Portfolio Madness, Part Two: The Rejecting

If you missed it, here’s Part One: The Collecting

In Part One, I talked about the how I approached the portfolio overall, in terms of the general message I wanted to send. I thought about what my goals are as a photographer. I thought about who I wish I was shooting for,  and also who my bread-and-butter clients are right now. The portfolio needs to speak to both of these groups. I collected all the images that I deemed “worthy” and then started (ruthlessly) editing, tossing out shot after shot, until I had it down to a manageable number, around 35 or 30 shots that were candidates for one of my 5 portfolios (Interiors, Exteriors, People, iPhone, New Work).

Now, before I go on, I just want to point out a great resource that I had overlooked. Thanks to Aaron Leitz and Bill Millios for reminding me about Selina Maitreya. Selina has been consulting for photographers for something like 30 years, and there are at least a couple of interviews available online (try THIS ONE from APE.com, and THIS ONE on Lighting Essentials.) She’s also got a 12-chapter podcast you can download for $100, HERE. There’s a free chapter you can download, which impressed me enough to make me add it to my “wish list” of stuff I’ll budget for this year.


So once I had my overall themes mapped out, and a vision for what the whole package should feel like, I got down to the dirty work of editing the portfolio. Here’s where it’s good to get some objective feedback, because this is where your emotional attachment to images will totally undermine your message.

Personally, I believe in portfolios that are short and sweet. Fifteen to twenty images, tops. You might prefer to have a larger set….there are plenty of examples of successful photographers who have loads of pictures on their websites. But I think people have relatively short attention spans, especially the Type-A personalities who seem to hire me. So I’d rather keep it short, and make sure absolutely everything in there is top-notch and on-message.


Once I had the candidates for each portfolio boiled down to under 30, I took them all down to Walgreens and made cheap 4×6 prints of them. The next step was to think about how the photos go together as a package. I took my prints home, unrolled a big piece of white seamless, and laid the prints down and started arranging them in order. It’s more art than science, but still, I tried to be pretty flinty about it. I have photographs that I’m absolutely in love with, but if they aren’t adding value to the Portfolio, then it’s actually counter-productive to include them. For example, I had to cut some of my best bedroom examples, because A) I don’t think bedrooms really demonstrate my skills as a photographer, and B) my ideal client isn’t focused on bedrooms. I included one or two, because I can’t ignore my current clientele either, but I don’t have to emphasize it. So, some truly great photographs wound up in the trash can.

This took place over several days. I’d walk by and stare at it a while, and move a few pictures around, then go do something else.  I recruited my girlfriend to help, too – she’s uncanny in her ability to quickly arrange photos. Making physical prints and moving them around is the best way to really organize them. What I’m looking for is not necessarily to group all the kitchens together, or the living rooms, or whatever, although that could work too. Instead, what I’m trying to do is find a continuity of color palatte, brightness, and shapes – especially shapes, so that my viewer’s eye is not jarred by the transition from one photo to the next. If there’s a stong line in one photo that can be continued in the next one, so much the better. Obviously, I’m constrained by the actual photos I’ve selected – I’m not gonna pull up one of my rejects just because it flows nicely with the winners. So you work with what you’ve got, and accept that it’s not going to be perfect. Incidentally, the same thing happens to an even larger extent when putting together diptychs — something I love doing. Pairing up diptychs for my iPhone gallery was almost as much fun as shooting them!

In the process of working with the prints, I weeded out yet another 10 or 15 photos. Seeing them as prints really helped me to identify what belonged and what didn’t. Viewing them as thumbnails on a screen just isn’t the same. By the time I was done, I was down to an appropriate number of images.


So said Eliphas Levi. Who was that? I have no idea, but I like the quote. Looking at my Interiors portfolio, I had 15 images to present. Which one goes first? How to decide the order in which they’re presented? I chose to lead off with something startling – my photo of the glass-walled San Francisco penthouse that is almost a meld of the city view and the interior space. It’s one of my strongest photos, I think, and hopefully it’s unexpected-ness will get a viewer’s pulse up enough to keep them around for the second photo, which is a fairly busy multi-room interior. They aren’t necessarily a perfect match for each other, although both have a strong geometric pattern on the left side. But the penthouse photo was going to be hard to pair up with anything else no matter what, so I felt that this was a good solution.

The third photo is actually from the same house as #2, so there’s plenty of continuity in terms of color palatte and style. From there, I did the best I could, finding continuity in either shapes, focal points, or color palette. Obviously, I was working with an arbitrary collection of images – I wasn’t going to pull up one of my rejects simply because it “went well” with one of my winners. So, you do the best you can.

Here’s an example of two photos that I think work well next to each other:

Can you find elements in the first image that correspond to elements in the second? Here’s what I’m looking at:

The focal point of the images is the far, recessed areas near the center. But both have a relatively strong leading line at the left side, and even the shapes on the right edge are similar. They’re not too far apart in tone and color palette, either.

Now, here’s a pairing I would NOT do:

I just can’t connect anything from the left photo (which is the reverse angle of one of the images in the first example, by the way) with the industrial building on the right. Not only are they radically different styles of architecture, the colors are very different, and there are no corresponding lines to lead the eye from one photo to another. This would be a very “jarring” transition, I think.

Again: every transition is not going to be beautiful. You have to pick photographs that send a very specific message to your audience, and then work with them as best you can. My portfolio contains it’s share of awkward pairings, but I’ve done the best I could. Indeed, I’m still tweaking it — in the course of writing this article I gained some insights into my own photos that prompted a couple of position changes! That’s the beautiful thing about an online portfolio: you can update it every day, for free.

That’s not so easy with a printed portfolio, however, which is the subject of Part Three of this series…..The Printing.

Stay tuned….I’ll take you along on my journey to produce a printed book for making face-to-face presentations.

4 responses to “Portfolio Madness, Part Two: The Rejecting

  1. Wow, this post was a lot of work. Nice job, Hargis!

  2. Yeah, nice post. Lots to think about.

    I’m working on at the very least, gathering images for my badly needed re-branding.

    Thanks Scott.

  3. I would like to state something else as far as images go. I found that I will flop or crop an image to make it “fit” better with what I have going on. I new prospective client isn’t going to know you have done it and it can really change the feel of an image. Thanks for the posting.

  4. What ever happened to parts three and four of this series?