Josue Cervantes / istockphoto

A good portfolio is a personal statement about a photographer.  As such, there are no one-size fits all approach that will work for each individual.  The best advice is to look at other people’s portfolios.  There is a wealth of online portfolios you can find on the Internet. The key step here is to start looking well before you need a portfolio so you can create one you like.

What is a Portfolio?

A portfolio is a collection of your work samples that can be shown to prospective clients or employers. It should represent the diversity of the person behind it, but not try to show everything. Most folks need their portfolio in at least two mediums. For example you might have a traditional flat book with prints, but they may also want a website for an online presence. Be sure to consider all of the scenarios in which you’ll need to present your work to those who want to hire you.

What Goes in a Portfolio?

You want to show your diversity with your portfolio.  Even if you only work on certain types of projects at your current job, be sure you have variety.  For example, you might work for a manufacturing company, but don’t only fill it with work samples from your current job.  What you want are several samples of work, ideally done for real-world clients.  If you struggle for diversity, consider donating your time to a nonprofit organization that could use your services.

What Stays Out of a Portfolio?

There is such a thing as “too much.”  While you want diversity, you don’t want your portfolio to be thicker than the latest phone book.  It is important to screen out the less then stellar images from your portfolio.  This can be accomplished through peer review or professional insight.  Ask a colleague to look at your work samples.  Ask them to pick their favorites and least favorites.  Repeat this with a few people and the poor samples are quickly identified.

How Often Should I Update My Portfolio? 

Unfortunately, you’re never done.  No job is 100% secure.  You always need to be ready for that next interview.  With that said, its not a good idea to work on your portfolio at work.  Be sure to update your portfolio a minimum of every 6 months.  Certain mediums (like a slideshow) are even easier to update and you should be ready.

Professionals need to actively collect work samples as well. If you are working on a job, be sure to look at your employee handbook about work samples.  Some jobs require you to get permission before keeping work samples.  Additionally, be sure to credit the company that you did the work for when building a portfolio.


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Join the conversation! 2 Comments

  1. Great post and better timing as I just took delivery of a a3+ printer and one of my first tasks of learning printing is to create a portfolio, well a version 1.0 portfolio, guaranteed to be different in 12 months

    So two questions what size do you think works best. big isn’t always best or is it?

    Should I buy a really good (leather) portfolio to hold the prints? Or just a decent quality one that looks ok but doesn’t scream I’ve paid a lot? (Pretend there is not budget, even although there is one. Because I worry that having a really expensive high quality portfolio is impressive but also gives an impression that your expensive)


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About Richard Harrington

Richard Harrington is the founder of RHED Pixel, a visual communications company based in Washington, D.C. He is the Publisher of Photofocus and Creative Cloud User as well as an author on Rich has authored several books including From Still to Motion, Understanding Photoshop, Professional Web Video, and Creating DSLR Video.