It has been shown that all it takes is a tenth of a second to form an impression. Whether it’s an impression of you as a photographer meeting in person, or you as a photographer online.
One of the best ways to make a strong impression as a photographer is to have a solid, well-optimized photography portfolio.
Think of your photography portfolio almost like an elevator pitch that you’re giving to a potential client without actually speaking to them.
You only have a short window to get everything you want to say across to that person before they zone out or lose interest.
In fact, coming from a marketing background, I’ve messed with my portfolio over the years to try to get it as optimized as possible. Previous clients have also stated that they liked my portfolio and because of this reached out to me.
With that being said, let’s dive into how to create an amazing photography portfolio that converts to paid clients, what I feel is the best way to build a portfolio and some other secrets that I use to tell whether or not my portfolio is working as intended.
Table of Contents
Goal of a Photography Portfolio
What is the goal of a photography portfolio? It can be easy to often overlook this question and just start putting photos into our portfolio.
I believe the goal of every photography portfolio, is to quickly highlight who you are as a photographer in terms of style and consistency.
Let’s take a closer look at those two words – style and consistency.
When it comes to style, every photographer and artist for that matter, has their own style. Example styles could be bright and airy, moody, black and white, “cinematic,” etc.
As we’ll touch on later, you want your portfolio to follow a certain style and be consistent throughout so the potential client could get a sense of the images you produce.
When it comes to consistency, this means consistency in style as we just mentioned, consistency in image quality, consistency in composition, and consistency in overall editing as well.
Do Photographers Need a Portfolio?
Before diving into what a photography portfolio should include, I quickly wanted to touch on the subject of whether photographers even need a portfolio.
I’ve seen this question be asked and what I think they often refer to is whether they need a portfolio on a website – because every photographer should have a portfolio of some sort.
But as mentioned, I think they’re referring specifically to just using their social media pages as their portfolio.
This can certainly be done but I don’t like this for three reasons.
First, as I’ll show later, if you have a portfolio on your website then it’s easier to track certain metrics such as average time on page to get a certain idea of whether or not your portfolio is resonating with the viewers of that page.
Second, if your portfolio is on your social media channels, the potential client could get influenced by likes, followers, or comments negatively, taking away from the actual image itself. For example, if you don’t have many followers or a certain image does not get many likes, then the viewer could be focusing on those vanity metrics instead of the actual quality of the image.
Third, I believe having a portfolio on a website is just a lot more professional as your contact page will already be on the website, etc.
Now I’m not saying that you can’t get business through social media, I’m just saying that you should have a photography portfolio on a website as well.
How to Build a Photography Portfolio
When it comes to creating a photography portfolio, there are seven steps that you should take into consideration if you want to build the best photography portfolio possible.
1. Figure Out Your Medium
The first step when it comes to building a photography portfolio is to figure out your medium. What I mean by “medium,” is the platform. For example, certain mediums that you often see portfolios on include social media platforms such as Instagram, Flickr, Unsplash, Tumblr, etc.
Another medium, and the one I suggest, is a website. But there are also different ways to create a website such as coding your own from scratch or using a CMS (Content Management System) such as WordPress, Squarespace, or Wix.
Personally, I highly recommend going the WordPress route and creating your own photography website. In terms of customization and ability to go “outside the box” in terms of SEO and technical capabilities (if you choose to eventually have courses or a blog that drives traffic on your website), then I recommend WordPress.
The only caveat with WordPress is that it does have a slightly higher learning curve, but once you take the time to learn it (~ takes a full day to learn I feel), then you’re in free roam mode and not bound to certain restraints that other CMS platforms put in place.
If you do not care to have your own blog that drives traffic through SEO, then going the Squarespace or Wix route is a great option if you just want to use your site for portfolio purposes.
For those wondering, my website is on WordPress, I’ll most likely make a guide and video in the future on how to create a WordPress website for photographers.
As previously mentioned, you can have your portfolio on multiple mediums such as on Instagram, Flickr, and a website – but I highly recommend that you do in fact have a website.
So once you figure out what mediums you want to use for your photography portfolio, it’s time to figure out your style and ideal client.
2. Determine Your Style and Ideal Client
In marketing, there is a process that is called positioning your product or service, and this means identifying your target audience and creating an image of your product/service that fills an unfilled need of your target audience.
As photographers, our target audience are potential clients who see our photos and our product/service are our photos and knowledge of photography.
With that being said, we need to create an image of our product (our photos) that fills an unfilled need in the minds of our target audience – whether that’s having the photos we take of them help them land that job they’re looking for, find a potential partner, or just improve their overall personal brand image.
