Your Photography Portfolio

Jun 21, 2024 | Marketing

“Show Notes”

This week Marcus talks about building a portfolio as a photographer. He breaks
this down into three areas, photographs, pace and presentation.

Marcus starts by taking about Robert Frank and his book ‘The Americans’, that was
published in 1960. He took photos and made what he called about a visual poem
out of them. Marcus encourages you to look at the book and focus on the fact that
it is a series of images.

‘Sam asks why a photographer wants a portfolio. Marcus says there are two
reasons. One is to get more work. The other is to present a body of work. Years ago

a portfolio was leather bound and shown to people to show your work. Marcus still
has some of these. Clearly now there are many more options. You could have pdfs,
movies and more, but printed material still has it’s value. And printing out work and
showing it to clients will make you stand out from the crowd. You can also make a
slide show to go at the back of Zoom calls during networking meetings. Marcus
thinks 20 to 30 images in a portfolio is about right. Less is more. Sam says that on
websites photographers usually add far too many images.

When you are putting together a portfolio the beginning and the end are really key.
They are the parts people remember. The middle is almost a filler. The beginning
and end does not need to be your best shot. It may be more your most impactful or

alternative to get attention. Tweaking portfolios for the viewer is also really

important. Marcus says to look at your portfolio from the back forwards,

remember some people flick through books this way (if it is physical).

Think about how the photographs are arranged. So colours for example, or work

‘on themes. Working through a time frame can also work. The key is do not put

‘them together randomly. Sam introduces the ides of adding humour in there and

Marcus agrees this is a great idea.

Finally Marcus talks about pace. Allowing space and allowing your portfolio to

breathe. Marcus gives examples of leaving blank pages or part pages.

Marcus explains that he offers online portfolio reviews that can be booked in via his

“Show Transcription”

Sam: Hi Marcus, how are you doing?

Marcus: I am very well indeed Sam, how are you?

Sam: Excellent, thank you. So this show Marcus, I think you’re going to talk to us a little bit aren’t you about building a portfolio as a photographer?

Marcus:  That’s it, that’s it, exactly right.That’s what I’m going to be talking about, portfolios.

So yeah, and what I’m talking about, I’ve broken it down into three parts as I normally do. Photographs, pace and presentation.

Sam: What’s the middle one, pace?

Marcus: Pace, presentation and the photographs within it. And as with all these things Sam, I like to just go back and talk historically first of all, just to set the agenda or build a foundation. And I’m going to talk about a photographer who I’ve mentioned on the show before and he’s called Robert Frank and in particular his book The Americans which was published in 1960. So yeah, quite back in the day now. And what was groundbreaking about this photography book was that it was, it was looking, he took his pictures and he made what he called a visual poem out of them. He was very influenced by the beat poets at the time and in fact Jack Kerouac gave an introduction to the book. And so he was very interested in this idea of how photographs, laying one photograph against another and sequencing them could give you a and a visual narrative I think we call it today. So yeah, so Robert Frank, I would really encourage our listeners to go and have a look at this book. It’s a really, really famous book on photography and to look at it with the eyes of not just looking at it as a single image but a series of images. He in fact, the way he did it, he segmented the book into four different parts and each part looked at a different theme of America.

Sam: Okay and you’re producing that as his portfolio at that time almost?

Marcus: It was one of the first ones Sam, it was one of the first photographers to look at this idea of a series of photographs as opposed to an individual photograph telling a message. It was a series of photographs that built up that gave the message, a stronger message arguably.

Sam: Okay, can I ask a kind of question first? So if we’re talking about photography portfolio, before we talk too much about it, can I ask why a photographer wants portfolio?

Marcus:  Okay, that’s a great question. Obviously a portfolio, I would say it’s got two functions and we’re going to be unpacking this in the show but it’s got, one is to get more work to get yourself out there and secondly is to present a body of work I would say, a personal body of work. So it might be a book or it might be a portfolio to send to people or people can look at to get an idea of the kind of work you do.

Sam: Perfect, thank you Mark. So that’d be good before you carry on so people know why they do one before you tell them all about it.

Marcus:  Yeah, no you’re quite spot on. So there’s a lot, back in the day really when you sent a portfolio to a photographer we all thought on the same line and it would be like a leather-bound portfolio with a series of prints inside and maybe acetate sleeves that you could so you could swap the the prints over depending on who you were going to show it to or if you’re updating your book or whatever.

Sam: So almost like your granny’s photo album but the photos are a lot better.

Marcus: Yeah but a little bit nicer with your name stamped on the front of it. I’ve got a couple of them that were made for me and you know I don’t show them much anymore but I still like looking at them and holding them. They’re objects of beauty I think, not my portfolio but portfolios in general. But these days you’ve got a lot more options.You can do PDFs, you might think about doing a quick time movie where you can incorporate music into  it as well and zoom in and zoom out on the photographs using like a Ken Burns effect. So lots of different options but I still think a printed material still holds a lot of sway and of course I would generally say that most photographers don’t print their work up these days. They put it online and put it on Instagram or whatever and that is it. So a printed portfolio might help you stand out from the crowd.

Sam: Definitely and you are going to visit people. I mean as a photographer you’ve got to be you’re going to have to visit people and stuff aren’t you. So it’s not like you’re only you will need something online for that first bit once you visit them. Yeah you know that will make you really stand out won’t you. Whoa this guy’s got photographs you know physical photographs.

Marcus: Yeah exactly. I mean I was just going to say to Simon how many photographs did we say in the UK. We discussed this on the show recently I think it’s a staggering amount isn’t it. Hundreds of thousands. In the hundreds of thousands. Yeah and I think people if you show people a portfolio and they can touch it, feel it, smell it even they’re going to remember it better. It’s more it’s more tangible I think than just the throwaway nature of digital media. Yeah so I’ve talked about you know within that different you know you might do a book and there’s lots of ways of publishing your book as a portfolio. Your portfolio is a book these days blurb. Oh there’s many many people and in fact down here in Bristol in England we’ve got a once a year at the Martin Parr Foundation they hold a book weekend where photographers come and sell their own photography books. Yeah and it’s like there’s a lot of people do that and it’s they’re beautiful they’re all printed in different ways etc. You could you might do your portfolio as cards as an email which you can mail out to people that used to be very popular like a little mini portfolio as it were. Yeah you know I made one and it’s like tiny and it’s quite sweet you can send it in the post and it’s a bit of a novelty factor that you know isn’t too much to print out.

Sam: Yeah I mean stuff general promotional stuff arriving in the post people love and it makes you remember because everyone will do downloads and digital but actually you know and really interesting you know one of the people who do print promotion that the person who would think of least of doing print promotion is Google. Google do print promotion Google will send stuff to your business through the post which is really interesting isn’t it.

Marcus: Do they?

Sam: Yep you know trying to promote Google Ads clearly not to you Marcus.

Marcus:  Okay yeah no well I do use Google Ads so but yeah that’s interesting yeah well you can’t beat it print is still and I think you know as these things are all very cyclical I think print is coming back around again and I do hear more and more photographers talking about printing their work out. Another way that you might be to show your portfolio is this is going more digital now is if you’re doing zoom calls and I think you know you should be out there networking doing zoom calls and you know integrating with with other businesses you can make a slideshow out of your portfolio and I used to do this and people used to always say oh wow that’s really different and it really makes you stand out in a zoom call a networking meeting and you can just basically go on to zoom and you can put in your portfolio as a slideshow.

Sam:L Wow that’d be really cool.

Marcus: You can have that going in the background.

Sam: Yeah that’d be really different.

Marcus: Yeah I mean you have to be a little bit careful that you don’t stand in front of it so what all the time so what I did was I would stand to the side and have a blank and have the images to the other side.

Sam: Or I guess you choose images where I don’t know you know your stuff’s always on one side and you make sure you’re on the other or maybe you’d have to like keep moving depending on on which image it is.

Marcus:  Well not keep moving but yeah that’s right you do have to think about that and again that’s all about the idea of putting a portfolio together so that segues nicely into the next segment which is all about the photographs you’re going to put into it. So the question I get asked a lot is how many photographs do I put in my portfolio? Yeah I mean a good round number is 20 to 30 images.

Sam: That many? Okay but I guess that depends on the format presumably though Marcus like that would be a huge amount for a zoom meeting but you know for a printed one would be very different.

Marcus: Yeah it’s not that many Sam you say that even for the zoom one when I had I you know 20 images going past at like four seconds each is only what’s that you know it’s a minute isn’t it over a minute. No I think but I would say I’m a firm believer in the punk ethic of less is more and yeah I do agree with you. I think the main problem is people having too many images in their portfolio.

Sam:  Certainly on websites certainly website portfolios yeah you look and it’s just like oh my god nobody is going to scroll down that far nobody is going to get past that many.

Marcus: Every day I see people put up their portfolios for you know critiques or whatever or their website sorry online and every time I look it’s like we’ve got way too many images here and they look great as well but they just get lost even for a fan of photography like myself I’m looking for it I just get bored.

Sam: That’s it I’ve seen enough weddings now I’ve seen enough brides yeah I know you can do this I don’t need more.

Marcus:  Yeah exactly Sam exactly it’s odd but people still do that that is the that is you say all the time.

Sam: I guess in some ways you feel you’ve built a website don’t you because you’ve got a blank page where if I just dump a ton of photos on there I’ve got a full page but yeah not necessarily a good page.

Marcus: It’s a lot to be said and maybe there’s a whole program we could talk about this this whole idea of less is more yeah you know funny enough just um this is a complete aside this does suddenly come to me I follow this guy on YouTube called Rick Piatto he’s a musician and he was saying about in the 90s the average length of a single is four and a half minutes in the 2020s the average length of a single is two minutes.

Sam: Whoa two minutes that’s crazy.

Marcus: Two minutes. People’s attention span has reduced that much in 20 years. Yeah, okay, so 20 to 30 images, what I recommend, less is more always when you’re putting together a portfolio of images. The beginning is obviously the main important bit, but also equally is the end section, the last few images. The first few images and the last few, those are the ones that people remember. In some ways, the middle is almost a filler. Start strong, yeah, start strong and end strong.

Sam: And that could be, presumably, doesn’t necessarily have to be your most amazing shot. Could be in some way something more memorable or, you know, something just to get people’s, that partly to get people’s attention, is that right? Or do you think more just like your most amazing shot?

Marcus: 100 percent, Sam. And I’m going to talk more about this. In fact, let’s talk about it now. You’ve got to tailor your portfolio to who you’re sending it to. Yeah, and it will change depending on what business. That’s how we’ve all, you know, if you’re in an ad campaign and you see all the portfolios piled up in advertising agencies, all waiting to be selected. Yeah, I’m sure those photographers have put their portfolio together for that particular ad campaign.

Sam: Yeah, and you can do that online, can’t you? You can have, you know, a portfolio in your wedding page, a portfolio on your portrait page, a portfolio on your whatever other page. And they’re all different and selective. And then when you go and see those people, you might then tweak it some more and, you know, to their particular circumstances.

Marcus: Exactly. Obviously, a book is different, but a book is more of a personal project, generally speaking, so it’s a different market. Um, so yeah, start and end strong. And also, when you look at your portfolio, look at it from the back forwards. I don’t know if you’ve noticed, whenever I pick up a magazine in a store, you’re always looking at it the wrong way around with someone. I do that. So, and I think that’s it’s a good way of really making sure that your portfolio is working. Go from the back and work forward. You could arrange the photographs in different ways. Um, it could be through color. They could be, you could do a theme based on color. That looks very nice. Um, you could do a theme based on a theme. Ie, if one could be, you know, part of the portfolio you could be, I know it could be.

Sam: Skateboarding, for example, you could have a completely randomly a theme on skateboarding.

Marcus: Yeah, and then something else completely after it. And that, you know, that, so that would be through themes like, like the Robert Frank book I mentioned earlier was based on themes. He did one section on flags. He don’t did one section on poverty, etc., etc. Um, it could be historically based out, ie, in a time frame in a linear time frame, yeah. Um, there’s lots of options, but certainly you need to really think about how, you know, having what. Don’t put them together randomly.

Sam: They’ve got, it’s got to hang together in some way, tell a story. I’m wondering what’s your thoughts on the use of humor in this as well? So I mean, I was thinking almost like your Zoom call, one, if you could have some photos almost where it’s quite humorous, the way you’re placed, if you know what I mean, compared to the photo. So I don’t know, somebody’s a wildlife photographer and actually the way you’re stood, you’re next to a crocodile that’s like looking like it might be about to eat your head off or something. What’s your thoughts on kind of that bit of humor in there?

