Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Making of a Portfolio

Putting together a portfolio is a bit of a daunting, yet exciting task for me. In essence, I’m showing would-be clients a snapshot (pun intended) of my best photographs to illustrate my skill, aesthetic, genre, message, and personality.
The ladder is very important to me since I’m a firm believer that a big part of what makes a good photographer in their genre is their personality. Of course it depends what type of photo work you do. I’m just gonna throw this out there, but when hiring a forensic photographer, you may be looking at a slightly different personality profile than for, say, a wedding photographer. I’d bet too, that some wedding photogs may feel like they’re working with a bunch of stiffs sometimes! :P
But seriously, my body of work represents who I am as an individual – my ideals, sensitivities, humor, aesthetics, etc - all in an effort for someone to judge me – someone that doesn’t know anything about me. That’s how the game goes. Enter the daunting task of editing my photos such that it: a. tells the viewer something about me, b. that my photographic vision has direction and promise, c. that I can hold a camera and take pictures, and d. I’m likeable enough to work with!
So how do I start???
First, I pour over nearly every photo I’ve taken over the last 4 years… close to 15,000. I have a three star rating system in place that allows me to rate photos based on their goodness, and makes the photo selection process easier.
Three stars means a photo is an instant favorite for me and worthy of placement in my portfolio. Two stars means there’s great promise in a given photo, it possesses some nice elements, and nearly worthy of portfolio placement. One star tells me this photo doesn’t suck. It’s a good photo, but maybe isn’t strong enough on its own. Pair it with another image and it could speak many more volumes. A one-star photo could also be an outtake – a photo that’s just “off” from its two or 3 star sibling, yet worth revisiting for such a time as this.
After selecting nearly 300 of my rated photos, I print them, turn up some music, clear the living room furniture, and spread all the photos on the floor. It’s actually quite a fun process. Nestle looks at me like I’m some kind of loon, and periodically helps rearrange them when she traverses the room in search of another sleeping spot.
From their 5-foot 10-inch perch, my eyes scan the rows and columns of photos below and the pairing begins…
My portfolio (or book) currently consists of a series of diptychs and triptychs - two and three photos juxtaposed together. This format works well for me as a way to give the viewer vignettes and short narratives through my photos. It’s also a great way to show more photos per page without (hopefully) boring your viewer.
Take a look-see at my online portfolio at
But how do I know which photos go together??? Well, I don’t always, and herein lies the most fun part of the process.
I start with those 3 star images since I’d really like them in my book, and begin matching them with related photos – perhaps ones from the same shoot or series. Other matches are formed by similar basic elements like color, shape, and composition or some less obvious elements like concept and mood. Since I like humor in my work, pairing a feisty 9 year old girl in braces with an alligator just makes sense. Sometimes the photos find their way together on their own. Just by chance a photo of green and yellow string beans could meet a photo of swamp grass and fall in love! You really never know…

Once matched, the photos get stuck to the wall with Fun Tack. Having them on the wall is a great way to visualize all the pairings and portfolio as a whole - the big picture, if you will. Over the next couple of weeks, I’ll stare at the wall filled with over 50 groupings and begin to edit again. I move photos around, add new pairings, and remove others that aren’t compelling enough. My goal is to end up with roughly 25 to 30 diptychs and triptychs or about 60 to 90 new portfolio images.
Here are some fun visuals of the editing process. Yes, sometimes beer and wine are involved :)
Spreading out photos across the floor

Spreading out nearly 300 photos across the floor.
The matching game begins

The matching game begins as I create series of 2 and 3 images together for the pages of my portfolio book and website.
Tacking photos to the walls

A change in venue since I moved... I spread out my photos again and now begin to tack the series to the wall of my office.
The floor is bare. That means I'm done for the evening.
The floor is bare. That means I'm done for the evening.
Here’s a sneak peek at some possible new portfolio images in the works...

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