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How to make a photography portfolio

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Written by Ed G

Published Nov 10, 2022

As an aspiring photographer looking to take your skill and transform it into a viable career or business, learning more about the next steps in your journey is a great way to figure out how to turn your dream into a reality. One of the most important first steps is to make a photography portfolio that you can use to showcase your talent and encourage prospective clients to work with you. 

But with that in mind, what goes into learning how to make a photography portfolio? How do you best set yourself up for success so that you’re able to find work quickly and with relative ease? If you’re ready to begin your career, let’s take at some helpful tips on how to create an online photography portfolio and a physical photography portfolio that drives results. In this guide, we’ll discuss the following. 

  1. Developing a catalogue of your best work
  2. Know that your portfolio will change depending on your client
  3. Vary your featured images (but keep the best on top)
  4. Don’t be afraid to take risks if the situation calls for it
  5. Make sure your website best represents you
  6. Reach out for second opinions
  7. See what other photographers’ portfolios look like
  8. Your portfolio shouldn’t be doing all the heavy lifting
  9. Consider where your portfolio will be hosted (and why it matters)

1. Develop a catalogue of your best work by any means necessary

If you're looking to make a photography portfolio then the first thing you need to do is produce a catalogue of your best work
Photo by Sarah Dorweiler

One of the biggest barriers for new photographers looking into how to make a photography portfolio is having a lack of work to display. If you’re fortunate enough to have work or have clients on hand, you can use some of your best shots to start creating a portfolio of your own. But what if you don’t? 

Even if it’s not considered work you’re doing for someone else, that doesn’t mean that you can’t work on building a portfolio by pursuing photography outside of traditional work. Now is the time to shoot as much as possible to really define your style and capture the work that will help you land clients later. What does this look like? If you’re interested in shooting people, having your friends or family pose for headshots or using models can be a great way to develop some stellar photos and gather family photo ideas. Are you interested in commercial photography instead? If so, you can find some of your favourite brands and create some shots that you can use to entice business owners who need someone to capture the essence of their products. Before you do, check out our guide to shooting and editing photos for e-commerce to gain some pointers!

No matter what type of photographer you want to be, looking for opportunities and photo shoot ideas to help develop your craft and capture new images is a great way of growing your portfolio. 

Looking for inspiration? Why not check out these 8 unmissable photography exhibitions happening in London, or the best places to photograph in London.

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2. Know that your portfolio will change depending on the client you approach

Change your photography portfolio depending on the client you're trying to appeal too
Photo showing survey in Adobe Lightroom - Tutti

When you finally launch your photography business, you might believe that your portfolio is something that you can just set and forget. However, a crucial lesson you'll learn about your portfolio is that what you develop now will not be the same photography portfolio you present to all your prospective clients. 

For example, let’s imagine that you’re someone who has a passion for and experience in both professional headshots and contemporary art. If you’re approaching a company that needs headshots for their employees, you won’t very well show them highlights of photography that you’ve captured for more experimental projects. This simply wouldn’t be appropriate. The same applies to the reverse of this situation.

Whether you’re looking into how to create an online photography portfolio or you’re building a physical one, for getting photography clients it’s crucial that you understand how to develop several different portfolios that are tailored to the types of photography you do and the clients you wish to approach. Your portfolio will change depending on what your client is looking for. Much like a resume, you don’t want to just send something generic to a prospective client. Instead, you want something tailored to them, capturing their attention and encouraging them to hire you instead of the competition. 

3. Vary your featured images (but keep your best work on top)

If you're starting a photography portfolio, keep your best work on top
Photo by Monstera

Starting a photography portfolio can be a confusing process. However, there are some basic rules of thumb that you can follow to improve your chances of creating a portfolio that attracts positive attention. One great rule to live by is to always vary your featured images. Even if you work within a specific niche of photography, you don’t want multiple photos to look the same as this might make your client think that you aren’t able to think outside the box, convey different emotions or themes in your photography, or mix things up every once in a while. 

Make sure your featured images fit within your style but still vary enough that clients feel as though they’re looking at something fresh when they flip or scroll through your portfolio. Another great tip that should be mentioned here is to keep your best work on top. When a client goes through your portfolio, they aren’t necessarily going to go through the whole thing. They’re going to look at just enough to determine whether or not your work is a good fit for what they need support with. 

Keep your best images on top so that they see these pieces and will be able to make a decision on whether or not to hire you, even if they don’t reach the end of your portfolio. You might end up changing these photos out every so often, but you’ll know which ones really blow the rest of your pieces out of the water (even if the others are still pretty great by comparison). 

4. Don’t be afraid to take risks if the situation calls for it

If your starting a photography portfolio, don't be afraid to take risks
Photo by Jakob Owens

No business owner has ever made an impact by being tame. Granted, there are some forms of photography where innovation might not be necessary. If you’re someone who takes wedding photos or school photos, for example, knowing your craft and sticking to what people want is important to landing work. But if you do more experimental photography or work with clients looking for a more artistic take on photography, you shouldn’t be afraid to be bold. 

Throw a few pieces into your portfolio that call attention to your unique style and perspective. Play around with different photo editing software and see what sticks. After all, when clients are looking for photographers, they’re looking for someone who can not only follow directions but offer something that is different from what other photographers have to offer. While you may not always land the client, depending on your work and what they’re looking for, knowing that you did everything you could to draw attention to yourself will eventually help you find the right client to work with. 

No matter what type of photography you’re interested in, take a few risks in building your portfolio as these may very well pay off in the future. 

5. Make sure your website best represents you

Make sure you website best represents you when you're thinking about how to create an online photography portfolio
Photo by Tim Mossholder

Photographers may develop several portfolios in order to help them connect most with the clients they’re looking to work with. However, when you’re creating an online portfolio via a website, you’re going to need to make sure that your work best represents you and the main type of work that you do. A portfolio that’s too eclectic in tone and imagery can end up driving clients away as they won’t be able to tell exactly what they do or why they should hire you. If you need help building a photography website, we've got you covered.

