How to Present Your Photographic Portfolio and Get Photography Work

How to Present Your Photographic Portfolio and Get Photography Work

An example Tearsheet - see more here

An example Tearsheet

Many of our readers are looking to take their photography from a hobby to something that earns them an income. Today Jonathan Pollack shares some tips on using your portfolio to get photographic work.

You’ve built your photographic portfolio and you feel that you’re ready to present it to a potential customer, vendor, art director, or gallery. You’ve collected hundreds of photos that you think are great and representative of your style. What strategies can help you wow them with your work?

  1. Research the person you will be meeting with and their photographic style and background. Think of their perspective when reviewing somebody’s portfolio and the type of photography they would like to see. A photo editor of a fashion magazine will want to see a different type of work than their counterpart at a food magazine. If you cannot reliably – and naturally – envision your style working out for them, you probably aren’t going to be a good fit. They’ll know it, and by the end of the meeting, you’ll know it, too.
  2. Have a number of different portfolios that you shop around. An engaged couple is going to want to see primarily engagement and wedding photos, not newborns or corporate headshots. A band is going to want to see music- and band-related images. While I feel that it’s always fine to show some breadth to anybody you meet with, I make sure to show depth in specific areas in each portfolio.
  3. You went through your portfolio, right? Good, now review it again. If you think an image isn’t perfect, either make it perfect or remove it from your portfolio. Spend some time grouping images into categories that make sense and present them that way.
  4. Don’t forget to refresh your portfolio periodically with new photos. As you work more, you’re going to end up with new favorites, so include them and let less outstanding images drop out of the collection.

I’ve put my editorial portfolio online to share with anybody interested. Just go to my photography site and type the code “Editorial Portfolio” under the slideshow on any page.

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Jonathan Pollack is a photographer who shows his work at J. Pollack Photography. He shoots regularly for the St. Louis publications Sauce Magazine and St. Louis Magazine and has a number of photos appearing in national publications in the coming months. He also loves shooting weddings, other family and lifecycle events, and for corporate and non-for-profit clients.

Some Older Comments

  • Kamal April 30, 2010 09:59 pm

    Thanks. Imean to say slide show presentation for my friends.

  • Jonathan April 30, 2010 06:19 am


    I'm not sure exactly what you mean by "they asked me to present my photos." In what context? If you're doing a slide show on the computer for a small group of friends, I would think any audio you want to add is fine. If you're presenting it to a publisher, art director, or anybody else in a professional context, I would not include an audio track.


  • Kamal April 30, 2010 06:10 am

    Hi Jonathan
    I am an ameture and never had an opportunity to sell a photo but my friends appriciate my work.
    Recently they asked me to present my photos. I don't know how to start off. My presentation will be in my lap top. Should there be a music in background. Hope you will help me. To have an idea of what type of photo I am talking about please see.....
    most phoyos are of flower and butterfly......
    Hope you will do the needful.

  • warly cunanan April 27, 2010 01:40 pm

    i love this articles, very interesting..... thanks

  • relebohile February 10, 2009 08:10 pm

    thank you very much, jonathan. your response has been very helpful. i will try it out and see what happens!

    have a great week!

  • Jonathan February 10, 2009 12:32 pm

    Hi relebohile,

    My definition of a professional photographer is somebody who takes beautiful pictures and makes money doing so. While schools teach you the technical and artistic side of that, I don't think their photography curricula have a focus on the latter half of my definition.

    At the most basic level, everybody sells their work through effective marketing. You said that most of your work is acquired through word of mouth; that is a fantastic form of marketing and many people make their livings entirely from work obtained that way.

    If you feel that you need a boost with your marketing efforts, I first recommend that you seek out other photographers and ask them for advice and information; that's precisely what you did by commenting on this post, actually! Next, go even beyond that group and ask every small business owner you meet - no matter what type of business they own - for ideas. People love talking about themselves and their businesses and concepts, so be prepared to listen carefully and learn from all of the free advice that will come your way.

    If you're still blocked after chatting with all of these people, then consider talking to marketing firms about how they could help you out. As long as you're armed with knowledge of how people have found you in the past and the effectiveness of your various campaigns and ideas, these experts will have some great concepts to present. They will also have a price tag to match their experience.

