Is your portfolio a jack of all trades, master of none?

I’ve been assembling my new commercial portfolio for 2009. My old book was about 2 yrs old, and I’ve been apprehensive to send it out, causing me to lose business. Not good. Starting a new portfolio from scratch is a tough project. It takes a great deal of self-awareness to pare down your entire library to not just your best, but also your most applicable work. What I mean is, your commercial clients won’t be interested in your wedding work and vice versa. It gets far more specific than that, so today I am going to talk about the process of assembling my commercial portfolio.

Your portfolio should show off the best of the kind of work you want your portfolio to generate. So, if you want to generate still-life, table-top and other product photography, don’t show the client a book of nothing but portraits. Be specific, but not a one trick pony. Be versatile, but don’t just throw spaghetti at the wall. On assembling my single 40-page portfolio, though, I felt my range of subjects was too broad. I flitted from portraits to fashion and beauty to product photography to architecture.

Essentially, I was trying to reconcile two key pieces of advice:

Your portfolio should represent the kind of work you want to get. No one will hire you for something that you don’t tell them you do. I want to shoot a broad variety of work, so shouldn’t my portfolio reflect that?

On the other hand, your portfolio should not be so broad as to make you a jack of all trades, and master of none. For a big portrait assignment, would you call the photographer who shoots nothing but portraits, or the one who divides their attention amongst many subjects? It seems that my problem is that I want to shoot architecture, portraits, fashion and product photography. But will the images designed to turn on one set of clients turn off another?

How can I focus my work like a laser beam with a smaller (15-20) number of images, without sacrificing the breadth of the work I want to promote, or going broke printing multiple portfolios?

I thought I’d decided to print on, but I scratched that after reading that some folks have been having real issues with color. check out this quote:

if you think on-demand publishing is an easy way to get a high-quality book you might want to think again. In the best case, you’ll spend a very significant amount of time and money on everything – and then it’s very worthwhile to ask why you wouldn’t do real self publishing.

Jörg Colberg’s blog found via A Photo Editor.


So, back to the drawing board. I believe that I have come up with a portfolio that will satisfy my need for specificity and versatility. Mounting prints in a quality screwpost or ringed binder. For my money, the binder is a great deal for new photographers. Moreover, a binder will allow me to tailor my book to its potential recipient, showing them the best work for their publication or project. I do all the 2 page spread layouts in photoshop, then keep the prints all stored away, until they need to be placed in the book and sent out. This allows me to keep a library of not just images, but pre-designed spreads, so changes to the portfolio can be made quickly.

Pretty nifty!

I’d rather have a low-cost, easily updatable and refinable binder portfolio than to pay more money for something that becomes obsolete, just for a little extra wow-factor on the presentation. I guess I’ll just have to rely on my images being enough to impress potential clients (isn’t that the point?).

Let’s remember that it is the content of your book and your professionalism that will ultimately win you clients. The fanciest book won’t get a crap photographer anywhere. Turd polishing and all that.

Stay tuned tomorrow, when I will actually post some photographs.


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