Create a pitch-ready portfolio with this 5-step process
Curating a portfolio of images is tough. No two ways about it. But thankfully there’s a process to it. And once you know this process, it gets a whole. Lot. Easier. We’re going to break it down together step by step.
I know that dread. I know it well. You have a new opportunity – a pitch, or an application – and you need to pull together a portfolio of work to go with it. This portfolio is going to say something big about you. In fact, it says everything about you as a photographer. No pressure, right?
And icing on the cake… You have hundreds, even thousands of images that need to be whittled down to the dozen or so that will be the key to this door of opportunity.
How are you supposed to pull out only the best?!
The questions start spiralling in your mind:
Which of them even are your best? Which of them go well together, add on one another? How many photos is enough and too much to include? How should you order them? What is your portfolio supposed to say about you?
It's tempting to just slump down in your chair at this point. I know it's not easy… but this is so doable.
You just need a process to tackle this task piece by piece. And I outline that process for you in this episode.
Get Jaymi's “5 Step Portfolio Editing Worksheet”
In this episode I walk you through each step of the 5 step process, which includes:
- Determining your portfolio’s purpose – who is going to see it and what response do you want to get from them?
- The wide edit – Pulling a big selection of the best, to make sure your final portfolio really shows off the diversity of style, skill and content that you have in your archive
- The final edit – The images that will ultimately make up your final portfolio. This is where you want to loop in friends over coffee (or whiskey… whiskey works too) and get their feedback
- Ordering your images – Create a visual flow or a story flow for your portfolio of images
- Reorder and Review – The fine tuning happens here but only after you take two very important steps.
This episode is sponsored by:
Our episode sponsor is Wild Idea Lab, my membership community where conservation visual storytellers find creativity, community and support for their wildest work. Wild Idea Lab is designed specifically for emerging and established photographers, filmmakers, and artists working in conservation and science communication. With monthly masterclasses, live events, community engagement and so much more, members from around the world accelerate their growth as creatives and find their place in a network of colleagues and friends. Whether just starting out or you’ve been a pro for years, Wild Idea Lab has the resources you need to do more, and go farther with your work.
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Let me set the scene. You sit down to your laptop on a mission. You're gonna pull together a selection of your past work for someone. Let's say it's an editor who's interested in seeing more from a story that you're working on or it's a potential client, and they're considering you for this really cool opportunity.
You sit down and you pull up your catalogue of images and WHAM! Brick wall.
There are thousands of images in there. How are you supposed to pull out the best? Which of them even are your best? Which of them go well together and add to one another? How many photos is enough and too much to include? How should you order them? What is your portfolio supposed to say about you?
You slowly close your laptop and walk away.
Curating a portfolio of images for whatever reason, is tough. There is no two ways about it, but there's a process to it. And once you know this process, it gets a whole lot easier. We're gonna break it down together right now.
Welcome to impact the conservation photography podcast. I'm your host, Jamie Hein Buck, and if you are a visual storyteller with a love for all things wild. Then you're in the right place, from conservation to creativity, from business to marketing and everything in between. This podcast is for you conservation visual storyteller who is ready to make an impact. Let's dive in.
You would think that after all the planning and the shooting and the processing of your images, that the hard part's over, right? Actually, one of the most important and difficult steps still awaits you, polishing your portfolio into a tight, cohesive, effective set of images. Oh, it's agonizing, but it is a vital part of high quality visual storytelling.
And trust me, it may be tough work, but it is so very much worth the time and the effort. Plus, it can be fun.
I remember one of the most enjoyable nights that I've ever had at a conference was after everything ended, Ah, group of maybe five or six of us went back to a hotel room, and one of us was trying to pull together a portfolio of images and was struggling. So we had a bottle of whiskey and all of us sat around and we just through in our two cents and we worked on reorganizing and we said, Well, what about this image over that one? No no no. Keep that one and back and forth and back and forth and it was a blast, and that person polished up a portfolio, turned it in, and she got the exact response that she was hoping to get for this portfolio.
