Making a photography portfolio and deciding which photos to include in it is a daunting task. I have some experience with this as I recently started sorting out some of my older work into portfolio ready collections.
I’ve learned that organizing your portfolio is an organic process. There are steps you can take to make it easier (we’ll get to those shortly).
But like many creative processes it’s messy and ongoing. Creating a portfolio takes time. You’ll change your mind and make adjustments along the way. Instead of getting frustrated by this, try and enjoy the process. Relax and have fun with it.
These are the key points that will help you do that.
1. Organize your photos into themes and projects
It’s tempting to organize your work by subject (landscape, portrait, travel etc.) or the name of the country or destination where you made the photos (Venice, the Forbidden City, Yosemite, etc.)
But it’s more helpful to organize your work into themes and projects. It encourages you to think about the underlying ideas and motivations behind your photos. It’s also useful because working with themes and projects is the best way to improve your photography.
As we work our way through this tutorial I’m going to give you examples of how I’m applying these ideas to my personal portfolio and Instagram feeds.
For example, my portfolio website is currently organized into these categories:
Things in Alex’s hand
Carnaval en Cadiz
Books (this last one showing the covers of books I’ve written)
My portfolio website is a work in progress and I’ll add more projects as I get my photos organized. But these are a good start.
2. Use Lightroom Classic for your photography portfolio
If you’re a Lightroom Classic subscriber then you’re in luck because it has several tools you can use to make organizing your portfolio easier.
Collections. Create a Collection Set called something like “Portfolio” and inside that a synchronized Collection for each theme or project.
Virtual Copies. Create Virtual Copies when you add photos to these Collections. If one of your Collections contains ten photos, it makes sense if they’re developed in a similar style. You might have to re-develop some of your photos to match the others. Using Virtual Copies ensures that the photo in the Collection matches the one in your portfolio.
If you don’t use Lightroom Classic you may have another application, like Luminar, Exposure or ON1 Photo Raw that lets you use collections or albums in a similar way.
You can also use Lightroom 6 (or earlier), but you can’t sync your Collections or use Adobe Portfolio.
3. Pick between five and twenty photos for each project
For a good photography portfolio you need at least five photos in each collection. That shows that you’ve explored the subject beyond a surface level. But it’s a good idea to limit the number of photos in each category. Aim for a maximum of ten to 20 images in each one.
Your portfolio is only as good as the weakest image. It’s better to show five good images, than five good ones and three average ones.
For example, my things in Alex’s hands portfolio only has seven photos in it (as I write this) because it’s a new project.
Twenty photos is a good limit even if you’ve explored a project in depth. Once you’ve reached the twenty image limit add new ones on a one in, one out basis. Every time you add a photo to that portfolio, you should take one out. Your portfolio gets stronger as you do this.
My Makers portfolio currently has 19 photos in it, so I’m nearly at that point with it.
How to decide which photos go in your photography portfolio
Here are some hints to help you decide which photos to include. Remember, it’s an ongoing, organic process. Take your time.
- Variety. Avoid including images that are too similar in your portfolio.
- Aspect ratio. Try and use the same aspect ratio in each project. Don’t mix square, panoramic and 3:2 aspect ratios, as the collection will lack consistency.
- Be consistent with your developing style. A project is more cohesive if you develop the photos sympathetically. Re-develop some of the photos if you have to.
- Don’t mix black and white and color. Most portfolios work best if you don’t mix color and black and white images in the same project. But this is subjective and you can ignore it if you don’t agree.
- Get someone with fresh eyes to look at your portfolio. It’s not easy to be objective about your own photos. Ask someone whose opinion you value what they think.
- Don’t expect to get it right first time. Give it time. It’s okay to take weeks or months to decide.
4. Pick your medium
Now you need to decide how to present your portfolio. There are three main options.
Build a portfolio website
If you use Lightroom Classic then again you’re in luck, as you can use Adobe Portfolio to create up to five portfolio websites. Adobe takes care of the website hosting, saving you money.
Having more than one website is useful because you can have a personal portfolio and a public one.
The personal portfolio is a kind of rough draft, which you use to organize your photos into various themes and projects. This portfolio is for your eyes only. It helps you identify the themes running through your work. Or your progress in ongoing but not yet ready for public viewing projects.
The public portfolio is where you publish the photos ready for public viewing. Only your best photos should go here.
Here is another screenshot from my portfolio website, created with Adobe Portfolio.
If you don’t have Lightroom Classic, you can use a service like Squarespace or Format to build your portfolio website. If you’re confident with the technical aspects you could also use WordPress. You can also look at these services if you want features that Adobe Portfolio doesn’t have, like the ability to handle print sales.
Portfolio websites are great, but most visitors get there because you gave them the url. If you want to get discovered by a wider audience then you need to consider using a photo sharing website like Instagram, Behance, Flickr or 500px. At the moment Instagram is the number one choice for most creatives. Behance is also useful because it lets you organize your photos into projects.
You can use Instagram (or other photo sharing website) as well as your portfolio website.
Instagram presents photos in groups of three on your profile page. It makes sense to add photos in sets of three, six or nine to take advantage of that.
I recently decided to treat my Instagram feed more seriously. I deleted all the photos and started again. Now I only post black and white photos in sets of six. These curated collections give a better viewing experience.
To get your work noticed on Instagram you need to be savvy with hashtags. Do your research and pick hashtags relevant to your photos.
Make a photo book
If you prefer a hard copy of your portfolio then photo books are a great option. They’re a good way of preserving your photos for posterity if you’re confident with your image selection. The main thing to work on is your photo selection as you can’t change the contents of the book once you’ve printed it.
These ideas will help you create your own photography portfolio. As a final thought I encourage you to think about the aim of your portfolio. For example, my Instagram feed and portfolio website are both aimed at getting noticed for black and white photography. If you have a specific goal it’s easier to build a portfolio that supports it.
And, if you have an online portfolio, feel free to post the link in the comments so other readers can see it.
Thanks for reading. You can get more great articles and tips about photography in my popular Mastering Photography email newsletter. Join today and I’ll send you 47 PhotoTips cards and my ebook Introducing Lightroom Classic . Over 30,000 photographers subscribe. Enter your email now and join us.
My problem with Instagram is that I wasn’t allowed to mount photos that had been processed through Lightroom. Am I missing something?
Hi Steve, whatever your problem was it’s nothing to do with Lightroom. Are you trying to add photos to your feed using the Instagram app? Where are the photos saved that you have had problems with?
Excellent, useful newsletter. There’s so much helpful info in this one post. Particularly the idea of having public and private sites. What a great way to get a toe in the water. Thank you Andrew.
You’re welcome Joan, glad it was helpful!