Real Secrets Behind Building A Strong And Successful Portfolio

- - Portfolio

Over on Monaco Reps new Look Here blog there’s an interview with Claudia Monaco on the real secrets behind strong portfolios. I’ve pulled my favorite bits to whet your appetite, but you’ve got to read the whole thing (here).

  • I prefer to have at least 200 images to work with when I’m putting together a portfolio.
  • when a client takes a look at it, from page one to whatever, it is clearly one vision, one eye, one style, one artist. In order for many artists to get there, they need to experiment a bit by doing many things before they wind up with a cohesive vision. Here at this agency, I don’t consider repping someone unless they are already at a certain point of that arc of development.
  • a portfolio – which I would like to say right now is NOT a coffee table book, it is not a personal expression. It is a tool for getting assignments. Period.
  • The reason it’s a really strong portfolio is because its foundation is stories.
  • The layout of the portfolio takes much longer than the edit of the images. Depending on the photographer it can take weeks.
  • The use of white in a portfolio should be consciously made, and done sparingly.
  • There has been a shift over the years towards concentrated portfolios; twenty years ago, that was not necessarily the case. Things have become more and more limited in terms of what people want to see in a portfolio.
  • As impressive as technology is, nothing beats the tactile quality of a portfolio, the turning of the pages and the paper, is often a wonderful experience, like opening an envelope with expectations.
  • You have to be able to do things as quickly as possible. So we reintroduced acetate pages back into our portfolios. I have to say I feel much better about our books now. The turn around time for new work can be one day.
  • Our Video in Print pages are actual pages with a video screen embedded into the page:

vip

There Are 44 Comments On This Article.

    • @Ed, I just finished up the article and there are traditional things like printed portfolios that just wont go away because of thing. I think it is exciting to see a large well printed image that you can see without the limitations of a screen. Thanks Rob. I can’t say it enough.

  1. I moved to printed plates in a custom box that reflects my branding. I have to say, as much as I still like to have people look at my port on the iPad, people always gravitate towards looking longer and harder at the printed plates.

    On the video front, I have found that that’s where the iPad shines.

    I load it up with behind the scenes shots and the portfolio pieces from those and it really makes an impact. Not only do they see the shots, how they were captured, but also a short glimpse into what it’s like to work with you.

    Cheers,
    Rick

    • @greg ceo, It means that if you have a broad archive that covers a number of different markets you need to either create separate portfolios to address each category or separate your portfolio into smaller sections based on category. IE travel, food, lifestyle etc. This actually does not mean show what you love to shoot. I rep some people that love to shoot sunsets, ugh. While they are lovely, they are not suited to a specific market. Self editing is hard, but stay focused on what a market needs and you should do fine.

      • @Claudia Monaco, Thanks. This clarifies. This is exactly what I tell my students. However, I would say that while Travel, Food and Lifestyle can go together, Fashion and Architecture do not, so if you met with a photographer who shot Fashion and Architecture would you still rep them? If so would you create separate books and show them to different clients?

        • @greg ceo, I also tell the students to think about who the book is “For.” “What kind of work do you want to get with the book?”

          Most of them shrug and say, “I dunno.” And then I say, “Well, until you can answer that question, I can’t help you with your book.”

        • @greg ceo, I definitely would not rep a fashion/architecture photog. But I have to say that there is a connection between the two even though no one would ever understand it. Unfortunately our markets are exclusive of anything that does not address them particularly. Focus is more important often than general talent. Though, talent is often determined by consistency in style, which would eliminate odd cross markets like architecture and fashion.

            • @roberto,

              Agreed. It’s definitely possible to overlap styles and clients. Editorial is a place where this happens all the time… shoot a person in a place that makes a thing.

              It’s impossible to say “this is good. / this is bad.” when there are so many opinions, needs and wants out there.

              absolutism is a young artist’s folly…

            • @roberto,

              And even looking at monaco reps’ site Cedric Angeles shows this. So perhaps its simply a matter of what comes to mind when you think of “architecture photography”.

