Creating a Portfolio That Gets You Hired: 5 Tips from a Photographer and Photo Editor

Your portfolio can quickly make or break the decision of whether a prospective client wants to hire you.  I've spent the last 10 years as a freelance photographer, shooting top musicians and celebrities and working for world renowned magazines, ad agencies and brands. However, before I went freelance, I was a magazine designer and photo editor. Because I've worked on both sides of the hiring process (A. hiring photographers as a photo editor, and B. hoping photo editors would hire me as a photographer), I've learned a lot about how to create a photo portfolio website that get you hired. Here are my top 5 rules for creating a photo portfolio that will work for you:

#1. Show Only The Work You Want To Shoot

When creating your portfolio, it's tempting to include a little bit of everything you've ever shot. Especially when you are first starting out, it's easy to think that you should show as much work as possible, to show how much experience you have. However, you should only include the photos that are examples of things you would want to shoot again. Thank you to Mark Jenkinson, one of my professors from NYU Tisch School of the Arts, for passing along this gem. The problem with showing work you don't like shooting is that prospective clients will see those photos and assume (understandably) that you would want to shoot work like that again. By only showing work you would want to get hired to do again, your perspective clients will be more likely to hire you for work you actually want to be doing. It's something that I think about every time I create my portfolio. And even though I know how important this is, I still struggle with the temptation to include everything and have to really push myself through the process of only showing the work I want to do again.

#2. Make Sure Your Best Work is Shown in the First 10 Seconds

When I was working as a photo editor, there were times that I had to find a photographer so quickly that I would open up ten different photographer's websites, check out the first page or two, and make a decision after only a brief look at each site. For this reason, you should make sure that within 5-10 seconds, your website shows off your best work. Don't bury your favorite shoot in a subsequent gallery, because there's a chance that it won't ever get seen. Portfolios that begin on a collage-style page are great, because photo editors can get an overview of your work within seconds.

#3. Ask a Trusted Person to Select Your Photos

If you aren't sure which photos to include in your portfolio, ask someone else to review your photos and choose their favorites (ideally someone whose taste you trust, such as a photo editor, another photographer, a designer, or anyone who you think would have a good eye for creating a portfolio). When looking through your own photos, it can be hard to be objective. I struggle with this all the time -- I might want to include a particular photo because I have an emotional connection to it. But, it might not be the best photo or an example of work that I would want to shoot again. By having someone else review your photos, they won't have the same emotional connections and can be more objective in their decisions. You don't need to follow exactly what they say, but it can be helpful to see a variety of opinions.

#4. Include Your City In Your Header or Bio

As a photo editor, I often needed to hire a photographer in different cities. Because I mainly lived and worked in Boston and New York, I often started from scratch when looking for a photographers in other cities or countries. I would start with a quick google search, such as "Phoenix, Arizona photographers" or "Paris, France photographers" -- the photographers I ended up hiring all had their city and state clearly labeled on their website. You never know when a magazine or ad agency is looking for a photographer in your city, and doesn't have the budget to fly someone out from LA or NY. 

#5. Print It All Out

When I was in college, I was lucky enough to intern for Jane Magazine (Condé Nastunder photo editors Ash Barhamand and Jen Miller. At the end of my internship, I worked up the courage to ask Jen to help me select the photos for my portfolio. She suggested that I print them all out and bring them in so she could take a look. It was so much easier to sort through my work when I could physically rearrange, remove and organize my photos. You don't need to make huge prints -- 2x3" or 4x6" prints will work fine. Seeing them printed and holding them in your hands will help you make more objective decisions about which photos to include.

If you have questions about making your portfolio, or want feedback on your current photo portfolio site, reach out on Facebook. If you'd like to stay up to date with Diana's blog and work, sign up for the newsletter below!