You’ve spent years taking photography classes and snapping pictures in your spare time – and now you have a stack of prints and hundreds more images filling your hard drive or stored on CDs. You might have a few framed photos, but for the most part, you haven’t spent a lot of time on the final presentation of your work.
Sound familiar? Many prospective photography students are in the same situation. When it’s time to apply to photography schools, though, chances are the admissions department is not going to be impressed to receive a few JPEG attachments or loose prints.
When you apply to a photography program, the admissions requirements are going to include some type of portfolio that showcases your work. Depending on the school, your portfolio might need to be submitted in actual hardcopy form – meaning a professionally printed, mounted and organized book or folder – or electronically, in which case you’ll still need to pay attention to the presentation of your work.
If you’ve never created a portfolio, though, you might be unsure where to start. First, know that your portfolio is designed to showcase all of your abilities, as well as your best work. Carefully read and understand the requirements for your portfolio; some school may specify the type of images to include and the format. You might want to consider some of these tips for creating an impressive portfolio as well.
Choose your strongest work
It might sound obvious, but many photographers make this mistake. One common statement among professional photographers is, “your portfolio is only as strong as your weakest image.” If you aren’t sure which photos are your best, ask for advice from others; ask them to tell you which photos speak to them and are the most visually appealing. Never put two similar images in your portfolio either. Doing so forces the person viewing your work to choose which image they feel is better and detracts from the overall quality of the portfolio. If you have several photos in a series, choose the best and move on.
Strive for professional presentation
When you’re printing snapshots of your vacation to share with friends or put in a scrapbook, the local drugstore or online photo printer is perfectly adequate. But if you are presenting your printed work in a portfolio, you want to use the highest quality materials. Good quality photo paper and professional enlargements highlight your work’s best qualities, and show that you are serious about your craft.
Use a variety of images
Your ultimate career goal may be to work as a fine arts photographer, but when you’re presenting a portfolio for admission to school, you want to show your skills in multiple areas. This means that your portfolio should include: landscapes, portraits, still life, photojournalism and other styles of photography. Include both black and white in addition to color images, and images from a variety of perspectives. The idea is to show your style and understanding of photographic principles.
And when you are organizing your images, avoid placing them into categories. You want to surprise the people looking at your portfolio, and keep them interested and turning pages. Follow a stunning fall foliage shot with a sweet portrait of a child and then a gritty urban landscape.
Include basic information
While the images that you present are going to get the admissions committee’s attention, they also want to know that you have an understanding of photography and how you achieved the photo. Within the portfolio, each image should have a title, as well as a breakdown of the technical specifications of the photo – such as the camera and lenses you used, the shutter speed and focus, plus any special techniques or notes from the shoot. You might also want to include an artist’s statement at the beginning of the portfolio, as well as thumbnails of each of the photos in the portfolio as a table of contents. Finally, choose a cover image that represents the portfolio as a whole; perhaps a self-portrait of you, the artist?
As you move forward in your career as a photographer, your portfolio will become the centerpiece of your marketing efforts and will often be the determining factor in whether you land a job. Take time to present yourself as professionally as possible, and you will land a spot in the photography program and be on your way to a successful career.