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What Should Be in Your Online Photography Portfolio

I do this at least once a year to highlight my new favorite images and to represent my most important personal projects. I should start out by saying that this is as much about what should not be in your portfolio as what should be. The statement that "only your best images should be in your portfolio" really is a no-brainer. I'm not one to philosophize and give you all the ins and outs or why and why not of various points of view. I just tell you what does or doesn't work for me.

In Summary - only display your current best images in an online portfolio and delete everything that you're no longer proud of. And most definitely don't put every photo into your public facing portfolio. Showing every museum, meal and hotel from your vacation might be okay for a travel blogger, not for a photographer.

How is my Smugmug Portfolio different from my Imagebrief Portfolio? If you've heard of Getty Images, that is what my Imagebrief portfolio is for - to sell editorial and lifestyle images, but those don't represent my best work; just images that I uploaded to sell for a specific brief. Stock imagery is not and should not be artistic. Imagebrief hosts my "obvious but not interesting" photos. Smugmug hosts my personal favorite and best images, plus images I'm selling as prints. 

Images that I used to think were incredible are often no longer something I'm proud of. Some of my early images do still hold up and those stay. There are many options for hosting your own personal portfolio online. I review other options each year like 500px, Photoshelter, Zenfolio, etc; but Smugmug is my favorite and I can absolutely recommend it. Here are a couple of good reviews between the frontrunners. 

This article isn't about comparing photo hosting solutions though so I'll leave that exposition for another day. There are two general approaches to organizing and presenting your portfolio. There is no right or wrong answer here; just options to consider.

Focused Portfolio

A focused portfolio shows only images in the style you would like to be hired to shoot. Most of us picked up a camera because we wanted to photograph everything all the time. After several stages of evolution we arrive at our own style. If we're honest, that style is usually the thing that gets us the most bookings with clients or the most likes and shares on social platforms. In a more practical sense, it's the thing that gets you paid.  Here are two good examples of a focused portfolio:

When my wife and I were considering a destination wedding I came across James Frost. James' site and portfolio are built around destination wedding photography. More importantly, his style is consistent so clients know what to expect if they hire him.

Tomasz Nowicki does portraits. How do I know? Because his portfolio site makes that obvious. In fact, Tomasz has handy tips on customizing a Smugmug site too so you don't have to just use a pre-baked template.

Generalist Portfolio

A generalist portfolio shows the breadth of styles you like to shoot. My portfolio is of the generalist style and this is the category that most people will fall under. I organize mine by projects or collections I'm working on. Some people organize by locations they have been to or again by the styles of photos they want to be hired to shoot for clients. Here are a few examples from photographers I follow. 

Andy Yee takes a mixed approach with the home page sorted by locations and a prominent tab highlighting commercial clients and projects

Martin Bailey does both with his portfolio featuring both locations and collections.

Alan Shapiro organizes his work strictly by personal projects or collections. 

In my opinion, a well organized generalist portfolio stands out more because you can represent your ability to make a quality image under a variety of conditions. This usually applies to editorial photographers who take pride in being the "swiss army knife" of photographers. If you don't get the "swiss army knife" comparison then... maybe I'm older than I think I am.

Why keep an online photography portfolio?

If your facebook, instagram or pinterest page is the only online presence for your photography...that can work short term but I would recommend against it. On social platforms you and your photos are their product. You want to control how the photos are displayed...and how they are delivered if you are selling the photos.

I keep an online portfolio so there is one central place to send anyone who asks what kind of photography I do. Not to mention that it's just the professional way to do things, and it's so nice to have a platform that I control without the distraction of other articles, promotions, ads and nonsense distracting from the main event. Ultimately that's the main reason to pay attention to what you're sharing publicly and how it's displayed.

Leave a comment or ask a question below. I'm always happy to help or to hear your opinions.

What Should Be in Your Online Photography Portfolio

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