Business Trends
Your Portfolio – The Client’s Perspective; How Your Images Look From The Other Side Of The Desk

The highest goal of presenting your portfolio is to move yourself from the big pool of "unknown" photographers to the pool of "known" photographers clients are likely to hire. To do this, help the clients hire you! Don't just passively show your portfolio. Find out what your prospective clients do and what they are looking for and present that information.

Let the images show your technical ability. Given the power of photographic images, the work itself will tell the client "what" it is, so you have to tell them the "why, who, when, where" of your work. Do this by adding success story anecdotes when presenting your work. This way you have a better chance of your prospective client imagining working with you successfully. Then there is the issue of new technology. Let's talk to some "clients" to get their opinions.

Shutterbug: What do you suggest is the best way to submit a portfolio in today's "new technology" marketplace for photography services?

Elise Daher, Art Producer at BBDO (New York office): I still feel that the best way to get a portfolio seen is the old-fashioned way--start with promo mailers, follow up with a phone call and show me an actual printed book. I get bombarded with spam in my e-mail and I have no way of sifting through all of it. If I do not recognize a name I will most likely delete it. I do like the convenience of web links to show a portfolio to an art director as a preview or if we are in a hurry, but quite frankly printed pieces are still my preferred method.

Jeff Dingcong, Art Director at Superior Communications: Before submitting a portfolio to a prospective client it's crucial that you research and learn as much as you can about their company. Get to know their business, their customers, their identity, and their vision as much as possible. Once you have a good understanding of the client then tailor your portfolio and its contents for that specific client.

Jessica Hoffman, Senior Art Producer at Crispin Porter + Bogusky: I still believe photography is best viewed in printed form. It allows the viewer to experience it in a tangible way and appreciate the craft that much more. Transparency portfolios are extremely rare in this age and so watercolor and other paper is used. In some cases a choice of paper can help or hurt. A paper with too much texture detracts from the visual. When something is printed heavily the ink can be smeared or scratched off. Just keep it clean as a rule. Large is good although backbreaking large is bad. Allow the viewer to judge based on the work and the assemblage of the book to represent you, rather than using tactics to get people to remember you like strange mechanics of the actual book. Include a disc if you like. I don't view them but I know clients who do. If the book is made up of loose pages, include your name and number identification on the back of each page (so as not to distract). Include promo pieces for clients to keep. Target the portfolio to what you understand the job requires and include examples that show your capabilities. Make sure you are representing your capabilities as it may pertain to the level of production needed by the client.

Stephen Macklin, Brand Graphics Leader at BIC USA, Inc.: The most effective presentation would show an understanding and embracing of the technology while at the same time not being overdone to the point where the presentation becomes more of a focus than the work. If I were designing a portfolio for a photographer, I would start from a basic "slide show" approach. The first slide would show a group of images from a shoot, the second slide would show the selected shot. A third slide would show the final image the photographer delivered to the client and if possible a fourth slide would show the final designed piece. Put it online and burn it to a CD. If you send me a printed portfolio I am eventually going to have to return it. A CD or a website is always available to take another look at.

Our next question is about the personal perceptions of clients about the actual portfolio presentations. As a photo rep, this is always my favorite question. I think photographers have a hard time seeing themselves from the client's point of view. So, here are a few of their opinions:

Shutterbug: What should photographers remember to "do" and "not do" when presenting their portfolios?

Elise Daher, Art Producer at BBDO (New York): My biggest pet peeve is being sent a giant print portfolio that I cannot carry from my reception area, or hold comfortably on my lap to look through. This might sound ridiculous, but I've definitely seen books be rejected based on size! For the most part something no larger than 16x20 (and even that is quite large) would be sufficient. To show digital files, it's best to direct clients to a web link or online light box, rather than send large files over e-mail--believe it or not people e-mail large files all the time and it does not work.

Stephen Macklin, Brand Graphics Leader at BIC USA, Inc.: The most important thing to remember is to show your own work. It's great if you have tear sheets from clients or major magazines, but if you are going to show them, show the shot you took as well. It's less important to me what the client did with your image than how you answered their image needs.

With her list, Jessica Hoffman (Senior Art Producer at Crispin Porter + Bogusky) sums up the personal preferences that reflect what I hear from many clients.

DO keep it clean and make sure I see your name.

DON'T put watermarks over everything to make the work harder to view.

DO make a follow-up call to make sure everything was received and ask if an estimate can be initiated.

DON'T call expecting feedback on the portfolio; if it works for my current job needs then I will contact you!

With digital presentations, show me a sample to draw me in, keep the design simple, make sure I see your name, and give me multiple options to view as a slide show or thumbnails. I just don't have time to leisurely view a movie.