Portfolio Selections, or How I Learned to Sort My Work

I was asked by email how I go about selecting images for my portfolio. As the sender noticed, I've got a section called unparsed recent work where I throw new stuff until I decide where, if anywhere, it belongs. I do this for a couple reasons, first it's a quick place to throw stuff I've just been playing with, and it let's people come and say, "Ok, all of these are great, but what kind of stuff have you shot lately?" It's a holding tank; or maybe purgatory if images have feelings.  Often times that's the end of the road, they die there and get removed all together.

Images that do make it out get moved into their relevant section. Studio stuff to studio, most other stuff into environmental, etc. The section distribution is of course completely arbitrary, what I'm currently using works for me. Other people like to break it down by subject instead of look.  Men, Women, Cars, that kind of thing. I decided to base mine on the story I'm trying to present, which is to say, the look of my work and how I shot it.  I like to keep each section less than 20 or 25 images for easy of use and usability reasons. Which means that I may have to decide which image is the weakest link, goodbye. Maybe it's an orphan image, it might be good, but doesn't fit with your other stuff. Sadly there are times when you've got to remove an image that you really love, or perhaps loved at one time.

A case in point is my portrait of Charlie Maxwell that I shot for BusinessWeek last year. At the time I was very satisfied with how it came out. Considering the lighting setup Meg and I used (one speedlight on a cable with a lightsphere) I think it looks much more high end in the final product. I might have a soft spot for the image because Charlie was such a nice guy and trusting subject, but I think it captures my goal that I was forming at the time of making my images feel as permanent as paintings. I even have it on my current business card. But looking at it today, in my eye it's lost some of the bloom it once had, getting a little long in the tooth, and I wouldn't be surprised if it moved down the list in the next few months as new stuff enters to replace it.

My currently online portfolio is exclusively portraits, but that's not all I shoot. While I shoot portrait professionally, I do shoot thing stuff for fun.  Experiments, landscapes, and travel for instance. Lately I've been thinking about putting some of this other stuff up to show that I'm more well rounded as an artist.  I haven't decided if it'll dilute my 'brand' or strengthen is, but it has been bouncing around in my brain.  

In some ways, the online portfolio is easier.  It's easier to update and change, you can have more images separated into sections, and you can show it to a million people all at once.  But some people just need to see it in print. Some are old school and like to see them on paper, and no one can knock the improved resolution on paper compared to screen. Others need to show them to clients and gathering 5 people around a computer screen isn't nearly as good experience as a nice 11x14" book.

And that brings us to the issue of size and shape. My current portfolio is 11x14", but printing new pages, or a whole other set for a second book, is expensive and time consuming.  Damn HP pigment cartridges are $30 a piece time 8 colors, ugh.  I recently decided to try a blurb book for my portfolio since I had too results with my 365 Portraits and Japan book.  However I got the first copy on Saturday and the shadow detail is non-existent, as in black.  So I may be back to square one. Speaking of square, I printed it as an 8x10 portrait book with landscape images as double page spreads. That said, I'm not sure if it's quite big enough to have the impact I want, but the next size up that would be useful for me is 12x12 which would be a waste as most of my 35mm images will take up about half of the page with the rest blank. Most thought required.

Ok, back to book image selection. You're problem here is that you should really try to keep your book to 30-40 images, which is less then you've probably got in your online set.  So you've got to make some hard choices and also decide what kind of work you're trying to present and to whom. I've currently got just one book, but my agent has recently asked for at least two. One tailored to editorial and another to advertising.  I'm not sure if I'm going to be good at making that distinction, but I guess that's what she's for.

So, in conclusion, choosing images for your portfolio can be a bitch. I use my 'unsorted' section as a cop out so that I don't have to make the big decisions immediately. Though it may have a extra benefit of keeping my book fresh.  I've got a lot of hard decisions to make about all of this soon. I promise to keep you all apprised of my actions.