How to Make a Photography Portfolio for College and University in 2023

If you need a photography portfolio for college, university, or getting a job post-grad, here are some of the best photography portfolio ideas for students.

student photography portfolio for college and university

To attend college or university for photography, or to get a job working in photography, at some point, you will need a student photography portfolio.

You may have hundreds or thousands of photos under your belt, but have you actually gone through and identified which ones would make the most powerful photography portfolio to apply for a university photography or art program?

We’re going to break down everything you need to know about how to present your photography portfolio, what to include, and even show you some awesome photography portfolio examples for university.

Get ready to get inspired!

Is A Photography Degree Worth It?

A common question we’ve encountered when it comes to planning out creative career paths is: “can you go to college for photography?” and the follow-up question is always: “is it worth it?”

While you don’t necessarily need a college degree in photography to build a wildly successful career in photography, studying photography can be a rewarding life experience. Not to mention the technical experience, networking, and mentorship you’ll gain from university-level photography programs can bring a lot of value to your background as a professional photographer.

Best of all, attending a university photography program can encourage you to explore different avenues of photography and experiment with a wide range of styles and techniques that you wouldn’t necessarily have access to when learning it on your own.

If you’re already convinced that applying to a college or university program for a photography degree is worth it for you, let’s jump straight into applications.

How to Make a Photography Portfolio for College

Putting together a student portfolio of your work can feel daunting at first. Sometimes, it’s a matter of not knowing where to start.

Putting together a college photography portfolio doesn’t have to be overly complicated or expensive. Thankfully, website builders like Format handle most of the legwork of design and functionality for you, so you can spend more time establishing your brand identity and curating your portfolio pieces.

We’re here to help break the process down into digestible pieces so that no matter what program you’re applying to, these photography portfolio ideas can help your application stand out from the crowd.

Start Your Portfolio Early

If you really want your photography portfolio for university to succeed, don’t make the mistake of thinking you can throw it all together the night before it’s due and still come out on top.

Procrastination could be your biggest enemy here, but breaking down the steps in creating your portfolio into smaller actionable items could be the remedy you need.

There are a lot of elements that go into making a high-quality photography portfolio for college, but one of the most important is that you take the necessary time to carefully consider every single detail about your application, from the photos you choose to the way you present them.

It’s a good idea to be able to speak in-depth about your reasons for selecting each photo in your photography portfolio, as well as your influences and overarching themes.

You need to be able to demonstrate that you can articulate an abstract thought through your photography, so your future school or employer will know that you can respond to any photography prompt effectively.

You simply will not be able to put the care necessary for a successful photography portfolio for university if you are rushing last minute to get your application submitted, so apply early and give yourself plenty of time to work out the details and make sure that you feel extremely confident with the work you are presenting. That confidence will come across through the presentation of your photography portfolio for college and is sure to impress school admissions and employers alike.

Pay Attention to the Details

Have you ever submitted a project you thought you rocked, but gotten a much lower mark than expected because you forgot to read the rubric?

When submitting your photography portfolio for university, make sure to read through every single word carefully to avoid making that same potentially disastrous mistake.

Chances are that you’re applying to multiple schools or jobs at once, and each of those submissions will be looking for specific requirements in your portfolio. Make sure you understand exactly what each college, university, or job application is asking for in their portfolio submissions, including details like the format of your images and the number of images you need to submit.

Should your photography portfolio for college be a physical portfolio delivered in person, a zip file of images only, or a website portfolio? Are you expected to include an artist’s statement, a pricing guide, or any other information along with your photographs?

These details can vary greatly between applications, so make sure that you’re fully aware of the specific requirements for each portfolio submission.

We find it helpful to create checklists for each of your application requirements to use as a guide when compiling your portfolios. This way, you check off your items one at a time to ensure that you’re not missing any details.

By following submission directions to the letter, you’ll demonstrate to potential schools or employers that not only do you have an eye for photography, but you can also follow directions and provide exactly what they ask for without skipping over details in haste or carelessness.

First impressions are key, and you don’t want people to think that you will only pay attention to the big picture rather than actually incorporating design briefs and feedback into your work.

Admissions offices and employers need to have confidence that you will be able to work independently without the need to be constantly micromanaged, and you can show this ability through responding to direct instructions with great care in your photography portfolio for university.

Present Your Work Thoughtfully

While you may think that the photos you present in your photography portfolio for college are the most important thing to consider, the way that you showcase your work can also have a big influence on the success (or lack thereof) of your college, university, or job application.

In fact, a study found that the quality of your online portfolio can have a huge impact on your job prospects.

With that in mind, it’s extremely important that you put a lot of thought and effort into the way you present your photography portfolio for university: you need to show that you are professional and that you put great care into your work. In order to do so, there are certain design tips that you can follow to help you create a photography portfolio for college that stands out.

In a physical photography portfolio for college, applying this can be as simple as ensuring that your photos are printed in a high quality, professional manner, that they are firmly secured and centered in your portfolio pages, and that your artist statement or other information is neatly typed up and affixed to the page.

