Putting a Photo Portfolio Together (Podcast 55)

Siberian Rubythroat's Opera

Putting a Photo Portfolio Together (Podcast 55)

Around 18 months ago I bought a few books on putting together a photography portfolio, and put together my nature photography portfolio. I printed this out in two sizes, one for a serious showing, and one for dropping into my bag to show people a hard copy pretty easily. I also put a copy of the files in order on to my Epson P-2000, which allowed me to play back a slideshow to people very easily, and even output that slideshow to a TV. Probably the most viewed version though was on my Web site. I created a separate gallery just for my Portfolio. This though meant updating two separate galleries and because I never really liked the format for viewing, I found it difficult to keep my interest in the Portfolio high enough to update it more than just a few times.

In recent weeks I’ve evaluated a number of ways to create a professional looking portfolio slideshow that can be served up in a number of different ways, including not only Web, but also by enabling me to create professional looking DVDs to send to people. I’ve just completed updating my Nature Photography Portfolio and uploaded it to my Web site, so in this episode I’m going to talk about the various steps taken to get to this initial goal of publishing the first portfolio with the new software.

So, initially, as I said, a year and a half ago I bought a couple of books on creating a portfolio, and one that I particularly found useful was “Photo Portfolio Success” by John Kaplan. John Kaplan is a Pulitzer Prize winner, and really knows what he’s talking about when it comes to both photography and how to put together a great portfolio. I’m not going to go into details of what is written in the book, as I don’t have permission to do so, and it is of course copyrighted material. What I will do though is explain a few general pieces of advice that I gained from the book that I myself have kept in mind while putting my portfolio together, intertwined with my own ideas and practices. If you are interested in picking up a copy of John’s book by the way, you can find a link to it and many other books that I’ve found useful on my Recommended Reading page, found under the Quick Links section of my Web site’s menu at martinbaileyphotography.com.

The first thing I did to start putting my portfolio together was decide what the theme for the portfolio was going to be. Anyone that has been shooting for a while will probably have a whole load of images that could be dropped into a portfolio and help to make it work. The thing is, depending on what you want to do with your portfolio, you will have to limit yourself to between 20 and 50 images. For a portfolio that you will print out and actually take to present to say an art director of a gallery or editor of a magazine, you probably want to keep your portfolio closer to 20 to 30 images, as they simply don’t have time to view them all. John’s book says that the maximum is forty images, which I’d say is good advice, but for a multimedia presentation where you can control the time that each mage is displayed, I reckon you can push this a little more. I still I wouldn’t recommend more than 50 images under any circumstances though.

So how do you go about selecting your first batch of images? You are almost inevitably going to have too many images that you could consider including in your portfolio than it would be advisable to actually add, so the process is one of eliminating images, removing the weaker ones until you have a prime batch of your best work. As I have pretty much all my best work uploaded to my online gallery, all of my images have a unique number assigned to them, so I tend to use a database to sort and segregate images, using this unique number. You can of course though use your favourite photo viewing software, especially if it has a lightbox feature to allow you to sift through large numbers of images and copy your favourites to another location, or mark them with keywords if your software will allow you to list images from multiple directories based on keywords or ratings. I first went through my gallery and created a list of various themes. I ended up with a list of images for birds, bugs, Hokkaido, landscapes, waterfalls and even environmental portraits. Some images were added to multiple lists. For example I have a number of shots of cranes and eagles that fall under the birds and Hokkaido themes. Once I had a list of my best shots in various themes I started to look through them, and decided that I still wanted to produce a portfolio that will explain what I am about as a photographer. As those who have been following this Podcast for a while will know, my passion is nature photography, in particular, the nature of Japan.

By now, I’d actually created a database and entered the numbers I’d noted earlier into a number of collections of themes, and this allowed me to list all the images for each theme on one page on my Web site. If you have access to a computer right now, go to my Web site, which is martinbaileyphotography.com, and click on the “Portfolios” button in the menu at the top of your browser window. The list of available portfolios will grow as I create more, but for now, you should be able to see one portfolio called “The Nature of Japan”. For now, please don’t click the link to view the slideshow. Rather, click on the “View Contact Sheet” link. This will open a page and display all of the images that I have included in my Nature Portfolio. What I want to explain here though is that I now had a list like this for all of the themes I’d added images too. This enabled me to do another run through and select another shortlist of images for my Nature of Japan portfolio. You will probably be doing this without the help of a database though, so what you’ll need to do is either select for one single portfolio from the start. If you do go through all of your images and segregate them into various possible themes first, you can probably just add keywords to your images that you can use to round them back up again after wards. I suggest that you try to avoid actually copying your images to a separate folder, at least at this time, as you want to make it as easy as possible to create a dynamic list of your images that can be changed by simply adding or removing keywords, or like me, just adding or removing a number in a database. Whatever method you choose to mark your selection, if you are also going to create a portfolio that will be the quintessential you, your main portfolio, you could do something like I’ve done and create a portfolio of images that are from related themes, in one master portfolio.

