You've built up a collection of amazing prints. Your confidence and motivation are lifted when your friends rave about your work on Facebook. Your Flickr buddies all say your images are great. But, are you ready for a professional portfolio review? To receive unbiased feedback from experts in the field? I can tell you now that sharing your images online through social media, a blog and a website does not equate the same way. These tips will help you prepare for and go through a portfolio review.
#1 Be Clear about Why You Want a Review
There are different reasons for wanting a portfolio review depending on your photography goals. But, the most critical part of choosing to do a review is to be sure you're at the point where you ought to be showing your work. For one thing, reviews can be expensive, so you want to ensure that the images you're having reviewed are worthy of the money spent. If it means taking time, a few months or a year or however long, to fully perfect your craft to the point where you are ready for that outside opinion, then take the time.
Secondly, reviews are designed to help you move you forward in your career by providing insight to your current work and possibly even landing work through your reviewer. Be certain your current work represents your best. With the potentially thousands of prints a reviewer sees each year, you want yours to stand out, or at the very least, be a worthy contender within the crowd.
#2 Picking Your Reviewer
Portfolio reviews are available through many outlets now. One of the most popular ways is through the Palm Springs Photo Festival, which takes place in Palm Springs in the spring and New York City in the fall at the Jacob Javits Convention Center. At this festival, you can expect to meet with reviewers from galleries, museums, advertising agencies, book publishers, magazine photo editors, art directors, photographer’s reps, stock agencies, photo agencies, and educators.
Would you rather go to Paris? Check out the Lens Culture FotoFest, which takes place right before the Paris Photo. Rich in culture, just like New York, you'll be sure to meet some fantastic photographers and reviewers.
Not ready to leave home? There are also many online options, such as a new site called Eyeist, which has nearly 50 reviewers on staff ready to review your portfolio. They offer several other services beyond portfolio reviews, too. They are a new site, and yet all the photographers rave about the quality of their services and value of their reviews. Their basic review of 30 images would be a great place to start for a lot of up and coming photographers looking for direction and professional feedback.
Your specific genre will depend on who you want reviewing your work. You'll need to do some research in order to have the best person for you and your goals. Don't choose willy-nilly. Do your homework and find the best reviewer for you.
#3 Choosing Your Images
Some of you might have a real niche when it comes to your photography, even narrowed down as far as photographer of Italian dishes! And some of you might shoot everything from pets to landscapes of all seasons to weddings and anything else you can put your lens on. Whichever one of these describes you, the images you choose for a professional portfolio review depends not only on your work, but the person or company doing the review. If your reviewer is a photo editor at Conde Nast Traveler, be familiar enough with their magazine and website to know the images that appeal to them. Naturally, if you're a pet photographer, they're not the editor you should be approaching. If elegant travel is your genre, select your best images that would appeal to their taste, especially if your goal is to build a relationship and potentially sell to them. If you meet them in person, you will likely only get 15-20 minutes to show your work, so you don't want to waste their time or yours.
In most cases, you'll be presenting anywhere from 10 to 30 images. Keep to a theme that makes sense. Too much variety will make you look unpredictable and uncertain about your craft and goals. There's a slight exception to this, and that's if you're goal is to find out which niche is your strongest. For example, if you go with a basic review on Eyeist, you may want to give them a diverse selection of portraits, landscape, fine art, or whatever else you shoot if you don't stick to one genre. If your goal is to receive feedback on which is your strength, then by all means, give some diversity. That said, still try to keep the overall look consistent. For example, don't include a mix of black and whites and HDRs and traditional. It will throw your reviewer off and might even distract them.
#4 How to Present Your Portfolio
Okay, so you've picked your reviewer and your 30 or so images. Now you're wondering how to present them. The answer is made for you if you go with a company like Eyeist. They provide a private online workspace for you to upload and organize your images electronically. However, if you're attending a one-on-one review meeting, there are mixed opinions from reviewers. Some want an iPad and some still want the traditional print book. So, how do you choose? Simple! Start by researching your reviewer, which you should have done already, to find out which format they prefer. Some are very vocal about it, others may not be. If you're uncertain, it's always best to bring a print book. No matter what, prints look better in print rather than on a screen. I've seen that a lot of photographers are bringing their print books and an iPad as a backup method. That way, they're prepared for either preference, and they can use their iPad to show their website or additional images if needed. Win-win!
#5 The Review
The biggest pet peeve among reviewers is when photographers don't come prepared for their review. They want to know a few things from you, such as what your goals are with receiving the review. Don't expect to just sit back and listen. Be prepared to ask a few questions of your reviewer to help give them direction for what you're expecting from your review. This will help both of you have the best experience possible. If your goal is to get into galleries, let them know. Your question might be, "I want to show my work in galleries in the Southwest. Do you think my work is quality or genre specific enough?" Give thought to your goals and questions ahead of time.
Another pet peeve of reviewers is when a photographer disagrees or argues with them. Think this through. You're paying them to review your work. They are the professional. Let them do their work and be open to constructive criticism. We all have areas to grow and we all have our strengths. Allow yourself to be open to hearing both and you'll benefit greatly.
The Bottom Line
A portfolio review can be a career changing experience. The more educated and prepared you are going into it, the better an experience you'll have. Knowing when you're ready is likely the biggest point, because if you're truly not ready, you're wasting time that would be better spent taking more photos. If you are ready, find the right reviewer and venue for you and your work. Know your goals and give it your best shot!
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