There are many different styles for physical art portfolios, so choose one that represents your photography aesthetic while making sure to keep it simple in order not to take away attention from your photos.

On the other hand, if you are creating an online portfolio, choose a website builder that enables you to insert your own personal design aesthetic and brand identity through themes that truly represent you and your work in the best light. Using a portfolio builder that specializes in photography portfolios will make your experience even simpler, especially if you’re new to creating an online portfolio.

You don’t have to spend a huge amount of money to build your photography portfolio for university in order to show that you are confident in your work and that you take your career or studies as a photographer seriously.

If you need help creating your online photography portfolio for college, there are plenty of resources online to avoid or fix common portfolio mistakes as well as tools to improve your portfolio.

Make Your Portfolio User-Friendly

Create a positive and memorable experience for admissions or potential employers viewing your photography portfolio for university by employing design fundamentals throughout your portfolio submission. This can apply to both physical and online portfolios and includes details such as ensuring that you are using the same fonts throughout and emphasizing clarity and readability over bright flashy design.

While you want your photography portfolio for college to stand out, your graphic design choices should above all be easily readable and should bring the viewer’s focus to your images, rather than distracting or pulling focus away.

If the photos in your photography portfolio for university tell a story, make sure you display them in the necessary order to make sense to the viewer.

If each photo stands alone, however, it may make more sense to group them by portrait and landscape orientation so as not to distract by switching back and forth, and ensure that the viewer isn’t required to physically turn the portfolio to see a new orientation of the photo.

You can also include a contact sheet of all of the photos in your photography portfolio for college at the beginning of your portfolio so that an employer or admissions officer can quickly and easily glance back at your portfolio and remember exactly what you and your work are all about.


What to Include in Your Photography Portfolio for University

One of the biggest challenges when it comes to creating a photography portfolio for college can be the questions of how to choose the images to include in your portfolio.

It can be tempting to choose photos for your portfolio based on your personal preference, but this isn’t the only thing to consider when building your photography portfolio for university. Below, we’ll focus on how to effectively curate your photography portfolio for college and what to include alongside your photographs.

Create Your Portfolio Based On Application Requirements

You’ll likely be applying to multiple schools, universities, or employment opportunities at once, and each of these portfolio submissions will have unique requirements.

Start by creating a document in which you lay out the requirements for each submission alongside the school or company and due dates. Once you’ve done this, look through all of the requirements to identify commonalities between applications, like how many photos each submission requires.

From there, curate a selection of your work to fit the highest number of photos required, and then narrow down your selection for portfolio submissions asking for fewer examples of your work.

This way, the same main themes will be present throughout your applications, making it much easier to remember your talking points, rather than having to come up with a new angle for each individual photography portfolio for university.

Some portfolio requirements may leave the themes up to you and dictate only the technical requirements, while others may ask you to respond to a thematic prompt in your submission. While you should always respond directly to the specific prompt and follow every direction closely, you can save yourself some time and anxiety by finding a way to link the same main group of photos to different portfolio requirements.

Remember: you should be able to talk about each of the photos in your photography portfolio for college in great detail, including your highly considered reasons for selecting each photo. Never include a photo in your photography portfolio for university simply because you like it.

Include Relevant Additional Information

In order to show you seriously you take your photography practice, you may choose to include additional information in your photography portfolio for college with each photo, like the camera settings you used, the location of the shoot, the concept behind the photo, and why you used the techniques you did to emphasize the concept.

In both school and professional environments, you will find yourself having to explain exactly how your artistic choices work to flesh out your concept, so in providing this information right off the bat, you show that you understand not only how to take good photos, but also why you would use different settings to evoke certain concepts or moods in your work.

Additional information you can include in your photography portfolio for the university includes an artist statement or a about me page, which help to clarify your intentions, influences, and expectations for your future career.

Showcase Your Adaptability

Here’s the truth: freelance photographers must target specific niches to find ideal clients. However, when creating a portfolio for college, university, or a job, you should demonstrate your flexibility in creating a wide variety of types of photographic content.

With this in mind, include photos that showcase many sides of of your work in your university portfolio. If you love shooting still lifes in a studio environment, by all means, include examples of that, because the work you are most passionate about will likely be the easiest and most enjoyable for you to talk about.

However, this should not be your only showcase of photography for college. Instead, include some wildlife photography, or go to an event where you can present different kinds of photography.

This is your opportunity to show a wide range of abilities and photographic skills, and prove that you can deliver high-quality content, no matter the brief you’re given.

When applying for a job in which you will be working with clients, emphasize your ability and willingness to bring the client’s vision to life. For your application, you’ll be letting your future school or employer know that you can be adaptable and provide high-quality photography in any situation.

Showing that you are conscious of theme and meaning is also highly recommended. Include various techniques and approaches, including technical skill, in your university portfolio to show off your aptitude for learning new techniques and developing new skills quickly.

Look into including samples of nighttime photography and long exposure to show that you’ve taken the time and effort to educate yourself proactively. You can use both indoor and outdoor photography and a mix of color and black and white to show your comprehension of different types of photography and equipment.

