Ask Anything – Printed Portfolio vs. iPad Portfolio

- - Ask Anything

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.

QUESTION:

I am a photo assistant and studio manager that is taking steps to go out on my own, getting everything in place before the storm. Or at least what I hope will be the storm of work coming my way. Trying to stay positive here. Getting started is hard hitting, financially, so every decision I make I’m putting a lot of thought into, what tripod to invest in, cases, website, etc. There are so many options out there. Now I’ve reached portfolios. I just redid portfolios for a photographer I work for. This photographer dropped thousands on beautiful new portfolios and prints. They are really lovely. Whenever I contact others about this photographer’s work, or am contacted about it, never do they want to see the printed version. They simply say, send me a link to the website, or send a digital portfolio focusing on this. This really makes me wonder if I should be spending the time and money to print my work. I’ve heard of other photographers sending around an ipad with their work instead of a printed book. While I find it rather silly, as many computer screens are larger than the ipad, in which case I think you will get a better experience with the images, it does make some sense as well. At least you can control the color and quickly revise the images as necessary. I’ve heard what photographers think about this, but I’m wondering what art buyers, photo editors, and you think of this.

Amanda and Suzanne:
A portfolio is your visual voice that allows you to tell the story/journey of who you are creatively. We hope that portfolios will continue to transform, but we believe will continue to exist in some form. The website and the portfolio still stand as 2 separate entities and each tells your story differently.

ANSWERS:

ART PRODUCER:

I think if you’re going to be a photographer… be a photographer… save your money and have your book printed on nice paper. But, it really all depends on who’s asking and what they are asking for. Maybe the job is shooting something that will only go online. Look, I know that showing your books digitally is easier, but believe me there are still a lot of traditional clients, AD’s & AB’s who like to see a portfolio. Most still do. Let’s put this way, have ever gone to see an apartment that you saw online and when you arrived you can’t believe it’s the same apartment. Photoshop is beautiful thing. Not to say you can’t photoshop images and print them in your printed portfolio. You can. I just think touching and feeling it gives clients, AD’s & AB’s a lot more to talk about.

BTW: I just finished A job that sent books all over the place. Not just the photographer, but hair, make-up & wardrobe stylist as well. It pays to be prepared. Keep in mind that if you only have one book, be creative and tell clients all your books are out… they’ll want you more.

ART PRODUCER:
If I were a new photographer, I’d invest in 1) a killer website, 2) an iPad portfolio and 3) and FTP service.

Don’t get me wrong; as a Print person, I love a beautifully crafted physical portfolio. But the reality is, the iPad is already revolutionizing portfolio showing. It does everything I would want a portfolio to do: it’s easy to use; the images look great; I can pass it around; I can view multiple portfolios at will; shipping is cheap!

As a photographer, you can customize it to each client and it’s cheaper than printing out multiple physical portfolios.

I have to admit, I’ve requested fewer and fewer physical portfolios of any kind over the past year. Photographers have become more techno-savvy and can provide me links or PDFs to what I need to see.

That’s where the FTP service comes in. Rather than sending large files via email, send links to your work via an FTP site. There are several out there, some entirely free.

ART PRODUCER:
I can’t remember the last time that I called in/used an actual printed book. I first evaluate work by what I see online. If I need more, I’ll ask, but usually I’ll want to see more work digitally. Books are expensive; take time to get to me, etc. I also like showing only relevant shots to our clients. While very beautiful, I can’t do that with an already put together book. I’m a big fan of treatments (previous post on treatments). They go along way with clients and with my creative team. These are catered to a particular client/project and show insightful ideas that relate directly to my client/project. I’ve been using these in replacement of a book.

To Summarize: Have something PREPARED and READY waiting to go out. 3 different buyers and they both say to be prepared – please listen to your potential clients.

Call To Action: print your book, or buy the iPad you have been dying to buy, and/or get your digital/virtual portfolio together. If budget allows we vote for all 3. If budget is tight and $500 is more realistic, then the iPad. If budget is $0 – virtual all the way.

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.

There Are 51 Comments On This Article.

  1. I get asked this a lot too from my assistants. My advice is this: if the budget is out of your reach, perhaps the client is too (for the time being). Its going to be a lot easier starting at the bottom, or middle even, with clients for whom a website or iPad portfolio is just fine. When you have the money to make nicer books you will be ready to show them to larger clients and make the impression you want to make. Good luck!

  2. I used to warn photographers not to land a meeting with a buyer or editor and then just walk them through a website. I mean, hello, the creative can do that on their own and don’t need you sitting there to do it.

