How to Create an Amazing Student Portfolio

What is a Student Portfolio?

A student portfolio is a compilation of your projects and academic works that showcases your performance, talents, skills, and experience in the subject matter you are studying.

boy and girl sitting on grass

There's no getting around it: a student online portfolio website is a necessity if you want to work in a creative field like photography. Whether you need to create a photography portfolio website in order to apply to an art university or college or you just want to document your progress in a photography course, we've got all of the tips you'll need for creating a high quality photography website.

If you're new to photography and don't have a lot of experience (or photography work) under your belt, now is the time to focus your attention on practicing your skills and building up a repertoire of photos that show what you can do. Once you have a variety of images to choose from, it's time to curate it down to the very best photography work that you've done.

Creating your own photography portfolio might seem overwhelming right now, but don't worry! We've designed this in-depth guide for complete beginners to learn everything they need to know about making a photography website that gets you noticed.

What is a Student Portfolio?

A student photography portfolio is an edited collection of work created by a student during their studies or to apply to a photography program.

To get into art school, you'll need a photography portfolio to submit with your transcripts and other documents. It's also a good idea to keep updating your portfolio with new school projects to track your academic and artistic growth.

You can even create multiple portfolios for different purposes, which we'll cover later in the piece.

Unlike traditional student photography portfolios, which were bound and printed, today's portfolios are digital. You or your photography business will have a website where visitors can see a curated selection of your work, learn more about you and your process, read your blog, and possibly contact you about working together.

This makes the portfolios of today even more important than those of the past, since they’re really a one-stop digital representation of your business and career. 

Why are Portfolios Important for Students?

As an aspiring art school student, an online photography portfolio allows you to create an easily accessible and endlessly shareable record of your best work. Your photography website is how potential schools, clients, and collaborators will get their first impression of who you are as a photographer. 

Site viewers will make a judgment of your skills and abilities based on everything from your photography work itself to the fonts, colors, and layouts you use when you design your photography portfolio, so you should put a lot of careful thought into every single decision that you make.

holding film

College Photography Portfolio Examples

To get your creative juices flowing, take a look at some truly inspiring photography portfolio examples for college from real photography students. 

Tayo Adekunle

Tayo specializes in self-portraiture which explores issues around race, gender, and sexuality, as well as racial and colonial history. 

Her approach to putting together her portfolio shows how effective it is to organize your work into neat projects. This way, it’s easy as a visitor to her portfolio to get a sense for the types of projects she has created, and to get an idea of what is contained in each project at a glance before clicking into it and seeing the rest of the images. 

Dillon Phantharangsy

Dillon’s work focuses on female fashion and portraiture. His portfolio shows that you don’t have to shy away from color. Being bold with your use of color and unapologetically showcasing your personal style can leave a lasting impression and make your portfolio unforgettable. 

Melissa Ivana

Melissa’s work features evocative images of post-communist Romania. Notice how she uses a unique collage layout to present her images, giving you the feeling that you’re experiencing a complete artistic statement rather than just discrete pictures.

Now that you know all about online student portfolios and how to make yours stand out, you're ready to upload your photos and start applying to your dream schools and photography jobs!

How To Make a Student Portfolio

You already know what a photo portfolio is and why you need one, but how do you actually choose what to include in your portfolio for college or university? While there are a lot of small details to consider, the main point of your portfolio is to feature your very best work. 

1. Select your best images

If you're not sure which of your photos are the best, ask an art teacher, your classmates, or anyone you know who has attended a photography college for help. Your friends and family may also help. While they may not have the same technical eye as photographers, there is likely something powerful about certain images that appeal to a large number of people.

Successful photography portfolios will not only showcase your best work but also chart your progress as a photographer. If you want to tell the story of your growth, arrange your images chronologically or by years or time periods.

2. Get into the details

Choosing which photos to include in your portfolio should be deliberate. Explain the idea behind each photo and why you think it's a good example of your photography work. You can even include the camera settings and the location of each photo if you want to show off your camera knowledge.

This level of detail for each image may not be required when creating a portfolio for employment, but when applying to a photography program, you should take advantage of every opportunity to demonstrate your knowledge and passion for photography. 

3. Write a statement of intent

As any experienced photographer will tell you, the About page is an important and often overlooked part of an effective photography portfolio. People like to know who is behind the images they’re admiring; does your personal story impact your work? Is there something unique about your perspective that comes through in your photos? The About page is an opportunity to give viewers a little peek behind the curtain. 

When creating a college photography portfolio, you should still make the most of this page, but perhaps in a different way than if you were seeking clients. As a college applicant, you may want to discuss your interest in the field, your career goals, and why a particular program appeals to you. These are just suggestions, but don't miss this page, as your website visitors will definitely click it!

