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How to Create a Photography Portfolio that takes you from Amateur to Professional

If you are looking to build a new portfolio, it can be tough work. There are a lot of expenses to take in to consideration, and also a lot of organisation to be done. You need to do multiple shoots to cover a range of different looks. For some amateur photographers, this is their main hurdle to become a professional. They simply do not have the right images in their portfolio to stand out and show the level of quality that they are able to achieve.

If this is a problem for you, then it’s time to bust those portfolio gremlins. Here we’re going to show you some quick and simple tips that will keep your work at a professional level. We’ll start by putting together a portfolio worthy of a professional photographer, then show you how to keep and maintain that portfolio as time goes on.

Keep Costs Low, But Preserve Quality

If you are building a portfolio completely from scratch, then cost may be an issue. If you are not yet a professional photographer, then it’s likely that the budget is coming straight out of your own profit. There are a number of ways to keep costs low, so let’s take a look at those.

The first thing that you will want to try is to beg, steal, and borrow whatever you can. If you want a model, then put up a casting call for TFP work. This is work which is unpaid on both sides (the acronym stands for Time For Prints, meaning the model gets her images in exchange for the work). You can find a lot of great models willing to do this, whether because they are new to the industry, or because they love your ideas. The same may be true for make up artists, although it is always a good idea to pay for quality than to take a risk on someone who has no portfolio themselves. If you need props, clothing, or a space to shoot, then get out there and scout. If you ask to use something for free, the worst that can happen is you are told no. Always offer full resolution images as a thank you for using anything, as a lot of people will be willing to make that exchange.

The most important thing is not to compromise on quality. If you need to invest a little, then do it. Perhaps your model needs her travel expenses covered, or the MUA requires you to bring fake lashes so she doesn’t have to buy them. Spending a little is fine, because you’ll be gaining a lot. Remember that highly paid agency models or hugely experienced make up artists won’t work for free in most cases. You won’t get free clothes from a huge brand either. Start small and work your way up.

Let the Post Production Work Shine

After the shoot, doing some retouching work is essential. Even if all you do is fire up Photoshop to tweak the contrast and levels, make sure that the images look as good as they can. Hiring someone else who works in retouching as a professional will help you to get the job done to a high standard. Alternatively, do the work yourself to prove that you can handle all parts of the process.

You can make life easier for yourself with Photoshop actions, which will give you the opportunity to take care of a lot of work in just a few button clicks. Take care of the hair and skin especially, giving them a healthy and clean look. They do not have to be magazine flawless, but removing blemishes and boosting make up should always be considered. If you are not sure how to retouch portraits, then Photoshop actions are definitely your friends.

A professional photographer would rarely allow untouched photographs into their portfolio. The only exception is documentary or photojournalism work. For fashion and beauty shots, you will not look like a professional until your work meets a high standard of post production.  Spend some time learning your way around Photoshop and how to get the best results if you need to.

Display your Work Appropriately

Next up is the time to display your new portfolio. If all is looking well, you should be able to present it in a number of ways. Some people still prefer to get a set of prints or a book made up so that they can physically present their work. Increasingly, the trend is for tablet apps or simply your own website.

A clear gallery with as few distractions as possible is the best way to go. The viewer should be able to navigate through it easily, with simple menus and no confusion over how to get to the next image. If you make it hard for them, they aren’t likely to continue clicking through.

This is the stage where you might also decide that you have some gaps to fill. You may even take out some of the images that you had intended to display. Seeing how they all look alongside one another can open your eyes to some flawed images. Rather than trying to have a certain number of images, only display your best work. The saying goes that a portfolio is only as strong as the weakest piece in it.

You should also be sure only to include the kind of work that you want to do in the future. If you are looking to make a career in fashion photography, then do not include a cute pet portrait or some documentary work. Similarly, don’t put in something that you would never want to recreate. Your portfolio demonstrates what you are able to do, and some clients may wish to get an image which is very similar to what they have seen you do before.

Update Regularly with New Work

Now that your portfolio is online and up to date, you are not done yet! Remember that photography is something you can practice every single day. If you have not added anything new to your portfolio for two years, then what does that say about your ability to produce something great right now? If your current work does not feel up to scratch, then take the time to put together a portfolio building shoot on purpose.

Keep updating as regularly as you can. A few new shots at minimum should make their way into your portfolio each year. You can balance this by replacing old images to keep the numbers around the same. It’s very important that your portfolio does not stagnate. As time goes by you should constantly be seeing improvements in your photography – and you may even change or evolve your style. Your portfolio should reflect this, so that everyone can see the current direction you are working in. Particularly if you uploading somewhere that adds a timestamp, new work is essential to be taken seriously as a photographer who is currently working.

Seeing your portfolio progress and grow is also another reason to be very proud of what you have achieved. Set yourself a goal – can you replace all of your portfolio images with newer and better ones in the next two years? This will push you to carry on creating stunning images, and growing in your art.


If you’re proud of your portfolio, let’s see it here. Share your link with us in the comments!

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