Making a photography portfolio that stands out

Having a strong photography portfolio is an important part of being a photographer and is one of the best ways to catch the eye of potential clients, but there’s a lot to consider when it comes to putting together a collection of your very best work.

As it’s becoming easier and easier to be a ‘photographer’, it’s getting harder and harder to make your work stand out.

To help you overcome this challenge, I’ve answered some of the most common questions relating to photography portfolios and shared some useful tips to help you decide what to include and what not to include so that you can create an online portfolio you can be proud of.

This is something I’ve also covered in previous website critiques, which you can watch here. I would recommend watching these classes as not only do I share some tips for creating your online presence as a photographer, but I also review members’ websites, exploring what works and what doesn’t, and explain the essentials of what makes a good photography portfolio.

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Developing an Online Photography Portfolio

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Karl explains the dos and don’ts of creating an online photography portfolio as he reviews members' websites.
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Different types of portfolios

When it comes to creating your portfolio, there are a couple of options — online photography websites, social media platforms, or printed copies of your work — and each has its advantages and disadvantages.

I’ll be focusing on online websites in this article, but let’s briefly take a look at each of these options first.

Online portfolios are the most convenient and cost-effective, which makes them a popular choice for many photographers. They’re highly customisable, easy to share, and can be updated as regularly as you want. There’s also a whole host of websites to choose from, which I’ll be looking at later.

The ease of online doesn’t mean you should discount printing your portfolio though! While printing your work might sound somewhat ‘outdated’, it is, in fact, a great way to connect with clients by sending them something physical. It’s much easier to forget a website than it is a hard copy of images.

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Social media is another way to display your work, but it’s much less formal. While this can be a good way to build a following and start conversations, it doesn’t look very professional if you’re sending potential clients to your Instagram page.

I myself have used a combination of all three of these types of portfolios. I have my website and social media channels where I display my work online and, when I was looking to connect with potential clients, I had a book of printed work.

How to make a photography portfolio

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The first step to creating a photography portfolio is to identify the audience you’re trying to target. Knowing who your audience is will allow you to determine the sort of photos you need to include in your portfolio.

For example, if you’re targeting drinks companies, there’s no point in including photos of flowers in your portfolio. This is something product photographer Jonathan Knowles and I discuss in more depth in his live talk show, as Jonathan advises to include work in your portfolio for which you'd like to be commissioned.

Once you’ve identified your audience, the next step is to collect your best images that appeal to that particular audience.

This part of the process might take some time; you may find that you have hundreds of photos that need to be whittled down or you might find that you don’t actually have very many and need to build up your portfolio.

Either way, the collection of images should only be your very best work. If you’re not sure which images to include, try asking for a second opinion or use my guide to determine how good your photos really are.

When it comes to your portfolio, quality beats quantity.

How many photos do you need for a portfolio?

This brings us to my next point, which is something I often get asked about. How many photos should you include in your portfolio?

Generally, I’d recommend a minimum of 15-20 photos per section. By this I mean if you had a drinks subsection within your product section, you should then have 15-20 drinks images. If you simply have a product section, with no subsections, then having slightly more than this is probably a good idea.

If like me, you also include an overview section of all your work, I’d also recommend including more than 20 images in that. In these broader sections you should include a good selection of work that showcases your skills and your very best work.

What should a photography portfolio include?

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While your photography makes up the bulk of your portfolio, there are a few other things you should include too.

It goes without saying that contact details are very important. If you want someone to be able to make contact with you via your website, there needs to be some sort of contact information. This could be a telephone number and either an email address or contact form.

Having a physical address of where you’re based is also a good idea as it gives prospective clients an idea of where you’re based. If you don’t want to give an exact location, at least specify the area where you’re based and the locations you operate in.

Next, I always recommend having at least some information about you. This is a nice way for viewers to get an idea about you, your style, and your ethos.

And finally, your site should include clear, easy navigation and a good website design that showcases your work. I’m sure many of you will agree with me that there’s nothing worse than landing on a site and not being able to find what you’re looking for. Well, don’t let that site be yours.

If you’re not sure about how to organise and separate your work, keep things simple. On my website, as well as on many other professional photographers, I have three main areas: galleries, about, and learn.

Within the galleries section, I have subsections for different genres of my work, the main being objects and people, though I also have sections for film/video and older work.

What should a photography portfolio not include?

Equally important as what should be included in your portfolio is what shouldn't be included.

This is something I covered in part 1 and part 2 of our members' website critique, but essentially you shouldn't include anything that adds confusion or detracts from the main focus of your site.

This mostly includes any photos or content that doesn't apply to your target audience. For example, if you’re a food photographer it’s not advisable to include architecture images in your portfolio if it’s just going to confuse the viewer.

If, however, you have a really strong body of additional work that you want to promote, you could have a separate section for this or, even better, include the work in a separate site that links out from your main portfolio.

An outdated blog is another thing you should avoid. While blogs can be a great way to show what you've been working on if your last post was three years ago it might make a potential client wonder why you haven't been as active recently.

In many cases it's not that the photographer hasn't been busy — it may actually be that they've just been too busy to update the blog! If you do want a blog, make sure to update it as regularly as possible or make sure the posts aren't dated.

Overly large images should also be avoided. These will end up slowing down your site and frustrating the viewer. Using scripts or actions in Photoshop, it's incredibly easy to resize images suitable for web use.

Incomplete pages, vague text and broken links should also be avoided.

Quite simply, before you publish your site or save any changes, make sure you carefully check everything to make sure it looks polished and professional.

Where to create a photography portfolio

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Online photography websites are the most common type of photography portfolio nowadays, along with more informal social media accounts.

There are a number of popular websites you can choose from for a photography portfolio, many of which have ready-built templates specifically designed for photography.

I use Squarespace for my website and I have done for many years (remember you can get 10% off your own Squarespace website using the offer code ‘Karl’), but there are many other options out there that might suit your needs better.

Photography portfolio websites

Some of the most popular websites for photographers include:

  • Squarespace — Offers everything from pre-built templates to audience tracking. Prices start at £13/month for personal use.
  • WordPress — A powerful website builder that powers 40% of the web, this option comes with a steeper learning curve with options to start with a free or paid plan.
  • Wix — A popular option, Wix websites are available for free or as paid plans.
  • Behance — A free, easy-to-sign-up-to portfolio site for creatives.
  • Adobe Portfolio — Part of Adobe’s Creative Cloud package, Adobe Portfolio offers a convenient platform to display your work.

Photography portfolio examples

If you're stuck for inspiration, there are plenty of photographers with fantastic websites. I've put together a list of my favourite photographers, which is a great place to start.

When looking at examples of photographers websites, take note of details like the layout of the site, the menu titles, what sort of images they include etc and keep in mind the points covered here.

The great thing about creating a portfolio these days is that it really couldn't be easier. The only thing left for you to do once you’ve identified your audience and collated your images is resize your photos and upload them!

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Recommended Content

To learn more about how to develop a photography portfolio, take a look at the replays of our live members' website critiques. These cover important considerations when it comes to creating a stand-out portfolio.

For more information on marketing yourself and running a photography business, take a look at our 'The Business of Photography' course. Below are just two of the classes included in this course.

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