How to Create a Portfolio

Portfolio Mailer - by Scott Kellum

Portfolio Mailer – by Scott Kellum

One of the most challenging tasks for a photographer is evaluating your own work. Creating a portfolio is one of the most important things you can do when you’re ready to start showing or selling your work and your skills. For many of us, the mere task of creating the portfolio can be a challenge.

When I created my first portfolio, I was worried that my work wasn’t good enough yet, but it turned out I was worrying for no reason. Putting together a portfolio doesn’t need to be complicated. In this article we will cover what a portfolio is, deciding on a purpose and an audience, and how to select what work should be included.

What is a Portfolio?

For photographers, a traditional portfolio is just a portable case or book that holds pages of your work. Modern portfolios don’t necessarily have to be printed. Digital files or websites can be created to serve as a type of portfolio.

Portfolios are entirely about promotion. Whether you’re promoting, yourself, a brand, or a certain style of work, the goal is the same. There is a sea of talented photographers out there looking for work. Creating an exceptional portfolio is one of the best ways to make yourself and your work stand out from the crowd.

Personally, I am still a big fan of traditional portfolios. For some people, a website may be more effective. Consider the benefits of both options and decide which is best for your project. If you’re planning on submitting your portfolio for a specific job, you might want to ask if they have a preference. Digital portfolios are convenient, but many people still prefer the touch and feel and the finished look of a traditional portfolio.

Fun portfolio idea by Chapendra

Fun portfolio idea by Chapendra

What is it for?

The first thing you should do, before you even start thinking about the content is to decide, “what is the purpose of my portfolio?

Take out a sheet of paper and write down these three words: Purpose, Goal, and Audience. While you read through the rest of this article, write down any notes and ideas that you come up with along the way. Every portfolio should have a clear purpose and goal.

Artists create portfolios for many different reasons. Are you making a portfolio of your work to show to clients and companies that you want to sell your skills to? Maybe it’s a portfolio with the goal of selling individual prints for display in businesses and homes.

Portfolios are especially important for freelance photographers. Without a portfolio, there would be no way to show your work and allow clients to contact you. I once created a separate portfolio just for sharing some of my favorite images with friends and family who wanted to see my work.

Who is the Audience?

Consider the type of audience you’re looking for. What types of images will resonate most with them? Are there certain images that you should not include for this audience? What kind of response do you want the audience to have? If you have more than one goal and audience in mind, you need to decide whether to put everything into a single portfolio or make two separate portfolios with a more selective focus.

If you’re creating a portfolio with the purpose of landing an advertising or commercial photography job, your content should reflect that. You want to show them that you’re a professional who is capable of producing the type of work they are looking for. An advertising portfolio shouldn’t have landscape photos or photos from your personal projects unless they add to the value of your portfolio.

Once you figure out what the purpose of the portfolio is and who the audience will be, the rest of the process becomes much easier.

Portfolio Layout

There’s more to a portfolio than just images. Here’s a few suggestions of things you may want to include:

  • An artist’s statement with personal information about you and and a short bit about the theme or concept of the portfolio.
  • A cover image that is a collective representation of the included work.
  • A thumbnail contact sheet.
  • Captions, short stories about how the image was taken, or the date and location of the image.
  • A list of the titles for all of the included images. Depending on your layout, you can include a brief caption here instead of with the image.

Keep any captions and stories about the images short and to the point. Including information with the images can have a positive impact, but the images should still be the center of attention.

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Choosing the Images

Choosing the content for a portfolio can be difficult and frustrating. How are you supposed to know which images to include and which images to exclude? While no one but you can answer this question, I have a few pointers that might help.

  • How many photos? – Probably the most common mistake people make is including too many photos. Anything over 20-25 photos is too much. Most people that aren’t photographers will start to loose interest after the first 10-15 photos.
  • Change it up – Don’t include multiple images that are similar or were shot from the same location. Every photo that you include should stand out on its own.
  • Consistent formatting – Don’t switch from landscape to vertical orientation and change up the way images are laid out from page to page. Stick to the same layout and format across the entire portfolio.
  • Is it relevant? – Only photos that are relevant and consistent with the goal should be included. Stick to a single specialization.
  • Is it of professional quality? – The goal of your portfolio isn’t to prove that you’re capable. The client already assumes you have the technical skills. The goal is to captivate and intrigue the client so that they will remember you next time they need work. Every single photo you include should be of a professional quality.
  • Organization – The order in which you organize images is important. Try and put several images together that compliment each other. This could be a complementary composition, colors, or themes.
  • Uniformity – The first photo in your book needs to blow the viewer away, but that doesn’t mean you can put “inferior” work in the back. Your content should be consistent and flow smoothly from front to back. It only takes one or two bad images to completely change someone’s opinion of your work.
  • Keep it simple – Don’t include images that not everyone can understand or relate to. If you have to explain the image, it doesn’t belong in your portfolio.



Creating my first portfolio was one of the best things I could have done for my photography. It really helped me focus on what I was capable of and what I had already accomplished. Once you figure out the basics, the process isn’t as complicated as you might think. It will always be something that you can look back on to see how far you’ve come.

I hope you enjoyed this article and found it to be helpful. If you have any suggestions or ways that I can improve the article, please leave me a comment below.