How do You Start a Portfolio from Scratch?

Some of you were laid off from newspaper photographer jobs or have lost a stable set of clients or are just getting into this business. For whatever reason, you may find yourself having to create a portfolio from scratch or updating an aging representation of your work. It’s a daunting task, in part because with the task ahead of you it’s like seeing a forest that has to be logged. This process reduces the forest to an organized set of trees.

Of course I can help you ease the pain and expedite the process to produce a stellar representation of your work. If you can’t afford that right now, here is a process you can use on your own. You’d have to do some of these steps to work with me anyway.

  • Establish the goal for your portfolio. Who is your audience? What are the uses of this portfolio - a book to walk around, a web presence, a multimedia piece, all of the above?
  • Organize your work. Figure out a hard drive/server structure that works now and allows for continued growth in the number of images. The base structure ideally won’t change so that you only import to an archiving software once. Your folder structure will vary by the type of work you’ve done so that’s up to you to determine. It’s up to you whether you keep every image. I don’t. Nearly half of the pictures I make go in the trash before I archive.
  • Import to an archiving software. There are many. Some of them are: Lightroom by Adobe, Aperture by Apple, Expression Media by Microsoft (formerly iView MediaPro), Portfolio by Extensis. I’ve used all of these and landed on Aperture for my own work. Photo Mechanic by Camera Bits is essential, too. It doesn’t create a freestanding archive but it’s the fastest and most powerful at captioning, doing an initial edit, ftp, emailing, uploading to Photoshelter and more.  Caption and keyword every image. Back up your archive  and keep a copy off site.
  • Rate your images in passes. Look at every image, one project at a time and elevate to one star (or whatever the lowest rating is in the program you’re using). On this first pass, you’re just deciding which of the photos works at a basic level. I reduce it to the question: Is it a full frame? Full frame means: Every part of the image does something, there’s a three dimensional quality, exposure, composition, quality of light and moment are all acceptable and the photo elicits a resonse. Make three passes with the same kind of judgment on each pass and rate with a higher star count each pass. Reduce the archive view to three stars and before you are your best images. The forest has become a group of fabulous trees.
  • Now you can easily pull the best images for a given portfolio use.

Considerations for selecting and sequencing a given portfolio may be another post. Or you can work with me on that part.

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