Creating a Portfolio That Works

Lesson 4/6 - Greatness Doesn’t Happen in a Vacuum


Creating a Portfolio That Works


Lesson Info

Greatness Doesn’t Happen in a Vacuum

Greatness does not happen in a vacuum. We invest in lenses, we invest in lighting equipment, and workshops, and editing, and our website. And yet the number one tool that you have to book someone, apart from your personality and who you are, the number one tool that you have to book a client, you decide, "Nah, I got this, "I don't need anyone else's help, I got this." Or we do the opposite and we just throw it out to the wind. Let me break both of these down for you. This is why we can't say, "No, I don't need any help," because we're too emotionally connected. We're too close, we're too close to our own imagery. Something was going on when we take pictures, there was a relationship with the client. An emotional experience, something was going, and when I take that picture, all that's tied in with it. I think it's amazing, and it turns out the feelings that I had were amazing during that moment, but maybe the photograph shouldn't be in your portfolio. It clouds our judgment. Remember t...

his guy? Orange dog with cerulean background? Everything else in my portfolio was figurative, I am a figure painter. So you're flipping through the portfolio, the guy's like, "human, human, person, "figure painting, figure painting, figure painting. "Orange dog, cerulean background, looking like this." I feel like if you're a wedding photographer, and the bride's flipping through, and they're like, "There's a bride, there's the bride and a groom, "there's a bride in the first dance, and then there's a mom." And then suddenly there's picture of a cat, close up, looking confused, boom, right there. It's a little jarring, right? It's a little jarring. And so he asked me, "Why are you showing me this?" Here's the thing, my dog died. My dog had recently passed away. Aw, I know. So my dog died, and I make this painting in his memory. And I love this painting because I love my dead dog. I loved him when he was alive, but anyhow. (laughs) And so here we go, I needed to realize that, dead or alive, he shouldn't be in my portfolio. Yes, I love this photograph, shouldn't be in portfolio. I needed someone to tell me that. Thankfully he did, again, he was right. Greatness doesn't happen in a vacuum. The alternative though is this, it's not when you keep it all to yourself, another problem is, it's too important just to crowd source. It's too important to crowd source. Here's what I mean when I say that. I see this all the time, and I've even fallen prey to it, where you hop up on Facebook, and you post out to a group this invitation, "Hey, I'd love to get some feedback on my portfolio." And you send it out to everyone and anyone. Now, it's a dangerous game. Can you get some great feedback from it? Yes, you absolutely can. I think it's less dangerous if you're further in your career, you've got some battle scars, you are able to separate the wheat from the chaff, kind of a thing. But when you're just starting out it's a dangerous game because now who do you trust? You're getting opinions from all these different directions. And I've seen some of the opinions, I see the groups... "Don't do that, that's a bad move" But again, I'm just some other guy, being like, "Hey don't do that." You know what I'm saying? It's just a risky move, and it can actually cause more damage than good. My advice is to do this, ask for specific feedback from very specific people. And, by the way, do it often, specific feedback from specific people. Because I get the idea of crowd sourcing and putting it all out there. You're trying to get it all done in one fell swoop, right? "I'll get a hundred people's ideas right there, "and I'll be done, good to go." Ask specific feedback from specific people, and do that often. People who you know and you trust. Reach out to mentors, teachers, peers, other photographers, other pros, other photographers that you admire and look up to. The second thing you could do is you could reach out to your past ideal clients. Clients who you've had, you've delivered the photographs to already, and you want more of them. If you want more of them, find out why they hired you in the first place. And ask them two questions. Again, two specific questions. Here's the thing, you do wanna be specific with this. You do wanna be specific, because you gotta respect people's time, you really do. Especially when you start reaching out to other mentors, other professional photographers, they're really busy, respect their time. Don't send them a link and say, "Hey, let me know what you think about my work." I've gotten so any website's sent to me, that say, "Hey, let me know what you think." It's too big of a question. So two questions that you should ask for people. The first one is this, what are five images that you love? And I even word it this way, "Bonus points if you tell me why." But I let them off the hook. You don't have to tell me why, just literally tell me five images you love. I just wanna know what are five images. That's way easier than saying, "Hey, give me feedback on my portfolio." Because then I feel this obligation to critique and all this kind of stuff. Just five images that I love. "Hey, I like this one, this one, this one, this one, this one," five images. The second thing is, I think this is the more important one. What are three images you believe could be taken out and why? Now the "why" on this one isn't bonus points, I really do wanna know why. I really do wanna know why. And when you start doing this more frequently. Reaching out to people and asking those same two questions, you're gonna start to connect the dots. Now just because someone says "I don't