    As for your second question regarding setting up meetings, I feel that what you should say when you approach people completely depends on what you would like to accomplish by meeting them. Keep your goals in mind when you make initial contact, and be completely upfront, honest, and respectful throughout the entire professional relationship - even if it's limited to a quick phone call. Also, consider that your phrasing may make a huge difference in their initial impression of you. Which of the following sounds better?

    Can we meet up so I can share my portfolio?


    I'm interested in photographing for your magazine, and I'd like to schedule a meeting so I can learn more about your processes and show you my work.

    Above all, don't get discouraged! Not every contact you make will be a success, so keep mental notes of what works and what does not; learn from this and you'll get better at contacting and meeting people. Also, remember that even professionals who critically comment on your work are just stating their opinions. Though they may express things as absolute truths when critiquing your portfolio, your work may just not work for them and in their environments.

    If I didn't answer your questions adequately or if you'd like to discuss this further, please write back!


    I'd love to hear what others have to say about this topic, and I encourage all readers to please contribute to the conversation!

  • relebohile February 10, 2009 06:14 am

    hi jonathan,

    thank you very much for this article... and for your responses to the other questions. they have all been very beneficial to me. i am trying to be more of a professional photographer - i studied photography. but what they dont teach you here in south africa, im not sure if they do in the states or anywhere else, is how to sell your work. most of the work that i get is through word of mouth but i would like to create those opportunities myself and not wait around for someone to give me a call. what do people say to each other at meetings about their work? there seems to be an assumption that everyone knows how to sell themselves but i find it extremely difficult to do this and as a result i have a fear of setting up these meetings... im not sure if you can help me or not... can anyone?

  • Jonathan February 5, 2009 12:16 pm

    Hi Jocelyn,

    There is no objectively "better" way to present your portfolio. I'm happy to share my thoughts, though.

    Who are your clients, and what are you selling? I believe that the presentation of your portfolio should be indicative of your style and the kind of photography you're doing. If you plan on showing your portfolio to prospective clients and your work is entirely in the digital realm, it may make sense to bring a laptop and to give out a disc with low-resolution images. If you're selling handmade albums, why not bring one to show off all of your hard work? You could always use a service like Blurb to make a nice photo book to bring along or display at a coffee shop (if that's how you're marketing). Opt for a combination of marketing materials and methods to find what works best for you, but keep in mind that the more collateral you have, the more updating and refreshing you will have as well.

    Now, onto your printing woes. The problems you are having are very common, actually, and are typically a result of a workflow that has some color management issues. Make sure that every device you have for input and output (i.e. scanners, cameras, printers) has a color management profile and has been calibrated. It looks like there's a Color Management 101 lesson here on DPS, and that might be a good starting point. I'll warn you that color management is a very complex and convoluted subject with a lot of misinformation along the way!

    Happy shooting,


  • Jocelyn February 5, 2009 10:29 am

    Hey Jonathan,

    I just wanted to know, what would be better? To present your portfolio online - as in make your own homepage and post your best photos online or to print them out, place them in a formal book (a photo book, or a folio type of book?) and send them out instead? I've been having a bit of trouble deciding what to do... It's really hard to find a formal book to put my photos in. I'm not so keep on the folders with the rings... it looks so high school!

    This is a bit off the topic but has this ever happened to you: on your computer screen, your photo looks perfect. It's nice and bright, the colours are correct. But when you print it, it turns out way, way darker than you expected... dark enough to say "it's definitely not because of your monitor setting" I don't know whether i'm doing anything wrong with my photos :( This is the photo i'm talking to you about:

    Thanks so much for everything!

  • TLCbull February 2, 2009 01:44 am

    Thanks! I plan to re-take the shot, using a tripod, then do as you suggested with the prints. Thanks for all of your help!

  • Jonathan February 2, 2009 12:02 am


    That's quite a story!

    First, it seems like you're not thrilled with the motion blur in the shot due to camera shake. How will you feel about this image of yours being on somebody's wall? If you're happy with that concept, then by all means use it as is! However, if you're going to start apologizing for the camera shake whenever you see this photo, then I recommend you retake it using a tripod under similar lighting and environmental conditions or politely thank people for their kind words about the photo and pass on this project.