    Now I’m wondering the same thing about iPad portfolios. Are people making truly interactive portfolios that aren’t just folders of images and videos that the user flips through using iPhoto? How are people making their iPad portfolios richer than what can be seen online?

    Sure that slick finger flipping action is cool and all, but is it enough to warrant taking up someone’s time or having them have to keep track of your iPad, make sure it gets back to the messenger center, etc. I’m sure there are some great examples out there, would be cool to see them.

  3. Any thoughts on projection. I see these tiny projectors on the market that seem to produce quality images. I am thinking viewing images projected might make the experience more collaboratively interactive. In addition the images are big.

    • @Cameron, I like the idea of projecting your portfolio, but it doesn’t seem practical. How easy is it going to be for the potential client (assuming this is happening at their office) to get the room dark and have a big clear space of white (not off white) wall? iPad or laptop or printed book seems much more practical to me.

  4. Thanks for the informative article. I haven’t had to show my print portfolio to potential clients for a long time and this reinforces my belief on the power of web portfolios, particularly when they include tear sheets.

    -Timothy Hughes

  5. My fear with the ipad being so new is that you run the risk of it taking attention away from your work.

    Presentation is important but shouldn’t over shadow what you really want people to see.

  6. I’d love to know from Amanda and Suzanne if there’s any correlation between the size of the agency or size of the clients they handle and their preference for a printed book. My gut says yes but I don’t know who those art producers are.

    • Amanda & Suzanne

      @A Photo Editor, Here’s where the thought process about portfolios need to change… You need a book for the CHANCE it might be called in for a job (nothing like pulling a book together at 2am for a 7am FedEx delivery – we all know what that could look like) – but our real goal is about having a good book ready to show in personal meetings (they do exist – see comment below from Allen Sullivan). Small or large – you can meet with both and they are all still hiring. If you book was printed and gathering dust on the shelf – it’s a real sin in our book – get out there and show it around. Hope we answered the question Rob – in a round about way!

  7. i just reprinted all my portfolios, ‘no plastic sleeves’ style…. and now go into meetings also with an ipad showing additional works. let me tell you, the ‘no plastic sleeves’ folio blows people away. Do not overlook the strength and clarity of a finely printed piece. After all the years of showing books behind accetate, and i was thinking it’s all fine, but now, it’s a whole new body of work, with an entirely new reaction. In fact I think at every single meeting in the last two months, they have mentioned how beautiful the prints look. EVERY TIME! Do not overlook the fact that nothing makes a stronger impression. And then i show the iPad, even i feel it’s a bit of a second fiddle. Don’t kid yourself, it doesn’t compare.

  8. RE: http://FTP….When you have a website and possibly an ipad portfolio how does an FTP site work practically speaking? My clients have usually had their own FTP servers (1 did not) to which I delivered the final images. I would never email large files anyway to anybody for any reason simply because of how slow it is and the usual attachment limitations of most email servers….

    How does an FTP site of my own profit me on the front side of a job?

    • @Alan Matthews, I confess I’m always surprised to see people still using FTP – way to cumbersome and un-secured. A good alternative to FTP and email is a site like filesdirect, which lets you send and store large files from anywhere.

  9. Most advertising today is still printed. Ad agencies and clients prefer something in their hands, on paper for this reason. Hell, the amount of laser prints alone that are printed in the creation and selling of an ad is staggering.

    The web is great for initial job casting being that it’s quick and easy, but when it comes time to hire, it’s show me the paper.

    This is my experience, yours may differ.

  10. rob g- agreed. Does everything have to be digital nowadays? Nothing beats a printed piece. Representing your work accurately and beautifully on paper shows true mastery of your craft imo. For me, it’s infinitely more difficult printing, trimming, punching and binding images than rendering them out at 600 px for screen.

    I don’t understand the difference between an ipad portfolio and a website. Why bother shipping or showing up to meet with a potential client toting an ipad when they can essentially view the same thing on their Cinema screen?

    Cost? iPads start at 400.oo, but realistically you will end up buying one in the $600- $830 range, so unless you are commissioning some crazy tricked out book it’s not that much cheaper then the initial cost of building a portfolio.

    1. Decent site 2. solid printed book 3. if budget permits, mix in an ipad.

    That said, I have a book here collecting dust if any directors or creatives want to check it out… shipping is free. Ha ha.

