Building a Photography Portfolio: A Full Guide (All You Need to Know)
by Irek Klimczak last updated on 0

Building a Photography Portfolio: A Full Guide (All You Need to Know)

Photography is “show” business. 

So, as a photographer, having a professional photography portfolio is super important because it’s your opportunity to make a good first impression on potential clients. 

They’re unlikely to hire you if your portfolio is underwhelming or unconvincing. That’s why you need to create an impressive portfolio that accurately showcases your photography skills.

In this article, we’ll go into detail about the steps you can take to create the perfect portfolio.

Table Of Contents

How to build an impressive photography portfolio that attracts your ideal clients

1. Define your niche and target audience

While this may sound cliche, it’s an important step because it determines how you approach every other aspect of building your portfolio. The photos you present to future clients as a wedding photographer will be different from those of a product photographer.  

For example, New York-based photographer, Cayla Zahoran, specializes in food photography, so she’s arranged her online portfolio to highlight this, with menu items like “on the table” and “sweets and treats.”

Think of it this way: the goal is to choose a specific niche and build a strong photo portfolio in that niche. Even if you choose to offer photography services in different niches, think through how you want to present your work for clients in those different niches. And then you can design your portfolio based on the audience and niche you’re targeting. 

2. Work on projects that’ll improve your portfolio

If you’re an experienced photographer, you may already have an impressive body of work to build your portfolio with. But if you’re just starting out in your photography career, you may not have a ready collection of photos. Consider the following ways to build up your portfolio: 

  • Do pro bono work for non-profits or discounted work for small businesses — One of the key things you’d want to include in your portfolio are client testimonials. 

A good way to get these is to offer pro bono services to select individuals, families, or organizations who fit your ideal client profile in exchange for detailed reviews. You can also offer discounted services to a few small businesses.

  • Collaborate with well-known photographers — Working with experienced and well-known photographers on mutually beneficial projects is a good way to get some great shots and, more importantly, build your portfolio. You can attend workshops, meet-ups, and other events where you are likely to meet these photographers. 

LinkedIn and other social media sites are also great places to find other creatives and like-minded people who may be willing to work with you on collaborative projects. Be sure to choose creatives who share a similar artistic style or vision and who are fairly well known, so their influence can help build your portfolio. Make a clear offer and be respectful of their time.

  • Organize/participate in photoshoots — A photoshoot can help you build your portfolio quickly, especially if you are interested in human subjects. Choose a theme for your shoot and find models who are willing to participate.
  • Take photos of your family/friends — This is always an option if you want to get started really quickly. For example, if you want to build a wedding photography portfolio, you can offer services to friends or family members who are tying the knot. 

3. Select your best work

When you’ve worked on a variety of projects, then the next step is to choose photos that best demonstrate your photography skills. This is also why defining your niche and target audience is important because it helps you narrow down your selection.

Here are some tips for choosing your best images:

  • View your collection as a potential client and select the pieces that are most likely to help you win your desired type of job.
  • Select work that already has recognition; for example, pieces that have received awards or honorable mentions from reputable organizations.
  • Identify specific photography skills you want to highlight and choose images that demonstrate those skill sets.
  • If you already have an existing digital portfolio, choose pieces that are popular with your audience — this could be your most viewed photos on Instagram or those with the highest likes/comments.

4. Choose your portfolio format(s)

Your portfolio can be in print (which is the traditional format), digital format, or both. Printed portfolios are best for sharing in person. This is also important if you intend to show how your photos look on different paper types. 

A printed portfolio also works great if you have a physical studio (or are planning to have one) where clients walk in for appointments and shooting.

Example of a printed photography portfolio.
Image credit: Printique

But even if you have a print portfolio like the one above, a digital or online portfolio (shown below) is equally important. An online portfolio is easy to create and share, can be accessed any time, and can be regularly updated. 

An example of an online (or digital) portfolio.
Image credit: Tony Gale

Your digital portfolio could be as simple as a shareable Google document or as intricate as a fully interactive custom-developed website.

