“A photographer's portfolio can be many things—ranging from a collection of specific types of images, to a sophisticated, comprehensive presentation of a life's work,” writes David Saffir. He describes the process he recently used to refine and improve his own portfolio and provides tips to consider for your own portfolio.
Traditionally, a photographer’s portfolio has been one of the most important assets for presenting work to galleries and potential clients. With so much work being done digitally these days, is it really necessary to maintain a print portfolio? Or can you get the same impact from a digital one? Like so many things, the answer is “it depends.”
Many galleries still want to see a traditional print portfolio with your work presented in 11 x 14 or 16 x 20 in. format (8.5 x 11 is another option, but in my experience the larger sizes have more impact and help your work stand out to the buyer or editor). Whether you use a book like the Itoya Art Portfolio from Light Impressions, or a portfolio box, the tactile pleasure of being able to physically handle a print and feel the substance and texture of your selected media can add that “wow” factor that you need to get in the door.
For many other uses, a digital portfolio will get your work in front of many more eyes than traditional methods would. And, with so much competition out there, the more views you get the better your odds are. For this type of presentation, the obvious choice is a website to which you can direct your prospects to view. While this is a good general way to have your work seen, I also use a portable digital album. I’ve found that the Portable Digital Photo Album from Digital Foci is a great way to present images while still giving your portfolio a professional look. The digital frame lets a gallery or client see your images as they might look if they were printed and displayed on backlit film. This type of presentation can help your work stand out from the crowd.
The bottom line is that at this point in time, there isn’t a single best way to present your work. Print, digital, and web portfolios all have their place and are the right choice in certain instances. Just as I wouldn’t go to a fine-art gallery and present my black-and-white work in digital-only format, I wouldn’t expect a client interested in stock or wedding photography to see only prints. Buyers of stock images or wedding photography are likely to be interested in using the work digitally, either exclusively or in tandem with prints, so it’s important to give them a preview of the options they’re looking for.
My previous post (Digital Solutions to the Limitations of Traditional Portfolios) discussed new opportunities to create photo books and web portfolios. Now let’s think about multimedia portfolios.
Multimedia Defined. We’ve all seen multimedia presentations, whether it was a rudimentary slide show synchronized with audio or the unavoidable PowerPoint presentation. But many other possibilities exist.
By definition, a multimedia presentation incorporates more than one media type. So you could mix still photographs with video or combine photographs with audio and animations.
You can even incorporate interactivity. For example, when interior designers shop for prints on ArtSelect.com, they can preview how a selected photograph or print will look when framed against the color of their clients’ walls.
Here are a few examples of multimedia projects you could produce:
- A digital slideshow with animated transitions between images;
- A website that does more than presents images in still form;
- An animation showing clients how much effort is involved in generating special-effects photographs and why it costs more;
- Video footage showing you shooting a wedding mixed in with your portfolio so potential clients can see you in action
- A DVD or CD portfolio to mail to prospective clients
- A multimedia presentation of your work projected on a local building at night to generate attention (and customers)
Risks and Rewards. If done well, a multimedia presentation can leave a lasting impression. You say more in less time than you could possibly express through words and pictures alone.
But multimedia can also be tricky. We’ve all sat through bad PowerPoint presentations created by people who felt empowered (or obligated) to go well beyond their normal areas of expertise. Their lack of training in design, layout, and visual communications can be painfully obvious.
Multimedia has a lot in common with filmmaking because you must consider concepts such as pace, narrative, suspense, surprise and flow. Planning can take the form of a storyboard, although the storyboard may be very different from those used in filmmaking.
Instead of working in scenes, the multimedia storyboard sketches out the flow of your content and the ideas you want to convey. The storyboard defines when certain content will be shown and for how long and outlines how the pieces will fit together and flow. It should give you a sense that you are creating a coherent presentation that will be stronger than the individual images. This is key: A presentation is only as good as its weakest part. Great images can be easily ruined if proper care isn’t taken in the development of a multimedia presentation.
Everything for a Reason. I advise taking a minimalist approach to multimedia. Every element in a presentation should be included for a reason. Don’t use music that adds nothing except a distraction. Don’t use fancy transitions just because you can. Cute animations can add humor and diversion. But use them only where needed, and nowhere else.
So if multimedia can be so dicey, why take a chance? I can think of at least four reasons.
