Your resume and cover letter, as well as a digital portfolio, business card and mailers, will function as the first contact and impression you make. These items will work to get your "foot in the door." Ultimately, however, it will be your portfolio book or online portfolio website that will land you the job. The creation of your own portfolio is a creative statement about the value you place on your work and craft. This book first uses a system to:
* find your visual identity, who YOU are
* use color, typography, and iconography to develop the look and feel of your portfolio package
* create a layout and composition that you love
* establish your online presence
* create content and design of your resume and cover letter
* construct your portfolio book.
With hundreds of inspirational photos to guide you, you will also learn bits of useful information along the way about print resolution, marketing ideas, and how to do all of this on a budget. By the end of this book, you will have an out-of-this world portfolio that you will be able to use to establish and secure working relationships with potential employers and clients.
Larry Volk is an Associate Professor of Photography in the department of Visual Communications in the School of Visual and Performing Arts at Endicott College.
He holds an M.F. A. from Rhode Island School of Design.
Larry worked in the editorial and commercial market for 10 years. He has been a photographic educator in New England and exhibiting photographer both regionally and nationally for over 20 years.
Danielle Currier is an Associate Professor of Design in the department of Visual Communications in the School of Visual and Performing Arts at Endicott College.
She holds an M.F.A. from Parsons The New School for Design.
Danielle has worked as an educator, designer, and artist in the Boston area and New York City for over 12 years. She has received numerous awards, grants, and fellowships and exhibited her digital art nationally.
Introduction: Overview of Process; Step 1: Develop an overarching visual identity; Step 2: Create the visual "look and feel"; Step 3: Page Design and Cover Design; Step 4: Construct the portfolio book; Step 5: Extend the visual brand to include the entire portfolio package; Step 6: Creating Your Web presence; Step 7: Develop resume and cover letter; Step 8: Mailers and business Cards: extending your visual identity; Step 9: Utilizing the complete portfolio package; Resources/Appendix
This book is designed and structured to allow readers to move to any chapter and apply that aspect of the portfolio process to their work. For those who have never made and distributed a portfolio, the concerns addressed in this first chapter are essential to all of the design, editing, and construction decisions that follow. For those who have previously made a portfolio, what we ask you to consider in this first chapter can be used to evaluate your existing portfolio and guide you through changes you may need to make.
For those just starting out the process may be different, and in fact, this may be the hardest point in the process. It is at this point that you have to access not only your interests professionally, but you also have to take a hard look at your body of work and determine (a) if it is up to standard, and (b) whether it is relevant to the goal or target you have determined for yourself.
For individuals with an established career you may want to review and possibly redefine your target audience and work interest. Has this shifted, or changed? Can you articulate more clearly the kind of work and audience for your portfolio?
In this chapter: you will establish and define the goals for your portfolio and ultimately for your career. Once established, this then determines how you brand yourself. You need to begin by accessing where you are and where you want to go. What follows are some suggestions for considering your work and some exercises to help you get feedback and put things into perspective.
What Constitutes an Effective Portfolio?
By defining yourself—creating a brand, which then gets expressed through a visual design—you will take your work beyond a sampling of skills and capabilities. In this sense, it should capture not only your abilities, but also your attitudes and personality. By extending your visual identity to all the pieces in your comprehensive portfolio you can establish this message clearly and consistently, ensuring that your portfolio will stand out and be seen. Some of these aspects will vary with the individual and the goal of the portfolio. The portfolio, however, should function in the same manner as any piece of work you produce as a visual creative. It should be concise, effective, communicate an overarching concept, and hold the viewer's attention long enough to convey your message.
Evaluate, Edit, and Define
The most powerful way you can communicate your unique identity—your strengths and abilities—is through examples of your work. This is, of course, the heart of your portfolio. You need to make sure that every piece included in your portfolio is an example of your very best. That means that you should take the time to evaluate each piece and rework projects if necessary.
What constitutes an editing and evaluation process when you are examining your entire body of work? This differs from editing an individual piece of work. It is important at this very early stage to take a larger view that moves beyond considering individual pieces of work (or projects) . You should assess the sum total of the work that comprises your portfolio and assess how it fits into your intentions as a creative and career artist or designer.
Before you begin looking at the work itself there are key questions that need to be asked. To begin with, you need to make an assessment of your work as it stands, as well as consider your intentions for your career. We start by asking some basic questions. We also have some methods to spark your ideas and help you in evaluating and considering your work.
What is your audience? How would you characterize where you want to end up? In order for you to create an effective visual identity you need to first know what you want it to say. Who is the "client" for this portfolio?