      • @Claudia Monaco, This is rather amusing. As early as say the mid 90’s (and as late as the present day) reps, top photographers, coaches/consultants would emphasis the importance of NOT specializing. But instead to be a generalist with a very unique and specific (signature) ‘vision’. Do you think David La Chapelle, Annie Leibowitz, or Nadav Kander change their books around to suit each client or market?

        I have a feeling the market today is so over saturated, fractured and competitive that most everyone working below the top tier is still trying to figure it out – including many reps.

        The only holy grail is what works in each specific instant, that and being one of the top tier image makers. But for the vast majority of the unwashed masses of image makers in the market their efforts and expenses will probably exceed the returns.

  2. It means that you need to show what you “love to shoot”. More of a specialist style portfolio vs. generalist.
    Basically don’t show a portfolio of adventure shots, fashion, baby shots, product shots etc. And even then when you pick a “specialty” make sure it’s in YOUR STYLE, with YOUR TAKE and YOUR PERSPECTIVE.

    That’s my take at least….

    Cheers,
    Rick

  3. I just saw this post! How excellent! I hope this helps a lot of others. I’d noticed a recent PDN piece on this and I thought I might have a unique perspective to offer. Glad it’s getting some attention. Thanks.

  4. >•You have to be able to do things as quickly as possible. So we reintroduced acetate pages back into our portfolios. I have to say I feel much better about our books now. The turn around time for new work can be one day.<

    So? we are moving back to plastic sleeves?

    • @Von R Buzard, It’s really up to you. I’ve decided to return to acetate sleeves (only the archival kind, very thin, very study too) to make it easier to update portfolios. It still looks great and we can update a portfolio in a matter of hours. Double sided paper is a real problem when you need to shift images around. And since most portfolios need to be refreshed at least every 3 months that means I am refreshing something all the time.

    • @Claudia Monaco, I just attended a portfolio speed review here in Vancouver and, while I do not employ plastic sleeves, I heard more than a few complaints from the reviewers about photographers who did use them. Just typin’…

    • @Von R Buzard, Double sided paper or plastic does not get or lose you a job. What will lose you a job is not being able to customize your book for a meeting or having damaged pages that are difficult and time consuming to swap out. In the end the effort of double sided paper doesn’t pay any significant dividend, at least in my experience.

        • @Von R Buzard, Honestly, it is really up to you and what you like. I have never, ever been told by a client that they hate acetate sleeves, despite all this commentary. When we returned to them I thought there might be a backlash, but quite the contrary. It is personal taste. As long as the work is solid the rest is gravy. Truly.

          • @Claudia Monaco,

            I sent out sleeved books this past 2 years after having non-sleeved for 5 years or so and I have not had one negative comment and have had quite a few assignments. I personally like non-sleeved but after seeing hundreds of sleeved models books over the last couple of years at castings I thought wtf and did a couple.

            I have asked about ipad portfolios and have not had one AD understand the logic behind doing that, so I won’t.

            ymmv.

            • @Victor John Penner, i-pad portfolios work great in a B to B situation, such as a trade show. You can be standing up and showing work to business people who are not used to seeing books. The images are luminous and wonderful as long as you are not in bright sunlight.

              10 years ago I had a book printed on mat paper with images back to back. It took forever to print and adding a new image was the biggest pain in the butt– changing one image meant changing several. About 5 years ago I switched back to plastic sleeves and have been very happy with that choice.

  5. I have a question for Claudia. If you are a photographer who shoots fashion, lifestyle and conceptual – can all three of those fit into one portfolio or would you separate them into fashion/lifestyle and conceptual?

    Also would you rep that person?

    Thanks,
    Jo

    • @joanna, I would definitely separate the fashion out. It is a different market altogether and takes a certain stylistic commitment to pull off. That’s not to say that you can’t shoot it all, as long as your approach is the same. You can also show some of it together if your lifestyle and fashion work is shot the same way. But often it is not. To be safe try separating it and see how you feel. Probably it will make the fashion look stronger.

