In her seminal essay On Photography, Susan Sontag writes: “Photographed…
In our new guide, Creating a Successful Photography Portfolio, we offer insights from photography consultants, editors, and agents on how to build an online photography portfolio that helps attract clients and win jobs.
One of the contributors to this guide is Neil Binkley, who works as a photographer consultant and co-founded Wonderful Machine. No matter how many portfolios Neil has seen, it still excites him when a photographer comes to him with images that clearly express their “creative DNA” or personality. His perspective on targeting clients is based on a strong belief that the best thing to do is shoot what you love and aim to inspire.
Below is Neil’s advice for attracting your dream client with your photography portfolio.
How does a photographer target a dream client with his or her portfolio?
The best thing you can do is pretend that you are your dream client and think, What would I hire me to shoot? Every portfolio shoot that a photographer does is a chance to do the work they find most exciting.
I think that portfolio projects are the single most important things that photographers can do to propel their businesses forward. And when I say portfolio projects, I also mean personal projects – they’re the same thing to me. A portfolio project has the potential to make you more money, but also provide more artistic satisfaction.
How do you recommend coming up with a project that’s portfolio-worthy?
There are really two things that can help you come up with portfolio projects. One is practical: think of what you need to fill in the gaps of your current work. The other is to think of what work would get you excited. Because when you’re excited about the work, it can be infectious.
I think that the more photographers can do to show off their personality the better – whether a subject matter or a style. It’s harder for others to replicate something that’s personal to you.
It happens more and more these days that a creative director will see some work on someone’s website, regardless of whether it was done for a client, and they will be inspired and want it re-created for a client of theirs. This is a win-win situation because the job becomes more of a collaboration. So the goal with your portfolio should be to inspire creative directors and art buyers.
What are some specific go-to practices for a photographer who can’t come up with a portfolio project?
I used to be a designer, and the hardest thing to do was to design for myself. There’s a lot of pressure to create something from nothing. Photographers are up against a blank canvas when starting a new portfolio project so themes can help them react to something.
Pick a color and run with it for six months. Then do a portfolio shoot every week or two (this is the red project, etc.) and see what that means for you. Then on your website you can have one gallery that says, “latest project” or the “red project” or the “rainbow project.” That way a client can look at it and say, “This person did a really great job across these 10 images. There’s a thread that shows this is a cohesive work and yet it’s exciting because they’ve obviously tried to do something a little bit different.”
How do you recommend thinking up a portfolio project that is both personal and can be targeted to a dream client?
Think of 10 things that you enjoy doing the most and choose one of them to be a portfolio project. Say it’s a hobby or taking your dog for a walk. Think of how taking a dog for a walk is interesting, and interesting in a way that you haven’t seen done. Make it personal to you. Try to make it a story.
Good marketing is good storytelling – everyone likes to hear stories. Maybe you just focus on the tail of the dog, which is something I’ve never seen. This also adds a limiting factor. A limiting factor helps you use your creative mind to execute the shoot. Maybe it’s through lighting, styling or the environment that the tail is photographed against. You can add irony or humor. All of those things tell an interesting story and give the images variety, but the theme of the tail will keep it all cohesive.
How do you keep your dream clients once you’ve got them?
I never give people permission to stop marketing themselves. You have to sell yourself to people even if they’ve already hired you. If Coke and Pepsi have to advertise then why wouldn’t a photographer whom no one has ever heard of not have to do the same thing? It’s just a reminder, that’s all.
It’s possible that you may never do work for publications like GQ or Vanity Fair or Esquire, and you should forgive yourself if you don’t. There are only so many projects and only so many photographers in line for those projects. You can do work for many other clients. If you have five clients that hire you, with a few rotating in and out, you can have a very solid career.
Takeaway: Why a photographer with a fast, intuitive portfolio comes out on top.
I consult photographers foremost, but I was recently tapped by an ad agency to find a local photographer for a specific region in the country. The client wanted high quality and happened to have a really odd combination of specialty needs (food and lifestyle). I found several people who were good at one or the other, but it was hard to find someone good at both.
Every time I hit a website that wasn’t quick and easy to use – if it didn’t have thumbnails, for example – I was less patient. It was taking a day and a half to find a couple of good contenders to send to this ad agency, and I really saw the weaknesses and strengths of website designs.
When someone is trying to quickly assess your photographic value, it’s important to help her do her job. We’re not in the beautiful, animation-rich, Flash era that we used to be. It’s important not to get in the way of function. It happens all the time that the best photographer is not the one that is found. And there are a lot of great photographers out there, but it’s not always about finding the best. It’s a combination of having a good edit and being able to have it found by the right clients.
For more information on what goes into an exceptional online portfolio and how an online portfolio should fit into your marketing plan, check out our free guide: