Sally's Insights - Top tips for the strongest portfolio

Portrait and Still Life Photography © Alice Healy

What are potential clients looking for in a folio? It’s the million-dollar question.

I began showing photographers’ folios in the mid-90s to all sorts of people, from creative directors to graphic designers and direct clients. In doing, so I became a sponge. I listened, I observed, and I adapted.

As a result, my conclusion is you can’t and should never second guess what someone wants to see in a folio. I have held this belief for the last 20 years of sequencing and designing photographer folios, encouraging everyone to stand by their work.

I also work on websites, helping photographers make sense of their work and how to best represent themselves. An easy summation of how I look at a website and folio is simply this: Websites are a literal approach to your photography. They show and tell us exactly what you do and who you are.

What a portfolio is all about

Folios are a lateral approach to your photography. They are about revealing the essence of who you are and how you see things. They are also about offering inspiration to the viewer, and an opportunity to think freely and show personal work that will enhance the viewers perception of your creativity and capabilities. But ultimately, you must have conviction, be confident, and show the work you want to be shooting.

Start with taking the viewer on a journey. Show the ebbs and flows in your work in a way that makes everyone want to turn the page. Be inspirational and show what makes you tick – both as a person and a photographer. Being unique and telling your own story is what will make your portfolio compelling. A folio is not about trying to prove who you are; it’s about showing what you can do.

Still Life Photography © Alice Healy

So many photographers come to me because they are confused about what to put into their folio. All of us know how hard it is to select your own images, so having a second set of eyes is an invaluable addition to creating a folio that you are proud of, and will entice others to want to work with you.

Recently I worked on the folio of the South Australian photographer Alice Healy. Here is what Alice had to say about why she chose to have a guiding hand in creating a body of work:

“I have been a photographer for over 10 years and have an overwhelming number of favourite photos in my archives. To build a new printed portfolio with the right photos felt like such a daunting task. Sally has such a wealth of knowledge and selected images I would not have thought about pairing together to complement each other on each spread. My new folio showcases a broad range of my photographic style, but still maintains a beautiful flow between images from start to end.” – Alice Healy.

Your individuality is the only difference between you and the next photographer. Don’t be shy in what you include in your folio. Every page does not need to be the best shot you have ever done. Some pages may be supporting shots. In fact, I encourage you not to put the best shots next to each other, which may cause them to compete. Rather, spread them throughout the folio and use supporting images to tell the story.

Portfolio structure

Layout is so important. Think carefully about how many kinds of spreads you are going to have before you start the process of building your folio. Remember, there is no right or wrong. I recently worked on a folio where the first page was a front-on portrait and the last page was the back of the same head. It was a fabulous set of book ends.

Portraits © Alice Healy

Presentation is also to be considered. And I feel it’s important to have both a printed folio and an online folio. I understand that during COVID printed folios have not been a necessity, but boy, when you can show them, and we will again, there is nothing like presenting a beautifully bound or crafted printed folio. People smell them, handle them, take time and care with them, and become engaged in the tactile nature of the folio.

Online folio presentations are equally important. Find what works for you and make sure it works for everyone. If you are going to use design elements, be careful of not over-designing; remember it is all about the photography.

I strongly encourage you to put personal work in the folio as much as you can. Remember that your website is about showing off who you are, your jobs, and clients. Your folio is about you, in essence. It’s emotive.

I personally don’t want to see tear sheets in your folio. I have seen firsthand how people look at these folios – they spend more time discussing the design layout and typography than they do the photography.

Show work that makes you proud, that tells stories, and makes you stand out from the crowd. Be individual, be confident, and, above all, create emotion. You want to hear ‘oooohs’ and ‘ahhhhs’, and leave the viewer wanting to see more.

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