Former Art Buyers and current photography consultants Amanda Sosa Stone and Suzanne Sease have agreed to take anonymous questions from photographers and not only give their expert advice but put it out to a wide range of photographers, reps and art buyers to gather a variety of opinions. The goal with this column is to solicit honest questions and answers through anonymity.
I have been assisting fashion photographers in NYC for about 5 years now and feel more than ready to move on to the next phase of the game. I have tried to put together a print portfolio in the past an always end up getting frustrated and scraping it halfway through. What do editors want to see? If I put in complete series, the book becomes way to thick. When I try to edit down each series it feel scattered to me and doesn’t make sense. Should a portfolio show the range of a photographer or a consistent vision? How many pages are too many? Does showing commissioned work matter more than personal? Is a homemade portfolio out of the question?
I shoot all the time and know the work is good but I just can’t seem to grasp the next step…
Amanda and Suzanne: We are excited about this question, because it’s been an ongoing question for decades and I think it’s crucial to have an open mind and know that each individual has to create their own visual voice and take the advice of potential buyers and mold it to represent your vision.
ART PRODUCER #1 This is a tough one to answer as general response. I think it’s a little different for everyone. For sure have someone else take a look at what is included. A photographer is always more attached to the work than anyone and everything holds meaning. Someone outside of that should take a look to make sure that everything included has relevance. Though I will say, usually less is more. Most art producers or editors just don’t have the time to sift through large books of work and if too much is included, may skim over some great pieces instead of really looking at the detail. Specifically show the type of work that relates to the type of assignments in which you are wanting to get. A homemade portfolio (for me) is not out of the question and can give me some insight into your creativity, just make sure that it doesn’t look thrown together and still reflects your overall brand. I also like to see a little bit of personal work. It tells me a little about you as a person and what it may be like working with you. As well, it shows me what you’re passionate about and what you like to shoot. But for sure focus on commissioned work.
ART PRODUCER #2 There is no magic number of pieces to show, nor is there a magic formula for what to show. The answer is: Show enough work to prove to the viewer that you are capable of handling a particular project. In some cases, it may mean showing 20 pieces. In others, only a handful.
This will vary not only by the body of work the photographer has in their repertoire, but by the scope of the project and by the type of client. Clients working at a local level may expect a more broad body of work than a national client, which is usually pinpoint specific in what they are looking for.
ART PRODUCER # 3 Being on both sides of the portfolio gives me a unique perspective on this. The most important thing is to show a cohesive style with aesthetic and technical repeatability. My first portfolios where scattered in terms of style and technical approaches. This was a direct result of being a freelance assistant working with a wide range of fashion photographers. Once instructed to keep things simple, I got back to my roots of graphic design and complied a book of 10-15 portraits all done in the same style and utilizing a very simple lighting scheme. It worked and got me noticed. The next step was to build on that style, introduce new subject matter, but keeping things cohesive and simple, putting the attention on what I wanted viewers to see.
Once you have a large, strong body of cohesive work, you can begin to tailor the portfolio on a case by case basis. I’ve asked photographers to show me that they’ve shot the type of product my client needs advertised. My clients are literal people.
PROFESSIONAL PHOTOGRAPHER: When putting together a portfolio, I try to convey a personal vision, not the best images in my library. I view my personal vision as a fingerprint and its the only thing I can offer that I’m 100% sure I’m the best at. If you try to put work in your book you think an art buyer wants to see, it will automatically become lost in the flood of similar images.
To Summarize: The viewer has a specific need to fill. You might be able to fill that need or not, but you should not focus on what you THINK they want to see, but show them what makes you, YOU. Stated perfectly: “personal vision as a fingerprint” – use your portfolio to make a mark on that person and their visual memory. You want to be brain googled, meaning you are the first to pop up in your potential client’s mind for a specific project…the real goal of a printed portfolio.
As a side note – when showing commissioned work that does not always mean you have to show the tears, it means show the work you captured for that specific project (this usually helps clients understand your production value and how well you take art direction).
Call To Action: Research Print portfolio options and get one printed:
Some examples to consider:
(consider using double sided paper – http://www.moabpaper.com/entrada.aspx – which you can purchase directly from http://www.lost-luggage.com/store/paper.php – which is pre-scored) or from http://www.rexart.com/case_envy.html
Printer to consider: Lincoln Miller at pushdot studio www.pushdotstudio.com
If you want more insight from Amanda and Suzanne you can contact them directly (here and here) or tune in once a week or so for more of “Ask Anything.” Amanda and Suzanne review your comments for 2 days, and then they are off researching next week’s question.