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Portfolio Review Dos and Don’ts


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BY Jasmine DeFoore November 17, 2010 · Published by Jasmine DeFoore

Photo marketer and editor Jasmine DeFoore explains how to get the most out of presenting your portfolio for review.

Jasmine DeFoore has more than a decade of photo editing, artist representation, and marketing experience. To read more of her insights, visit her website.

I just returned from four days of photo-related festivities in NYC. The mothership of the week was the PhotoPlus Expo at the Javits convention center, with other events happening around the same time to capitalize on having so many photographers in town at once. Every night there were parties and book signing and openings.

Aside from all seeing old friends and meeting new creatives and photographers, I spent most of my time during the day doing portfolio reviews at the PDN/Palm Springs Portfolio Review. This was about my 10th organized review event and I thought it’d be helpful to give some guidance on how to get the most out of one.

I also reached out on Twitter and Facebook for creatives’ pet peeves. Below are some of the most popular answers.

New Orleans Photo Alliance's PhotoNOLA portfolio review session. Photo by George Long.


Be honest with yourself about if you are really ready to show the work. Maybe you need another year of shooting before you start showing your book to art buyers, art directors, and photo editors. You only get one chance at a first impression; don’t rush it if it’s not the right time. Ask people whom you trust for their honest opinion.

Research your reviewers and make sure that your work is relevant to what they do. You have 15-20 minutes, often with some pretty influential and powerful creatives in the industry; don’t waste it. Would you roll up to a job interview without knowing anything about the company?

Come armed with one or two specific questions that are pertinent to your reviewer’s area of expertise.

Do bring the actual portfolio that you intend to show to clients. Some of the reviewers are potential clients (duh!), and they’re not going to give you a pass because you intend, later on, to make a better book. So don’t bring a crappy book that you bought at Staples and then say that you are going to change it later. The whole point of the portfolio review is to get feedback, and how can someone give you good feedback if what they are looking at isn’t what you actually intend to show?

Make sure your prints look great. This is especially important when seeing galleries.

Leave behind a well-printed leave behind. Invest in a graphic designer to help you create something that looks professional. Just because you know Photoshop doesn’t mean you are a designer. If you are seeing a dream client, kick it up a notch and leave something more unique than a postcard.

Keep notes. By the end of a long day, all the reviews can start to blend together. Make a separate page for each reviewer and mark down which images they pointed out liking, where they paused a bit longer, what questions they had about your work, and specific feedback they gave you.

New Orleans Photo Alliance's PhotoNOLA portfolio review session. Photo by George Long.


Don’t just show an iPad or laptop. After having looked at about 20 people’s work this weekend, I am now convinced that the iPad is just not the best way to show still photography. I think if you have a lot of video/multimedia, it makes sense, but otherwise, it’s less than ideal. The glare in some rooms makes it very hard to see the photos, especially if your images tend to be dark or with black borders. I often found myself looking at my own reflection instead of the photos. Also, unless the iPad presentation is really slick, it feels like not enough care was put into the portfolio. I mean, let’s admit it: how hard is it to create a folder of images for someone to flip through? When I see a beautifully printed portfolio, it lends the photographer some legitimacy, makes them at least appear to have invested a lot of time and effort into their work, all of which helps me take them more seriously.

I think an iPad or laptop is fine as a supplement to a portfolio, but should not take the place of one. Again, my exception would be if you are doing a lot of video or have a really creative and interactive presentation to show.

Don’t make excuses. Popular examples include: “I didn’t bring my strongest work.” “I didn’t have time to put together much, but this should give you an idea.” or “I just found out about this event.”

Don’t argue with constructive criticism The people looking at your work know what they are talking about. They may all have different opinions, but that is valid considering that people come from different backgrounds and that visual art is very subjective. You may not agree with someone, and that is ok, but don’t tell them that they are wrong.

Photo by George Long.

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