I’ve had the privilege of meeting photographers at every stage of their careers – amateur and professional, and it’s always interesting to see what photos they choose to represent themselves in their photo portfolios. After giving many portfolios reviews at this summers Google+ Photographer’s Conference I realized the first question I was asking: intent – What was this photographer’s intent in putting together a portfolio. The two main categories of shooters were the working professionals looking for more business, and the photo enthusiast who was looking to share their work with more people. In this article we’ll take a look at just the working photographer’s portfolio and break it down from there.
The working professional’s ideal portfolio is designed around their target market. If you are a working commercial photographer in a small market, your portfolio will have to show a broad subject matter to appeal to all the different businesses in your area. This is called a generalist portfolio. It is more about proficiency than specialty. When selecting images for your portfolio you need to show that you can efficiently photograph a wide range of subjects. This is so that no matter whom you run into, they can find something in your portfolio to relate to, and hopefully hire you for. The challenge is developing a consistent style around these different subjects so that your portfolio still looks like it was all shot by the same person.
The second route for a commercial photographer is to be a specialist. In larger markets where the competition can be a huge, specializing is a great way to set yourself apart. Rather than showing that you’re proficient at many things, only focus on what you’re exceptional at. High end clients looking for a photographer for a food campaign for example, would rather hire a guy who only shoots food, and does it extremely well. That way they know what they’re getting for their money when they hire you. They want to know that you eat sleep and breath food photography, rather than it just being something you photograph on the side.
In either case as a commercial photographer, stylistic consistency is key. Only select images for your portfolio that are cohesive with all of the other images in there. You want the potential client to be able to open to any page and know instantly that you shot that image. Another word of advice is to only show what you want to shoot. You get hired for what you show people, not for what’s hiding on your hard drives back home. If you don’t want to take dog portraits for the rest of your life, then get that shot of your dog out of your portfolio, no matter how great it may be!