We create this image of our product/service by displaying a photography portfolio that essentially tells our ideal client – “these photos that I take are the type of photos that you are looking for to have for yourself.”
We do this by having a style to our portfolio based on our ideal target client. If you don’t know who your ideal target client or customer is, then you need to do more market research and self-analysis into the type of photographer you want to be.
For example, if you are a wedding photographer, then your style may be more on the lighter, airy side with brighter, sharp looking images.
If you are a headshot photographer for actors, then your style may consist of studio light setups with a focus on sharpness and clarity.
Here’s another example with my own portfolio. My style and target audience lean towards portrait and lifestyle photography for people who want photos for their social media platforms. Due to this, I try to keep my images sharp and minimal which works well for social media platforms:
Whoever you want your ideal client to be, your style needs to match that. If you’re still having trouble, simply search for photographers who service the same clients you want and take a look at their style. I’m not saying to copy their style because every photographer has their own style, but I’m saying to take an overall look at their style – is it black and white? Moody? More bright? Film-like with lots of grain? Etc.
Once you have a strong understanding of who you want your ideal client to be and a style that aligns with that client, then it’s time to move to the next step – which involves picking only the best photos.
3. Pick the Best Photos
There is a saying that your photography portfolio is only as good as your worst photo. What this means is that you only want to present your best work on your portfolio.
If there is an image on your portfolio that you aren’t that proud of but want to include anyways just to take up more space – I’d recommend leaving it out.
Put yourself in the shoes of the viewer. Imagine they’re scrolling through your portfolio loving all the images and they land on 1-2 photos that are semi blurry or let’s just say, not the best.
They could think to themselves, “well maybe those will be the kind of photos this photographer will take of me.”
You don’t want them thinking that so it’s best to only highlight and showcase your best work.
As photographers, we know that not every shot we take is award-winning or our best. Some of the photos I often take on photoshoots are sometimes blurry, but I usually make a point to take multiple shots during a single pose just in case some of them were blurry or the lighting or angle wasn’t right. But I digress — the main point is:
You want to put your best foot forward.
4. Be Consistent
The fourth step when it comes to creating a strong photography portfolio is to be consistent with your images.
This ties into the previous two steps in terms of style and putting only your best work on your photography portfolio.
In terms of style, it’s important to have a consistent style throughout your photography portfolio and not have one photo be a film-like grainy photo, and the next one being a high contrast, overly saturated photo.
If this is the case, the viewer and potential client of your photography portfolio may get confused as to how their photo would end up looking and not end up booking you.
If you do wish to showcase different styles, then I recommend having different sections in your portfolio with a heading that states the different styles so the viewer of your portfolio knows it’s intentional and that you are actually a versatile photographer.
This way too, if a client calls you or has questions, you could even ask them which style they prefer.
In terms of consistency with putting your best images, this one is fairly straightforward and already touched upon in the previous section. You want to be consistent with putting your best work only on your portfolio.
5. Ask for Feedback
The fifth step when it comes to creating a great photography portfolio, is to ask for feedback.
This can be one of the most nervous parts that you put off because you may be worried what others feel about your portfolio.
It’s important that you put your nerves aside and ask friends, family members, or similar-niched photographers what they think about your portfolio.
You’ll want to ask people who will be objective with your portfolio without putting you down.
Although it may feel good to hear your portfolio looks great, be sure to ask people to be objective and not sugar-coat anything – especially if you ask close family members or friends. They may be afraid to say something negative because they like you as a person, but you have to let them know to give the honest truth or it won’t help you.
Questions you’ll want to ask them include:
- What style does my photography portfolio give off?
- Analyzing Responses: Is this the style you want to give off with your portfolio?
- What emotions do you have when looking at my photography portfolio?
- Analyzing Responses: Are these the emotions you want people to have when viewing your portfolio?
- What’s your favorite photo on my portfolio?
- Analyzing Responses: Are people all agreeing on one favorite photo? Ask them why it’s their favorite and you might want to analyze what you did in that photo to have others like it so much.
- What’s your least favorite photo on my portfolio?
- Analyzing Responses: Are people all agreeing on a least favorite photo? Maybe you should remove that one from your portfolio
- Is it easy to navigate my portfolio through desktop view?
- Analyzing Responses: You will want to know that your portfolio is easy accessible through desktops.
- Is it easy to navigate my portfolio through mobile view?
- Analyzing Responses: You will want to know that your portfolio is easy accessible through mobile phones.
- Does my portfolio load fast for you on desktop?
