What goes into your Portfolio?


Creating a Portfolio That Works


Lesson Info

What goes into your Portfolio?

Some of the big questions about portfolio curation are what makes the cut, what goes in, what doesn't, how many images can I put in. When we understand this first, it really sets a precedent as we make those decisions. It makes the decisions far more impactful. We'll get to that. So, in that case, if you're judged off of your worst work, what do I show? How do I know what my worst work is? How many pieces do I show? Let's begin by simply considering the purpose, the intent of your portfolio. What is the purpose of your portfolio? So, in order to figure out the purpose or your portfolio, you just have to reverse engineer the outcome that you want. When somebody views your portfolio, what do you want the outcome to be? When someone goes through your work, what do you want the reaction, what do you want the end goal outcome to be? If you can reverse engineer that, you can know what you need in your portfolio to get that response. Reverse engineer the outcome that you want to have happen. ...

So, let me ask you guys, actually. When somebody views your portfolio, what do you want to have happen? Shout it out. Someone, shout it out. You got it. I want people to hire me. You nailed my next slide. You did it, girl. Look, I want people to hire me. This makes sense. They view your portfolio, they hire you. This is the same answer that I began with. I want people to hire me. Man, I just hope they hire me. That was all I wanted, someone to look at my portfolio, and to hire me. I didn't really have any clear criteria for what made it and what didn't. This is it, right. When I just want people to hire me, my portfolio ended up looking like this. Here's my favorite pictures. I have some pretty neat things. Some pretty cool stuff. I like it, I dig it, very vague. You know what I mean? If you like a shot for any reason, you're like, man, I like this shot. I hope somebody else likes this shot, and hires me. That tends to be what we do. You just end up having this kind of grab-bag of imagery, and there's no clear criteria. So, we need to focus in. We need to focus in. I think your answer is, it's a very natural answer. It's the same answer that I think everyone starts with. I want people to hire me. So, let's focus in. Let's not settle with I want people to hire me. Let's go deeper. I want people to hire me to photograph their wedding. I don't just want them to hire me. I don't want to shoot babies to be honest. I don't want to photograph families and newborn babies. I want to photograph weddings. So, let's go that route, okay. We're starting to get somewhere, but let's keep going. Let's get more specific. I want couples who value photography as a priority above everything else to hire me to photograph their wedding. It's starting to get a little bit better. Let's keep going deeper. I want couples who value my photography, the way that I edit my images, the way that I compose my shots. I want them to hire me for me. I don't want to be just a photographer on the day. I want to be Ben Hartley on the day. I want couples who value my photography as a priority above everything else to hire me to photograph their emotional, luxurious, ridiculously fun wedding. Now, you could keep pushing this further, and further, and further. I challenge you and advise you to go as deep and as poignant as possible for the outcome that you want people to have. This is really just a different way to think about focusing in on your ideal client. It's just a different way to think about that. Some people say, who's your ideal client. You're like I don't know. It's a little bit easier, almost, to figure out who your ideal client is when you ask yourself what do you want to have happen when someone views your portfolio. Now, as you do this, you have a really clear deduction. This gives me a much clearer direction in terms of the set of rules, the set of criteria of what makes the cut, and what does not make the cut. So, let's take a look at, if this is my M.O., maybe now I'm gonna be putting in contrasty black and white edits, diverse couples, emotion packed images on a wedding day. I'm gonna have in my portfolio expressive grooms, expressive fathers. I want that emotion. I want somebody who values design and art. I'm gonna be posting in symmetry and intentional negative space in my shots. I want to have big, bold colors, loud, big laughter. So, maybe now we've got some rules that define what goes into your portfolio. It has to check these boxes. Now, once you reverse engineer the outcome that you want, there a still a couple universals. There are two components that are true of any amazing portfolio. If the portfolio is amazing, there's two things that will also make it amazing. Yes, it's attracting your ideal client. It's specific. It's giving you the jobs that you want, but it'll do two more things. Number one is it'll separate. It separates you from everyone else. Your portfolio will have to separate you. An amazing portfolio separates. So, in your area of what's going on in your market, what's everyone else doing? Maybe do the opposite. Maybe tweak it. Maybe twist it. If everyone's just showing digital pictures, what if you started showing photographs in their final state as printed pieces of artwork, matted, framed. Maybe all of your portfolio are actually images of print products. Everyone's shooting bright and airy. Maybe you shoot dark and moody. Everyone's shooting dark and moody, maybe you shoot bright and airy. Everyone's showing the same old, uniform, basic client that we're used to seeing on Pinterest. Maybe you show a