like this one, "it should be taken out because of this," does that mean you have to take it out? No, this is your artwork. But, if three, four people in, you start connecting some dots, and that same image keeps getting brought up, it probably means you should take it out. Probably means you should be taking that out. Ask these two questions often. Now, these are from individuals, there are organizations that do great portfolio reviews and image critiques. Here at CreativeLive Photo Week, they're doing great image critiques. Actually gonna talk about that right now because it's funny, the photo critiques that are going on, here at CreativeLive Photo Week, are from SLR Lounge. I didn't even realize this when I was putting this together. SLR Lounge is a great resource, you guys, to have your work critiqued. It's a fantastic resource. Pye Jirsa over there, he offers to do image critiques, and yes it is not a full portfolio review, but when someone critiques your work and you pay attention, you can learn a lot about the rest of your work. You can learn a lot about the other images that are going in to your portfolio. Bonus too, he does a lot of lives critiques on Facebook. So even if you don't get your work hand picked to be critiqued by SLR Lounge, or whatever it is, just tune in, watch them critique other people's work. There's gonna be a theme with that, you can learn a lot from watching other people critique others work. Next up is Improve Photography. Improve Photography, they actually do paid ones. So it's just under $100, and it is a full portfolio review. 14 images is all you get to send, but it's a full portfolio review, you can check that out. PhotoPlus Expo, this is actually cool, 'cause it's right around the corner. PhotoPlus Expo holds one of the largest portfolio opportunities for photographers. It's in New York New York. PhotoPlus Expo, you get to go in, and have an opportunity to have your portfolio reviewed. So go and you can check that out there. There's still time to get in on it, it's a great opportunity. The WPPI Print Competition. This is some of the best time that you can spend going to WPPI, is just poking your head in the competition room and the critique room. And again, even if you don't submit your work, even if you don't submit you album or your portfolio to this print competition, you can still go in and just sit and just listen and watch the critiques. You get to watch some of the best photographers in the world critique other people's work. So much you can take away from it. I think it's far more valuable than just wondering around the halls or whatever. Go, just sit there, sip on your drinks, and enjoy it. Fearless Photographers! Oh man, I don't have enough amazing things to say about Fearless Photographers. We just put together an amazing culture over there at Fearless. Because they do some really cool things. I've never seen this happen, sometimes they do full wedding critiques. Fearless is all about wedding photography, they're do full wedding critiques, like the raw, unedited images, with some of the best photographers in the world. Sometimes they do themed ones, like, everyone submits your best portraits together, you best couples together, or maybe your best dress shots. And they'll go through and they'll kind of gather up a collection of work, and critique it. It's again, similar to the WPPI Print Competition, that even if you're not having your work in there, to see literally some of the best wedding photographers in the world critique some of the best wedding photographers in the world, is just really wild, it's really cool to see. You can learn so much from that. The next one is Six Figure Photography, this is me, right? This is what I host and I do. And so at the end of this, I want to do portfolio reviews with you guys. I wanna do this, and so I'm gonna be doing three portfolio reviews to start. I'll send the link out for everything to do this. But then bonus too, even if, once again, you don't have your portfolio chosen, I'm gonna record the whole conversation. It's gonna be a dialog that we'll have, I'm gonna record it, and I'm gonna send it out to everyone as well, okay?

Class Description

Your portfolio is the body of work that most defines you as a photographer. It showcases your creativity and helps to convert potential clients to paying clients. The selection process, however, can be daunting! In this course, wedding photographer and educator Ben Hartley walks through how to make all the uncomfortable decisions easier. He'll discuss how many images you should display, which ones have the most impact and the best way to showcase your work. He'll take you step by step through the process of locking in your ideal selection of portfolio images and provide creative ideas on how to best show off your talent to get the jobs you want.


user ec6295

This course is really helpful to give you another perspective when looking at the work we're showing. We fall in love with images and like to show the "hero" shots but Ben makes great points on how to add to that to make more impact. What I really love about Ben's style of communicating is that there is always something concrete and actionable.


Ben Hartley is engaging, knowledgeable, a great storyteller, and so personable. His class was truly a pleasure to watch. You know that moment when you learn something new, and once you know it you'll see your work differently, and without which you'd really (still) be in the dark? And you think, Wow good thing I was right there to learn that thing? That happened to me a bunch of times during this class. Recommended!

rob rob

This course was so helpful!! I love your passion. Thanks Ben for your amazing insights and willingness to share your knowledge with the photography community.