So the work can be a blast, especially when you involve a group of creative, opinionated friends and a bottle of whiskey. But inhibitions lowered or not, we can ease the difficulty by breaking the whole process down into five manageable steps.
Also, I have something special for you when you're going through the process. It's really easy to get lost in the weeds, So I made you a free downloadable worksheet that guides you through the steps that we're going to go over right now. It's so helpful to print that out and have it next to you as you go through the portfolio editing process so that you stay focused and you stay out of all of the overwhelmed so you can grab that free download at JaymiH.com/3. That's J A Y M I H dot com forward slash three Just the number three for this episode. You'll find this link in the show notes, too.
All right, let's dive into those five steps.
The first step in editing a perfect portfolio is to know your portfolios purpose. So before you even get started on any of the image stuff, you need to know why you are editing your portfolio. Who will ultimately see this portfolio and what is your goal for how that person responds. So is it a fast work portfolio that you're gonna put on your website where potential clients could see it? Or are you trying to get a stock agency to accept you as a contributor? Or is this a photo portfolio that will go with a grant application? Are you pitching a story to a magazine editor, or is this a photo essay for a competition?
Knowing why you are creating a portfolio will drive the selections that you make and the narrative that you build when you order your images. So it might seem like this is the stuff that you just quickly want to brush past. But when you take the time to really consider who is seeing the work and what you want from them. Then you'll enter the entire process with a clear head and a reference point in case you start to feel lost in the weeds during the process.
Step two is the wide edit. So in this step, you're just pulling in everything that can or should be considered for your portfolio. And likely this is gonna be in the range of maybe 40 to 60 images. You might actually start out with closer to 100 then try and get it down to around 60.
It's really helpful to use a tool like lightroom, where you can use features like flags or star ratings or color labels or other ways to organize your images that you want to mull over in the wide edit. This is your chance to ensure that you're truly grabbing your best work and a diversity of work. So if you're creating a photo essay, are you hitting all the key elements of storytelling? If you're showing your best work, are you including wide shots and detail shots and a range of colors and the right subject matter?
You want to start with that wide edit to make sure that you are pulling in everything that could be a really solid contributor to your final portfolio. Pull images that show the range of your skills and your style while sticking with an overarching theme. And that overarching theme is what you have determined in step number one, your portfolio’s purpose.
Step number three is your final at it. So this is where you really start to fine-tune. And trust me, I know this part might be painful. It is critical at this point to refer back to your portfolios purpose and keep your Why and your Who in mind as you edit. You can't make the correct decisions on which images to include without knowing your viewer and your desired outcome.
And in fact, go ahead and write this out on a post it note and put it next to your computer screen. Or download that free worksheet that I have for you and write it out on that and put it next to you at your computer as you go through this final edit, because every time you feel stuck in narrowing down your selection to the very best images re reading that who and that why is gonna help refocus you.
So as you go through that all those images that you pulled in the maybe 60 images or so that you pulled in from your wide at it well, you're going to do is start eliminating any image that is redundant of a stronger image in content. So if you have several images that are really similar, maybe they're near frames or the content is really similar. You're gonna take the best of that and keep it and anything that is the weaker of these redundant images. Those get booted out.
You're also going to eliminate any image that cannot hold its own if it is viewed on its own. So unless it is a very critical part of the story, any image that if you were to just come across that image randomly in a public place and you're like, uh huh, then that one gets booted out, you want images that are strong in and of themselves and will contribute to the overall portfolio.
You'll also eliminate any image that stands out from the others in a really jarring way, and that might be in terms of style or content. or quality anything that really is like a sore thumb in your portfolio. For whatever reason, it might be a strong image on its own, but it doesn't play nice with the other images. Those get eliminated.