more diverse client. Everyone's showing the basic poses of the normal locations in your town, the same stuff, the same thing over and over. Maybe start introducing more of the unknown, the unfamiliar into your portfolio. There's something really intriguing and interesting about seeing things that you're not used to seeing. You know what I'm saying? Maybe you simply edit in a way that stands out from the crowd, your editing style. There's another one that's a little bit, it doesn't jump out at people as a way to differentiate yourself, to separate yourself, but maybe the way that you organize, structure, and limit your portfolio separates you. What I mean is if everyone else is showing everything, the seniors, the babies, the dogs, the weddings, what if your portfolio was so concise, and so consistent, and so specific that it only showed the most emotional moments between two people on a wedding day? That would begin to separate you from everyone else. The second thing that a great portfolio will do is inspire. It separates and it inspires. It's a tricky thing because obviously different things inspire different people. This is why the beginning is important. This is why we're reverse engineering the outcome that you want for your ideal client is important. That type of work is gonna inspire that type of client. There's still two universal things that are inherently inspiring that we should download our brain registered that these things inspire the human race. Be aware of it. Be looking for these opportunities in your portfolio, humanity and wonder. Humanity, like the human condition, relating with people. It's inspiring. It's like the silly, the wild, the spiritual, the romantic, the diverse, the raw emotion between people, between two human beings, it's inspiring. It's humanity, right? So, it's the moment that the bride is dancing with her father on her wedding day. You can tell this is like the perfect single tear ever. I don't know how this happened. By the way, this was one of the very first weddings I ever photographed. No bride has ever had such a single perfect tear as this bride. Maybe it's the moment that a groom sees his bride come down the aisle for the first time. It's like this raw emotion that comes with it. Maybe it's the embrace that once now her son is now welcomed in, and she's part of the family with him, that embrace and that hug. I mean this is humanity, right? When the mom looks back, and helping her daughter get her dress on, and that look that they have as they kind of engaged eyes together. It isn't just about these super emotional, tearful images. Sometimes it's the silly, just kind of the silly. Or, the wild, the funny, the wild moments. I love this guy right here, uh. Everyone, like she's like, what, over here. This is the groom. He's like checking it out. It's like, oh my. It's the funny, it's the wild. This bride coming in, she's getting carried in to her reception hall just fist pumping, screaming. I love this. What about the spiritual? A groom being prayed over on the day. Just the joy, the sheer joy. Now, some people would call these candids. I don't think that's good enough. I think that's too vague. These are candids, yes, but they're candids of a decisive moment that connects back to you. It tells you something about yourself. You relate to it. It's candids that capture a decisive moment that you can connect to and you can relate to. You can see yourself. You want to see yourself. Man, I hope this is me on my wedding day. They're candids you can connect to and you can relate to. The next thing is this, is wonder. Humanity and wonder. When I say wonder, this is like art. There's a lot of different words. We're getting into semantics, here, but it's art. It's the wow shots. It's the big. It's the epic. It's the artistic. It's the visually stunning images that when you see, you're just like whoa. I haven't seen that, like wow. Wonder. It's really cool, too, by the way, when the two come together, when you have a photograph that captures both humanity and wonder, when it's such a raw, candid image, and you're just like, well, this isn't staged, this is real, this is happening. This is like their first dance. It's not a sparkler accident. This was their first dance. The whole friends and family surprised them with sparklers around it. It's like whoa, awe. It's like I, what? That's a, someone's getting married there? That's crazy. Just like these big, wow, and again, the unknown. This was shot in Italy. There's something that is inspiring about the unknown, the wonder of the unknown, seeing something that takes you somewhere else. You're like, whoa. I haven't seen that. Here's the thing. This was shot in Italy. I'm from Ohio. I came back, and every single one of our brides in Columbus, all of our grooms in Columbus, they're like, whoa, that shot that you took, where is this. It's unknown. There's something that is kind of inspiring and wonderful about this. That's actually where they got married, p.s. It was insane. I'm down in that boat. Drone. Hashtag, drone photography. But, you don't have to go to Italy. This was in Columbus. You don't have to go to Italy to necessarily do something. This is where, again, it's the artistic, it's the creative, it's that factor, too. Still, nevertheless, all this being said, deciding what has wonder, deciding what conveys humanity, deciding what your ideal client is gonna respond to, more or less. It still isn't easy. Me telling you that you need shots that show humanity, and you need shots that show wonder, that's great. It still is hard to decide and really navigate that path.

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.