For the Photographer
The photography market is a widely varied environment and you need to consider where you want to place yourself. If you are just beginning in your career there are resources available that can guide you in understanding the photographic market (see Appendix A, where we list some). Are you showing your work to editorial clients who might need to see some versatility? Are you targeting art buyers who might be looking for a cogent vision to apply to a specific account or campaign? If you have different bodies of work that represent different potential markets or subjects, you need to start by defining them.
For the Designer
The career goals of a designer can be somewhat different from that of a photographer. Designers are more often applying for a full- time position at an agency or firm. If you are already working in the industry, you may want to think about how your work can reflect your next intended career move. Are you presenting this work to creative directors who need to understand your abilities from the perspective of a particular kind of work (advertising, brand, publishing, web, etc). As a designer, do you need to show concept development because you want to be more than a production designer?
What is your area (or areas) of practice or specialty? How would you define your work? Does it fit into a particular category in terms of professional practice? Is there more than one category?
Visual character or visual style: What characteristics does your work communicate? Describe your work and its approach and style.
What skills and capabilities are featured in your work? Is there an emphasis on particular kinds of work or is your work more of a general representation? Are their examples that are out of character or unrelated to your intended audience and goals? Do you have process-based examples? Should these be included?
What is the standard for the work? Do the examples meet your criteria for concept, execution, coherence, and consistency?
You may have work that is worthy of your portfolio, but needs to be adjusted, improved, and refined. It is never too late to do this, especially if you recognize changes that need to be made after having had some time away from a project or assignment. Never let a subpar piece of work slip in. If someone reviewing your work questions a project, then you need to address this, or at the very least confirm with another set of eyes what might need changes.
Perhaps many of your portfolio pieces come from college assignments or client work, which although strong, may not necessarily be the best representatives of the type of work you want to pursue. You may want to consider eliminating work that you feel deviates from your intended goals or audience and create additional portfolio pieces that take you in the direction you want to go.
How to Start: Describe Yourself as a Creative
Start by writing down a list of adjectives and adverbs that describe you and your creative self. Begin by looking inward for these qualities. Describe your personality, your work ethic, your sense of style, your strengths, your attitudes, and the kind of work you enjoy making. Consider how best to position yourself given the kind of work you've done and the kind of work you want to do. What are your unique talents, conceptual abilities, and skills?
Exercise: Reverse View/Reverse Roles
View yourself as a new client who you are trying to access. You are being asked to make a branding and identity piece that features the work that this client produces. What are the questions you would ask if you were hired to design or photograph for yourself?
Help: Get Feedback
You should solicit as much feedback about your work as possible. Seek out the opinions of industry professionals, professors, clients, and peers. In addition, industry associations, such as AIGA (the professional association for design) and American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP), often organize professional portfolio reviews whereby you can receive feedback from a variety of professionals in your field. Ask for someone's honest opinion; constructive criticism is more valuable than simple praise. Ask specifically what could be improved. Remember that nothing is ever perfect and you should strive to learn and grow. As always, you should consider feedback carefully and make up your own mind about whether or not the opinion of someone else is valid and applicable to your project goals.
How much work should a portfolio contain? At this stage of the process, you probably will have a selection of works that you feel will be suited to your portfolio. As you develop your brand and visual identity, this may shift and you may add or eliminate works. Initially, you may want to hold work for consideration until you are clearer about the direction the portfolio is taking.
While the intended audience and goals for the portfolio can determine the scope and content of the projects, there is still a question of quantity. There is not a set standard, however. You want to consider both what is practical and what is most effective in reaching the viewer of your work. For a student just graduating from school, the average is 8-15 well-developed pieces. Photographers should show cogent consistent groups or series of images. Designers, as well as photographers, should show work that presents capabilities, range, and some aspect of your voice and vision. A designer may include process-related materials that reflect concept development, sketches, and comps.
A well-thought out portfolio should tell a story about you. It should be a journey that displays your talent, thinking, and abilities and it should have a beginning, middle, and end. Lead with a particularly strong piece in order to make a solid first impression. But also end with a strong piece, as this may leave a more lasting impression than the first. Imagine someone going through your book. What is the journey upon which you want to take the viewer? Imagine that you are there with them and they are flipping through your book and asking you questions about you and your work. What kinds of questions do you want them to ask? What pieces do you want them to spend more time on? What pieces do you want to emphasize, or are particularly proud of? Designers, as mentioned, can also show projects at multiple stages—concept, sketching, design mock-ups, finished piece.
At this stage, you are trying to get to a set of works that can help you formulate your brand statement. You are assessing your work to see if it is suitable to your goals and to aid you in developing a visual identity that can be characterized by your work and through your work.
