Well-curated portfolios can be some of the most powerful tools available to a photographer looking to efficiently communicate what they’re about to potential clients and customers. The classic portfolio is a physical book of prints, maybe 10-20 total, often accompanied by a declaration of intent in writing or in person if being showcased at an actual critique session.
Unless you are simply seeking feedback from peers or industry experts, then the purpose of a portfolio as most people tend to talk about them today is almost as a CV, used with the intent of winning over a client by demonstrating skill and style in certain areas.
The nature of photography as something elite and exclusive has changed with the advent of digital cameras and has become far more accessible and democratic. One of the effects this has had is that very few working photographers are able to make an income from one specific specialization unless they are truly outstanding in that area.
Many working photographers I know have a very diversified skillset; approaching assignments for weddings, food photography, sports, portraiture, and even videography in order to make ends meet. Their ability to juggle all of these different visual languages depends on the capabilities of the individual artist but an outcome of such wide diversification is the necessity to maintain an often entirely separate set of highlight images in separate areas of a portfolio.
Another implication of digital photography as standard is that presentation of the end result is also achieved digitally. I know of very few photographers who print their work solely to possess a physical copy, and fewer still that continue to maintain a classic print portfolio.
Instead, the easiest, most accessible way for many to display work is through the Internet, using any of the hundreds of portfolio hosting platforms. Many of these platforms actively advocate for their creatives through sponsorships, and others are working on becoming more of a creative community hub than simply a digital folder to store work.
My issue with maintaining a website as a photographer is that I don’t see the specific benefit of running such a holistic space over any of the other options which are available. It seems that to many, a website is synonymous with a portfolio when in truth there are so many better ways to effectively use online spaces to display your work.
Websites are no longer the exclusive prestige indicators they once were. Unless someone is specifically looking for you by name/website name, it is very unlikely they will simply stumble across your website unless you link through to it on other platforms. And if people have already found you on other platforms, I don’t see the need to bring them through to another one.
Unless you spend a lot of time and money on SEO tools, your website will not be something that clients or customers happen across. This means that it becomes a link in an introductory email: “This is who I am, this is what I want to do for you, for examples of my work click here.”
However, if that photographer has diversified work across multiple genres, as mentioned earlier, then it can mean that that link simply takes you through to a landing page, after which you have to search around the various options and tabs before finding the work that that person wanted you to see.
In essence, I think that things can be much simpler, both for photographers looking for ways to get their portfolio in front of eyes that matter and for clients looking to easily find an artist to work with without having to put effort into navigating hundreds of submitted websites.
My solution to this has been to curate a series of bespoke offline digital portfolios, which I can easily tweak before sending out. When applying to a client, or when asked for my portfolio, I will search through and find 10-20 images that are appropriate for that situation, much like the original classic print portfolio. I then collate those into one PDF slideshow and attach it to my reply email.
In this way, the experience for the receiver is entirely streamlined. They receive exactly the selection they need to see and waste no time in deciding whether or not I’m right for the job. It doesn’t require maintenance in the same way a website will as I can easily chop and change the content — but always with that limitation on quantity. It would be easy to host hundreds of quality images on a website, but for a portfolio, adding a new image it means deciding between that and an old one — every image needs to justify its existence in that selection.
This is just my solution for what seems to be an often cluttered and directionless approach to putting work onto a website and calling it a portfolio. I am sure there are other ways to use digital platforms to achieve that classic portfolio experience, and I will always be looking for ways to augment my methods in order to give my work the best chance at speaking for itself.
About the author: Simon King is a London based photographer and photojournalist, currently working on a number of long-term documentary and street photography projects. The opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author. You can follow his work on Instagram. Simon also teaches a short course in Street Photography at UAL, which can be read about here.