  11. On a recent portfolio trip to New York, I carried both a printed book and an iPad portfolio. I made it a point not to skimp on print quality and that paid off. Each viewer said they liked the book, its quality and one said it was refreshing to actually touch and flip through paper–she’d been seeing mainly digital presentations lately.

    The iPad paid off in showing videos quickly and readily. Touch a few icons and there they are. It even drew a small crowd at one point. I’ve duplicated my print book with an Apple program, adding a video section at the end.

    One potential client actually preferred the iPad for one reason: we were in a busy coffee shop at a small table, and the iPad’s size in comparison to an 11X17 book simply made it physically easier to look at.

  12. It would be really helpful to see poll results from art buyers, asking how often they actually call in books (rarely, sometimes, often or whatever). The responses in this post are a little confusing to me…it sounds like people like printed portfolios, but it also sounds like it’s not that common for clients to actually call them in. But I suppose it’s going to depend on the art buyer.

  13. I have a ginormous printed portfolio with 12×18 prints, no plastic sleeves, and I always get compliments. I always get asked “did you print these yourself?” and when I answer “yes” people are impressed, and start asking loads of questions. It gives me another chance to talk about my work and my craft, and I think it shows that I am an artist, and not just some digital button masher.

    I think people are so used to squinting at overly-bright computer screens all day that when you walk in with a big beautiful collection of prints, it’s refreshing! No computer screen even comes close to the detail and texture of a good print.

  14. I’ve seen a lot of photo students with good pictures that are slightly off, although they look fine at 800 pixels on screen. Before I’d assign a newbie to shoot a full-page bleed print ad, I’d want to see some things they’ve printed. If it prints sharp on the Epson, it will probably print fine on offset.

    iPads look great but why would anyone send a $5-600 device around if they don’t have to? Why aren’t people just emailing a PDF or creating an app?

  15. laurence zankowski

    For those who are on a limited budget where even an iPad is out of the question.

    here are some ideas:

    http://www.wix.com

    for a free website ( flash based ).

    http://www.jalbum.com

    jalbum has a great user following and loads of different ways to present your work.

    get jetphotostudio

    http://www.jetphotosoft.com/web/home/

    online storage:

    get onto zumo drive for free sharing/storage

    dropbox for free storage/ sharing ( I use both )

    I wished infinite canvas didn’t fall off the earth, this could be a great way to create pic / story for a portfolio.

    hope that these links prove useful.

    laurence

  16. Jock Bradley

    About eight months ago we went down this same road – printed versus digital.

    We have always had a web site and used it as a portfolio for a number of years. We contacted Amanda Sosa-Stone and were advised to do a printed book(s). We also considered and spoke with Amanda about just going with an iPad instead of spending thousands on doing the portfolios. I honestly thought that any non digital portfolio wasn’t worth the additional money.

    Having just gotten one of the completed books back – I have to say the look and feel is stunning. The printing, materials and design are elegant and very professional. Coupled with photos that hopefully resonate with the prospective client, the whole package offers an experience that digital cannot touch. These books are for our face to face meetings and in such an application I now understand why Amanda so strongly believes in taking this route.

    For our out of town clients when a portfolio is requested – we put together a digital book that is loaded onto our web site. We have used a Photo Folio for a couple of years and found this to be a very easy and effective way to digitally personalize a portfolio. It also allows the potential client to send a link to other creatives that they work with.

    At present we have chosen not to use an iPad as a way to show our portfolios or be an addition during a face to face meeting. If a potential client wants to see more work, we ask them to wait until we can custom make one on our web site. This can typically be done in within 24 hours or less. We feel this is a better way than to be fumbling around trying to locate images on the iPad when we don’t want waste the AD’s prized face time. The last thing we need to project is any sort of disorganization.

    To answer the OP’s question:

    1. Make sure your web site is great. It should be easy to navigate and load quickly. Besides spending money to create the images this is the next place to invest in your business. We have done several different web sites over the years and feel that we have finally hit our mark with A Photo Folio. You might want to seriously look at what Rob has to offer.
    2. Do a blurb book or one of the other companies that do one off’s. The portfolio you show today will hopefully be outdated in 18 – 24 months – so don’t blow a lot of cash you may not have.
    3. DON’T use a projector. You want the experience of looking at your portfolio to be very easy. A projector needs setting up, dimming the lights, spare bulbs, and some user interface. A printed book does not and it offers a tactile experience. Also – if it’s electronic it will have glitches which is not what you want to have happen when you finally get a face to face with an AD that you have been pestering for six months. The book is bombproof – unless you spill coffee all over it.

    I hope this helps.

