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7 Photography Portfolio Tips

The Dots hosted a Photography Portfolio Masterclass at Spring Studios to give talented emerging photographers the chance to have their work reviewed by some of the UK’s most prominent Picture Editors and Photographic Agents.

Whilst we had them in the room, they asked a few questions on how to get ahead in the hugely competitive photography industry. Here's the most useful responses.

The Dots 7 Photography Portfolios Tips
Photographer: Jack Woodhouse

1. Showcase your work through different platforms

In a digital age, it is important to remember that there are many other ways to showcase your work than through the standard printed portfolio and the more widespread your work is, the more likely Creative Directors are going to find (and possibly hire) you.

Robin Derrick (Executive CD, Spring Studios) told us, “I think a traditional portfolio is a rather outdated way to present work […] I’ve normally discovered a photographer online.”

David Birkitt (Owner & Managing Director, DMB Represents) supported this by telling us to “consider that everything’s a portfolio these days. Anything you’re putting work out on, any platform you’re using – printed, social, online – they’re all different platforms, they’re all different portfolios and they all do different things in different ways for different reasons.”

In short, get your work out on as many platforms as you can and curate each as carefully as you curate your physical portfolio.

2. Have your own style

There will obviously be photographers or magazines that you look up to and admire and it’s hard not to be influenced by them or feel that you have to create the same kind of work in order to get the job. But one of the key points our Masterclass Mentors all agreed on was to have your own sense of style and identity.

Nicola Kavanagh (Editor in Chief, Glass Magazine) strongly advocated this – “I think having your own visual identity is the strongest thing that you can have as a photographer.”

David Birkitt also advised to make sure that your portfolio is “an extension of you and it feels comfortable and it forms a part of you, your being and your character.”

3. Show personal work

The Masterclass Mentors all agreed that a portfolio “is not just about commercial work or editorial, it’s about projects that you’ve done off your own back that show how passionate you are about taking pictures.” (Holly Hay, Photographic Editor, AnOther Magazine & Another Man)

Matt Davey (Co-Founder & Director, Probation London) advises to “never underestimate the value of your personal work […] that’s the stuff that people remember, they want to see what a photographer’s heart and soul is, not just what they’ve been paid to create.”

4. Put your best foot forward

Start your portfolio really strong and prioritise certain images to go near the front.  

Jamie Klingler (Publishing Manager, Shortlist / Stylist Magazine) explains why… “If the first 6 shots you see are landscape but they want to be a portrait photographer, you’re never going to think about them for portraits because it’s going to be at the end of their book.”

Lauren Ford (Photo Editor & Producer, Dazed,) reinforced this point by reminding photographers “to make sure that you’re opening your book with something really strong and something that shows who you are and what your point of view is as a photographer.”

The Dots 7 Photography Portfolios Tips
Photographer: Jack Woodhouse

5. Tell a story. Stimulate a conversation

Holly Hay advised that “there should be a reason for every single image in your portfolio, there should be a story behind every image. There should be a reason for it being there and a reason why you love it and a reason why you want to tell people about it.”

Matt Davey also emphasised this point – “construct your portfolio in a way that stimulates conversation. Be able to talk about your work and present it confidently when you’re having a face-to-face meeting. It’s not just about the flow of the images it’s about how you present it.”

So, if you make sure your best work is at the front, your portfolio flows well and stimulates conversation, then you’re off to a cracking start.

6. Edit, edit, edit

This follows on nicely to our next point – be selective. Don’t add 20 different photos from the same shoot to your portfolio when you could have only added two. Whoever is looking through your portfolio is either going to get bored or think that is the only thing you can do.

Steve Peck (Picture Editor, WIRED Magazine) indicated the main thing he looks for is “a lot of variation in someone’s book. If you are a portrait photographer that’s fine, but I don’t want to see the same head and shoulders crop 15 times, I know you can do that after I’ve seen two – so that’s great, move on, show me something else.”

As Nicola Kavanagh points out, “your portfolio is your most valuable tool in an interview, so make sure you present that as best you can, edit harshly […] make sure it’s really succinct.”

So, make sure you keep things short and sweet and ensure there’s a reason or a story behind every image.

7. Get a second opinion

You’ve taken amazing shots, edited and arranged your portfolio with a fine tooth comb… What else should you do before showing it to a potential client?

Jamie Klingler suggested “to have someone else edit your portfolio. You are too close to your work and you don’t know what your best shots are.”

This point was reinforced by Nicola Kavanagh who told us to “make sure your portfolio is the best it can be: get it up to scratch, try and get feedback from people from agencies before you present to clients or magazines,”

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