    Assuming you're forging ahead, my personal opinion is that you should make professional prints of all pictures you want to sell as 5x7s or 8x10s put them in protectors in a 3-ring binder (as you said), and label each page with a number. Go back to your pastor and show him how they look large, and get some idea from him of how many prints you'll expect to sell. See if there's some space in a prominent location (an information table, for example) where you could leave the binder and an order sheet.

    There is no requirement that these be matted and framed, but you certainly can do that if you'd like. Stop in at a local art supply store and run the project by them; they will be able to quote you a price for doing the work. While you're there, pick up a white or silver pen that will write on prints.

    Finally, figure out what your cost is going to be to get these printed and delivered to customers - both in terms of your money and also your time. At a minimum, you don't want to lose anything on this project, and you could stand to make a bit if you build a profit margin into the sale price. Would you get more visibility (and sales) if you donated a percentage of the money back to the church? I'm not qualified to answer these money-related questions so I recommend that you talk to your accountant and get their help with the details.

    Please let me know if you have any other questions!


  • TLCbull February 1, 2009 04:46 pm

    Thanks for the great article, I gleaned a lot of information from it, and am hoping that you may be able to help me by going even more basic. Let me explain. I am not a professional photographer. I am a mom. I carry a camera around with me everywhere. Last year alone I shot over 5000 images. Chances are when you shoot that many pics, you are going to end up with one or two that may be worth sharing. In December of 2007, I took a pic of my church, on Christmas eve, during a snow storm. I balanced my camera on top of my car to steady the shot (no tripod), took the pic and then went home. When looking at the image on the computer I noticed the shot was fuzzy. (???) I then realized I had left the car ON! Well, this fuzzy image was accidentally seen by a friend, who told another friend, who asked for copies, and now my pastor is asking me to make the image available for sale to the congregation. He told me to bring a portfolio into church, with an order form, etc. etc. So here's my question. How do I do this? I don't have a portfolio! I don't even know how to sign a photograph. Do I print a bunch of copies out on my computer and sell them, or should I have them professionally printed? I don't do much (virtually NONE) post processing as I don't know how. Is that important? How do I sign I sign them? How do I present a "portfolio" to my "clients" (the church congregation)? I have a few different pics of the church I was going to use, along with some others...about 8 pics total. I thought I would print them from home about 5x7 size, with ordering information, presented in page protectors in a 3 ring binder. I have never been published so don't think I need a tear sheet. ( I didn't even know about tear sheets until I read your article, so thank you!) I will fill the orders by having the images professionally printed. Do I need to have them matted? Signed? Anyway, any insight you can give me would be extremely helpful.
    p.s. Here is a link to the photo of the church just in case you wanted to see what is causing all the trouble. :)
    Thanks again,

  • Jonathan January 31, 2009 03:44 pm

    Hi Jeffrey,

    First, thanks for the comment! Your question is a great one, and the subject of many lifetimes of study, university courses, and publications. I am a photographer, not a marketing professional, but I'm happy to share with you some things that have worked out well for me. I did touch a little on this in my first point; a large part of making sure your portfolio ends up in a prospective client's hands is doing your research.

    I feel that one of the most successful approaches when doing any marketing is to use available resources (LinkedIn, Facebook, etc.) to find common links. After you've done your research, ask shared contacts if they wouldn't mind making an introduction and even giving a recommendation or endorsement. I suggest you try to quickly move from an online introduction to talking on the telephone and then to setting up a face-to-face meeting, if possible.

    While the quality of your work is no doubt important when meeting with clients, personality is ultimately what sells you. This has to come across in every contact you have; be courteous, professional, and to the point, but also be yourself. Also, remember that even if they cannot use your services immediately, it's wise to stay in touch to remind them of your existence and to show them updated samples of your work.

    There's no "proper way" to approach any client, but the above method should give you a good idea of where to start. I'm happy to expand on this if you have other specific questions!


  • jeffrey byrnes January 31, 2009 02:08 pm

    One thing that I think this article could have touched on is, How to get your portfolio to the perspective client. The above mentioned tips give a good idea of what should be done. But, ensuring your portfolio is delivered to the client is something some people are unaware of. For instance, an article or a sub article on the proper way to approach your prospective clients and maybe email etiquette would be beneficial also. Things like what not to do, what not to include in your emails, portfolios, and perhaps what photographers should be sending out in order to bring clients to them and their website. The necessary marketing skills.

    Jeffrey Byrnes