Even though we live in a digital age, there’s nothing like having something tangible in your hands. Our websites might be prime real estate to get work as photographers, but many opportunities might be missed when you interact in the real world and are not fully prepared. Yes, anyone can easily look you up online, but it’s not the same as handing someone your photographs in a small print portfolio and instantly taking them on a ride, making them a fan or better yet, future client.

Consider the time you had a conversation with someone about your line of work. You tell them you’re a photographer– perhaps they haven’t seen your work before– when they get home, or back to the office, they might forget to look you up or lose your business card amongst the hundreds they have,  but by presenting them with a small sample of your work right then and there, you’re imprinting your images in their mind on that first interaction. Even more so, if they fall in love with one of your images, or it reminds them of something about their lives, you’re instantly making a connection with this person.

Now that you have the idea in mind, think about these other aspects when you’re ready to put your print portfolio together:

Photo: Andrea Balzano

Plan It Out

Making a print portfolio is like putting together a small exhibition of your best work on paper. It should be exciting, not overwhelming. So, plan it out. Once you have a visual, your mind won’t be running a million miles a minute. Start with some sketches of what the cover and inside will look like, what pictures you want to add, where you want to put your bio and contact info and then you will be able to see what works for you and what doesn’t. Grab a buddy, or colleague, and brainstorm ideas with them. Having an outside perspective will help you see things you might not have even thought about.

Photo: Michal Kulesza

Express Yourself, Let Your Personality Shine

Your print portfolio should be an introduction to who you are and what you do best. Just like any other marketing material you present, it should blend-in with the rest of your brand. Apart from pictures, share some details about you, perhaps one or two pages giving a brief bio. By opening up, you are building trust with the folks you meet.

[REWIND: A Business Card That Turns Into A USB Drive That Shares Your Portfolio & Turns Heads]

Photo: Ali Sharaf

Stand Out From The Rest

Make sure the photographs that are in your print portfolio are the best you’ve ever taken. We all have that stack of good pictures, but I’m talking about putting nothing but your best high-quality images in your print portfolio. Those are the ones that should make the cut. Also, your book must set you apart from your competitors. Think of creative ideas: whether it’s in the type of material you use, the format, shape of the book itself, colors, etc. Just make sure you don’t make it too complicated, and keep pages to a minimum, I’d say no more than thirty spreads; remember the goal is to keep focus and make an impact.

8 Easy Steps To Building Your Print Portfolio

So, enough of the thinking, now let’s get to the planning and creating.

1. Seek Inspiration

Don’t know exactly where to start? No problem, seek inspiration from photographers in your same field, or those who share your interests. Study their portfolios, the colors, sequence of images, number of images, what commercial quality images worked well. You can find recent good photography material at libraries and museums.

Photo: Bob AuBuchon

2. Who Is Your Target Audience

Ask yourself that same question, who is your target audience? Is this portfolio going to be presented to current and future clients, magazine editors, companies, etc? Will these clients be parents, bands or artists, nature magazines, lifestyle websites, brides?

Your print portfolio needs a clear purpose, and that is what’s going to determine the layout and which images you’re going to include. You’re not going to present children’s portraits to a music magazine, nor are you going to present mountain photographs at a bridal convention. I should also mention, write all these things down. Don’t just brainstorm them. By having a visual and clear concept of your goal, it will be easier to put together.

Photo: Daniel Foster

3. Dip Into Those Photo Archives

Now that you have a clear purpose and objective, create a portfolio folder– start going through all of your past photos in your archives and choose the ones that scream “WOW!” Not “Great!,” but “WOW!” These photos should be a representation of your skills, artistry and craftsmanship. Also, take this time to see if there are any you’d like to re-edit and include. Perhaps by looking through your past work, you’ll find that you want to add some new photos to any existing collections.

Photo: Nicola Holtkamp

4. Quality Over Quantity

Remember that quality over quantity is always key. You want to make an impact with your presentation, not bore or overwhelm the person you’re handing your print portfolio to. How many images you should include will vary from photographer to photographer, but essentially you should try to stick to between 15-40 images.

Photo: Maaike Flissebaalje

[REWIND: What You Should Know About Print Portfolios]

5. Bigger Is Not Better

Size is also a big factor to take into consideration. Traditional print portfolios are either 8″x11″ or 11″x14.” You don’t want to go any bigger than that– or it will be a hassle to carry, show, and ship. Maybe you want to break the traditional route though, and do something in a square shape, or perhaps more of a lighter, smaller sized pamphlet to easily handout to folks. Depending on what that ultimate goal is, you’ll know what the correct size is for you.

Photo: Nils Mengedoht

6. Tell Your Story

Write a short one to two page bio about yourself, your goals, your artistry, what you specialize in, why you do what you do. Don’t forget to include if you’ve won any awards or have been featured somewhere. Those are important things that will also make you stand out.

Photo: Tim Murphy

7. Gather And Assemble

Once you’ve gotten all those key factors in, it’s time to bring your story to life. You can draw it out on a piece of paper as a draft, or do it on the computer. Start by arranging your images as if they were telling a story. Transition is very important. Start with your best one, as that will make the biggest impact. Put photos together that will compliment each other, visually and color wise. You can even divide different sections into chapters if you want to. Furthermore, make sure you stay true to your brand, by including colors, logo, and overall signature design that resonates with your business. P.S.- don’t forget your contact info! You can run your final draft by a trusted friend or mentor and get an outsider’s opinion.

Photo: VFS Digital Design

8. Print and Prosper

If you’re satisfied with how everything is laid out, and are confident with your choices, then it’s time to send the goods to the printer. You can hit up your local print shop, or use an online source to do so. A few online favorites of mine are: Artifact Uprising, Artisan State, and Blurb.

What are your favorite online sources for printing portfolio books?