Make sure that your main website features the best images from the type of photography you’re looking to get paid for. If you’re mainly a commercial photographer, feature several stellar commercial images that show the clients the type of work you’ve done in the past and what a great finished product photography idea looks like. If you are a versatile photographer, make sure that you have several different pages on your website that showcase different portfolios rather than trying to integrate them. 

Continuing with the above example, your main page may feature exclusively commercial photography. But when prospective clients look at your dropdown menu, they can select lifestyle photography or professional headshots to see your work here as well. 

Creating an online portfolio is all about being smart and appealing to your target audience. If clients can’t tell what you do, they’re going to go with a photographer that’s clear about what they specialize in. 

6. Reach out for second opinions

Two women chatting about a photography portfolio
Photo by Windows

The longer you’re a photographer, the more experienced you’re going to be in crafting portfolios that convert leads to paying clients. Until then, you may feel rather uncertain about whether or not your portfolio will be successful. The good news? You can always reach out to other photographers to get a second opinion. 

Whether you’re networking at live events or even reaching out to other professionals through social media and forums, ask them what they think of your work. Is your portfolio attractive and enticing? Does it have enough photos? Too many? Can they tell what type of photographer you are and what types of clients you want to work with? More experienced professionals who are passionate about what they do are often more than willing to provide you with some much-needed guidance as you launch your career. 

Don’t be afraid to ask clients what they think either! Clients who have had a positive experience will be quite willing to let you know what worked and what didn’t. This feedback won’t just help you cultivate a better portfolio but improve your craft as well!

7. See what other photographers’ portfolios look like

Image showing photography portfolio shown on a laptop
Photo by Igor Miske

Developing your own unique style as a photographer is essential to standing out from the competition. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t look to your competition for inspiration. Successful and established photographers have already cultivated a portfolio that attracts clients. Now’s the time to take some notes to see what you can do to achieve the same level of success. 

What do their portfolios look like? Where are they posting their portfolios? What accompanies these portfolios (videos, content, etc.)? The more you research your competitors’ portfolios, the more you’ll discover the secrets to their success as well as some of the most common elements of a successful portfolio. As long as you’re not copying anything outright or trying to emulate elements to the point where you lose your own personal style and become your competitors, you should be fine! 

8. Your portfolio shouldn’t be doing all the heavy lifting

When thinking about your photography portfolio, consider the other ways you can put yourself out there.
Photo by Юрий Лаймин

The bulk of the advice in this guide is focused on your portfolio. But when it comes to portfolios, we feel as though we must mention that these are only a tool that you leverage in your business to attract and convert clients. As it is with any business, in order to see success you need to make sure that you’re focusing on the other aspects of marketing as a photographer which can accompany your portfolio.

For example, if you’re looking to build a successful online portfolio website, you must know all of the elements that go into marketing your portfolio. Are you focusing on search engine optimization best practices to drive consistent traffic to your website so that you’re visible to users searching for your services? Have you focused as much on your website design as you have on your portfolio so that your website is as aesthetically-pleasing as your work? Is your online portfolio properly optimized so that it loads quickly, looks clear, and works on all kinds of devices? 

Another great example is social media. If you’re posting your portfolio of work on social platforms to attract clients, are you regularly posting for prospective clients? Are you using the right hashtags to generate more views and engagement? Do you have your contact information readily available so that clients can book you? If you’re using freelancing platforms where portfolios are integrated into your profile, are you actively reaching out to clients? Are you asking them for reviews so those searching for services know what type of experience you have to provide? 

Photography is a business, and your portfolio, while important, can’t do all of the work on its own. Build your photography portfolio and make sure you’re taking all of the necessary actions to get your work in front of clients. 

9. Consider where your portfolio will be hosted (and why it matters)

Squarespace can be a good option for creating your photography portfolio
Image by Team Nocoloco

Where you decide to build your photography portfolio is as important as how you build it. There are several platforms to consider when starting a photography portfolio. Generally, these can be broken down into self-hosted websites and website builders. Website builders such as Squarespace or Wix can be great for those just starting out but come with several disadvantages. You’re often limited in the template options you have, you may have to shell out more money to access necessary features, and you don’t own your domain unless you purchase it at a later date. 

Meanwhile, building a website from scratch can be a great way to have full control over the process from the very beginning. The problem? If you don’t have any experience designing portfolio websites, you may end up spending more trying to patch it all together. You will likely need the support of professionals who can help you, and it may take longer to get your portfolio set up. 

Online portfolios are convenient. However, there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes before they’re live and visible online. Take a look around to see what other photographers use and what they recommend online. Then, make a list of the pros and cons of each to determine what’s right for you at this point in time. If you do go with a website builder to reduce costs and make it easier for you to manage on your own, make a plan of action should you need to migrate your website to a self-hosted platform in the future. 

Build your photography portfolio with the support of Tutti

Knowing how to make a photography portfolio is an essential skill that will define your success as a photographer. The advice outlined in the guide above will give you what you need to begin your journey as a professional photographer. But in order to build your portfolio, you’re going to need to start shooting. That’s where Tutti comes in. 

Tutti is your go-to solution for finding photoshoot locations and photo studios in London and surrounding areas. We make booking spaces easy, allowing you to connect directly with space owners, make reservations and define space use with them, and join the service without having to provide a wealth of payment information and identifying information that other services will require you to input in order to sign up. Tutti is no-hassle and built for aspiring photographers like you. Are you ready to start building your portfolio? If so, find your next shooting space now or get in touch with us if you have any questions!

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