And while social media websites like Instagram could also serve as your online portfolio, it’s best to create a dedicated portfolio website where your visitors do not have to create an account before they can view or interact with your work.

If you want to get inspired, read our 17 Photography Portfolio Examples You Should See Today article.

Tips for building your online portfolio website

1. Choose a great portfolio builder

Portfolio website builders simplify the website creation process. They can help you design a great photography portfolio website in a what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) interface, usually by dragging and dropping the elements you want. This lets you build a portfolio that’s as beautiful as you want it.

And having a beautiful website design is important because it helps you make a good first impression. 94% of a user’s first impression when they visit a business website is design-related because an aesthetically pleasing website helps you build credibility and authority. 

So it’s important for you to choose a great portfolio builder. For example, with the GetResponse website builder, you can simply drag and drop elements you want for your portfolio, such as a gallery, slideshow, and more. You can set how your photos will look, and add transitions and animations, without writing a single line of code. 

GetResponse Website Builder can be used to create your perfect portfolio website.

Some of the features/sections to consider for your online photography portfolio:

  • Client testimonials
  • About page 
  • Online store 
  • Contact page 
  • Gallery
  • Pricing page
  • Blog

2. Optimize your portfolio for all devices

Responsiveness is a must when it comes to creating your website. This is because potential clients will be viewing your website from different devices. According to Adobe’s State of Content report, 83% of global consumers say they use two or more devices simultaneously. So, you’d want your portfolio to look great irrespective of the device type. 

And that’s not all, mobile-friendliness became a ranking factor for Google in 2015. This means, if your website isn’t responsive, your page may be shown fewer times in search results. You may also lose many of your website visitors and potential clients. A Google survey found that 52% of users are less likely to do business with a company after a bad mobile experience. 

To prevent this, choose a responsive website builder that allows you to design your website with mobile responsiveness in mind. For example, the GetResponse website builder allows you to switch between mobile, tablet, and desktop views easily and see what your design will look like on each device. 

3. Make sure your portfolio site loads fast

The longer your website takes to load, the more likely you’ll frustrate your website visitors (potential clients). For example, 53% of mobile site visitors will leave a page if it takes longer than three seconds to load.

A sure way to ensure your website loads quickly is to optimize your images for online use. According to a HTTP Archive report, on the average, images make up 21% of the overall weight of a web page. For a portfolio website with a lot of images, this percentage could significantly increase. 

Photos shot on your camera can be several megabytes large because they have a lot of detail. So it’s important to resize your images before uploading them to your website. Use your favorite photo editor to resize them without losing quality. Make sure their sizes are small enough for your site to load fast.

4. Include testimonials and feedback from previous clients

A whopping 90% of people read online reviews before making a purchase. 78% of those people trust those reviews as much as they do personal recommendations from friends and family. So, be sure to include favorable reviews you’ve received. 

Wedding photographer, Joee Wong, has an entire page on his portfolio where he shares client testimonials.

A wedding photography website featuring testimonials.
Photo credit: Joee Wong

5. Let your uniqueness shine through

It takes 2.6 seconds for your website visitors to start forming an initial opinion about your work. So you need to put your best foot forward. 

Pinpoint the uniqueness of your work and make it clear from the get-go. Maybe you specialize on a specific type of photography or location or have an unconventional approach to the way you work, interested clients need to know what makes you different, almost as soon as they land on your portfolio.

For wedding photographer, Jete of Urban Fig, her selling point is her strict attention to detail, and she emphasizes this throughout her website, reassuring her target clients — intending couples — that their day will be well-documented if they hire her.

A beautiful wedding photography website.
Image source: Urban Fig

6. Get personal (without overdoing it, of course)

Show that you’re human. Find ways to share tiny bits of your personal life here and there while connecting it to your work. 

For example, you could mention what you do in your spare time besides photography. Or you could share how an experience informed your choice of photography — a birth in your family may have inspired you to take on newborn photography. 

Brooklyn-based photographer, Susan Stripling, playfully introduces personal details on her about page. She shares her vaccination status — an important detail since she shoots weddings and other outdoor events.