So it might be helpful right now to pull in a friend or two into this process. You can meet at a coffee shop or, as I mentioned, works for me. You guys pile out at a coffee table with a bottle of whiskey, whatever it is that works for, you talk through the pros and the cons of certain images and listen to their input about your work. And I mean really listen. They're gonna help you look past the emotional attachments that you might have to certain images and select what is truly your best work.
And when I say pull in friends into this process, they don't have to be photographers. In fact, it's great if they aren't because they can really critically look at an image and whether it speaks to them or not, and give some really insightful, honest feedback that could be super helpful.
The final number of images in your portfolio is going to depend on your goal, so typically, a portfolio has between 12 to 25 images. But the specific number of images that you'll end up with will be based on whether or not you've been given a requirement by a photo editor or grant guidelines or so on. So just decide what it is that works best for you. But typically you're looking at narrowing this down to 12 to 25 images.
Step number four after you've narrowed it down to that number of images is to order your images. So there are several ways to approach ordering your images. And again, it's based on your ultimate goal. So that's why step number one man that is a critical stop. Don't blow past that one.
So it can be based on story flow or on visual flow.
If you're pitching a story or you're trying to win a grant, you're probably gonna go with a story flow. You'll consider how you make a great first impression with a bold What I call a hero image at the beginning, like this is a a bold, really interesting, engaging image that kind of sums up what will come later in the rest of the portfolio you might introduce the characters, and then you'll build tension and you'll provide visual diversity throughout your portfolio while continuing to advance that plot or that story flow.
On the other hand, if you are building a best of portfolio for your website or for a stock agency or a potential client, you're probably gonna go with ordering your images with a visual flow. And with this approach, you're going to take into account things like subject matter, color palette and other aspects of style. That move of you were really seamlessly from one image to the next, providing what I call cohesive diversity. So it's gonna be a flow where it makes a lot of sense visually to move from one image to the next, and you still might choose maybe a softer, more calm image. And then you'll follow that up with something that might be more bold or interesting, to create that kind of emotional diversity of reaction and also in a way that shows the diversity of style.
So as you build your flow, you're not gonna put five images that all look really similar together, and then all of a sudden, boom, we're looking at five images that are of a very different style. You want to mix everything up into a visual flow, use a tool like white room collections to drag and drop your images, and you can reorder them super quickly and easily as you change your mind throughout this process.
Step number five is to review and reorder. So once you've completed the ordering of your images that initial ordering and step for you're gonna do two things. One is you're going to get honest feedback. So, son, the portfolio as you've ordered it to at least two people who you trust to give you honest feedback and step number two is you're going to give your eyes and mind a break like a really solid break. Wait at least three hours and honestly, I'd say 24 hours before you look at your portfolio again because you're gonna want to go back in with a fresh outlook and make really savvy decisions about swapping. The images are changing the order. You want to really give your mind in your eyes a breather. Fresh eyes are really important.
And there you have it. A cumbersome and often emotionally difficult process is far easier when you can take it step by step. So let's review those steps again.
Step number one is you're gonna look at your portfolios purpose. Why are you creating it? Who's going to see it and what do you want as a reaction from them?
Step number two is your wide at it, so you'll pull together anything that should be considered for that final portfolio, which is usually 60 images or so.
Step number three is your final edit, so you're going to select only the best of the best and narrow it down to maybe 12 to 25 images.
Step number four is to order those images and based on your portfolios purpose. You are looking at ordering it and either a story flow or a visual flow.
And step number five is to review and reorder based on honest feedback from people who you trust to give you true, even if it is tough love feedback but true and honest feedback. And after you have given your eyes in your mind a break.
Easy as pie, right?
Now remember, you can grab that free downloadable worksheet that will help walk you through this process and Trust me, it is so much easier when you have something to refer back to during what can be an overwhelming and arduous task. You can grab that free download in the show notes here. Or you can go to Jaymi, J A Y M I dot com forward slash three. Thank you so much for tuning in, and I will talk to you next week.
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