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Your Portfolio Is Only As Good As The Worst Image In It {Be Your Own Art Director Part 5}

By Tanya Goodall Smith on March 8th 2016

Hey Loungers! This is the last part of my Be Your Own Art Director series. If you haven’t already, first, read part one, 6 Steps to Planning a Photo Shoot, part two, 6 Tips to Executing Your Planned Photo Shoot and part three, Powerful Post Production for Greatest Impact and part four, How to Give and Accept Critique.

Selecting just the right images for your portfolio or for publication elsewhere is one of the most important parts of being your own art director. Mindfully curating, or choosing, which images you’ll present to the world can have a profound effect on the work you’ll attract in the future and the first impression you’ll leave with those who view your work.

So, how do you go about choosing which images to include? Here are a few things I keep in mind when choosing images for my portfolio, publication on a blog, entering a competition, curated exhibition or applying for a grant.

Consistency is Key

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When choosing a group of images for a portfolio, I try to make sure there’s a common theme amongst the images. The images should be amazing by themselves but also create a statement about you and your work as a whole. When choosing images for my portrait portfolio, I first gathered all of my favorite images into a smart collection in Lightroom. Then I took a look at them as a whole and asked myself, “What do most of these have in common?” I discovered my favorite images are bright, colorful, candid, joyful, whimsical, and many of them show motion. So, those words became my guideline for choosing which images to include in this particular portfolio.

For my corporate website, WorkStory Corporate Photography, my portfolio is broken into individual jobs/clients (stay tuned, my website is almost done!). Even in this case, the overall feel of your entire portfolio should be consistent. The work should look like it came from the same artist unless you have more than one distinct style, then I would advise you break those up into separate portfolios to show the diversity of your skill set. Having one or two randomly different styles in your portfolio will make them seem out of place and not artfully and intentionally chosen.

Be Objective

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The purpose of a portfolio is to show off your absolute best work in order to get more work, right? So this is where you have to exercise some tough love for yourself and try to be objective when choosing which images to include. Just because your own baby is super cute in a photo doesn’t mean you should include it. I’m very cautious about including my own kids in my portfolio because, well, I think every photo of them is adorable! Try to see your work as if you are seeing it for the first time and you don’t know the people in it. Here are some questions you could ask yourself about your images:

  1. Is it technically good (focus, exposure, light quality, etc.)?
  2. Is there an emotion or story coming across in the image?
  3. Do I have any doubts about it being one of my best images?
  4. Does anything bother me about the image?
  5. Is this the kind of work I want to be hired to do again?
  6. How does this image make me feel?
  7. What does this image say about me and my abilities?
  8. Does this image fit the theme words I chose for this portfolio?

Get a Second Opinion

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Sometimes we’re so close to our work, it’s impossible to be totally objective. Getting a second or third set of eyes on your body of images isn’t a bad idea. Just remember to consider the source. Your mom or spouse may not be the best people to ask because they love you, and they think everything you do is amazing (or the opposite, “Why don’t you go get a real job?” Yeah, I have a few of those in my circle, too.) Consider asking someone who fits into your target market or a trusted photographer or designer friend. Ask them to be brutally honest and then honor their opinion and thank them for sharing without getting offended (see part three of this series How to Give and Accept Critique for more info on that). Consider what they offered and make any changes you agree with.

Less is More

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Your portfolio is only as good as the worst image in it. Don’t believe me? Have you ever eaten at a fantastic restaurant where the food was great, service was awesome, bathrooms were clean, prices were reasonable, but then you found a fly in your soup? What’s your impression now? All you’ll remember when someone asks you about your experience is the fly.

After you’ve chosen your absolute favorites and they all seem to fit within your theme and you’ve asked for a second opinion and everything seems perfect, I advise you to walk away from it all, come back after a day or two with fresh eyes and look for the flies.

It’s better to present a lesser amount of images that are absolutely your best than to have more and include a fly or two amongst the awesomeness. If you’re scrolling through and notice one image stands out as being inferior to the rest, take it out!

A Note on blogging

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The less is more rule is something I notice photographers NOT following on their blogs and social media. Keep in mind it’s not necessary to show the world every photo from your sessions. People generally only spend a few seconds, if not minutes, checking out your blog and if they have to scroll through 200 photos (many of them so similar they can hardly tell the difference), they will leave your blog and likely not visit it again. Choose the absolute best and keep it to about 5-10 images for a blog post and 1-3 for a Facebook post and you’ll be golden.

For more blogging tips for photographers, check out 5 BLOGGING STRATEGIES FOR BOOKING MORE PHOTOGRAPHY CLIENTS and our Photography SEO and Web Marketing Ebook.

This concludes my Be Your Own Art Director series. I hope my tips have helped elevate the level of your work and the way you present it to the world. Please share with us in the comments how you’ve improved or what questions you have.

Tanya Goodall Smith is the owner, brand strategist and commercial photographer at WorkStory Corporate Photography in Spokane, Washington. WorkStory creates visual communications that make your brand irresistible to your target market. Join the stock photo rebellion at workstoryphotography.com.

2 Comments

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  1. Austin Gould

    I love the fact that this blog points out the importance of consistency. I look through http://www.dripbook.com/ a lot and it hurts me when I come across a fantastic portfolio with 1 bad image in it. A portfolio is only as strong as its weakest link!

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  2. Warren Senewiratne

    Thank you!. Enjoyed reading the series.
    While I understand every critique is subjective at best, filtering the objectivity of the critique is [IMHO] the stepping stone to improvement. I welcome all criticism – good and bad, yet I don’t allow criticism alone to control my creativity. Sometimes the greatest failures are the best tutors.

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