Here are three guidelines:
Concise: What are the fewest number of pieces that effectively convey everything you wish to suggest about yourself as a designer/ photographer? Can you create the most concise statement? In fact, this might be a starting point. You need to bear in mind that if you have too many pieces, the impact of individual works can get lost. As the viewer of your portfolio looks through it, an impression can be built cumulatively. Once you establish this, you don't need to go any further.
Convincing: What quantity will demonstrate that you are capable of the scope of work and production required for your intended goal? What will show a viewer definitively that you have the goods and chops to do the job?
Clear: Show too many pieces and the viewer will lose the thread about you. The pieces will get lost in the breadth of the portfolio. You want the viewer to be seeing a statement that builds on itself. If it gets too lengthy, he or she will not be able to tie everything together, nor does it show your ability as a developer of tight concepts.
How to Sort Your Work
To start, take out any pieces that appear to be redundant, or offer essentially the same idea, demonstration, or method. If they simply repeat something that is already well presented, you should consider removing them.
Can the portfolio work without a piece? Having made an edit of your work, consider taking out a piece or two. Can the portfolio function without them? If so, they don't need to be there. Continue this process until you can't remove any more pieces without making the portfolio appear fragmented, or incomplete.
Having done this first step, the next chapter will take you beyond sorting and organizing the work you have to begin the process of "branding yourself." You will further examine what you offer as an individual visual creative and will revisit some of the questions raised in this chapter, but with greater focus on characterizing yourself further. In this way you will distinguish who you are and your qualities as a creative, leading to the development of an identifiable "brand."
Q&A: Interview with Mary Virginia Swanson, Marketing Consultant and Educator ( 2009, Mary Virginia Swanson)
As a consultant to photographers who are trying to extend their work and build their careers, how important is a printed portfolio versus an online portfolio?
While many designers tell me they make the decision to work with a photographer from reviewing their website, their client may well require showing a proper print portfolio prior to any decisions. I believe one must have both available, each different from the other, designed to be effective in their respective viewing context.
What do you recommend that a photographer have as part of a comprehensive package of his or her work?
First and foremost: great work! Second: A clear brand identity that appears consistently through every element in every format. Print: identity components, mailer, portfolio. Online: website, e-mailers, and possibly e-newsletter.
What makes for a good portfolio? Should it have an overall vision, concept, or a visual identity beyond an edit or series of strong images?
It is generally true that within smaller markets one must have a broad technical and creative "toolkit," to secure the diverse range of commissioned work one town or city has to offer. I would demonstrate the ability to tell a story through your images, in multiple presentation formats.
When competing in a larger market, with a broader range of clients and needs, specializing will help to rise above the pack. If you are a specialist—color, lighting, portraiture, conceptual, whatever it is—if you are one, present your strengths. Whatever your strengths, broad capabilities, or distinct style/technique, every single image you show must be memorable.
How much work do you like to see?
Less is more. It is better to show 10 outstanding photos instead of 20 with some that should not have been included. You can always tell when it was a stretch to grow a portfolio up to 20 images, and when I see portfolios with 25, 30, even 35, I'm editing it in my mind as I'm viewing it ... not a great first impression to make.
How important is the brand or overall visual identity of the portfolio package (including book, website, resume, business card, etc.)?
Essential. First, great work, second, great graphic identity. One that reflects the attributes of YOU and your brand. Successful brand graphics are the result of an inquiry — about you, your strengths, the message you want clients to know about you before they commission you. Is the feeling you want to convey young, hip and modern — "of the moment" and fun to work with? Do you want to appear classic, confident — a solid brand, who always delivers? Does a graphic logo add to their understanding, or is your name with type/color treatment a stronger, more memorable element? I always encourage professional help with branding, from someone or a firm that will go down the path of inquiry pre-design, or at the very least, the advice of branding masters.
Do you have any advice for students or recent grads who are just starting out in the industry/their careers?
Put yourself in a professional situation where you will be constantly learning, where you will overhear the language of your industry, and thus gain a more realistic overview of doing business in today's economy. Mentor with someone who will help you understand negotiations from both sides of the table.
Stay current with technology and with trends. Read your industry trade publications, and those of your targeted clients. Attend lectures and trade shows—hear others talk about their creative practices and business practices. The great artist who understands business will have a far better chance of succeeding. Stay creative—take workshops, exhibit your work, attend portfolio reviews. Don't ever stop pushing yourself to create new work, whether the commissions are coming your way or not. It is your personal work that will be the backbone of your creative skills for your clients.