What to Include in Your Photography Portfolio

The first criteria your images should meet is the actual requirements that the college your university you are applying to ask for. Look into whether the program you’re applying to has a guide for what kinds of images they want to see in your portfolio, and start there. 

If you’re applying to multiple programs, they may each have unique requirements. In this situation, you can create a new gallery page for each college and university. When you fulfill the specifications set out by the school, you demonstrate your attention to detail and prevent yourself from being disqualified over an oversight rather than an actual lack of skill.

In addition to your photos, you may be asked to include a resume with your educational background and any relevant experience or achievements related to photography. Many schools require you to write an artist statement or biography, and some may provide specific prompts for you to respond to. You should also make sure to include your contact information and any social media links to pages where more of your work can be viewed.

student drawing

Make your student photography portfolio stand out

Consider ways to make your portfolio stand out from a pile of other strong candidates. As important as it is to meet the requirements of each program you’re applying to, you also have to put yourself in the position of those who will be evaluating your portfolio. They may only be able to accept a small percentage of applicants, and it’s your job to make sure you’re one of them. 

Some ways to do this include:

1. Challenge yourself

As important as it is to recognize what your strengths are to make those visible in your portfolio, you also want to get a little outside of your comfort zone in order to showcase the breadth of your ability. You likely won’t be specializing in a single type of photography until after you graduate, so challenge yourself to include a few different categories or styles of photography even if there is one in particular that you feel strongest in. 

2. Tell a story

Photos are more compelling when the viewer senses they are being taken on a journey or told a story. If you can group images in such a way that they evoke a story or narrative, without being too repetitive, this can make an impact and lasting impression.

3. Share your BTS process

Including a blog with some behind the scenes musings can also make your portfolio more memorable. Sure, it’s possible it won’t get looked at by admissions staff, but if they do take a look they may be interested to see a bit about your thought process or preparation behind some of your best images.

Ready to create your student portfolio?

Showcase your best work and projects with our customizable portfolio website.

How To Create a Digital Portfolio for Students

By now, you have a pretty good idea of what kind of content should be included in a college photography portfolio. The next step is to put that content together in a visually appealing and easy to navigate digital portfolio. 

By using a portfolio website builder, you can create a branded portfolio website easily without any coding skills. As long as you have your curated list of images, any text you want to include, and an idea of what you want the final page to look like in terms of colours, fonts and the overall look, you’ll be able to put your portfolio website together in no time. 

1. Choose a theme.

Start by selecting a website template theme that compliments the aesthetic of your photos. Make your portfolio user friendly by using the same fonts and colors throughout. Emphasize your photography skills when making your design choices rather than going over the top with flashy details that may take away from your work.

2. Upload your photos.

An intuitive website builder makes it easy to create photo galleries and organize your images however you want. Create a new gallery, upload your photos, and include optional captions.

Some themes will have space for you to include some text to be accompanied with each gallery. This may be helpful when presenting your work, so consider your needs when choosing a theme.

3. Add any additional content you want to showcase

With your galleries created, you can spend some time including any other content you want to showcase on your portfolio website. Whether it’s creating that killer About Me page, uploading a video where you talk a bit about yourself or take viewers behind the scenes on your process, or linking your Instagram account so that your website stays fresh with new content whenever you post something to your Instagram, these extra additions can help your portfolio stand out. 

4. Customize the look of your website.

Once you've got your photos and any other content up, all that's left to do is play around with the design and personalize it to fit your unique style and point of view. Once it looks perfect, you can publish your online portfolio and start applying to the colleges and universities on your list.

Look for a website builder that offers a range of other features to support you throughout your career as a photographer. That way, when you graduate and start working as a photographer professionally, you won’t have to migrate your portfolio to a whole new platform.

Format allows you to create fully customizable input and contract forms, offers professional email hosting, has built-in client proofing galleries, and integrates with Lightroom and Capture One. Features like this make it easier to run your business as a photographer, and building your student portfolio with Format means you can access these features whenever you need them.

What Features Should You Look for When Creating Your Online Photography Portfolio?

Here are some of the main features that you should look for when you choose which website builder to use for your photo portfolio. By making sure your builder checks these boxes before signing up, you can be confident that your website building process goes smoothly and gives you the best, most professional result possible.

Professionally designed templates to show your work in the best light.

The purpose of a well designed template should be to put the focus on your work without being too over-designed and distracting, while also being easy to navigate and fast. Having a range of professional templates to choose from will make it easy to find something that reflects your brand.

Intuitive, easy to use design tools to save you time and effort with no coding knowledge whatsoever.

