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Curate That Site: How to Choose Which Portfolio Images To Use

Picking portfolio images may be intimidating—but, sadly, you can’t use them all! Here are our top tips and tricks on how to choose images for your portfolio.

A great portfolio means getting noticed by clients; getting noticed means getting booked; and getting booked means making money. This is why it’s so key to have an amazing portfolio up and running to show off all your hard work. And what makes an amazing portfolio? Amazing work, of course!

Choosing images can seem daunting, especially if you have a lot of material. But there are some easy tips on how you can get it done quickly—and painlessly!

Start by Sorting

It’s time to start choosing images. This means sitting yourself down and going through every shot of every piece of work, every final product, every digital file. These portfolio images have to demonstrate the work and skills you want to wow clients with—and potentially inspire them to hire you, or buy work from you.

You need to have a discerning eye during this initial cull. This is when you cut the fat. A lot of artists have mountains and mountains of material, but not all of it should end up on your portfolio. You should aim to only showcase 10% of your output—at most.

“Ten percent?!” you say. Yes, and that is still being generous. For photographers, especially, when selecting your portfolio pictures, you need to pick the best of the best. According to one recent study, potential employers can decide whether or not they want to work with you in as little as six seconds! So, if you literally only have a few seconds to convince someone that you’ve got the chops, you better make sure that your portfolio images are the best you’ve got.

Remove Your Emotions

But how do you narrow it down? One strategy that can really help you rip the Band-Aid off is to remove your emotions from the situation. Easier said than done, we know, but when you’re attempting to pick your best portfolio images, try imagining that you are an art patron or design client or photo editor sifting through all the photographs on your desktop. Which ones really tickle your fancy—and which ones don’t? Use this trick with all your images and, before you know it, you will be flying through your own work and finding the true gems.

Another strategy is to prioritize pieces that have been praised by your fellow artists or community. Did you get an award for a certain pottery collection? Did a famous art blogger shout out one of your video works on her site? Even if a piece isn’t your very favourite, this kind of industry validation can help you zero in on the more prime pieces to feature. (Don’t forget to mention it on your About Me page, too!)

But How Many Photos Should Be in a Portfolio?

This can be a tricky question because different artists will have different amounts of work to feature on their portfolio. An illustrator who has been working for 20 years will have more to showcase than someone fresh out of art school, right? So, again, rather than concentrating on hitting a certain number, you should concentrate your efforts on paring down your best work. As mentioned above, aim for cutting it down to 10% of your output—and then pare, pare, pare from there. (More tips on that shortly!)

Get a Second Opinion

Okay, now that you’ve selected the semi-finalists for your portfolio, it’s time to pull out the big guns. Grab a friend or relative who knows a thing or two about the industry in which you’re aspiring. Even better—call on a fellow artist or colleague in your field to eyeball your portfolio picture picks. Ask them to take the portfolio images in your 10% and whittle those down to just a handful: the crème de la crème of your images.

The beauty of asking for a second pair of eyes is that they can be the unbiased element which you need. It’s easy to lose perspective looking at the same pile of portfolio images over and over again!

We’re all prone to sentimentalizing our work, so don’t feel bad if you’re having a hard time killing your darlings—we all do.

Cater to Your Audience

Now you’ve selected the final portfolio images that are going to represent you. However, before you can sigh with relief, you need to ask yourself an important question: who will be looking at this portfolio?

You must, must, must cater to your audience. Just like you need to tweak your resume for every position you apply for, you must consider which potential employers, clients and customers you want to appeal to with this portfolio. (For a little extra help in that potentially daunting area, here are some tips for finding clients.)

For example, if you’re a gearhead graphic designer vying to work for an ad agency with premium automotive clients, you should prioritize portfolio images featuring design work you’ve done in the automotive field. If you’re a model looking to be signed to that top-tier modeling agency, you need to show them all the coolest shoots you’ve been photographed in recently.

From there, refine your collection of portfolio pictures even further, plucking out only the portfolio images that align with your career goals.

Pick a Portfolio that Makes Your Images Shine

Here are a few tips on choosing the right portfolio to show off your work:

  • Don’t have an online portfolio yet? Busy artists can save a ton of time by using an online website builder; you can get your site up and running in minutes.

  • Other cool features to look out for include Instagram integration, so clients can see additional images of your work alongside your portfolio images. Video embedding is great, too (so you can feature any video work), and blogging functionality allows you to share what goes into making the art featured in those portfolio pictures.

  • Most importantly, pick one that offers a free trial, so you can see if it works with your style.

  • Take a look at the theme options. You’ll need to make sure that there are some options that align nicely with your brand identity. That way, your website and portfolio images can work together in harmony to strengthen your personal brand.

  • Refresh yourself on your brand guidelines. If you don’t have any yet, no worries—try this exercise. Take a look at all the portfolio images you have chosen to represent you. Jot down a few words in an online document that you feel sum up these images. You can even paste in some inspiration pics that align with your brand: a color, a shape, an exotic locale, a typeface. Review this package, so the vibe you’re going for is strong in your mind. Then head over to the theme page and see which one matches up the closest with the feeling you get from your images and mini-moodboard.

  • Are you feeling minimal elegance, or are you going for a bolder, more colorful look? The best part is that you can try out a few themes and see which works best!

Organize Your Portfolio Images

It’s important that images are featured in your online portfolio in an organized, cohesive way. Stick to these guidelines to stay on track:

  • Dying to show multiple shots from a shoot or series? One guideline you can follow is to show three images from any one shoot or series, max.

  • Popping portfolio pictures into a gallery? Don’t add more than 20 per collection. Folks don’t want to scroll that long!

  • Organize your portfolio pictures into clean, easily understandable sections. Visitors to your site will get confused if there’s a bunch of random artworks or shots just scattered about, or very different pieces clumped together.

Now that you’ve chosen images and uploaded your best portfolio pictures, your site will be looking fantastic. Here’s to making your next big sale, or booking that next career-boosting job!

Want some more tips on how to kill it as a creator?
12 Creative Entrepreneurs Share Their Best Business Advice
How To Write A Contract: Freelancer Guide to Protecting Your Rights
Get Published: 38 Websites To Submit Your Work

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