Building a Better Online Portfolio  (Video)

Building a Better Online Portfolio (Video)

We had the honor of conducting a webinar with Stella Kramer, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photo editor, about photographer portfolios. I knew this was going to produce some amazing insights when we first announced it – but the results far exceeded my expectations.

If you’re a photographer looking to get the attention of an editor (or two, or three) then you should watch this video and learn. One thing I love about Stella is that she tells it like it is. She’s blunt, honest, and loves photography. Want to know what editors REALLY think about your portfolio, and your website? Then I suggest you watch this.


Which of the things that Stella says surprised you most? Which of the things do you agree with, and which things don’t agree with you? Comment below and let’s keep the dialog going.

Here’s a little background material to go along with what Stella is saying:

Watermarks: Protecting Your Images, or Damaging Your Business?

10 Secrets to Successful Online Photo Portfolios


Want to get Stella’s take on your Portfolio? Contact her directly:
Twitter: @stellakramer | Facebook: Stella Kramer Consulting

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There are 21 comments for this article
  1. ts gentuso at 2:51 pm

    Fantastic webinar video. Gives me a lot to chew on… Understanding that she is not the end-all, I really feel like her frank appraisal and commonsensical approach are definitely worth the hour+ that it takes to view this. Thanks, PhotoShelter–once again, a HOMERUN!

  2. Ken Hurst at 12:26 am

    Exactly the kind of video I needed. I haven’t been able to participate in the webinars so I’m very grateful that you’ve made Stella’s insight available as a video. Now I’ve got a lot of work to do!

  3. Dave at 8:33 am

    Quite offensive that we should not protect our work with watermarks. Because editors think we don’t trust them ? In that case editors should pay us before assignments. Getting paid after makes us photographers feel like you don’t trust to delivery images.

  4. John Winnie at 7:50 pm

    Stella reviewed my site and I found it very helpful. I’ve already made many of the changes she suggested and have to agree – the site looks and works better. I think people are taking her watermark comments a bit too personally. She’s being pragmatic: if you watermark so heavily as to interfere with viewing the image, that’s a turn-off. If you watermark discretely, if can just be cropped, or rubber-stamped, out. Bottom line: unless you paste what amounts to graffiti all over your images, if someone wants to, they will steal them. Regarding trust: understand that you are speaking to everyone who lands on your site – thieves and editors. Who do you really want to direct your efforts towards? Yeah, thieves will occassionally lift our work, but it is rare, both per photographer, and per image. I’ve had images used without my consent (by AP no less)but I choose to direct my site at those I want to work with and weather any of the negative consequences of removing watermarks (which I am doing). One more point: I’ve visited several other photographers’ sites where you have to pass through a threatening copyright statement and hit an “agree” button before seeing photos. A negative tone is set before you even get to the pictures, and if I were a photo editor with gazillions of options to choose from, I simply wouldn’t visit such sites – they hint at a contentious, defensive photographer as surely as a mean dog suggests a mean owner. So, yes, I’ll protect my work by copyrighting it, but won’t deface it and potentially turn off legitimate buyers, with what amounts to a warning stamp on every image.

  5. Christian Beier (CBpictures) at 4:16 am

    Thanks for the nice webinar and it is here also made available later. To the controversial subject of watermark: I think he mean only the portfolio, not the stock archive / galleries. In the portfolio is only a small selection shown and the damage is lower there. Here I find the “experience ” without a watermark even more beautiful. But the archive is to protect the images more important than experience for the user. Then this is my capital. @Stella: What do you think?

  6. Geoff Waugh at 4:19 am

    Nice comment Dave. Unfortunately, I doubt editors have much to do with that side of things aside from having a photo budget. It’s accountants that make the rules and hang on to the money as long as humanly possible! Oh, and I have to change my black blackground to white. So much to do so little time…… Given me a few ideas though…

  7. Dawn at 1:34 pm

    I enjoyed hearing Stella’s valuable insight in this webinar. I agree with some, but not all, of her opinions. I don’t think it would be wise for Photoshelter to stop using themes with black backgrounds simply because Stella doesn’t like them. In fact, I believe some of the PS themes offer a choice of background color, which makes the most sense. To my eyes, there’s nothing more drab and dull than a white background. I have no plans to change my website background based on Stella’s comment, but I appreciate hearing her perspective. As for watermarks, if editors think an unobtrusive watermark is a personal insult on their trustworthiness, perhaps they should lighten up. While some thieves will manage to find loopholes no matter which protections we put in place, I think the watermark and copyright notice will still deter many from violating copyright protection. PhotoShelter, thanks for bringing us these great webinars! Keep ’em coming!

  8. Martin Beebee at 4:53 pm

    Watermarks are not only used to prevent image theft. Marketing, for example. When I shoot a wedding, and the bride uses the low-res versions to post all over her Facebook page, and all those photos say “Martin Beebee Photography” at the bottom. . . . (The same goes for vendors.) I agree the more unobtrusive the better, though.

  9. Chris Hellier at 3:06 am

    Excellent presentation. Stella is certainly a good communicator. But I wonder how many photo editors share her aversion to black backgrounds. Many leading players in the industry, including Corbis, use black backgrounds on their websites. I’m also in no hurry to delete watermarks from my images. Do watermarks really put off many serious buyers? I doubt it. Chris Hellier

  10. Ellen Jones at 3:25 pm

    Perhaps all clothing stores should stop putting those pesky security tags on their clothes on the racks…and quit having security guards standing around! Makes us customers feel like they don’t trust us. I really feel like my bank doesn’t trust me either, locking the vault and stuff. We all know that most people are honest (LAUGH!)