Versatility of Delivery. You can deliver your presentation in person on a notebook computer or with a data projector. You can include it on your website. Or you can package it on a CD or DVD and send it out in bulk to potential new clients or targeted members of the media. You could even run it on a flat-panel display in your studio window. One photographer runs his presentation in the back of his Humvee parked at populated venues.
Sales Tools. You can use multimedia presentations as a direct sales tool. Wedding and portrait photographers have discovered that projecting large images on a screen is an effective way to get clients to order larger prints. Most people want to see an image at the size in which it will be displayed in their homes. Big images can make big impressions, especially when combined with music that amplifies the emotional power of the imagery. (The theory is that if you cry, you’ll buy.)
New Products. A multimedia presentation can be a product you sell. For example, buyers of wedding photography may not only order prints, albums, and photo books, but also a multimedia presentation on a disk.
New Career Paths and Clients. Have you noticed? The same publishers and ad agencies that once hired more photojournalists, commercial, and editorial photographers for print publications are now developing websites that supplement text and photos with videos and animations. Event planners and exhibit designers also need creative professionals who can combine images, graphics, and sound. If you have a gift for visual expression, you can expand your client base if you know how to create effective multimedia presentations.
Some techniques involved in videography are similar to those in photography; others are different. So it’s natural that many photographers have also given video a go. Animation is well within the capability of photographers as well. A sequence of still images can turn into an effective movie. Done tastefully, animating text with accompanying audio can work wonders.
Once you start thinking more about multimedia, you’ll see that the potential is limitless. At some point you will probably need to learn new skills or new software. But the effort and results can be worth it.
Painstakingly crafted traditional portfolios were fine for a slower world when you had the time to physically take them around to prospective customers or agencies, or courier them over. A stunningly presented portfolio can make an immediate and lasting impression.
But with 24/7 working hours, shorter deadlines, and new business opportunities from unexpected sources, the digital world offers two attractive alternatives: the web portfolio and the photo book. Both can be useful options for those of us who don’t usually carry a portfolio with us everywhere we go.
Web Portfolios: I don’t know about you, but I find that work often comes from some unexpected sources. A casual contact at some event, party or dinner sometimes leads to a great opportunity later. This is where a web portfolio comes in handy.
A web portfolio lets you give potential clients an immediate look at your work. Then you can identify which clients are worth time pursuing by saying: “Have a look at myportfolio.com and if you are interested I’ll arrange to bring over my portfolio book.”
You will want to follow up with printed versions of your work. Let’s be honest, in many ways, a web portfolio doesn’t compare favorably to a physical one. The images are low resolution. You have absolutely no real control over how the images will look on someone else’s computer and screen. There is no physical sensation of the paper you handle. And sometimes Internet speeds can get in the way. Plus, we have all seen online portfolios where the site design either interferes with or overpowers the images being shown.
Getting the design right for a web portfolio is not easy (just as with a physical portfolio). The site must load quickly, show your images in a good light, and have a presentation that is consistent with your style and image. (For more details on setting up an online portfolio, read the article The Essentials of Web Sites for Photographers, Artists and Designers on my Digital Imagemaker site.
Photo Books: Digital printing technologies can produce very short runs of books that can be great alternatives to a traditional portfolio. Bound books give a different impression than an elaborate portfolio. Many companies can produce these for you, offering web interfaces for design, image upload, and ordering. Other companies will provide you with the covers and binding technology you need to produce your photo books in house. You can choose from dozens of combinations of cover shapes, materials, and sizes as well as numerous paper types, including some lovely double-sided papers that you can use on either a desktop or large-format inkjet printer.
Low-cost digital photo books of your work open up all sorts of new possibilities. For instance, you can afford to have a few copies stashed in your car and in your partner’s car, so you are covered at all times. You can also afford to send books out to several prospective clients simultaneously. Or, you can use photo books as special promotional items or give them away to your best clients and prospects.
Photo books can be used by all types of photographers and digital artists. Indeed, in the fine-art market, short-run books can become art objects themselves, giving you an alternative product to sell online, in your studio, or at exhibitions. Some people may love your images but simply can’t envision them on the walls of their homes or businesses. But they just might buy a book of your images, either for themselves or as a gift.One practice that separates the most successful photographers from less successful ones is the willingness to make full use of all of the potential provided by the available technologies. When it comes to creating portfolios of your images, digital technologies offer some exciting new possibilities. Make use of them.