  17. I’m a rep and this is my 2 cents.
    You better have a great web site that shows pictures with in the first 5 seconds someone visits or they are gone. And if you have some crazy design with picture floating around and music playing you are toast.

    Most Art Producers don’t call in books they visit web sites, come on it is 2010 not 1995. If, and only if they find any value in your site they call the rep and maybe a book gets sent in. At that point IPad or book isn’t the point.

    Ipad great, I use one when I make agency visits but I take along books too.
    Both are tools so don’t get hung up on that.

    Your challenge is getting buyers to your web site, and if they do it your 5 best images better be tee’d up.

    good luck

  18. I went down the sleeveless route and reprinted my book earlier this year on matt art paper. I love showing this. I have a couple of books hand made by Cathy Robert in London, they look and feel great.

    One tip I can pass on is that if anyone uses matt art paper, if a white border gets a bit grubby it can often be cleaned up. Go down to an art store and buy a watercolour painters kneadable eraser. Gently used, this takes off fingermarks completely from Hahnemule Photo Rag and similar style papers.

    But I also think the iPad makes a good adjunct to the printed folio. For a start, I have it with me when I’m travelling around (I now leave the laptop at home) so I can show work to anyone I happen to bump into.

    Also, there’s no way of showing motion on a printed book, so for people moving into that space, it’s going to be pretty much essential to use an iPad, iPhone or something similar.

    Finally for all its limitations the iPad does present images beautifully, in a few cases they look better than print. The resolution is high enough to appear print like and then there is the sense of touch thats engaged by it. In fact I liked the iPad so much I spent the last two months designing and commissioning a portfolio app for the iPad.

    My only fear with the iPad is that one is tempted to show too much work, or fiddle around unnecessarily with it. So maybe for some people the freedom it brings is a little dangerous, and a closely edited printed book will enforce a valuable constraint.

  19. Cameron (#2)

    I was a beta tester for this app. I bought it when the app hit the store this morning.

    Foliobook is written by UK Architectural Photographer Paul Freeman. It is a very cool portfolio application for the iPad and is simple to use.

    If you are going to explore that route, you may want to check out Foliobook in the App store. Not sure how you link to a product in the store but here is a link to Paul’s site that he set-up for Foliobook.

    http://www.foliobook.mobi

  20. This makes me happy. I’m in the middle of putting my book together and just the process alone is worth the effort. Yes, I will be making appointments to show, but I lost a job last year because I didn’t have a REAL book. If you do your homework it can be a modest expenditure. How about a Pina Zangaro 17×11 for $66. I’ll get the laser etching done myself.

  21. I think you still need a book. If you can, get both but, if only enough money for one. I vote for a book. I would feel really weird walking into a meeting w/ an ipad or laptop. I’ve already heard of people getting snarky negative comments about bringing in an ipad. Especially if you are meeting with ppl who have been around a while.

    that being said I’m maybe a little biased b/c I personally prefer the tangibility and intimacy of a book. ipad may be more convenient for you to make and change but I feel like it is less impressive and much less personal.

  22. Great article. For years I was showing physical portfolios and in “transparencies” format, big 8X10 dupes … Now the 91% of my work is done for the net, I really must have a digital form to show.
    I use my macbookpro but I’m planning to get an iPAD and carry it since is so lighter .. BUT I also want to have some prints made of my special panoramic 360 degrees images so I can put something on my prospect’s hands …
    Anyway everyday is a new day fighting to get hired with a new Client
    Thanks for sharing your opinions
    Best
    AYRTON

  23. I have both. I bring both to the showings I’ve had recently.

    It’s been interesting to see the response to the iPad and the Book being presented together.

    I have matching cases and book covers that accompany both that have my branding. (Working on a “review vid” to show them both while a “client” navigates each)

    From the people I’ve sent it to or had a port review with I’ve heard everything from:
    “…it’s great to see that you can manage and brand them so that they compliment each other.”
    to “I really don’t like looking at a screen as I do that much of my day, so I’m glad I have the option to look at prints…”
    to “I’m a convert, I used to like print, but now I can keep your book out [on the desk] without being a space burden. I reviewed and referenced it more than I would have normally during the time I had it.”
    to “I loved being able to see your behind the scenes video while we met. Being able to look at your work and then see how you pulled it off was invaluable. I don’t think I would have looked to your blog or site for the video.”

    So for me, it’s been great to have both. They are different with different +’s and -‘s.

    I’ll continue to send and share each, unless I’m sure one will be better than the other.

