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Portfolios are the equivalent to a resume when looking to get a job in photography or submitting to be in an exhibition, except that portfolios are far more critical. In a resume, you can say that you've done electrical work for ten years and you can show and tell your potential employer your skills, but he can't actually see the work that you've done. In photography, it doesn't matter how many years you've been shooting or how many cameras you have or how many photos you've taken. It's all about your best work; it's about those few images that make up your portfolio, and in many cases, you only get one shot. So it's good to know a few things about creating a great portfolio.
Know your audience
Your portfolio will vary greatly depending on your audience which could range from a panel of professional artists to a single businessman. Think about what you want your audience to get from your portfolio. Are they looking for good product photography or abstract imagery? Are they looking for something new and edgy or a traditional subject in a new light?
Limit your selection
Choosing your best work can be difficult, especially when you only need a few images. Sometimes there may be a limit on how many images you can put in a portfolio, and sometimes it's left up to the photographer to decide how many images it takes to represent their work. Either way, the typical portfolio contains 10-20 photographs. Going over 25 can put you at the risk of submitting photos that aren't as good as your others, and you can bog down your audience.
Find a Niche
Though your portfolio should contain your best work, it should be focused in a certain genre or subject. For instance, your portfolio may only include portraits, or it may include a variety of people, buildings, animals, and landscapes, but in a certain part of the world. Your audience will not typically be looking for a jack-of-all-trades photographer, but one who is particularly good at photographing a certain style or subject matter. In this vein, you should create multiple portfolios divided up by their look, subject, genre, medium, etc.
Build a Physical and Digital Portfolio
You never know what kind of portfolio you're going to need, so always be prepared by having both. Typically a physical portfolio is wanted, but for submitting photos over a long distance, digital may be the only practical option. Be sure to check for specified file size and types when submitting a digital portfolio and always be sure to double-check CDs and other memory devices for playability on different computers. As for a physical portfolio, clean and simple is the best way to go. You want your audience focused on the photograph, not the border or the EXIF info. Print large, high-quality images, no skimping.
Include Appropriate Information
Of course you will always want to include your name and contact information in your portfolio, (and even have a business card) but you may want to add a few more things depending on your goal. An artist statement is typical for gallery and exhibit submissions. This will tell your viewers a bit about you and why you chose the subject or what you aimed to accomplish. You may also need titles and descriptions of your photos. If you find it appropriate, you can add a table of contents with a thumbnail of each image.
Image credit: maigi / 123RF Stock Photo
Written by Spencer Seastrom