Portfolio Madness, Part One: The Collecting

Seven Days of Portfolio Madness makes One Weak. But I’ve got it done, and I think it’s an improvement over my former collection. I’ll be interested to hear some feedback.
This was the most comprehensive make-over I’ve ever done to my portfolios, in part because I’ve never updated all of them at once before. And I might never again, actually. Too much stress!
One the one hand, I try not to succumb to what Mr. Jarvis refers to as “the drama of the portfolio”…..but on the other hand, it’s really, really hard not to obsess over it, and after all, it’s important, dammit! This is the first and potentially only impression I’m going to make on prospective clients for the upcoming several months, and of course I want to look as good as possible. So I obsessed, all week, and still I’m wondering about a few of my decisions.
On the other hand, c’mon….if my overall body of work is good enough, then I’ll be fine. And one tiny tweak in the order of the presentation, or the inclusion of this kitchen shot instead of that one is not likely to make or break me as a photographer…..right?

Sigh. Lemme look at that again….

So that’s how my Christmas holiday went. Step one was to go through everything I’ve shot since the last update I did, which in the case of my “People” portfolio, was a couple of years worth. In searching through my “Exteriors” shots I had to wade through no fewer than 5000+ images! As I scrolled through everything in Lightroom, I flagged anything that seemed remotely interesting, without regard to whether I already had a good example of that type of shot or not. Each photo got a snap judgement, yes or no. That cut it down to about 150 shots that I liked. The second pass through took it down to less than 70. By the fourth go-round, I had 20 or so finalists. But that’s actually Part Three.


The very first step was to think hard about what it is, exactly, that I want to present to the world. What sort of photographer am I? What do I do well, and what do I want to be doing well? Who are my clients now, and who do I want as clients? The second question is the important one. The answer, for me, is fairly straightforward: I’m an Interiors Guy, first and foremost. And while my bread and butter is still largely from shooting high-end Real Estate, I’m seeing an increasingly large percentage of my business coming from builders and Interior Designers, a market segment I want to grow substantially.

Secondly, I’m shooting more and more portraiture, and enjoying that a lot, too. Everything else is really either a sideline, or personal work. You bet I’d like to be shooting ad campaigns for Nike, but the reality is that I don’t have the portfolio to back that up…yet. On the other hand, I do have some cool photos that I’m proud of that don’t really fit into any of my core competencies. And I want to present those, but in a way that makes sense for who I am today.

This meant making some hard choices. For example, I have some sailing photos that I really love, but which just don’t have a place in my portfolio. It kills me, because I had a blast shooting those, and I’m proud of them, but the ugly truth is that I don’t shoot sailing professionally. Not that I’d pass up the chance to do so – and if that chance lands in my lap, I’ll bust out those photos and show the PE that I’ve got the experience. But there’s no point to creating yet another gallery and watering down the core message of my website, because the Photo Editor of Sailing Magazine isn’t looking at my website in the first place, and he ain’t gonna be impressed with my puny little collection of shots from the two events I covered three years ago. That’s just how it is. So, the sailing pictures are out.

Moving on, I re-named the “Portraits” gallery to “People”,  which is vague enough to encompass some of the lifestyle and editorial-type photos I want to display. Those represent the leading edge of where I want my “people” photography to go, so they’re important to include, and I feel that I have enough material to be credible in that genre. So the “People” gallery is a mix of portraits, headshots, lifestyle, and personal work. As long as there’s a human in it, I can put it in there.

I’m continuing to maintain a “New Work” gallery, with the selects from the most recent three months or so of shooting — my New Work email is still an important piece of my marketing strategy, even as it’s being supplemented more and more by print promos.

Of course, I can’t forget the iPhone gallery! I’ve given up all pretense of discipline on this one and just loaded it up with images – after all, this one is just for the sheer old joyous fun of photography. And by the way, I’ve gotten great feedback on it from clients – they love it!

Finally, I decided that I have enough quality Exteriors to create a separate gallery just for them, so that’s a net new portfolio. So the final roster is: Interiors, Exteriors, People, iPhone, and New Work.

The core message of my website should be that I’m specializing in Residential Interiors, and that I can handle portraiture as well. Since my work is transitioning more and more towards Interior Design and Architecture, you’ll see how my portfolio is changing to better fit those clients’ needs. Take a look at my “New Work” portfolio, and compare it to the images in my “Interiors” portfolio. The compositions tend to be much tighter in the New Work collection. The images in the “New Work” portfolio were all made in the last 4 months, and the average focal length is 29mm, while the “Interiors” gallery, which contains work from as long ago as April of 2008, has an average focal length of just 22.5mm. My shooting style is changing.

In a few months, when I’m ready to put together a new “New Work” collection, some of the images in that gallery will be “promoted” to the main “Interiors” portfolio, and so it too will slowly change to reflect my overall style.

By now, you’re pretty deep into my thinking on this whole thing. I wish I could recommend a book, but the two that I have are pretty useless (they’re mostly full of platitudes like, “Be sure to include your best images in your portfolio.”  Well, Duh.) I do have this one on order, which looks promising, but it’s not out until February. I’ll let you know. Take a look at my site and let me know what you think.  Part Two comes out in a couple of days – in that one I’ll talk a bit about how I actually went through and edited the collections, and the decision-making process for what made the cut, and what got rejected.

5 responses to “Portfolio Madness, Part One: The Collecting

  1. Hey, Happy new year Scott.
    I’m sure you going to have a good one.
    Good job on refreshing the portfolio, [email sent] and kudos for documenting the process and putting it out here for disection!
    Do you also have a physical portfolio, that you take to F2F meetings with prospects? if so I’d like to hear about what format you’ve used, are you updating it to match the website, do you have anything physical you can leave with agents etc..

  2. Marcus, the hard copy of the portfolio will be the subject of Part Three…stay tuned.

  3. Hi Scott,

    Happy new year from me too and nice to read your considerations. Especially because I am reorganising my website at the moment too.

    I love your interior-stuff. A field in which I got a lot to learn yet. Till now I am more an ‘exteriorguy’ 🙂

  4. You may be discussing this in Part 3 but how great would it be to show your work on an iPad? Big images, touch screen and slick.

    Although there is something to be said for a nice large format printout on soft cotton paper stock. I guess that is the old school in me.

    • The iPad is definitely getting some attention as a portfolio vehicle. Vincent LaForet reportedly bought 10 of them, loaded his portfolio, and mailed them out in place of a printed book. It makes some sense – at $500 it’s perfectly affordable when compared to the cost of a good print portfolio, and the “cool” factor can’t hurt you, either.
      The downside would be, it seems to me, that only one person can look at it comfortably at a time. In the showings I’ve done, there are usually at least a couple of people sitting around the table with me, and my prints often get taken out of the sleeves and passed around while the conversation flows. With an iPad, only one person will be seeing photos at any given time. And of course, until the 24-inch iPad comes out, everything is viewed kinda small……