How to make a photography portfolio
A portfolio is an essential part of running your photography business. Find out how to create a photography portfolio in a flash with our dedicated guide
You’ve got a collection of amazing shots, each telling a story and perfectly composed. But they may be currently stored on a memory card, or need to be developed. That’s why you need a portfolio – as a way to document your work in a central location, and share it easily with potential clients.
And while you have plenty of creative skills and technique, what you may need more help with are the business aspects of being a freelancer, or running your own photography business – especially if you’re making a professional portfolio for the first time.
In this guide, we offer the key information and best practices that you should know in order to create your own photography portfolio.
This includes photography portfolio examples for inspiration, as well as a case study from a photographer. And while we mainly focus on how to create an online photography portfolio, we’ll touch upon other formats, too.
1. Focus on your goals
Before you even get started on creating your photography portfolio, take a moment to establish your goals. Whether you want to grow your business or pitch to particular clients, it’s useful to have clear goals in mind, and build your portfolio around them.
London-based advertising and lifestyle photographer Jon Enoch has run his own photography business for 11 years, and believes that a portfolio is the most important marketing asset a creative business can have.
Enoch says: “When you run a creative business, prospective clients want to see what you do in an easy-to-view format – whether that's a website or a physical book.”
2. Identify your specialism and audience
Be specific about the type of photographic services you offer e.g. wedding, fashion, commercial. This can help to unify your portfolio, as well as help you when selecting individual images.
In turn, you can know who’s most likely to view your portfolio based upon your specialism, and you can create your portfolio with your target audience in mind.
For example, an event planner looking for a photographer for a wedding and an editor seeking a photographer to shoot a feature are likely to have very differing expectations.
3. Do your research
Spend some time looking at how other photographers present their work – assess what you can learn from them, and importantly, what you could do better.
For photography portfolio ideas, look at both portfolios of photographers who have a similar specialism to you, as well as from those that have differing styles, to learn about other approaches.
4. Curate your images
Images are the foundation of your portfolio, so be sure to dedicate plenty of time to this crucial step.
Not only is this about choosing your best photos, but also picking images that show your range and creativity – it should be easy to tell the differences between each of the shots.
If you already have images from client commissions, then choose from these – if you’re new, you can do shoots for free or reduced rates to bolster your portfolio.
Even your best images could do with a boost, and that’s where editing steps in, letting you show your work at the highest standard possible. If you haven’t already, it’s worth spending some time editing your images – check for optimum definition, colour and light balance.
You may already have a favourite editing programme, but if not, or if you’re looking to change, some of the most popular choices include:
- Adobe Lightroom
- Adobe Photoshop
- Corel PaintShop Pro
- Skylum Luminar
Put your strongest images at the start and end of the page, so that even people who scroll quickly through your site can see your best work.
You might want to provide short explanations of the shots. Although captions can be helpful to give context about an image, don’t let this take the attention away from your images.
Aim for up to 20 photos per category of each type of photography that you offer.
Enoch’s advice: “What you're really selling is yourself, how you work and your unique style – so you need to look at how it's presented. Clients buy into you as a creative, whether that's your photography, design work or illustration, so think how you can get that across.”
5. Choose a specialist web builder
You want your hard work and amazing images to be supported by a website that prioritises creative requirements, so it’s key to find a web builder that’s best suited to displaying photography portfolios.
Squarespace photography website builder has a strong focus on design, and it’s our top choice for photography portfolios. It offers stylish templates with plenty of features that a photographer would appreciate, including the ability to display your images as a full-screen slideshow or a lightbox.
Not only can it help your images to look great, but the social media integrations (including Instagram, Flickr and SmugMug) can help your work to reach as many people as possible.
In general, website builders are really easy and accessible to use, whatever your level of tech knowledge.
Squarespace pricing begins at £10 per month (when paid annually), and a free trial is available.
- Squarespace website builder review
- Best photography website builders
Enoch comments: “Money invested into a well-presented and easy to use website will reward you many times over.”
6. Add other pages and elements
After choosing a website theme and customising your settings, you’ll need to add some extra information, such as an ‘about you’ section and contact information.
Although your images are the main part of your portfolio, these two pages can help to show your personality and to help potential clients reach you. For the contact page, you should include the locations you’re available to shoot in, along with your other contact information too.
If you offer multiple photographic services, you can use categories to divide your work into relevant sections e.g. food, landscapes, music etc.
Include CTAs (call to actions) so that people can get in contact with you or book you for a shoot. Your website’s theme will offer CTA buttons and forms for you to pick from.
SEO for your portfolio
Having an online portfolio is a great way to reach more people – providing they can find it. SEO (search engine optimisation) tools and functions are a common feature of many web builders.
They range from in-built features through to custom capabilities, depending on the provider and plan. The alt text, captions and URLs of your images can all be optimised for search engines, including words or phrases that people would use to discover your work.
Also, be sure to check how your portfolio looks on both desktop and mobile devices – mobile responsiveness is another feature that many web builders commonly provide.
Check out our guide on how to make an online portfolio for more general advice.
7. Assess other formats
Although online photography portfolios have been in the spotlight here, printed portfolios are also a good idea, whether that’s to showcase film images or to highlight your creativity when meeting clients.
When compiling a printed portfolio, it’s extra important to think about the order of your images. Be sure to put all your portrait images together, and the same for all landscape shots, so that your portfolio can be viewed easily.
A printed portfolio is generally best presented in an A4 case, and on high-quality paper.
Some of the guidelines mentioned in previous sections also apply, albeit slightly adapted for print. For example:
- Place strong images at the start and end (for people who scan it)
- Include a maximum of 20 photos
- Use high quality images
- Add captions if needed
Portfolios in PDF format can also be useful, as you can quickly send across a concise, complete digital document to clients.
Enoch says: “Alongside my website portfolio, I have a physical portfolio – it's tactile, it's weighty; clients can touch it. The website does the vast majority of the heavy lifting but the physical book can be the thing that seals the deal – in an increasingly digital world, don’t underestimate the power of something that people can hold.”
9. Remember to update it
Rework your portfolio as and when you have new images to add to it, as well as to reflect any overarching changes to your business, such as if you were to change or add to your specialisms.
You should aim to update your portfolio at least every six months. Not only does this allow you to review it regularly, but it shows that you have a steady stream of work, and is a great way to keep your style fresh.
Enoch states: “It's also vital to keep sharing your portfolio work and all new work via your business social media channels to keep prospective customers engaged and whet their appetites.”
Your photography portfolio acts as a way to display your work more widely, as well as helping to get new potential clients. Remember these key points:
- It should reflect the type of photography you specialise in, and be catered to specific audiences – you can look at photography portfolio examples for inspiration
- Images are central to your portfolio, and should showcase a varied and high-quality range of work
- Use a website builder to create your online portfolio. Squarespace photography website builder is our number one choice because of its focus on design, as well as being easy to use and fairly priced
- Other portfolio formats, such as print and PDF, should be considered as well
- Get feedback, and be sure to update your portfolio regularly
We’ve framed the key points you should follow to create your photography portfolio. Now, the focus is on you to get started – good luck!