Author: Larry Volk and Danielle Currier

Publisher: Focal Press

Review by Conrad J. Obregon

Visual professionals usually introduce themselves to prospective clients and employers by presenting a portfolio. No Plastic Sleeves: The Complete Portfolio Guide for Photographers and Designers calls itself a complete guide to portfolio preparation. The authors claim it is aimed at both photographers and designers.

After an introduction to general principles, the book launches into a discussion of branding, followed by cover design; materials and forms; layout, including a brief discussion of grids and typography; construction of the book; digital and on-line portfolios; promotional materials, like mailers; and professional materials like resumes and business cards. There are appendixes that list other print and on-line resources. Interviews with students, teachers, and employers were sprinkled through the book, although most of the interviews just reiterate points previously made by the authors. There is also a companion web site.

As a photographer, the first question that occurred to me was whether the methods and goals of photographers and designers were so similar that one book could deal with both groups. While design firms may be looking for customers, the portfolios being described here seemed more designed for individuals seeking employment. For most photographers their portfolio is more often used to secure one-time (or recurring) assignments or perhaps to get an exhibition space. The book’s bias seemed to me to be in favor of job-seeking designers. For example, one chapter describes the preparation of a portfolio book, including even the creation of covers from scratch. Perspective employers of designers may be interested in the craft involved, but photography buyers will be more concerned with the images the photographer presents, probably making it more cost and time effective for a photographer to purchase one of the more elegant portfolio covers available.

In many cases, I found that the authors dealt in general principles rather than providing detailed examples of how to accomplish something. (The authors did provide plenty of illustrations of final products.) For example the discussion of branding discussed its importance but did not show concrete examples of a particular individual’s product so that it was easy to see how the portfolio reflected the individual’s brand. It may be that the concept of branding doesn’t have much application to individual portfolios. Moreover in the case of photographers, it might have been better to talk about a style rather than a brand.

As another example, in the chapter on layout, the authors mentioned image sequencing which is certainly important to the presentation of the portfolio. However the discussion was limited to a general discussion of sequencing; the presentation of a number of thumbnails from one portfolio without comment; and reference to one classic book on the subject.

The design and preparation of a portfolio must be closely integrated with an individual’s marketing effort, and while the authors acknowledged this, it seemed to be scanted. For example, for the fine arts photographer, a matted series of pictures is often a far better way to make a portfolio presentation than a book, although either a book or a DVD may be useful in gaining the opportunity to make a presentation.

This book may serve as an introduction to preparation of a portfolio, but it will be most useful in the context of a larger group of books on marketing photography and design.

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