  6. Gag me with a spoon!

    Any rep who works totally independently of “their” photographers and only on commission is always interested in the next thing, the low hanging (easy sell) fruit, the “hot” look or photographer or subjects. They are independent business people just like most photographers.

    iPad/iPhone vs. books vs. laminations vs. tear sheets vs. laptop/projector shows vs. the next big thing! It’s all the same over and over.

    Relationships with your/our clients is still 90% of repeat business. And any fool knows its ten times better to resell an exiting client then hooking up with a brand new one.

    This ain’t the bad old days of comps for cars or other kickback scams. Companies are too focused on their bottom line Not their vendors like us.

    I’ve got multiple reps and have had perhaps a dozen over the years. They’ve all benefited as have I but for them to be successful they are not always thinking of me first. And almost never if they carry lots of books. Why would they?

    • @West Coast Jim, I’m not really sure what you are getting at here. Though I admit there are some unsavory reps out there. I can say we work very closely with both our photographers and our clients. That’s why after 25 years we are still flourishing. Without a doubt clients are still interested in seeing and using portfolios. In the end they have to impress their clients. The bad old days of ad agencies firing their clients is long past. These days deep relationships and loyal clients are few and fa between. Though we have enjoyed many repeat clients we never take it for granted and always seek to continue to impress our clientele as often as possible. The demand for new and beautiful portfolios has been expressed by many clients. And we aim to please.

  7. Claudia, 2 questions for you if you are still listening. 1) Do you know of any web sites where we can view photographer’s printed portfolios? (similar to the bit that was shown of Tara’s). I am curious to see some examples of your suggestions. 2) Sounds like you only build portfolios for those you rep. Can you give any suggestions for who to hire to those of us who don’t have a rep but need some help putting the portfolio together? I am interested in help on the whole thing – not just choosing the images and putting them in order, but also laying out the book as you’ve described (full bleeds, multiple images to what pages, etc.). I think this is the hardest part! Thanks for a great post.

    • @Julia, Sorry, don’t know of sites that actually show the portfolio itself. I can say that most of the galleries on our site are replications of our portfolios image for image. As far as hiring a consultant there are a few people out there that do it. I am not completely convinced that if you don’t rep you can put a good book together. It takes a bit of inside knowledge, but I could be wrong. If you are sincere about hiring someone we can discuss it. I do enjoy the process. You can contact me directly from our website.

  8. Concentrated book….. How concentrated is too much, or is it a matter of finesse…. and guessing… and, uh, ESP, magic, or experience….

    1. you know it when you see it
    2. it’s about the client, not you

    So, if I imagine I’m a client, and I see a very specialized book, the photographer’s treading a fine line between being “exactly the right concetrated specialty” and “not quite the right thing”

    Question:
    I’m sure this depends on clients, markets, and specialties, but @Claudia Monaco, are there situations where you’ve broadened a book at the last minute for a certain pitch?

    Having worked with agencies, I know that some designers can and some can’t previsualize a mood board leading to photographs that work but are conceptually and mood-wise the same as the book but slightly different than whatever they showed the client…. because they fit the photographers vision, not the random stock image they showed the client in the comp….

    • @vax, we are often asked for a mood board, which is quite a different animal. Before we send a portfolio we try as hard as we can to get the gist of what the client wants to see. The adjust accordingly. Usually our portfolios are honed enough that it isn’t a big deal. We also send slide shows of extra work if it is requested to fill out an approach or a specific need. We’ve also had comps with only our photographer’s work featured and wound up NOT getting the job, usually for some unknown reason. I don’t need to say it, but the competition is ridiculous out there. Fortunately our agency has been very lucky for the most part. I have to assume it is because we represent great talent and we are constantly reviewing marketing strategy to keep pace with all the changes. It’s advertising to the advertisers in the end.

  9. Very good article. I too prefer printed portfolios, but I do have electronic versions too. The tactile sensation of handling a real print, engaging the viewer when they handle the product, turn the page, all makes for a stronger impression on the viewer.

    To many younger photographers only deal with digital images, portfolios on iPhones and iPads. While there is a time when this works (iPad, not iPhone) nothing beats looking at a real print.

    Have Fun,
    Jeff

  10. Video screens??? Wow, that’s amazing. Highly doubt its affordable though..