Choose Your Best Work

Sometimes it can be challenging to separate your best work from photos that you have a personal attachment to, or that bring up positive memories. Curate your photography portfolio for college by taking an objective approach, stressing the technical elements that make a good photograph. Even if you love a photo, it doesn’t necessarily belong in your university portfolio.

Don’t include things that you like if they’re not an example of your most high-quality work. Choose which photos to include carefully, as you shouldn’t be including photos in your portfolio for college that are just there to pad the overall application.

If you’re missing the required number of photos in your portfolio, you will most likely be disqualified regardless of the quality of the work you’ve included. So, if you can’t find enough relevant photos to include in your portfolio, it’s time to snap a picture and get shots that represents your progress in your photography journey.

Demonstrate Your Growth

If you choose to talk about your growth as a photographer over time, select one or two older photographs in order to visually demonstrate how far you’ve come and all of the work you’ve put into your practice up until this point. You can talk about how the older work differs from what you’re doing now, and how you learned from it to become a better photographer.

Nevertheless, don’t include low-quality images in your portfolio because you’re here to focus on the work you’re doing today and how that can benefit your college or career aspirations. In college or university, where admissions officers want to see what self-taught skills you have and how you have developed, this information is more important. Workplaces, on the other hand, care more about what you’re producing now and what you can contribute to them if they hire you.

Showcase Post Production Skills

Do you have photos that you’ve edited into panoramas or gifs?

Maybe you’ve recolored a photograph in Photoshop or a similar program to emphasize certain elements? Feel free to include some entries in your photography portfolio for a university that represent a variety of skills, including those that happen after the pictures have been taken. You can learn a lot of helpful Photoshop skills really quickly using online tutorials.

Push Yourself Creatively

If you’re feeling like the photos in your photography portfolio for college aren’t quite measuring up in the creativity department, assign yourself a photo prompt that forces you to get outside of your comfort zone. Not only will this open you up to new experiences and possibilities, but it will also show your willingness to try new things and take chances.

Admissions and potential employers will see that you can learn a new skill quickly and can effectively accomplish any assignment, even when it’s something not currently in your skillset.

Do Your Research

If you can cite your influences and talk about how your work fits into the grander scheme of photography, it will show that you really put in the time and effort to gain a full understanding of your craft and the ability to demonstrate that through your work.

Browse some photography portfolios of successful contemporary photographers like Mark Clennon and Michelle Watt, as well as well-known historical photographers to draw on inspiration.

When you find a few whose work resonates with you, dive a little deeper into your research by reading up about their concepts and practices. You should be able to talk about why you respect their work (beyond just liking the appearance) and how you plan to use this inspiration to further your own photography process. This will show that you have plans to continue to grow artistically and professionally in the future and that you’re not complacent.

Try to link some of what you glean from these influences to the work in your photography portfolio for university, or even create and include a photo that directly references a famous, recognizable photograph in order to instantly relate your work to the history of photography.

Stick to the Rules, or Break them Intentionally

In photography, there are certain guidelines when it comes to creating a visually appealing photo, including rules surrounding light, texture, form, and composition.

Get familiar with what these terms mean in relation to photography and select photos for your photography portfolio for college that demonstrate a thorough understanding of these core procedures. If you don’t know what the terms in your portfolio brief mean, look them up along with examples of photographs that emphasize those characteristics so that you can understand how they function in a variety of circumstances.

However, you may also choose to break these rules. If you do, it should be with clear intention.

For example, if you decide to make use of an unusual or off-putting style of composition, that choice should reflect your overall subject matter and thesis, and you should be able to back up why you made that particular choice in relation to the project in question.

Get a Second Opinion

When you’ve spent hours thinking about your photography portfolio for university, it might be hard to take a step back and try to be objective about selecting the best examples of your photography work.

Call in your friends and family to provide constructive criticism: you don’t have to take all of their advice, but it can be helpful to see how people respond to your photos and what they read into them without knowing the story behind their creation.

If you know anyone who has been accepted into college or university for photography or works as a professional photographer, they can be a great resource on how to create a successful photography portfolio for college.

Prepare for the Interview

Your work should stand alone, since, for most submissions, you’ll probably be submitting your photography portfolio for college online for consideration to determine whether or not to offer you an interview.

However, at some stage, there may be an interview process, especially when you apply for photography jobs. You should be ready to conduct yourself professionally and with confidence and speak knowledgeably about all aspects of your portfolio.

Prepare yourself for common interview questions like identifying your weaknesses, discussing where you get your inspiration from, or where you see yourself in 5 years.

Even if the exact questions don’t come up in your interview, the preparation will enhance your confidence, and you’ll be able to work those answers into other parts of your interview.

Photography Portfolio Examples for Students

Now that you know how to make a photography portfolio for college applications with the outlined tips, it’s time to drum up some inspiration.

These photography portfolio examples for university provide the inspiration you need to create a unique and memorable photography portfolio for college applications.

Now get started on that photography portfolio for college! We can’t wait to see what you come up with.

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