Ask if they'd like a card, but don't push it. Also don't just offer a huge and bulky leave behind. If you want to make something big, it's also nice to offer something small like a postcard.

Don't make excuses. Popular examples include: "I didn't bring my strongest work." "I didn't have time to put together much, but this should give you an idea." or "I just found out about this event."

Don't argue with constructive criticism The people looking at your work know what they are talking about. They may all have different opinions, but that is valid considering that people come from different backgrounds and that visual art is very subjective. You may not agree with someone, and that is ok, but don't tell them that they are wrong.

Photographers, what about the typical speed-dating format would you change? Do you get enough out of the reviews to justify the expense (if it was a paid review?)

Reviewers, what are your pet peeves? Can you share any review success stories where you ended up working with someone after a review?

Want to get ready for a portfolio review? Contact me to learn how we can fine tune your portfolio, create a great promo and get the most out of the time and money you're investing.

New Orleans Photo Alliance's PhotoNOLA portfolio review session at the International House Hotel conference facility

New Orleans Photo Alliance's PhotoNOLA portfolio review session at the International House Hotel conference facility

Photography Portfolio Website Products

Updated Winter 2018

I’ve maintained versions of this list since 2011.

A LOT can change in a short amount of time in the world of photography portfolio websites, which made the list hard to keep current. But recently, I was inspired (angered) to freshen things up. A few days ago, I received an email from Squarespace (which I used to build this site) announcing that they were partnering with Unsplash to deliver free stock photos to Squarespace’s customers.

This really rubbed me the wrong way. Squarespace has been a preferred platform for photographers since its beginning, and now Squarespace is encouraging their clients to seek out free photography. It’s a slap in the face to the professional photo community.

So with that in mind, I wanted to dust off this list and offer some suggestions for alternatives. I’ve personally built websites for photographers using Format (my current favorite), PhotoFolio (formerly APhotoFolio), and Photoshelter and think they’re all great. Here are others that friends and colleagues have recommended:

  • 22Slides - Free 14-day trial and a flat $10/mo afterwards.

  • Adobe Portfolio - Adobe has joined the portfolio game with this add on to the Creative Cloud.

  • Cargo Collective - Offers users free-standing websites and a wide variety of customizable templates. $99 per year or $13 per month.

  • Flosites- Slick portfolio websites and cool extras like Instagram story templates

  • format- One of my favorites. I’ve built quite a few sites using their platform and they look great. Easy to use interface. Basic plan for $6 per month, pro plan for $12 per month.

  • Graph Paper Press - Wordpress themes for photographers. Great comparison pricing chart at http://graphpaperpress.com/pricing/. Pricing starts at $0 and goes up to $149 a year.

  • Indexhibit- Honestly, I don’t really get how you use Indexhibit, but I know a lot of photographers like it so I’m including the link!

  • Koken - Content management and portfolio templates

  • LiveBooks - This used to be a really popular platform, and everywhere you turned, you would see one of their templates in action. They were bought by Wedding Wire a few years ago, and seem to be trying to re-boot the business.

  • Pixpa - Portfolio, storefront, blog, all integrated seamlessly.

  • PhotoFolio - Formerly known as APhotoFolio. Company was founded by Rob Haggart of the popular APhotoEditor blog. Nice templates. Very popular so without some customization, many sites look very similar.

  • Photoshelter - Portfolio templates and advanced photo archive tools. Buyer portal allows creatives to find photographers by specialty, location, etc. Company is great about offering free advice to the photo community through downloaded white papers on topics like SEO and blogging.

  • SmugMug - When I asked on Facebook for recommendations from photographers for sites they love, SmugMug came up multiple times. People commented that they like the templates, and the easy-to-use ecommerce and print fulfillment features.

  • Viewbook - Gallery basic plan starts at $4.99 per month, $9.99 for a standard portfolio, and $19.99 per month for the pro plan. Portfolio app available for viewing on ipad.

  • Visura - Visua offers a website portfolio platform as well as a searchable network of photographers for buyers to explore.

  • Wix - I used to make fun of Wix websites. They were so dated looking, even when they first came out. But they’ve done a lot of work to modernize their templates and it shows. Lots of integration options for ecommerce.

  • Zenfolio - Robust ecommerce soultions. Free 14 day trial. Basic plan starting at $25 per year. Premium for $100 per year.

Format

Format

Photoshelter

Photoshelter

PhotoFolio

PhotoFolio

Summer is no time for a vacation

If you're an editorial photographer, now is definitely the time to be getting your website, portfolios and promo pieces in shape for fall. NYC will soon be a sleepy village as all of the photo editors switch from turning out big spreads to daydreaming about what time they can hop on the LIRR to their summer share. Same goes for you corporate photographers hoping to shoot still, video or multimedia for annual reports this fall.

Contact me during June so there is time to get everything in order for September!