No matter what level we are in our photography game, we all have great and forgetful pieces in the archives. You might realize that a good reference is such a powerful tool in everyday promotion, and visual content creators and artists have a secret weapon called a portfolio, the carefully selected collection of their best work.

Portfolios have many different purposes and they exist in various forms such as Instagram feeds with a consistent look, online galleries, or a collection of prints. If you do not have one yet, I highly recommend you to start the creative process that results in a portfolio that represents the cream of your work.

For creating this blog post, I've teamed up with Digitalab, to show you the opportunities in your portfolio game with a company that has so much experience in presenting high-end photography masterpieces. Digitalab's printing and lab services have recently been voted the best in the UK by the Societies of Photographers. They are offering prints, wall art including framing, and even albums. For my portfolio, they created individual, high-end prints - they offered the complimentary large prints shown in this post.

If you are ready, let's create Your professional portfolio together!

Portfolio On Every Platform - Photo by © Reka Csulak

Portfolio On Every Platform - Photo by © Reka Csulak

Select the images

The first step of portfolio making is to sit down in front of your computer and go through all of your images. It's a very useful exercise to review our own work time-to-time and realize our strengths and weaknesses, so take your time and complete this important task.

If you're shooting multiple fields, for example, food and weddings at the same time, let's separate them by the different target audiences. In the catalog of Adobe and other editing software, you can flag/give a color code to the images you will use in your portfolio.

Most of us remember the struggle of finding our signature style as a beginner. I have some good news: this exercise could help you to discover some patterns or repeating elements that make the viewers -including you- feel, that the images they're looking at are created by the same artist who has a recognizable style.

If you are unsure about your selection, simply ask your friends or even create a poll on social media and let your audience be your judge. You will definitely benefit from the constructive criticism of other creatives.

Gather the selected masterpieces into one folder... maybe we can name it: 'Portfolio'. Make sure you allow yourself to honestly feel proud of it!

The last step is to narrow down the selection of so many great images. I highly recommend having a look at others' portfolios. How many images do they use? What type of images do they include? How do they organize or group their images? In general, let's reduce the number of images to 15-20 for each field you shoot, but there are successful photographers with even bigger collections too. If you need to cover a very specific field -for example, commercial-style beverages- let's choose less, something between 8-12.

Digital or prints?

You need to make a decision on how you present the portfolio to your audience, clients, partners, or publishers.

The most common version of a portfolio is a digital gallery with your best images. You can publish it on your own website, curate a beautiful gallery on your social media or you can use an online portfolio service. Easily send the URL to anyone in seconds, so they can enjoy instant access to your portfolio. Arrange the images into a beautiful grid, maybe add a modern scroll or hover animation that makes it stand out from the crowd of static galleries. Visit my digital portfolio, and see how I did it.

Screenshot from my digital portfolio - Photo by © Reka Csulak

Screenshot from my digital portfolio - Photo by © Reka Csulak

At the same time, keep in mind that the photographs you take for clients will often end up in magazines, brochures, books, or as a banner. A digital portfolio cannot always represent the quality you can provide for these purposes. Depending on the type of work you normally do, it is worth considering having a printed portfolio too.

We are living in the digital age, everything is preferred to be presented online, be stored in cloud storage, and be delivered in virtual form, but never underestimate the power of high-quality prints you can hold in your hand while letting your eyes discover each picture without the influence of unnatural tones that could appear on the screen of electric devices.

Imagine an in-person negotiation with a potential client or a publisher who might include your work in the next issue of a high-end magazine you dreaming about for such a long time. They meet you because they want to see more than they already found online... so this is a great opportunity to present your printed work which instantly becomes your best reference.

Sometimes agencies ask for the printed portfolio of photographers before they make a decision who will win a photoshoot. It would be such a shame to miss an important deadline or the whole opportunity just because you do not have the printed version of your best images.

A printed portfolio might land you a dream opportunity that could boost your career by making your clients feel they are dealing with a person who has attention to detail, provides transparency, takes the business seriously and makings all the effort to work on their brief. Be this person!

Paper, size, and finishes

Your photography makes you memorable, but you need to choose materials the images will be printed on very carefully. The printing company you are working with will give you expert advice regarding your needs, but let's see some considerable attributes.

Paper type can be various at different suppliers, but I highly recommend the paper of my prints: Fujifilm's Crystal Archive Maxima, which is an Ultra HD photographic paper, the best for high-end prints.

The size of the portfolio is very important, it should be large enough to show details and the quality of your work, but at the same time, it needs to be compact enough to easily get shipped to your publisher, client or to be carried for a meeting. Regarding the aspect ratio of my photos is 2:3 my prints are 18"x12" big, this way they are large enough and did not lose information by cropping.

The finishes can be varied from matte to gloss. A matte finish is so popular, it compliments artistic work the most and at the same time, it does not collect fingerprints. Gloss finish translates colors very rich, the best for presenting commercial work, but be careful: the glossy surface is collecting fingerprints much easier. My prints' are somewhere between the two, they got a semi-gloss finish called 'lustre'.

My portfolio has been printed by Digitalab. They are not only the sponsors of this blog post but truly a professional business with one of the friendliest customer support I've ever dealt with. They had really good recommendations regarding the paper type and size that would compliment my photos. They also suggested the semi-gloss finish that won't collect thousands of fingerprints while being hand-handled. The prints arrived very fast, safe in a protective package. If you are looking for printing services, Digitalab is already tested by me and I'd highly recommend their services because I believe you would be satisfied too with the quality they provide.

The ways to present Your prints

You have multiple options to display a printed portfolio, let's see what to consider before you choose one.

The most flexible way to create your printed portfolio is the collection of loose prints. You can easily add new photos by the time, modify the order of the images, narrow down the selection to a specific theme or style depending on the partner you are presenting your portfolio to. Maybe the only thing you are thinking about is: how to keep the loose prints safe and organized? Well... simply place them into a special portfolio folder with sleeves or use a beautiful presentation box designed for your prints. You can add your branding too which makes it even more unique and professional. I also love the fact that I can pick a few images from the collection anytime to decorate my studio.

Prints On My Wall - Photo by © Reka Csulak

Prints On My Wall - Photo by © Reka Csulak

The next option is the printed portfolio book or album. This is a gorgeous way to archive and presents your work. Many companies offer an online editor to upload your photos and organize them on the available pages, which makes portfolio books very unique. The only negative side of these albums is that once they are printed, you cannot add images or modify their order later.

Additional ways to stay memorable

I hope the following tips will answer some leftover questions regarding the order of pictures, self-promotion, and other considerations.

  • I group the images by colors in my portfolio, so I create an order and a visually curated collection at the same time. You can also group them by the type of hero or separate commercial from editorial style.
  • Do not show the strongest images at the beginning of your portfolio, but spread them through the collection. You cannot really control your viewer, they might start checking the portfolio from the end. Make sure the start and end of the collection are both contain the best of your work.
  • Include a business card with your contact details or even a leaflet with selected images and your services so your partner can keep it after returning your portfolio.
  • Some of your clients want to work with you because they love your own visual style. Let them see some of your personal projects incorporated into the collection of professional work because these images tell more about your own style and creative solutions than the ones created along with strict brief guidelines.
  • Consider including multiple angles, crops, and orientation.
  • Don't be afraid to ask for feedback and critique, the best place to do that is Facebook groups specialized in different fields of photography.

Send me YOUR portfolio! I'd be happy to see what you created!