Common Mistakes to Avoid when Building Your Online Portfolio

One of the outstanding differences between jobs in a conventional field and those in an artistic field is the fact that an artist is often hired purely based on samples of their work. Instead of a resume, you have a portfolio, so your work is the first thing a potential client sees about you. They may not even take note of your name until after they’ve decided whether the work you create is what they’re looking for.

This is why it’s essential to have a high-quality online portfolio; if you build it well, it can convince potential clients almost instantly that you’re the best person for the job.

Of course, this fact also puts a lot of pressure on you while you’re putting your portfolio together, especially if you’ve never done it before. Most people make the same few mistakes with their first portfolio, and some don’t learn to correct them for a long time.

I hope to make the process of building a portfolio or fixing the mistakes in your current one, a little easier by explaining what a few of these common mistakes are and how to avoid them.

What You Shouldn’t Put in Your Portfolio

Let’s start off by talking about the things a lot of us naturally want to put in our portfolios that can actually hold us back.

All Your Best Photos

This might seem counterintuitive -- shouldn’t you show off your best work? Well, yes, but not all at once. If your portfolio is like a best-of compilation of your entire career, it’s not going to attract any clients. 

Clients want something specific, and inconsistency can be confusing. If they’re looking for a wedding photographer, but you have a catch-all portfolio that includes one or two wedding photos amid a sea of other categories, that won’t be enough for them to feel a personal connection between your work and their needs. 

You can’t possibly please everyone at once, so it’s much better to be specific.

Generic Photos

There’s a big difference between a photo that anyone could have taken and a photo that you put your heart, soul, and style into. Clients notice that difference, and they will always be more drawn to a unique voice than a generic one.

I know it can be hard to judge your own work this way, but try to steer clear of photos in which you didn’t capture your personality as a photographer. It’s that personality that will intrigue the viewer.

Similar Photos

If you have a past photoshoot you’re especially proud of, feel free to highlight it with multiple photos, but be sure they aren’t too similar. Avoid more than one photo of the same subjects from the same angle, with only minor staging and framing differences. 

Since this is your moment to sell your creativity, repetition may lead a client to think you are either lazy, with a tendency to take filler photos of the same thing, or inexperienced, without enough past work to build a portfolio of unique content.

What You Should Put in Your Portfolio Instead

Now that we know what to avoid, let’s see what things you should be putting in your portfolio that you may not have thought of.

One Type of Photography

Think about the audience you’re trying to attract, and tailor your choices towards them. If they see that you have a portfolio in a subcategory or niche they’re looking for, they will be much more interested than if they can’t quite tell what your work is all about.

Do you specialize in multiple categories? Great! Make a portfolio for each of them, rather than trying to combine them, to attract these clients separately.

Photos That Express Your Style

Potential clients need to know what’s unique about you, and your portfolio is the place to show them. Think about what sort of photographer you are and what your style is, then pick the photos that demonstrate these things the best. 

It’s ok if you’re still figuring out who you are as an artist (for most of us, this process lasts our entire careers). Work with the identity you have now and show off the photos that feel the most personal or the most like you.

A Collection’s Top Photos

Once you’ve decided what audience you’re catering to, you can select the best photos from the photoshoots or collections you have in that niche. They should be distinguishable from one another, well-edited, and representative of your style. 

It’s going to take some time to sort out the very best photos, especially if you have a large library and you’ve never built a portfolio before, but it will all be worth it when you have a finished product that captures your talents perfectly.

How to Make Your Portfolio Stand Out

The purpose of all this is to show a client that, even though there are lots of other photographers out there, you are the right photographer for them. This means that it isn’t enough for your portfolio to be good; it also has to stand out from the crowd.

Edit in Your Personal Style

One of the best ways to stand out to potential clients is to impress them with your personal editing style. I know from personal experience that this is a big task for new photographers, so if you aren’t sure what your style is just yet, getting some professional help (from photographers like myself who have TOTALLY been in your shoes!) in finding it can be an important first step. Once you’ve settled on your style, or at least the first version of your style, you can start to wow potential clients with it!

Get Professional Advice

There are plenty of pros who have been through the struggle of finding their own original voice before and can help you avoid the things that caused trouble for them. Seeking advice from someone who has been in your shoes, even taking some online courses created by experienced professionals (I added a link to my photography education and recent free educational blog posts), is a great way to fine-tune the presentation of your work. The more feedback you receive, the better you’ll understand what sort of first impression your portfolio makes.

Let’s Get Started!

If you avoid the common mistakes and make use of the tips I mentioned, you will have a solid foundation for your first portfolio. Keep in mind that, as you and your library of work grow, your portfolio should evolve, too. Refer back to these important points and get a professional opinion as you expand your work, and your online portfolio will continue to show off your incredible skills!

Let’s be friends, shall we? 

Follow me on my personal Instagram @thejasminjade

And my presets page @embrace_presets

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