A screenshot of a photographer's website.
Photo credit: Susan Stripling

Notice how she highlights her Photoshop skills in the caption of her photo whilst also mentioning that she has a tattoo: “This is me. I photoshopped all my makeup on but the tattoos are real.

The key here is not to overdo it and to include these details in a way that’s completely natural and in places that are appropriate like on your about page. 

7. Make it easy for potential clients to contact you

The whole point of building your portfolio is to win clients who will hire you. So, don’t defeat the purpose by making it difficult to contact you. In fact, 44% of website visitors will leave your website if they can’t find any contact information.

So, display your contact information prominently and, if possible, on all the pages of your website. You can also include links to your social media pages and any other places where clients can reach out to you. 

Social media profiles links on a photography portfolio website.
Photo credit: Karen Vierbuchen

Karen Vierbuchen, a lifestyle and documentary photographer, uses three simple icons — Facebook, email, and Instagram icons — on her homepage to point potential clients in the right direction. These icons are also shown on all the pages of her portfolio. 

8. Make your site search engine friendly 

Having an online portfolio is an opportunity to stay visible online and be found by anyone (especially your target customers) on the internet. More than half of all your website traffic will come through search. 

BrightEdge found that 53% of all website traffic comes through organic search. So, making sure your website can be found when those searches happen is important. 

Apply basic search engine optimization techniques, such as using keywords on your portfolio pages that will help you attract clients. For example, if you’re targeting local clients in Los Angeles and you are a wedding photographer, a good keyword could be “wedding photographer in Los Angeles” because potential clients are likely to search for this. Use the keyword in strategic places, like your portfolio site’s title and description. 

Another important way to make your site discoverable through search is by properly naming your images and giving them alternate tags. Ditch the “image 1” “image 2” titles and use more descriptive titles. 

For example, you can name photos based on the technique used, location, type of photography, etc. – “couple photography South Carolina” with an alternate description of “couple walking down a beach in South Carolina” is far more useful than a generic title.

Read this article for more practical SEO tips.

9. Let others critique your portfolio

When you’ve completed your portfolio, it’s always a good idea to get a second opinion. This will help you gain valuable insight into the areas you need to improve. 

And you don’t need a crowd — even a Nielson Norman study testifies to this; you only need five people to test your portfolio to discover any usability issues. You can ask for feedback on specific areas or simply observe them as they interact with your site.

10. Update your portfolio regularly

An online portfolio is never a one-off affair. 81% of your website visitors will think less of your business if your website is outdated. Even worse, 39% would think twice about hiring you if the website isn’t fresh and current.

So, ensure that your contact information, pricing details, and process are accurate at all times. As you work on more projects, update your portfolio to reflect your growth.

FAQs on building a photography portfolio

How many images should be in a photography portfolio?

While there’s no limit to how many photos you can include, the rule of thumb is to be reasonable. One image won’t do the job, but hundreds will be overkill. So, choose only your best photos and leave out any images that don’t fit into your branding. 

How do I take professional photos for a portfolio?

You can always start by offering your services to family, friends, and acquaintances. To get testimonials and feedback from more professional sources, offer your services for free or discounted prices to select non-profit organizations and small businesses.

Where can I create a photography portfolio?

You can consider free or paid platforms when creating a photography portfolio. For example, you can create your portfolio on image-driven social media platforms like Instagram and Pinterest. 

The downside is that you will not have full control over your portfolio and will be limited to clients who have an account on those platforms. 

Creating on a platform such as your own website, is usually a better option because you’ll have more control and your portfolio will be fully accessible to anyone on the internet. 

I’ve mentioned the free GetResponse website builder earlier, where you can easily design your website using a drag-and-drop website builder and connect your custom domain name.

Watch this short video to see the builder in action:

Conclusion

A strong photography portfolio is a must-have when you run a photography business. Start by clearly defining your niche and target audience. Work on projects that will make you stand out and feature only your best work in your portfolio. 

When creating your online portfolio, choose a website builder that allows you to create a responsive fast-loading website that potential clients will love. Whatever you do, stay creative and allow your uniqueness to shine through. 

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