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What Makes an Awesome Photography Portfolio

I can still remember when I went in for my first real interview for a co-op placement in high school. All dolled up by my parents, I either looked like I was going to my wedding or I was applying for early acceptance to Harvard.

I’m not sure that the hiring manager noticed that the colour of my shoes matched my belt, or that I was rocking Helvetica on my resumé, but what I know they noticed was that I was well-spoken, and looked like I knew what the hell I was talking about.

You see, this manager had bad previous experience with co-op students, and hadn’t brought anyone on to help out in the last few years because of that. I, however, came highly recommended and so the proverbial door was opened for me to seal the deal.

Needless to say, I not only got the gig, but they ended up offered me a position some 3 months later despite my not having had finished school.

Now before I start bragging, let me digress.

As creatives, we take our work very seriously. We’ve spent time perfecting our craft, have invested countless dollars in applications and equipment, and are the first to brag when we’ve captured that perfect moment.

So when we show off our work online, we have to be very particular about how things look. We know, like my parents did those countless years ago, that you don’t get a second chance at first impression. Do you want a portfolio that is the web-equivalent of having a ketchup stain on your unpressed shirt?

Creating an Awesome Photography Portfolio

Having great photography is a great start to a great portfolio, but do you really want a great portfolio? The presentation of your work shows potential clients that you care about putting that extra into your work.

So in light of having the honour of working with some fantastic photographers on their new portfolios based on Nimbus, we thought we’d share some thoughts on what makes a good photography portfolio.

Get rid of splash pages and music

If you want a potential client’s first impression to be making a decision as to whether they want to enter your site or leave it, you’re doing something wrong. A website isn’t an application on a computer that someone needs to “launch”, so why make someone do so? Instead, get straight to showing off your work.

With flash especially (which we won’t be debating… today), there is a tendency to add music to the site to add to the experience. Now, I understand that music adds a level to the user’s experience, but would you walk into an interview singing Jason Mraz? Probably not. Why not let your photos do the singing? After all, a photo is worth a thousand words, right?

Be picky

When you print out your photos, time is taken to make sure you’ve gotten the image cropped and adjusted properly, you’ll choose what weight and stock you want to print on, whether a border is appropriate, and more. So why put any less effort into your photos online?

Just because it doesn’t cost you $1 to upload each photo to your portfolio, doesn’t mean any less time and care should be put into photos on your online portfolio. Carefully choose what photos you include and don’t include in your portfolio.

Do your clients need to see three detail shots of the bride’s bouquet, or different colour variations of the same shot? Probably not, and by removing duplicates and cutting down on how many photos you include, you reduce the chance of overwhelming others. As is often said about content, take the photos you’d like in your portfolio and cut that number in half. Then do it again!

Speaking of content…

An often overlooked part of your user’s experience throughout the site is the copy (that is, all the text on your site). Make sure you tell people how you do what you do, and more importantly who you are and why you do it.

As my friends The Youngrens said at Partnercon 2011, you are your brand, so make sure you put your best foot forward. Include a photo that is genuine and reflects who you are as an individual. The more you work at making that connection between awesome work and great photography, the better the chance you’ll land the client.

An amazing portfolio isn’t created overnight

You have a choice between fast, good, and cheap – choose two.

Sometimes you might not be in a position to spend lots of money on a custom design for your portfolio, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t have options and that you can’t explore and invest time into something that kicks ass.

Just because you didn’t go to college for design doesn’t mean you can’t make good design decisions. Here are some helpful tips:

  • Consistency is key. Too many times I find portfolios that have their blog on something like WordPress or Blogspot, their portfolio on SmugMug, and their contact forms on ShootQ. But we’re in 2012 now, we’re better than that! Why not use Nimbus (free for life with a ShootQ account!) and keep everything looking the same across every page of your site (and, for you SEO lovers, all under one domain)?
  • Stick to one orientation as much as possible. Since consistency is key, why not keep consistency with your photos? If the majority of people will be looking at your photos on a landscape-oriented monitor (e.g. most desktop and laptop computers), why not keep most of your photos landscape? If you’ve got a large population of people looking at your photos on their phones or tablet devices, you might want to have more portrait photos.
  • Simplify your navigation. Don’t make it hard for your potential clients to find things. Choose navigation items that are easy to understand and get users to where they want to be.
  • Stick to elements and colours that don’t clash with your photos. There’s a reason that most photography portfolios are either black or white. Your design should never take away or distract from your photos, so make sure that whatever colour scheme you go with, it’s one that compliments the colours in your photos and makes going through and viewing photos an enjoyable experience.
  • Keep your portfolio updated. No one wants to see photos you took 10 years ago, make sure your photos are current and you’re proud of what’s on there. Oh, and while we’re on this topic if you already have a portfolio, make sure it now has the year 2012 in the footer!
  • Have your blog on your front page. This was an interesting idea we’ve been seeing more often – why not have your blog on the front page of your site? Blogs are updated a little more often and often document recent photoshoots you’ve done. If you do this, make sure you have some sort of blurb inviting people to see photos in your galleries – otherwise folks might get confused when they see a blog when they were looking for your portfolio!
  • Make sure you’ve got order and flow to your photos! If you’re showing off event shots, have your photos chronologically ordered so your audience can see the progression throughout the event. While on that…
  • Sample galleries are the way to go. Especially if you’re photographing events, show galleries of entire events you’ve shot so people can see that you actually have experience doing 10 hours of straight photography consistently!

Are you ready for your big interview?

Now that you’ve got your site looking straight off of a Calvin Klein runway, you’re ready for your interview! Sure, it can be a nerve-wracking thought being in an interview and not being able to sit with each interviewer to guide them through why you’re the best photographer this side of the world, but if you’ve followed some of the advice above, your portfolio will do all the talking you need it to do to land you the gig!

Good luck out there!

Written by James Costa of The Phuse

James Costa of The Phuse

James is the Creative Director at The Phuse, a design studio that has been working with the team behind Nimbus to create stunning free and custom themes for photographers since 2010.

When not hanging out with his son, James can usually be found looking for his next Apple purchase.

The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!
The NEW ShootQ is Complimentary while in Beta mode for the next few months.  Enjoy!