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The process of selecting images for a strong & coherent portfolio

Portfolios have always been the true photographer’s business card.

By portfolio, I’m referring to

  • a physical printed portfolio that you can take to meetings and give to potential clients
  • an online “Portfolio” page on your photography website
  • a homepage slider (which acts as a “best-of” portfolio of your work)

Properly choosing your portfolio images is important, but also very difficult.

Let’s explore some tips you can use to help you in your process of selecting the right images.



1. Whom are you selecting images for?

Having a clear purpose for your portfolio (and your website as a whole) and understanding what your ideal customer’s needs, will help guide your image selection process.

This is a common problem when trying to promote multiple photography specialties on the same website. I doubt your wedding clients will be interested in your great architecture photos (for example).

So first define your target audience, think about displaying your work in a single or multiple photography websites, and only then start selecting your portfolio images.


2. Go through your image archive and make an initial selection

Don’t hold back at this stage, just go ahead and chose all the images that you think are good candidates for your portfolio. You’ll edit down this set of images later.

And don’t just save links in a text file, actually gather the image files in a folder on your computer, in an Adobe Lightroom album or in a private gallery on your site (so you can easily compare and narrow them down later).

If you already have a public website, try to view your website stats to find images with the most views or sales. They’re probably good ones to pick.

And don’t forget that one of the goals of a good portfolio is to showcase range. You still need to keep it focused on your target audience, but you can show a range of other things: depths of field used, colors, compositions, aspect ratios etc.

So go through all relevant projects in your past, but try to prioritize recent projects.

Don’t worry about their order for now, just focus on choosing the best images out of your archive. You can dedicate some time to sequencing them later.



3. Try to remove yourself emotionally from the process

Once you’ve made that initial selection of images, it’s time to edit down. And you’ll soon discover it’s tough.

You’ll see immediately that some images don’t hold up when compared to others, so you just remove them.

But for other images you’re probably unsure. You might see something in all images, yet you know they’re too many.

So add this to your process: doing nothing for a few days! Being patient and clearing your mind will help you think more objectively. Don’t worry, your subconscious will still be working hard on selecting images :-)


4. Get feedback from trusted people

However experienced you are, it’s hard to judge your own photos objectively. Whenever you create something (writers have the same problem), you get emotionally attached to it and that can skew your perceptions.

Getting outside opinions is, therefore, critical.

Try to think of trusted colleagues, assistants for photo editors you might know that can give you a hand. If you can set-up a proofing gallery where they can privately rate your set of images, perfect.

Otherwise, just create a simple private gallery somewhere, and ask them to choose:

  • their most favorite images (and why)
  • 3 images that should be taken out of the portfolio

And at the end, even though it’s OK to discard other people’s opinions sometimes, gather all the feedback and see if you spot any patterns. Maybe some images are getting frequent praises even if you didn’t consider them special. And maybe some images should be removed even if you were emotionally tied to them for some reason. That’s the clarity that outside feedback can give you.



5. Chose the best ones

Armed with feedback from other people, and with a clear mind after stepping away from the images for a few days, time to make the difficult decisions and just choose the best images.

Don’t be afraid to take images out. Go for quality, not quantity.

If you can’t impress visitors/clients with 10-20 images, you definitely won’t do it with more either. Every single image you choose should have a wow-factor and be technically perfect. There’s no place for “filler” images.

In fact, in a survey PhotoShelter did in 2013 with photo buyers, results were clear:

photoshelter survey buyers images portfolio results

And group images into separate galleries if they don’t have too much in common (like architecture and portraits). They can’t tell a good story if they don’t go well together.



Further learning

To start learning more about this process, this video is exceptional. It’s an interview PhotoShelter’s team did with photo editor Stella Kramer a while ago, it’s full of great advice for building a better online portfolio:

This video interview with Eduardo Angel is excellent as well:

Eduardo also shares the key slides from the presentation in this article and follows it up with this other accompanying article for more advice.

This post offers some excellent advice for putting together a photography portfolio: Tips From a Pro: Build a Better Photography Portfolio

And finally, great pieces of content from Agency Access:


Next steps

Go and build your photography portfolios, by re-reading this whole article and spending some time with all the resources in the “Further learning” section.

Most photographers do this process by themselves, but you can also hire experts to give you a hand. The folks from Agency Access have a service called “Portfolio Build” (look at their before-and-after example towards the bottom of the page to get a good sense of the results). Case studies of their process here.

And after you’ve narrowed down your best images, you should also strategically order them. Learn how to sequence your portfolio (and slideshow images) for maximum visual impact:



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