Stop Making These Photo Portfolio Mistakes!

March 1st, 2012 by

Here are the most important lessons from my years of looking at portfolios prepared by successful professionals, serious amateurs and students:

Real Estate: Use all the space you have when showcasing images. Nothing is more a waste of money than tiny images on a Web portfolio or in the printed book. OK, so the paper is lovely… but we don’t care. We want to SEE each image.

No blurb books please: They are too small and don’t hold up through repeated opening and closing. They have their place but as a commercial portfolio, they don’t cut it.

No plastic sheets. Office Depot is NOT the place to buy supplies to build a printed book… leave the shiny sheets behind. They reflect overhead lighting and make a portfolio look like a high school report.

Keep it clean: No matter the portfolio style du jour, I’ve seen very expensive printed portfolios that are just plain dirty: fingerprints, torn prints and scratched sheets holding the images. All manner of stuff, even dog hairs. And these from working photographers. Respect your portfolio and others will, too.

Overly expensive or elaborate: I’ve seen printed books that need to be carried around on a luggage dolly because they are bound in steel and weigh tons. Your clients want to see the work, not have to wrestle the thing to the ground in order to peek inside.

I recently asked a room of art buyers and photo editors which of them would call in a book from a photographer who either didn’t have a website or had a sloppy one. All agreed there is no way a photographer or the rep would get in the door if the art buyer/photo editor hadn’t been impressed with the website.

Rules Of the Road For Websites

Real Estate, again. Nothing is worse than a tiny photo floating in an island of empty Web space. You have lost me if I have to ask myself, “What is that a photo of?” Oh, and for the love of the great art director in the sky, NO MUSIC.

Tell the truth. Sure, you want to show your most stunning images, but be darn certain when you get a job that you can deliver the same quality that you show on your website. If you create false expectations and blow the first job from a client, you are dead meat forever as far as that client is concerned. I will never forget the photographer with the great photos on the site and a terrible submission from my assignment. I even remember details of the cab ride to his studio and everything about him. My brain was making certain I never forgot a detail so that I would never recommend him to anyone. Notice the word I repeated? I said NEVER three times.

Make the site easy to navigate. OK, everyone tells you this but then why do I so often sit befuddled at my computer trying to figure out how to get back to where I started after leaving the landing page. Or trying to figure out how to see more than one image or, worst, how to stop the darn thing from tossing a hundred images at me within the first 10 seconds that I land on a page? (And I’m a rather geeky person to boot.) Try your website out on your next-door neighbor who is your average computer user. Do your own little usability study.

Hire a professional. You rile against amateurs in your business so why hire the same level of talent to build your site? Get both a graphic designer and a Web designer to work together. Rarely does one person do both well. Or use one of the templates available that you can customize. Make certain that you can make adjustments – like adding new work – yourself.

Learn about SEO or whatever each Google search requires. Set your site up on Google Analytics so that you can monitor the success of your marketing in driving traffic to your site.

Print or iPad?

If you don’t want someone wandering around your iPad, have one dedicated purely to portfolio images. Save all the other stuff for another copy.

Your website is the first port of entry on the road to getting the right jobs from the right clients. Do it really well. Then back it up with printed books that can be rearranged to suit the specific needs of individuals who WILL call it in.