There are three basic considerations for a strong portfolio, story-line, technical consistency, and clarity of vision. You will often hear the obvious elements like, “Show your strongest work”; “ Start strong and end strong”; and “Be selective”. While each of these are truly good points, what is the criteria for accomplishing each of these? If your portfolio exhibits a story-line, is technically consistent, and has the clarity of your artistic vision, everything else will fall into place. Let’s take a closer look at these three concepts.
First, let’s consider the story-line. The story that you’re telling can be either explicit or abstract. Whether your story takes the form of journalism or poetry, it’s a picture story or photo essay. This story should have a clear beginning, a related middle and an ending. So, when you have photos that look almost identical to each other, make a decision and pick the one that best tell your story. You can always keep those second choices as a “B-roll”. They can come in handy for slide shows or when there’re opportunities to show more photos later.
Technical consistency has two parts. The first is quality of image. This includes the standard stuff like proper exposure and image clarity/focus. The second is presentation format. This will included choosing between black & white and color, presenting prints or electronic slideshow. When speaking about quality of image, we’re basically talking about the beauty of the image. If you have used Photoshop to salvage an image rather than enhance it, that’s a good sign you should not use it. If you’re showing prints, they should be easy to handle by both you and your reviewer. Sizes over 16 x 20 inches may be impressive, but if they’re a hassle to work with because of space consideration, that hassle becomes part of the reviewer’s experience and will take away from the visual impact your images. If you’re showing an electronic portfolio, use a tablet. A laptop can be a space issue like large prints. Using the reviewers computer can become a setup hassle real fast, and should be avoided.
Finally there’s your artistic vision. This is the why you’re doing the work in the first place. If you’ve done your job and homework with the first two aspects, your artistic vision will be self evident. If you’ve presented a clear story-line with well ordered photos that are easy to look and work with your portfolio will generate a conversation. It’s important for the portfolio to start that conversation, not you. Be ready to answer questions in a clear and succinct way that keeps the conversation going. Keep in mind that your artistic vision can be explained from different perspectives, so be authentic and don’t have a script or a single canned answer.
So let’s say the portfolio doesn’t start that conversation. You can ask why, based on the three concepts of story-line, technical consistency, and artistic vision. These answers may at first, seem painful yet they can’t help make your portfolio stronger. They can also help to establish a rapport with the reviewer because now you can comeback for a second chance to impress them and develop a professional relationship.
A portfolio is organic. It changes over time. Yet, it must have a starting point. And, its purpose should exist beyond the ego of the artist. A portfolio must be authentic. Purpose with authenticity will allow the work to stand up to criticism, whether that criticism is good or bad. Criticism will let the artist know if they’re on point or not. For example, an artist may receive a wonderful critique, yet the purpose of the work is misunderstood. So this can actually be a poor critique. On the other hand, the work may make people uncomfortable and their ability to “enjoy” the images difficult. This in fact can be a great critique of the power the work. So, the artist’s intent plays the major role when analyzing a portfolio and it all starts with you.