Marcus: I love humor. Humor is great and, you know, it can be just of course, I think people take it. It depends on your photography, but yeah, definitely a space for humor. Um, and you know, and you also, then you might start thinking about your, uh, paper, your print. How you’re going to print it? That was always a massive, big debate. Do I do it on matte paper? Do I do it on glossy paper? Again, those considerations need to come in, and how you print it is going to be important. Um, we talked about different portfolios for different clients. Also, maybe it could be double-sided. If you’ve got the options of printing it double-sided, that can look very professional indeed and it’s a great way of pacing of what pacing your portfolio. Okay. And finally, let’s talk about pacing. Let’s go into that section now. This is the final section, pace. And what do I mean by pace? Pace is something that’s quite hard to put together when you’re looking at your own work. Pace is space allowing the portfolio to breathe, not just about bang, bang, bang, bang, image after the image all full bleed. It could be a blank page. It could be a quarter-page image of one and a full bleed on the other and building that poem up that narrative like a song, almost that is what pace is.

Sam: Oh, it reminds me. Well, yeah, when someone did my wedding album many, many years ago. Yes, there was one where the page was completely blank and they’d cut a hole in so you could just see a couple of people from the next print. And then you turn it over when you see the whole print.

Marcus: Oh, oh, that’s a good idea. That is quite a good idea. That is quite a good idea, actually. Yeah. So pace is really important and again, um, I think that is one of the things that people, I’ve noticed struggling when I do my portfolio reviews. Yeah. And should I just mention portfolio reviews?

Sam: Why don’t you tell us what I would like to?

Marcus: Yeah, I would like to talk about my portfolios reviews. Um, yeah. And it’s time to big up myself here. I, if for anybody interested, photographers or whatever, I offer online portfolio reviews. Um, they’re normally about an hour. Um, they’re done on a Zoom call, so it can be recorded and then sent on to you. Um, they’re done online, as I say, so it can be anywhere around the world. You can book them in via my website. I’ll put a link in the notes. Um, and what we’ll do, I’ll, you know, we’ll talk about what your expectations from your portfolio are. Are you looking to get more business? In that case, we’ll talk about how to build your portfolio up as a marketing tool. Or are you maybe thinking about putting out a personal project? So then I can start talking about, okay, what do these images mean to you, etc., etc., and talk more about layout, possibly and presentation.

Sam: Amazing.

Marcus: So there we go.

Sam: So yeah, a way to get.

Marcus: That’s my thoughts. Important.

Sam: Brilliant. Yeah, a way to get Marcus’s years and years of expertise in the industry. Not too many years, though. He’s still very young. Um, years of expertise in the industry to help you perfect that’s been really interesting, Marcus. Lots of things to go away and think about. I’m, I’m now excited about the idea of these, the going to, uh, networking meetings and people having these photos going around the back. That’s, that’s quite stuck with me that one.

Marcus: Yeah, it’s a good one. It does work. It’s a good one. And it, you know, immediately you don’t need to say anything about what you do because it’s all there behind you. Yeah, it does work. I mean, I don’t do much Zoom networking nowadays, but so that’s, you can, you can have that tip from me. But yeah, any photographers out there interested in signing up, my portfolio, uh, review one hour, it costs 95 pounds, uh, which I think is a bargain, of course. And, um, you can sign it off on my website.

Sam: Cool. Perfect. Thank you. And then if you, um, you could even get a photo reviewed on the Facebook group as well. So if you head to Shoot to the Top, uh, Facebook group, yeah, we’re in there, Marcus and I and loads of photographers. So do put photos in there and ask for everyone’s thoughts and ideas. Um, and also you need to be on the Shoot to the Top newsletter list. Otherwise, you might miss episodes and that would not be good. So go to the website sign up to the newsletter list and the new, the, um, podcast and all sorts of other goodies will arrive in your inbox every week. Um, Marcus, that’s been amazing. Thank you for your infinite wisdom and I look forward to talking to you next week.

Marcus: Thanks, Sam. See you next week.

Sam: See ya.