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An amazing portfolio can be your entrée into better quality and higher-paying assignments. Along with great work, presentation is the key.  Here are some ideas on how to rework, rev-up and rejuvenate to build a truly awesome portfolio.

Common Mistakes

Some of the most frequent mistakes photographers make when creating their portfolios include:

Similar Photos

Don’t include photos that were shot all at the same time with slightly different angles. This will not highlight your full range of capabilities.

Uneven Placement

Loading up the front end of your book with the best and shoving in some so-so shots in at the end will not go unnoticed even with the most inexperienced art director and editor. According to photo expert Lara White, Of Photography Mint, “The quality of your work will be judged by your weakest image.” (1

Lazy Editing

Digital photography lends itself to overshooting to say the least. And, being so close to your work, you probably find it tough to edit it down. Ask a highly regarded friend or colleague to give you some honest input. (2) 

Start Clean

Zero Out!

Beginning with a clean slate will inspire you to clarify and focus on the style and direction you want your portfolio to showcase.

Pick a Niche

With the advent of digital technology, the photo industry has become saturated with professionals and wannabes alike. Selecting a specific category will also help to focus on creating the ultimate portfolio. If you still want to stay broad with your shooting, be sure to have separate portfolios for each body or work.

See more: Photography Niches: Importance of Exploration

Keep It Fresh

Like fashion, photo styles come and go rather frequently. Is your current work looking too “last season”? Or, maybe you’ve got a few awesome food shoots and realize this is the direction you want to pursue. Shooting new work and testing out lighting techniques and styles will also show your range of expertise.

blonde woman laying on blue sheet

Online Portfolio vs. Printed

Having both a hardcopy showcase and an online presence is a must in today’s market. Here’s why:

Print Portfolio

Many agencies still practice the “leave behind” where they’ll call in books from photographers and ask you to leave it for several days to over a week. Photo editors will want to see that you know how to account for ink absorption and color shifts in the printing process.

Retouching Involved?

You’ll definitely want to have both digital and prints on hand. This will also highlight your skills in color correction for both these spaces. Invest in a quality portfolio case or mount your photos professionally to enhance the images.

Digital Portfolio

The ease of quickly sending a link to your work makes an online portfolio a necessity and dashing over to an agency’s office with your iPad in hand is so convenient. Many photographers take the DIY approach and brag how they had their site up and running in an hour. This may get you a basic portfolio however it’s not going to show you at your best. Remember, if someone is taking time out of their schedule to look at your work, you better make it count.

model in yellow dress

  • Take the Time – Take a week, or more, to learn website technology and understand how best to highlight photography in the digital realm. WordPress is easy-to-learn with thousands of portfolio-style themes to choose from.
  • Design – Browse through other photographers’ websites to get a feel for how others present their work and choose a design that stands apart yet suits your work.
  • Hire a Professional – Have a little more in your budget to hire a professional? You’ll benefit from having an expert who can create a custom design to distinguish your brand as well as the knowledge to optimize the site for search engines. (3)

How Many Pieces Should My Portfolio Have?

Most experts recommend 12-15 shots ideally however a strong portfolio with an amazing body of work can contain as many as 20 images. No matter what size you decide on, keep in mind the following tips: 

Rhythm & Pacing

Put your best shots in the front, middle and end of the book.

Choose A Format

Be sure not to switch between horizontal and vertical. 


Cheryl Woods

Cheryl Woods is an accomplished photographer, designer and branding consultant with a career spanning 20+ years. Her photographic work includes editorial, fashion, portraiture and product photography for major companies in the consumer products field including QVC and Hanover Direct. She received a B.F.A. in Photography from the University of the Arts and an M.F.A. in Media Design from Full Sail University. Cheryl's work has been exhibited at the Lowes Museum of Art in Coral Gables, FL, The New York Independent Film Festival and the Rosenwald Wolf Gallery in Philadelphia, PA. Check out her website here!


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