  11. photoGENE at 3:08 pm

    She does WHAT for a living? Photography career coaching? Anyone who’s stupid enough to think he should actually hire a career coach to tell him what to do shouldn’t be getting into photography in the first place. If you think that you really need to pay someone to hear stuff like: “You have to decide what kind of work you wanna do and focus on THAT”… Come on, dude… go do something else.. Preferably something you’re good at. As per the rest of stuff she said.. I knew.. well.. about… 100% of that.. and I know a couple hundred more.. at least.. Much of the advice she gave regarding the actual web site layout is merely her personal preference. One last thing to say is: Photo editors, Photo buyers and ‘Photography career consultants’, for that matter, are NOTHING without the PHOTGRAPHERS. Remember the hierarchy, boys…

  12. John Winnie at 5:18 pm

    Wow, photoGene, you’re wonderful! I bet you are a globe-trotting, highly sought after photographer that editors and photo buyers just love working with! After all, you know everything they know and “at least” a couple hundred % (sic) more. How dare those editors express their personal opinions when we should be listening to you instead. Especially since your awards stack up so impressively against a Pulitzer. And remember everyone, those editors and photo buyers are “NOTHING without Photographers.” Hmm, kind of like professional photographers are nothing without photo buyers and editors? A few words to the wise folks: I know a heck of a lot of self-important, egotistical photographers, but have rarely encountered the same in an editor or photo buyer. Most photo buyers are professionals looking to get through the work day just like you and me, and the last thing they need to be dealing with is someone trying to establish a “hierarchy” as opposed to a healthy working relationship. You want to get jobs? Be professional, be good at your craft, and be a nice guy (or gal). And maybe most important: no matter how high your opinion of yourself, remember, it’s “merely” your opinion and it may not be shared by others (i.e. Get over yourelf).

  13. linka at 10:35 am

    Wow is right Mr. photoGene. Silly silly comments from you. Stella has some great advice. Free advice is good, take it or leave it. One subject I have further comment. I have read that it is not suggested to create general categories on a photo website, as thousands of people will have the same cateogory lists. Such as landscapes, portraits, etc. Therefore when you search this, say on google, thousands of photographer’s will come up. Opposed to having project names, which are unique to you. If your project then becomes well known, people can google the project name and find your website. Take for instance Alec Soth. His projects are easily googled and you can find him listed at the top of a search engine by searching ‘Sleeping by the Mississippi’. Perhaps this depends on what kind of photographer you are. I am interested to hear anyone elses thoughts on this, as I am currently creating a website. I am primarily a documentary & landscape photographer. Best, Linka

  14. Philip Campbell at 10:34 am

    Worth listening to. I’m curious about the dislike for the black background, it seems it is coming from a long winter in NYC. White backgrounds are counter-intuitive, esp for artists and photogs. Why? We know that the eye is drawn first to the brightest object in a frame. A white bg says, don’t look at my photos, look around them, it pulls the eye away from the photo. Black emphasizes the image. Very interesting coming from Stella.

  15. shell4art at 3:02 pm

    This was fantastic. “Back in the day” I was a consultant in the music business (25yrs) and it always made me shake my head and giggle when others balked at tried and true advice. “Let them learn…” Well, I am heeding to this great advice from Stella, even though it is going to be a lot of work! I really enjoy a black background because it creates a frame with no distractions. I believe that white would draw the eye away. This very blog is on a black background! Things to change: Get rid of clutter Make separate info page Less categories Less photos I will be creating a stock category I will tighten it up! I sign all of my photos 😉 It was a watermark years ago, then it changed to just being my signature. I have offered to remove it for the serious buyer but they have asked that I keep it and include it in sizing for matting. I like that she mentions that we take others on a journey. I have been told that my images do that and it pleases me greatly. shell

  16. Ed Silva at 5:13 am

    Very informative webseminar. I disagree with the watermark. All major agencies watermark their galleries (AP, EFE, Getty, iStock) , because photo theft is rampant. I browsed her website and her photos are too small to see and you must click on each image ( no prev/next arrow).

  17. Chad Adelhardt at 12:55 am

    Thank you Stella. Interesting… being in graphic design and imaging for so long I stopped thinking of watermarks as a protection against theft. Its SO easy to remove them anymore. Like Martin BeeBee, said previously (Cool name bty), I think of it in terms of marketing. I mean lets face it, if you put your pics on the web someone is bound to snag them once in a while. In a scene its a complement and part of us probably should hope that they do. Look at it this way, if you size your images correctly the only place they can really be used is on the web. Aside from designers using it as fpo (for position only) or maybe somebody cubicle wall, worst case it could end up in some small newsletter or something. Wherever it ends up, it would be pretty obvious that it was stolen. Basically the folks who are going to pay for it will, the others wont (AP not withstanding). For those that won’t, even if they take it off it gets you a little exposure (yes, a little pun intended). From a technical standpoint, for print the image needs to be at least 300ppi, 360 ideally, a web image should only be 72, then drop your quality just above losing detail and you have pretty much limited its use. I don’t think I can go along with removing it all together. Small and unobtrusive for sure, it is a very good marketing tool if done well.

    It was a bit over stated but I don’t fault her for getting hung up on the water mark and back ground color too much. As an instructor, I can say its easy to get stuck on a point and there is a lot of pretty bad water marks out there. Then again, I have heard this complaint a lot from designers, art directors, and editors alike. If they are your main buyers its probably best to consider her advice.

    As for black, well I like black back grounds. On the other hand black and revers type is very 90s.

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