How To Build A Photography Portfolio

Posted by: In: Lightroom, Post Processing 13 Feb 2015 Comments: 0 Tags: , ,

Welcome to part 4 in my ongoing series of articles about clearing up your photo collection. In part 1, we discussed organising our photos into annual folders, with other images (Assets, Screenshots, Family Neg Scans, Document scans etc) in separate folders. In part 2, we discussed Lightroom catalogue organisation and template catalogues as well as some ideas for labelling. In part 3 we went through the process of importing photos into a catalogue and making critique passes through them to whittle them down to manageable chunks. We also discussed exporting our absolute best images into a Portfolio folder.

Today we’re going to look at the Portfolio and how to whittle down our Portfolio shots from all the ones we’ve exported to the absolute best of the best.

In part 5, we’ll look at some presentation options.

What is a Photography Portfolio?

phototypesA photography portfolio should be a a collection of your absolute best photos. I don’t want to get caught up in sematics here, but your Lightroom Portfolio catalogue could contain many different portfolios. I started by cataloguing my images by Photogtaphy Type. I gave each “Type” of photography has its own portfolio.

What do you want to do with your portfolio? If you want to earn money and generate work from it, I’d strongly suggest reading other sites as I am not (and have no desire to be) a pro photographer. I just want to have a consistent set of 20-30 of my best images for each of the photography types I shoot.

I broke down my photography types into the groups you see to the right. There’s no definitive “right” way to do this, but I’d keep your groups separate. As you can see from my (half-finished) screengrab of Lightroom here, I have classified many different photography types.

By breaking down all my photos into Types, I have made it a bit more manageable. So far I’ve completed my Street Photography portfolio (you can see it here). All others are still a work in progress. As you can see I still have a fair bit of work to do in trimming down my Landscape photos.

What about my favourite photos?

Some photos may be your favourites for personal reasons but they may not belong in a portfolio. The most common would be family shots – they may not be brilliant technical shots, but they’re important. I am planning to do a Family Portfolio Catalogue for these shots.

Why So Many Catalogues?

So why do I have so many catalogues? Why have another folder full of duplicated images?

First, I can keep track of my best photos from across all the years without having one massive catalogue. More importantly though, I can keep my original files safe in their yearly folder and only make edits to the photos in the portfolio folder. My Street Photography portfolio above shows 81 photos. In reality, there are only 37 separate images. The rest are virtual copies with different editing techniques. Trying to manage all these copies in a huge “one catalogue” system would simply overwhelm my small brain.

TL;DR Please

Here’s the process for the post-it

  1. Export all “Portfolio” photos from your annual catalogue(s)
  2. Import all photos from the Portfolio folder into the Portfolio catalogue
  3. Create a keyword set of your photography types
  4. 1st pass of all photos: Keyword them with your photography type
  5. Start with Type 1 (e.g. Portraits)
    1. 2nd pass of all Portraits: “x” the rubbish
    2. 3rd pass: Red photos to work on later, Yellow on B&W, Panoramas, Composites and HDR also get labelled
    3. 4th pass: One photo at a time – Keyword it
  6. Repeat for Type 2 (e.g. Landscapes)
  7. Once all are complete, you can leisurely fine tune your portfolio
    1. Rate each photo: 1* ok, 2* pretty good, 3* not bad, 4* very good shot, 5* Your best shot ever.
    2. Delete all the 1* shots!
    3. Try and find a consistent processing “style”
    4. Display finished portfolio (online, prints or book)

Getting Started

The first thing to do if you haven’t done it is export your Portfolio keyworded images from your annual catalogues into your Portfolio image folder. In the Export function settings, under the File Settings tab, change the drop down to “Image Format: Original” This will  preserve the lossless DNG/RAW format. If you have a lot of images, I’d suggest having annual folders inside your portfolio, but that’s up to you.

