Photographer Portfolios: What Clients are Actually Looking For

BY Álvaro Díez Valle

Portfolios have always been an essential part of the artist's career. From actors to musicians, they are also fundamental for writers and photographers. Presenting your own work and showing your talent to the world is the best way to attract new clients and grow professionally. In the age of visuals, this has become even more important. We have new, powerful tools, but also new needs and new markets. In other words, new challenges. 

So, how can photographers create the perfect portfolio?

Defining target audience and specialty fields 

First thing’s first: defining your target audience and the photography fields offered should be the first step. Choose a target audience to focus on. There are  photographers who will cover just about anything, which is fine for beginners or newcomers, but with time, all photographers have a chance to define what their field(s) of interest and specialty should be, or what the market requests the most.  

The key to a fruitful career is combining the photographer’s passions with the demands of different audiences. A portfolio with too many examples of too many different styles will lack direction and specialization. A photographer trying to reach every single sector simultaneously might end up not finding anyone at all.

Photography specialty fields and target audience will influence the way a portfolio should be organized as well as the tone used throughout. Should it come across as artistic? Minimalistic? Sober? 

Defining your brand

After defining an audience and specialty field, the next question should be:  “What do I actually include in my portfolio?”

Highlighting a photographer’s best work is an essential component of a strong portfolio, which should also offer prominent examples of previous assignments - the best shots of their career. And if possible, the portfolio should include a good number of pictures per specialty field, it should be an accurate representation of the photographer’s background and previous experiences. Often, photographers’ websites do not advertise all of the genres they offer, and while it is better to limit the number of specialty fields and services (as mentioned above), the ones that are available should definitely be mentioned.

Also, sharing complete and updated contact information - including email and telephone number - is really important (and not just a contact form on websites)

German photographers’ websites are great examples of this, as the law requires web owners to show their contact information (in a section called “Impressum”) to protect users. Unintentionally, this makes it a lot easier to get in touch with them. Well played, Germany!

In addition, it is important to add equipment and license information to attract the right genres or clients (real estate, underwater, drone…), along with an introduction, to give your portfolio a personalized touch

Finally, the more consistent the content the better. For example, offering both boudoir and children photography (yes, it’s happened!) can be confusing. Websites that work best offer complementary or compatible services - food and real estate photography, real estate and drone, weddings and portraits. 

Finding the “Perfect” Platform

Establishing which platform or medium should be used to showcase a portfolio requires a lot of consideration. Here are some of the options available for photographers: 

  • Using your own website 

Creating a website is by far the best option to showcase a photographer’s portfolio and get established as a professional. A well-designed, well-organized website can add credibility and showcase creativity, while being a practical way to get visitors to browse, get acquainted with the work and options, and eventually get in touch to offer a job. Websites can also feature links to complementary social media pages (LinkedIn, Instagram, or Behance/Wix - specifically designed to showcase portfolios …)

  • Social Media

Instagram has become a platform of choice for many photographers for two main reasons. Firstly, Instagram makes engagement and interaction with clients and bystanders easy. Secondly, it increases visibility, especially when the profile is linked to a main website or portfolio. Although considered more “old-fashioned”, having a Facebook page is great to expand reach and attract a wider audience, and LinkedIn is essential to leave a mark as a professional. It’s important to note that no matter how useful social media is, it should never be the sole outlet of a portfolio. The low-resolution picture quality, the option to publish random comments, and inconvenient or controversial use of hashtags (e.g. political) could come across as unprofessional and unreliable. 

  • Other Options

Of course, photographers can always resort to a classic PDF portfolio. A CV may not always be useful, but a PDF with photos and links can be useful to have around and update regularly. Design and presentation are essential to present a relevant PDF portfolio, especially for certain fields (portrait, interior design, fashion, product…). 

The bottom line is that while there is no magic formula to create a perfect portfolio, a few ground rules will definitely lead to successful results. Understand your target audience and communicate your fields of specialty as clearly as possible. Invest in a website of your very own, and rely on social media and other outlets for extra support. Show your best photos. Make yourself easily reachable and accessible. And while making it as a professional freelance photographer can be tough, a great portfolio can go a long way to acquire more clients. So good luck to all the pros out there. Go get ‘em!

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