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Have you ever walked into a room because you had to go get something and by the time you got there, you forgot what you were supposed to get? I don't know about you but this happens to me all the time! It's happened so frequently lately that I started ...

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What Makes an Image Portfolio Worthy?

Author: Tony Colangelo

While many photographers rely heavily on social media to market themselves, I believe there is still plenty of value in having a dedicated website with great photo galleries. There are far too many benefits of having a strong website to rely entirely on social media (i.e., increased credibility, focused attention on you and your best work; owning your domain, capacity to climb to the top of online searches; etc.)

When determining the "worthiness" of a photo for your website, it's essential to appreciate that not only does your site act as a repository for your best work, your galleries serve as a conduit for communicating key messages about you and your work to a prospective client. The first key message it conveys to the marketplace is: "This is what you can expect if you hire me for a photo shoot." As Mike Kelley has said many times: "What you have in your portfolio is what you're going to get hired to shoot."

Establishing a good website gallery is about you taking ownership of the type of work you want to be known for. Yes, you can take pride in the number of "likes" you get on Instagram for various images, but if you're using the likes you receive to qualify photos for your website--or even worse, how "gushy" your friends and family get when showing them some of your photos--then you're not really taking ownership of the content of your site. So, how do we determine which of our photos are "portfolio worthy"? I'd like to suggest a few considerations.

Variables in Determining "Portfolio Worthy"

The first one, of course, is that it has to be representative of your best work. I know many of you right now, are saying, "Well, duh! Isn't that obvious!?" Yes, you'd think so but you'd be amazed at how many photographers whom I've spoken to that, when I've asked about why a particular photo is in their gallery, have given the following responses:

  1. "Well, Tony, that's the very first photo that I took as a professional photographer, so I'm sentimental about it."
  2. "My spouse loves that photo!"

Clearly, these are not good reasons for including a photo on a website!

One of the best ways to deem a photo portfolio-worthy is to examine your answers to two important questions:

1) Does the photo stand out on its own?

  • The answer to this question is usually driven by those things that you'd expect to see in a good photo, including great composition, tack sharpness, proper white balance and color; striking contrast/blacks, and so on. When a photo passes the test on the first question, then that same photo must also pass muster on the second question: 

2) Does the image add to the quality of my gallery, as a whole? 

  • This is a subtle but essential question. Case in point, you might have a photo of a master ensuite that is really great because of its stunning shadows that create a dark, moody image. However, if every other image in your gallery is bright and airy, then it's not really adding to the whole. Indeed, having a single dark and moody photo in your gallery, even though it might be a strong image on its own, will make that photo stick out like a sore thumb and take away from the effectiveness of the gallery.

Another key variable to consider is the diversity of photos within your gallery. By this, I mean an ability to show different types of homes, rooms/spaces, lighting situations, and so on. Ideally, you want the prospective client who is viewing your site to be thinking, "Yeah, this person has clearly shot many types of homes and I'm confident they have the chops to handle any type of listing that I throw at them." If all the photos in your galleries are clearly from only one or two houses, then you run the risk of sending a message to the viewer about a lack of experience which might negatively influence their decision to hire you. This point leads me to what, in my opinion, is the most important consideration when reviewing which images you want to put on your website:

What Are You Trying to Communicate?

The photos in our galleries communicate a wealth of information to any prospective client who's going through our website. Taken collectively, a narrative is communicated about who you are as a photographer and the types of images you're likely to deliver if hired for a job. Are you consciously aware of what your photos are trying to communicate to your marketplace? Do you have a sense of the types of photos that you want to be known for?

If you haven't given this much thought before, then try this assignment: Go through your website and select your twenty best photos and place them into a collage of sorts. Ideally, it would be best if you were to print each one on glossy photo paper, with your printer set to have each image fill the page. Then, after printing all of them, pin them to an empty wall. If you're not wanting to use all that ink, then try to get two or four pics to a page; or, at the very least, develop a contact sheet of sorts, which is something you can do in Photoshop (File > Automate > Contact Sheet II; and then fill out the dialogue box for sizing your selected photos onto one or two pages).

Once you have your "collage" of photos, spend some time with them. Examine them; truly study them. Then, wait a day or two before you look at them again. Once you've had some time away, take a minute or two to review them again and then, speaking out loud to yourself (I know that sounds odd but trust me on this one), state 4-5 things that they have in common– i.e., what themes are evident to you about your own work? Beyond the practical feedback that you'll get from this exercise (e.g., seeing if you have too many of one type of shot; getting clarity on a "color pallet"; preferred focal lengths, etc.), going through this exercise will likely give you a clearer sense of your preferred "look-and-feel" for your images. This awareness is one of the foundational pieces in a photographer's brand

How Your Galleries Contribute to Your Brand

Typically, four core questions are asked to guide the branding process for a professional photographer and there is usually a strong correlation between the clarity of the answers to these questions and the strength of one's brand. The questions are:

  1. Who am I?
  2. What do I do best (e.g., what do I love to shoot?)
  3. What makes me different?
  4. Why should a potential customer care?

Consciously or sub-consciously, your gallery images can affect the way your prospective clients will answer each of these questions but particularly so with question #2. Not only should your galleries communicate the types of images you'll likely be delivering to your clients, ideally, your gallery should also be showing the types of images you love to capture. Indeed, if you hate shooting everything as wide-angle as possible, why would you have most/all of the images in your galleries showing only ultra-wide angle shots? Yes, you might have to shoot some homes ultra-wide because that's what your client wants and you deliver on this because you have to pay the bills. However, in the long run, if you fill your galleries with images that highlight your own look and feel, the odds are good that you're going to attract clients who also appreciate that aesthetic and want it for their own listings. This is why folks like Scott Hargis and so many other notable photographers in our community have regularly stated on PFRE the importance of shooting things the way you want to shoot them.

Anyway, while there are a number of additional factors at play in developing one's portfolio, I hope the considerations discussed in this post will be helpful to you if you're in the midst of updating/refreshing your own website galleries.

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