A primer on portfolios: How to make them work for you

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Who could use a portfolio? Every photographer, event planner, architect, caterer, graphic artist, marketer, designer, writer, personal fitness trainer, makeup artist, stylist, and then some. If you want to create a portfolio of your work and don’t know where to start, don’t be daunted. Here are some ideas to get you going. Basically, we asked some really talented (and successful) professionals for a few portfolio how-tos. This is part one of our two-part series.

What we learned about photography portfolios from Dan Milnor, Professional Photographer:

You need a portfolio because it is your visual passport to your future in the industry. When I say “portfolio” I mean several things, including Web and printed pieces. Your portfolio will vary with whom you are trying to show work to. A portfolio for a newspaper internship will look and feel completely different than a book used to show an ad agency.

A portfolio is completing the circle as a photographer, from conception, shooting, editing, and finally making the decision to print and include specific photos in your book. Many photographers, today, in the digital world, don’t seem to print that much, which is a shame because printing forces you to confront the work and make decisions. Nobody wants to waste paper, ink, or in the case of traditional printing, darkroom time, on images you are not sure about. Making a portfolio forces you to ask questions about your own work, and in the end forces you to ask, “What am I trying to do and say with these images?”

Your portfolio should be a source of pride, a free pass to enter other worlds, and share with other people. I think having a variety of portfolios is the key, from single image pieces, to larger, more in-depth books.

What makes a good portfolio?
Great images. Super funky books, or wooden cases with little drawers don’t fool anyone. If you put mind-blowing images down in front of someone you will get work. Fancy cases get stolen, and crazy fancy portfolios tend to be viewed as a “pain to ship,” and frankly distract from the work. In the end the client is hiring you, not just your portfolio, so be who you really are. People are interested in people as much as they are in photographs.

Some tips to consider:
1. Be Bold. There are too many photographers showing work. Safety, in my mind, is for power tools. Make a statement.
2. Only show the best images, even if you have only 5 to 10 pieces total. One weak frame and “photo people” will remember it.
3. Have someone else edit your work. Photographers get attached, emotional, and make poor decisions based on romantic things. This is fine, but the person viewing on the other end doesn’t know any of this, or care for that matter.

About Daniel Milnor
Daniel Milnor specializes in long-term, black and white documentary work relating to a variety of topics including, Sicilian Easter Processions, Big-Wave Surfing, Exotic Game Ranches…

Milnor is also active in the wedding and private commission portrait world, specializing in contemporary children’s portraiture, which can also be seen in the editorial, stock arenas. He has worked in the newspaper and magazine fields and was a photographer specialist for Eastman Kodak Company. Milnor was featured on zonezero, The Candid Frame and was a finalist for the Honickman First Book Prize in Documentary Photography for his work in Sicily. He was most recently published in Camera Arts and Black & White Magazine.

People are using Blurb to make professional quality, high impact portfolios today. Check out these samples from the Blurb Bookstore.

Alison Grippo – A selection

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Art of the Ocean Volume 1 1998-2006 Portfolio

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TUGS My journey in glass

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V E R A C R U Z P o r t f o l i o II

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Jesse Wolff Images

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Look for a second post next week featuring more portfolio insight from Jack Fulton of the San Francisco Art Institute Photo Department. Until then, any tips you’d like to add?

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  1. OMG!! i hvave been looking all over for this type of information. you guys are rockstars!!!! thank you!!


      July 14, 2007 – 2:28 am   Permalink
  2. Using Blurb books for portfolios lifts the artist right out of the pack. The connotation of work that is so good it has been printed in hardbook is strong.

      July 25, 2007 – 11:35 am   Permalink
  3. Hey, I have used this median and gotten great results, I am currently working on several books for publishing! Keep up the awesome ideas guys!

      August 1, 2007 – 8:29 am   Permalink

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