  24. I’m getting more and more print folio call ins lately.

    In my experience, you risk losing the job with an ipad folio.

    Anyone can make 72dpi jog look good, making a print (or magazine print) look good is another story entirely.

    And you look cheap with an iPad too.

    iPad fails IMO.

  25. Just to add…

    Where an iPad is great I think is if you have a meeting and want to show thie kind of work you’d normally show in a ‘scrapbook’ style book. Personal work, snaps, prject files etc.

  26. Sure, the iPad presents a beautiful image… at full screen size. Try zooming in! The device compresses the image resolution down quite a bit. I like the highest resolution I can get. Don’t you?

    After hours of research, as far as I know, there is no way to get around the JPG deterioration problem either. iPhones also have this annoying programming problem. Apple really has closed their doors to us recently. It’s starting to become repetitively irritating.

    In the end, the old school physical book still comes out on top. Especially considering how cheap that’s gotten too.

    • @Chris Schultz, This degradation is a feature of the Apple iOS versions up to 3.2. It should change with the lastest release 4.0, which will come to the iPad in the fall (provided developers change their apps to use the newer features in iOS 4).

        • @Chris Schultz, Might take a while for the apps to catch up. Might be worth a visit to an Apple store to see if you could download a large image from your website, then examine it on the phone and see how it scales. If I get the chance to check this out on my iPhone 4 I’ll post some info.

          • @Paul, I made that trip a few weeks ago. My test was to download a full res image securely from my server. This image was from a Leaf Aptus medium format back (huge file).

            Safari scaled it beautifully. And quickly too!

            When saving that same image to the phone’s photo album, it still compressed the file.

            Without having the 4.0 OS and an iPhone 4, there isn’t much more testing I can do.

            The new Retna screens do look great though (iPhone and iPad).

  27. Regarding this print versus digital portfolio debate, I go with printed version any day.

    There is something special about being able to see my work of art in a physically tangible medium versus its existence in zeros and ones.

    Besides, my monogrammed House of Portfolio leather book beats the look of the iPad any day.

    If people want to see my images digitally, I tell them to go to my website where I made my images optimized to 1920 x 1080 full screen. My website uses a liquid layout. Voila!

  28. We used to send out thirty or more printed portfolios per week. By request from potential clients. This entire year six have been requested. The majority of our clients have selected us based on our websites or special sites created for specific projects.

  29. This is a tough one, there are obviously those who want to embrace the 21st century fully and go with technology, but in my opinion a physical ‘book’ simply can’t be competed with. I have just spent quite a few pennies to re-vamp mine for a meeting that I had yesterday and I can honestly say it was money well spent. It comes down to the tactile quality of turning printed pages and the discussion that follows. It also doesn’t matter how big or how good a quality you see on a screen it simply can’t compete with a printed image, it just looks different, better and real in printed form. I could go on, but have a brief to read following my meeting, which I may not have received if it were presented on an iPad…

  30. I can’t say that I agree with showing anything entirely on any screen.

    A photograph is a thing of print, it is tactile as much as it visual.
    With so much screen time available & with every conceivable thing being pipelined direct into our eyes, maybe it will even become a novelty to hold a beautiful physical thing in your hand. No animation, no navigation (other than one image following the other) a picture, sitting still, right there in the real world in front of your eyes..

    For those who appreciate fine books, (not just folios) I think the print book has a plenty of life in it. I have seen hundreds of book prepared in hundreds of ways. Even when the images are less impressive than the packaging, the carefully prepared one’s, with the impressive presentation always outshine the functional ones.

    If we are all going to be reduced to presenting our work digitally, then are we all going to have the same book, just with different intro graphics and the newest flashiest whizzy things.

    I view doing things on screen as the foreplay. The print, that thing of sumptuous tone and colour. That piece of fine craft that someone has agonized over the smallest of detail, thats what I would want to see.

    but hey I’m not an A.B. what do i know.

    • @JP Mountford, thanks a lot for your post. I’ve read several, but it was yours that made me decide to go for a ‘real’ book.

      But, the “smallest of details” may as well apply to the digital world. i would suggest you look over your menue it drives people crazy.

  31. Think we have a solution for all photographers. Want your own app on the app store for everyone to download. Want it to look better and perform better than the Guardian Eyewitness App? Well it does.

    And want it for website money rather than pay 30k for development.

    Take a look at http://www.teleportfolio.co.uk/

    The first app using the Teleportfolio platform is available on iTunes, there is a link on the website or search for LuntDesign.