Being able to easily and intuitively adjust design elements means you’ll be able to create a website that’s unlike anyone else’s without the need to hire a designer.

Total customization to suit your unique needs.

When creating your student portfolio website, you’ll want to select a couple of fonts and a color palette to represent your brand. Look for a portfolio builder that then makes it easy to plug these in in order to customize your site. 

Mobile optimized websites so your photos look amazing no matter what device your site viewers are using.

Tons of traffic comes from mobile devices these days, and it’s critical that your portfolio website looks just as good on a phone or tablet as on a desktop. While photos will always look best on a larger screen, there’s no getting around the fact that most of us increasingly experience the web via our phones.

High resolution images make a huge difference in how your photographs are experienced.

High resolution can really make high quality images pop, so you want to be able to serve all those beautiful pixels to your website visitors.  

Online store with no commission fees where you can sell your photography services and photo prints.

Even if you're a student, you can make some extra cash by selling your prints. Your online store can also sell basic services like portrait sessions for a set fee. You can project a professional image even if you haven't booked work yet. These features take the guesswork out of designing and hosting your student portfolio website, saving you time and money.

After all, applying to photography program and studying photography are both time-consuming tasks that require careful planning. Spending days or weeks on your portfolio website could be better spent honing your skills, creating new images, or improving editing.

Generating photography portfolio ideas for students

How you approach creating your photography portfolio as a student will depend on what your goals are. When putting your photography portfolio together, it’s always a good idea to keep in mind who your target audience is. This is true for creating student portfolios and will remain true throughout your career as a photographer. 

By thinking about your target audience, you’ll be able to generate some photography portfolio ideas that will serve your big picture goals. 

For example, are you applying to a program? Does the program specialize in a certain type of photography? If so, you’ll want to beef up your portfolio with that type of photography.

Alternatively, what if you’re a new grad wanting to get into real estate photography? In that case, you may not need to include too many portraits in your portfolio, no matter how good they are. Use your target audience to guide the curation of your student photography portfolio. 

Types of Portfolios for Students

Most college and university admissions offices ask for online applications these days, so there's no longer any need to spend money printing out your best photos. Use your photography portfolio to express who you are as a photographer through your photos as well as by writing about your background, inspirations, and process. It's great when photographers can demonstrate versatility with their images, but focusing on one specific niche, whether it's portraits or products, will make your site appear more cohesive to schools and potential clients alike.

Design

There are many different types of design, but they all have one thing in common: if you want to be successful, you need an online portfolio where you can show your creative skills through images. Case studies are an important part of portfolios for many design disciplines, as they demonstrate your ability to address a brief and execute your concept.

Make sure that you adjust your portfolio depending on the type of design college you are applying for. Here are a couple of examples of how to create a design portfolio for specific programs or niches.

Interior design

Carefully choose a website template that goes with the images you're including in your interior design portfolio. Even if you have limited professional experience with interior design, you can use your own home as a canvas to try out ideas and document them for your online portfolio.

Graphic design

Since you're applying to a graphic design program, your graphic design portfolio website is the perfect opportunity to demonstrate your design ideas and skills. Select your fonts and colors and keep them consistent throughout your website.

Illustration

It can be difficult for some artists to narrow down which projects to include in illustration portfolio websites, but it's important that you feature no more than 20 works. That way, when someone is browsing your images they will be able to focus on all of the careful work and detail you've included rather than becoming overwhelmed by too much visual clutter.

pantones

Art

In the past, fine art was much less accessible to the masses than it is today. Now you can reach a new audience of people and businesses who want to collect your work with your online art portfolio website. While it can be tempting to include artwork from a variety of disciplines, there should be a central theme connecting all of your images, whether that is the medium you used, the subject rendered, or the concept behind the work.

Architecture

Since an architecture project goes through so many stages to get from a concept to a finished project, it's a good idea to include images of each step in your architecture portfolio, from rough sketches to 3D rendering to the final execution. Detail your experience in architecture by listing your education and any relevant experience, and don't be afraid to name drop any big clients you've worked for to up your credibility.

Model

Social media is overrun by amateur and professional models alike, so stand out with a professional, high quality online modeling portfolio of your very best modeling work. Unlike a traditional physical modeling portfolio, you can easily update your images to represent your most recent work.

Choose one or two niches of modeling that you're interested in getting into, and only showcase images that fit within that genre. For example, if you want to be a fashion photography model, you may want to remove any photos that don't showcase your fashion modeling skills.

Video

Video is an experiential medium, which means it is super important that your video portfolio can handle large file sizes without sacrificing quality or page load times. While you can present longer videos on separate pages, it's also a good idea to create a short 1-3 minute film reel where you piece together highlights from the video work you've done that best represents you.

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