By Kaylin Tran
As an artist, you’re constantly creating different works and pieces. Whether you’re a fashion photographer or designer, model or journalist, producer or stylist—a portfolio is a necessity to display your best work over the years. Even a professional at the height of their career needs a portfolio. Employers and clients depend on them to see who you are as an industry creative, so it’s essential that you create and design one that best reflects your abilities.
1. Identify your voice and audience
Employers are looking for someone unique who can bring something new to the table. It’s important that your portfolio embodies who you are as an artist, as well as who your target audience is. If you’re a photographer who likes working with darker tones, use photos that have the same color palette but are still diverse and creative in style. If you’re a fashion stylist aiming to work with editorial shoots and magazines, gather a collection of higher-end, attention-grabbing pieces that make a statement. If you’re a designer who focuses on sustainability, showcase the different environmentally-friendly textiles, prints and materials that you’ve used to create trendy outfits that speak to the current consumer market.
Don’t be afraid to highlight a wide range of your skills, but your style should still be identifiable by the end of your portfolio. Think of it like a central theme or narrative; all of the works you choose should be linked in some manner. If your collection is jumbled, employers and clients have no sense of who you are as an artist.
2. Narrow it down
As experienced as you might be, a portfolio is meant to be a collection of only your best work. A good rule of thumb is to include around three to five projects or 25 to 30 total looks. If you’re just starting out, don’t worry about having that many. What matters is that you prioritize quality over quantity, so just focus on the content of your pieces rather than the amount. It’s much more preferable to have five strong looks rather than 25 weak ones. If you can’t decide which one looks best, pull all of your favorites first. Once you have an initial collection, go through and weed out the weaker ones. A strong piece attests to your personal style, fits the preference of the job or client who’s interested in your work and shows a diverse skill set (but remember to have a common thread that unites the entire collection).
If you base your portfolio off these requirements, it should be easier to identify which photos or designs should be taken out. Keep doing that until you get to an appropriate amount.
3. Placement is everything
First impressions are everything. Even after you choose a certain number of pieces to include in your collection, you should also be mindful of the order you place them in. It goes without saying that the strongest ones should be placed first; if you lead your portfolio with a weaker piece, the viewer is more likely to lose interest. Additionally, there’s no guarantee that they’ll spend the time to look through your entire portfolio in the first place. Time is money, and if you lead with the weakest of the collection, it’s unlikely that anyone will be spending much for your work. This may take some time and several attempts to rearrange everything, but the order of your pieces is just as important as which ones you choose to include.
4. Have an online and physical copy
In the digital age of social media, it’s more common to have an online copy of your portfolio. This makes it much easier to share your work and for others to find you. Some great platforms you can use to build your own website include Squarespace, Wix, Weebly and PortfolioBox. You can design the layout of your website to fit your preference and can even link pages to several different projects. Linking your website will allow for better accessibility to your work. However, it’s just as crucial to keep a physical copy in case employers ask for one. Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to design and create your own portfolio book, as well as some helpful templates.
As an artist, you’re probably aware of how much difference a color choice or text font can change the overall tone of your work. Take your time when designing your portfolio—the frame is just as important as the artwork within it.
5. Update regularly
Your skills are constantly improving, and so should your portfolio. Switch out some pieces every few months to include some of your most recent projects. You always want your best work to be on display to accurately reflect your capabilities as a photographer, stylist, designer, model, etc. Not only that, but trends are always changing. Having regular updates ensures that you’re staying on top of what’s popular at the moment.
Another important reason to update your portfolio is to ask for advice from industry professionals, especially from those who’ve rejected you. Maybe your order was incorrect or it was hard for them to identify your style. Take these types of criticisms and use them to improve your chances with a future employer.
Kaylin Tran is an editorial writer who focuses on social justice issues and communication strategies, especially within the entertainment industry. You can find her on Instagram.