So you’ve read part one & part two of the So You Want To Make A Website Series. You’ve set up an awesome website. Now it’s time to create amazing content to go with it. Obviously, for you photographers, the most important part of that process is curating your portfolio.
It is as simple as picking your best images and putting them together. However, a good portfolio takes time, effort and sometimes a good butt-kicking from somebody else. With that in mind, here are my…
Seven steps for creating a great portfolio for your website
1. Know your audience
The starting point for your portfolio is who will be viewing it and what will they be looking for? Are you making a website to show how your photography develops over time? Perhaps you’re sharing your passion with friends and family? You might be a wedding photographer wanting to get more beautiful couples in front of your lens. Is your goal to be seen by art directors at ad agencies?
For best results, when you know the audience, your portfolio will need to match it. For example, if you are a family photographer, parents looking for someone to photograph their child will not want to see your latest glamour photography. Similarly, an art director will not want to see images from the amazing wedding you shot. If you have multiple specialties, it is best to consider multiple websites. Give the audience what they want.
However, you can showcase different specialties with different portfolios within the same website. The process from here is the same for every portfolio, whether that be on the same website or multiple. Just make sure the galleries are related.
2. Break it down
How do you want to break down your galleries? Do you want one for people and one for lifestyle photography? One for birds and one for land animals? Once you decide what galleries you want, it is now time to go through your archive and pick out images you might want to use.
I always rate images I might want to use in my portfolio as five stars as I edit. That way, whenever I update my portfolio, I can open catalogs and simply pull up all five-star images and use these as a starting point. If you haven’t done something similar, start now. It saves a lot of time and gives you a great place to start.
3. Watch the numbers. AKA be ruthless
Now is where the hard work begins – getting the numbers down.
Have you ever been to a friends house and they show you their holiday photos? The photos that seem to go on and on and on… That is the feeling you want to avoid when people look at your portfolio. Like any good performance, they should be left wanting more.
A good first selection should end up at around forty to fifty images, with a final goal of around twenty. Finding the initial fifty is the hardest part. You just need to push yourself to find the best of the best. Are there two similar images? Choose just one. Is there an image that when looking through just doesn’t hold up to the rest. Remove it. Be harsh on your photos and try to look for the reasons why they should not be included rather than why they should. This approach isn’t always fun, but it works.
I suggest you make your initial selection of images to include, then walk away for a while. Grab a coffee, have a walk, just clear your head of the process. I tend to leave it until the next day to come back and look again. Fresh eyes always help.
Remember, a strong portfolio should contain around twenty images. If people want more than that, they can look to your blog.
4. Get some help
It is easy to listen to those around you tell you how great all your photos are, but sometimes you need some good old fashioned home truths. I will tell you in advance, sometimes it is hard to hear. However, you need to hear it. Critique of your work from peers or others in the field will not only help you get a better portfolio, but it will also help you become a better photographer.
When looking for critique, you should have your image numbers down to around thirty or so. From here you can get others to help you make the final step. By culling your images to a respectable number, it also shows those you are asking for their help that you have done the groundwork. If someone approached me with fifty plus images for me to help them get a portfolio from, I would not be hugely impressed.
Who should you ask? You can ask photographers in your local area whose opinion you value, or you can ask people you know through Facebook groups, etc. to critique your work.
In my experience, it is better in person if you can. Whilst family members are great, they will generally not want to hurt your feelings, or not be experienced to offer critique. You need experienced eyes on your work and let them do their worst. Someone with no emotional attachment to your images can give honest feedback and will help you get rid of the images you love, but know are not your best work. Just remember, they are talking about the images, not you. It is easy to get upset when people rip your work to shreds, but take it in the spirit it is intended.
5. Listen to your heart
Having said that you should get opinions of others, always remember it is your work. Critique from others is just another point of view. If there is an image you love, but others say isn’t your best work, listen to your gut. Maybe they’re right, maybe you need to let go. However, if after the critique you still think it deserves a place in your portfolio, put it in there. It’s your site and you need to be happy with it.
6. Get them in order
Now you have the final images, you need to get them in order. Start with your best and finish with your second best image. This is known as the primacy and recency effect. Put simply, we remember the things we see first and last the most.
Getting the right order is key to really making your portfolio sing. Put the portfolio in order, then tweak it. Do you want to mix up portrait and landscape images? Do you want to mix in black and white images or have a part of the portfolio where they are grouped together? There is no specific answer as every portfolio is different, but try variations and then tweak until you’re happy. Unfortunately, there is no proven recipe. Instead, think of your portfolio like a great home cooked recipe, just keep tweaking things until it tastes just right.
7. Update regularly
A portfolio will always evolve. I look back at some images that were in my initial wedding portfolio and cringe. I also have some images from that first ever wedding that I still have in my portfolio. Take the time to revisit your website portfolio regularly. Update it at least once every six months or so. Doing this is also a great way to show yourself how you are progressing as a photographer.
If you go to a course or meet with local photographers, why not have a portfolio critique session? Things like this help keep your portfolio fresh and identify gaps in your work that you can plan to shoot in the future.
That’s it, you now have a portfolio.
In the next article of the series, we discuss the blogging and your written content.
Until then, have fun building your portfolio.