My first selection from all of my nature related themes resulted in around 80 images. Of course this is way too many, so I had to go through and remove the weaker one. It’s important here to be true to yourself about what you remove. We all have favourites. Images that we want to keep in. But if you know in yourself that an image, all be it one of your favourites, is not quite sharp, or has anything about it that makes it inferior to your other work, get rid of it. It’s a sad fact that if your portfolio is being reviewed for selection against other portfolios, it will be deselected for its weaknesses, and not selected for its stronger shots, so basically, we have to remove everything that is not you at your best. You might find that you simply don’t have 20 or more images on any one theme worthy of going into a portfolio. If that’s the case, by all means start your portfolio with just 10 shots, but then visualize what you want to fill the gaps, and get out shooting with that purpose in mind. You might even find that filling out your portfolio becomes a project in itself that drives your creative activities, which has got to be a good thing.

When I first created a portfolio, as I said about a year and a half ago, once I had my 40 images selected, I printed them out on 5×7 paper. I did this for two reasons. The first was because I’d bought a small album with 20 clear plastic pages into which I could place 2 images back to back. This was to be my little portfolio to drop into my bag to show people and give them a feel for what I was shooting. The other reason though was that I was going to use these 5×7 prints to lay out on my table and decide the order in which I would add them to the portfolio. You could though arrange the order in your viewer software if the light-box feature allows you change and maintain the position of your selected images. By the time I’d trimmed down my selection of 80 images to 50, I simply printed out the page of thumbnails directly from my browser selecting to print them at high quality, and then I cut them out, so that I had 50 4.5 x 4.5 cm square pieces of paper, one for each photo. This allowed me to lay out the images on my living room table again to decide the order. This is probably not the best way to do it, unless you really know the content of your images, as you can’t make out much detail in the prints at this size.

For my original portfolio, I tried to order them roughly by season, starting from spring, running through summer, autumn and then winter. Within that order, I paid close attention to colouring of each image, grouping similar colours together, and when changing colours, I tried to find a common colour between the slides being placed together. I also tried to keep similar subjects grouped together within the portfolio. I had birds in one group, bugs in another, and flowers in another etc. The first run I did arranging the order of my tiny prints this time was done in pretty much exactly the same way, but when I’d finished and looked at the collection I was really not happy with it. It seemed too predicable, with no sense of excitement. It was at this point that I took up John Kaplan’s advice from his book, and decided to mix images of various subjects, shot at various focal lengths. John also advises to place your better shots throughout the portfolio to bolster the weaker images. What I did was select eight shots that I really like. From them I was to choose my two favourites. The one I like the best, will be the opening shot. I’ll add this to the Podcast for something to look at, though I’m not going to go into details of the shots I include today, and of course, I’m not going to add all of the images from my nature portfolio. That would make the Podcast way too large.

Siberian Rubythroat's Opera

Siberian Rubythroat’s Opera

The second favourite was to be the closing shot.

Lone Swan

Lone Swan

In the search for my favourite shots I found that I now had four rows of images. The front row of around 8 shots included the two favourites and 6 other close favourites. The second row was shots I really like, but not quite as good as top eight shots. The third row was other shots that I feel are technically well executed, artistic images, well worthy of being in my portfolio, but not as good as my first two rows. The last rough of again 8 images were all of the shots that I really wanted to keep in, but knew that they were not really meant to be there for one reason or another. It was at this time that I decided to drop these eight shots, leaving 42 for the final portfolio. I then simply took my favourite, and placed it at the far left of my table to start the portfolio. I took the second favourite and placed it on my table at the far right, slightly lower than my first as I was going to need two rows. I then took the other six favourites and placed three along the top row to the right of my starting image, and placed the remaining three along the second row to the left of my finishing image. I then took my second row from my selection, which was my next best batch of shots after my real favourites, and I spaced these between the eight shots already laid out in two rows. I then took my last row, which was the portfolio worthy, but not quite as good as my second row, and laid them out in the remaining gaps.