- Analyzing Responses: You will want to ensure your portfolio loads quickly for users on desktop.
- Does my portfolio load fast for you on mobile?
- Analyzing Responses: You will want to ensure your portfolio loads quickly for users on mobile.
Based on the responses to some of these questions, you may need to adjust your portfolio around. Once you do that, ask them again for feedback and keep updating and changing things around until the general consensus is that you have a great photography portfolio!
As you may have noticed, some of these last questions revolve around the viewer’s experience with viewing your portfolio and the page speed. This leads us to your next step.
6. Have Good UX and Pagespeed
The sixth step to having a great photography portfolio is to ensure you have good portfolio UX (User Experience) and that the portfolio loads fairly quickly to your viewers.
Coming from a marketing background, I’ve seen the difference that a fast loading page can have over a slow loading page in terms of conversions or booked demos, sign-ups, trials, etc.
In fact, website conversion rates drop by an average of 2.11% with each additional second of load time (between seconds 0-9). (Portent, 2019).
In our case as photographers, a conversion would mean landing on our portfolio page, and then deciding whether or not to contact us to book a session.
If you’re wondering how to view the pagespeed of your own site there are two methods:
The first method is to just do you own visual test by going to the page and seeing if it takes a while for the images to show up.
If we want to get more technical, the second method involves running your portfolio page through a pagespeed tester such as Google Pagespeed Insights.
If you find that your portfolio page is loading too slow, then the biggest culprit is most likely due to the images. As photographers, since we have very image-heavy sites this is often our biggest weakness when it comes to page speed.
To optimize this, the solution is to use a lossless image compression tool. This will essentially make the file size on your images smaller without losing much quality in the image. I recommend using an online tool such as Optimizilla, Compressor.io, or Colorcinch.
In order to use it, just upload your image on the site, then do a lossless compression and then re-download the newly compressed image then upload that to your site replacing the old one.
Here’s an example of my portfolio when I run it through the Pagespeed test, as you can see, the performance score is high and well-optimized:
7. Add Analytics and Monitor
The seventh and final step is to add some analytics platform to your website. Did I mention I come from a marketing background?
You may have not seen other guides talk about doing this but this is the final touch to building and maintaining an amazing photography portfolio.
Many photographers get the part of creating a great photography portfolio right, but when it comes to actually understanding how your portfolio is doing backed by data, that’s where they fall short.
There are many analytics platforms out there with some most likely being built into your CMS if you use Squarespace, Wix, or WordPress.
The one I use and recommend is Google Analytics which is the industry standard when it comes to getting free analytics data on your website.
I won’t be diving into how to set up an account and connect GA (Google Analytics) to your website as there are many great tutorials out there, but once you have it connected, then the most valuable metrics you’ll want to pay attention to include average session duration on your portfolio page for both desktop and mobile.
As you can see from this screenshot, I have an average of a minute duration for the time on page that people spend on my portfolio which means they like looking through it!:
This number will give you an idea of how long people are staying on your portfolio page. The longer the time, then the better because that means they’re taking their time to look at your photos.
If the time is short, then the fifth step I mentioned in regard to asking for feedback may uncover why people spend such a short time looking at your photography portfolio.
Perhaps it’s because your images are loading slowly so they get frustrated and just leave, or perhaps you don’t have a consistent style that is confusing viewers so they just leave your site and go to another photographer.
Although we are artists, understanding how your portfolio and site for that matter is crucial to improving the business side of things.
In the future, I may create a separate guide on other key metrics to look at but for right now, start with what I stated above.
In conclusion, a strong photography portfolio is often what stands between a viewer on your website converting into an actual paying client.
There are key steps that you should consider as a photographer when creating and maintaining your portfolio.
I hope you took away something new and valuable from these steps and implement most if not all of them. Good luck!
What Should a Photography Portfolio Include?
A photography portfolio should include a photographer’s best images in a cohesive style that aligns with their target audience.
How Many Pictures Should be in a Photography Portfolio?
The number of pictures does not matter. What matters is that the photographer includes what they feel are their best photos and that the style and consistency of the photos matches the same style and taste of their target clients.
Where Can You Create a Photography Portfolio
There are many platforms and mediums you can use to create a photography portfolio. If you want a photography portfolio to just exist on a social sharing site you can have it on Instagram, Flickr, Unsplash, etc. If you want it to exist on a website then you can use a CMS such as WordPress, Squarespace, or Wix.
Nate Torres is a portrait photographer based in Southern California. Outside of photography, Nate specializes in SEO, content marketing, and entrepreneurship. He is also the founder of Imaginated.com, a platform for creator education.