Marketing yourself as a commercial or editorial photographer means that you need to print a professional portfolio and promotional materials to show clients such as ad agencies, magazines, and major brands that you want to work with.
There seems to be a perception out there that marketing is done solely online these days and that photographers no longer need to print a professional portfolio.
This is not true.
Some established photographers have a roster of repeat clients that they rely on to keep their businesses afloat. But if you’re looking for new clients, or just entering the industry, you need a printed book to show prospective clients your work.
Yes, a website is an important selling tool, but bringing an iPad to an agency meeting can be perceived as amateurish.
These kinds of top-echelon clients want to see how your work holds up in print, which is far less forgiving than a computer screen. They also enjoy experiencing your work directly through a tangible medium like a printed book.
Maybe you’re not a commercial photographer but shoot consumer, like wedding or portrait photography. In this case, having prints or a printed book to show your clients can also have a positive impact. It can drive your client to buy from you and they are likely to perceive you as a photographer who is head and shoulders above the rest.
Types of books
Before we dive into the variables around printing your work, let’s talk about the portfolio itself.
As a commercial photographer, your best bet is to purchase a screw-post portfolio where you can add and subtract pages every time you update it with new work.
My portfolio, pictured above, is a bamboo cover screw-post portfolio manufactured by. The company is based in Vancouver, Canada, but ship to most countries via FedEx or TNT.
Other companies make similar portfolios for photographers, so do your research and find the best one for you.
The point is that you want to be able to update your portfolio periodically by printing pages of new work and swapping them out.
You can also get a portfolio printed in a photo book. This is a less expensive option, but you’ll need to re-do the whole thing if you want to update your portfolio. Which you should do periodically.
Just be sure to get a high-quality book printed. The design and paper are very important. It needs to be a visual and tactile experience.
Get a lay-flat book in landscape orientation and in a large size, such as 14X11.
Choice of paper
Your choice of paper for your printed book is very important.
The type of paper you choose will really depend on the genre you shoot and which paper will show your work to the best advantage. There are a variety of finishes and weights available.
For my portfolio, I used Smooth Matte Pina Zangaro paper by MOAB. It’s scored and punched for use in all standard format screw-post binders. The paper is archival quality, pH neutral and water-resistant.
Archival quality paper is meant to last. Your prints will not fade and shift quickly when exposed to light.
Some might argue that archival paper is not necessary because you’ll be routinely swapping out your pages if you get a screw-post portfolio. But most good papers are archival quality anyway. Archival paper is more important when you’re selling prints to hang on a wall.
Before you settle on a paper, order some samples from the supplier to check quality or go to the printer you wish to use and take a look at their papers.
Also, make sure that they’ll punch and score the paper for you if it doesn’t already come that way. Otherwise, you can make a mess out of your prints if you don’t know how to do this yourself.
If you purchase a photo book, Eggshell matte paper, like Mohawk Superfine, is a great choice.
Where to print
Unless you’re already a printing dynamo and have an awesome printer that you paid at least $1K for, get your book printed by a professional printer that caters to photographers.
Do your research and, if you can, ask other photographers you might know in your community for their recommendations.
It’s important that you don’t spare expense. Get the best quality printing that you can. The quality of inks can make a big difference in the portrayal of your work.
There are a lot of great online services, but a professional printer in your community can give you personalized service that will make the difference in how your prints turn out. They can advise on papers and inks and any potential problems.
Make sure that you print one of the spreads as a proof before committing to handing over the whole project.
Before you start designing your portfolio, you have to prepare your images.
It goes without saying that you should be working on a calibrated monitor.
This is a step that a lot of people tend to skip, but unless you’re working on a monitor that is rendering colors correctly, you can end up with tones and colors that are way off base once you print them.
Each device will display colors differently. Calibrating your monitor will make sure what you’re seeing is correct, and that you and your printer are both following a standard that will ensure the same result.
A color calibration device like Color Munki is easy to use. Calibrate your screen regularly and definitely before you print anything or send images to clients. If they complain that the images don’t look right, you’ll know that what you sent them is correct.
Color management and resolution
You need to prepare your images properly when sending them to a printer.
Always check with your printer before preparing your files. Ask them the format and color space that they need your files in.
This will be dependent on the type of printer they use. If they use a printing press, they will likely require your file in CMYK.
However, if they use large format printers with up to 10-inks, they may require anything from Adobe RGB through to ProPhoto.
Using the TIFF file format is usually better than using the JPG format, as it does not compress the image data. But again, check with your printer.
You’ll also need to send the printer high-resolution images, with at least 300 dpi (dots-per-inch). The more dots, the higher the quality of the print in terms of detail and sharpness.
For more in-depth information on this, read: How to Prepare Images For Publication – Part One
To print a professional portfolio can be very costly. This is a case where you need to spend money to make money. If you want to attract the clients with the deeper pockets, you’ll need to get in front of them with a professional-looking book that shows your beautiful photography in the best light.
Do you have any other tips on how to print a professional portfolio that you’d like to share? Do so in the comments section!