I now had two rows of images with my best shots equally spaced between my other favourites and the slightly weaker images. Remember though everything thing I have in the portfolio now is stuff that I am really quite proud of as images that represent the quintessential Martin Bailey as a nature photographer specializing in images of The Nature of Japan. I could now see my final cut laid out in front of me, and start to do some fine tuning on the order. Quite the opposite of my first portfolio, I was now trying to keep shots of similar subjects apart from each other. I ensured that there was a variety of focal lengths. I tried to make sure that there were not too many wide expanse landscape shots next to telephoto or macro close-ups. I ensured there was not too many shots that shared a similar colour. Green is often a common colour in nature photography, and does appear in many shots, but I tried to space other colours such as reds and yellows throughout the portfolio to break up the greens and paler coloured images. After a little fine tuning I found that the random way in which I’d placed the photos was a great start, and it really didn’t take much time to come up with my final order for the portfolio. I then input the numbers into my database again in the new order and that resulted in the contact sheet page that we looked at earlier.

Now for the next part of the exercise which is to create a slideshow for Web presentation, and also to burn to DVDs for distribution. I had been evaluating a couple of software packages for this purpose, and having taken everything into consideration I decided to go with Photodex’s ProShow Producer. They also have a product with most of the features of Producer called ProShow Gold, which I heard about in our photography forum a while back, but I decided to go for the Producer version which is quite a lot more expensive, as it has a few additional features that I felt important for my ultimate goal of creating professional DVDs for distribution, namely the ability to totally brand the presentation and bitsetting the DVD so that it appears as a DVD-ROM disk for the highest compatibility on DVD players. With the aid of a player plug-in, ProShow producer allows extremely smooth Web playback with relatively small downloads that are streamed for performance, but the downside is that the plug-in is only available for Windows. I’m trying to find out if Photodex is planning to develop a plug-in for browsers on other systems such as Mac or Linux, but I have not yet received a reply. If I create a DVD of the show though, it plays perfect well on Mac OSX as well as probably pretty much any other DVD player. The other option was using flash for the portfolio presentation, but it just didn’t seem to provide the smoothness of playback that I was looking for, and I couldn’t find a package that was going to allow me to make such powerful presentations and then output them in as many different ways as my final choice. I do have to apologise to all of those listeners that use Mac or Linux as you will miss out on the fun unless you can take a look on a Windows machine.

The last thing I want to say about the multimedia presentation is that I had totally completed the slideshow itself and was very happy with the results, and then I spent a few hours on the Web searching for some stock music that I could buy to embed into the presentation as a final touch. I didn’t want to have to edit the music, making loops etc, so I started searching through some stock music sites for suitable tracks over 7 minutes long, as the final slideshow is 7 minutes long. I found a great track that I also used in the intro for today’s episode on stockmusic.net. Having embedded this music into my portfolio, I have to say the presentation really just came to life. If you yourself create a portfolio I not only suggest you add music yourself, I suggest you spend the necessary time to find something that really matches your images, as I believe the music I chose does.

Before we close, I wanted to quickly mention that my other physical portfolio is printed on A3+ paper, with each print slipped into a poly sleeve and placed in a portfolio box that in turn drops into a large leather case to house the box to transport it around. I bought this from Light Impressions, but the book on Photo Portfolio Success from John Kaplan lists many other types of album and archival boxes etc, and numerous ways of producing multimedia presentations, so if you are interested, you might want to consider picking up a copy.

So, the last thing we need to do today is, if you have access to a Windows computer, go to my Portfolios page by clicking the Portfolios button in the menu at the top of your browser window at martinbaileyphotography.com and take a look at my new portfolio entitled “The Nature of Japan”. (SEE NOTE BELOW) Let me know what you think about the portfolio too. Today I’ve really just shared my experiences in putting together my portfolio, and want you to understand that I am really no an expert in this field. One thing I do have to do next is try to get some professional feedback on my Portfolio. I am very happy with it, and would hope there’s not too much slamming feedback from a pro reviewer, but all the same, it’s important to get feedback from a third party. Again, I apologize to those that do not have access to a Windows and so can’t view the portfolio right now. Please do check back later though, as I’m going to continue to work on a way to allow all visitors to my Web site to view the portfolio.

NOTE: Since I originally released this Podcast in September 2006, my Nature of Japan portfolio was revised a number of times, and then became my first solo exhibition. I stopped updating using Photodex, because they never developed a Mac compatible plugin, and I myself migrated to the Mac platform in 2011 too, making it impossible to use. Also, posting videos online has become much more main stream now, and so the Photodex technology, although very good, is less useful now than it was in 2006. Anyway, you can see the latest iteration of my Nature of Japan portfolio here:

The Nature of Japan


Show Notes

I put my portfolio together with a piece of software from Photodex called ProShow Producer. You can find it here:http://www.photodex.com/

Here is a link to StockMusic.Net that I bought the music for my portfolio presentation from: http://www.stockmusic.net/

Here’s a link to the Light Impressions Web site, where I bought my portfolio box and case etc:http://www.lightimpressionsdirect.com/


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