Now you have a folder full of images, you need a catalogue. Copy/Paste your template Lightroom catalogue and rename it to Portfolio. This time, because you’ve already exported the photos, you can just “Add” the photos from your Portfolio catalogue. Once you’ve done that, create a keyword set as shown below. Choose photography types that best represent your categories.

keywordset

Now you can go through every photo in your new Portfolio catalogue. This is an opportunity to get rid of the stuff that doesn’t come up to scratch. You’re now looking at your best stuff. Remember that you have copies of these photos in their original location so it’s OK to just delete them here. As you go through the photos, if you’re keeping it, attach one or more Photography Type keywords to the image.

Working With Your First Type

Taking your first Photography Type (I’d start with a smaller sized group, in my case Street Photography) set up a filter to filter for just these photos. Now that we can see all our Street photos in one place, we can go through them again, weeding out the shots that aren’t amazing. Or very good. Or whatever criteria you want to apply. At this stage, you’re probably looking to reduce the number of photos to less than 50 distinct images (different processed versions of the same image don’t count!). Here’s my finished Street Photography portfolio.

portfolio

  • Photos flagged in a colour are exempt from the photo count. The red ones are images that I think have potential but need further work.
  • Photos flagged green/blue/purple (composite/hdr/panorama) also get no stars until they are finished, at which point they lose the colour label (unless they’re B&W)
  • Everything (apart from non-yellow colour labelled images) gets a star from 1 to 5 in order of decency. I then delete all the 1 star shots!
  • All multiple copies of the same photo are grouped together in a “stack”

Keywording

keywordsThe next task is to keyword your images. Keywording helps in many ways, but most importantly, it can be included in the EXIF data if you upload it anywhere. That makes the photo easier for other people to find which can help with Stock photography. I don’t keyword anything that’s (non-yellow) colour labelled as I’m still not sure it’s staying in the portfolio.

When keywording, the best advice I ever read was to say “Describe the photo in one sentence.” Then pick out the important words.

The groups to the left aren’t perfect but cover most bases.

  • Action: All the verbs… Smiling, running, looking, holding, laughing…
  • Colour: Red, green, yellow… If there’s a prominent colour in the scene
  • Concept: Less tangible aspects to an image: Love, humour, beauty, irony, autumn…
  • Effect(s): Photographic effects as well as natural: Reflections, cross processed, silhouettes, long exposure…
  • Event: Holiday, wedding, funeral(!), birthday, Christmas
  • Land: Field, leaf, moon, river, sky…
  • Object: Prominent objects in a scene
  • People: man, woman, child… Also I include parts of people – hands, hair, head…
  • Photography Type: Should be done already!
  • Places: Yosemite, Grand Canyon, London…
  • Structures: Church, Cafe, Hotel, Bridge…
  • Transport: Plane, Train, Automobile….

I can’t get Lightroom to combine similar words so I stick to lower case and plural unless the singular is really necessary. As an example, “A woman sitting on a bench in Delamere Forest, eating her lunch” would get reduced to woman (People), sitting (Action), bench (Object), delamere (Places), forest (Land) and maybe I’d add food (object) and trees (land)

Once you’ve done all of these steps for your Street Photography portfolio (for example) you then repeat it for the next photographic type. Continue until you’re done.

Fine Tuning the Portfolio

Once you’ve completed the above tasks, you’re probably going to have a bunch of red labelled photos. To properly finish a portfolio, you need to work through your best images. And that’s where your time is best spent if you’ve got an evening to spare, and you want to work on your photography.

Finding a consistent processing style is also a very good idea. Photographers like Martin Parr, William Egglestone, & Simon Marsden all have a very distinct “style” to their images which really sets them apart and means that their images when viewed together all work very well. The temptation to continue to mess around with photos is strong with me but that means nothing is ever finished to my satisfaction. Finding a processing style, sticking to it and then leaving it alone is key I think to maintaining a good body of work.

Once the portfolio is finished, what then? I have a Flickr account but it’s clogged with all sorts of junk. I wanted a place to just show single bodies of work/projects. To that end, I went looking. I’ll reveal my findings in the last post in the future.

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