Creating a Portfolio

It's important that you have a good quality portfolio

Posted 21/May/2001 - 12:00AM


A4 or A3 black card masks are ideal for presenting colour transparencies in your portfolio - though near sheets of 35mm transparencies in white masks will also look fine in standard viewing sleeves of 24.

In some areas of photography - commercial and industrial, advertising, social and editorial - it's important that you have a good quality portfolio of your best work ready to show people. If a new clients calls, for example, and asks to see some pictures, the last thing you want to do is start scrambling around trying to put together a set. Equally, no magazine editor is going to be impressed if you turn up for an appointment with an envelope full of dog-eared prints and dusty slides. So, if you intend pursuing any of the areas mentioned above, you need to create an impressive portfolio from the word go.

Ideally this should comprise a mixture of prints, colour slides and tearsheets showing example of published work where relevant. Prints should be a decent size - 12x16inch is perfect - and presented in such a way that they can be handled regularly without being damaged. I prefer to window-mount prints behind 16x20inch sheets of white card and slip them into clear archival polyester sleeves which can be replaced periodically. Other photographers prefer to dry mount the print on thinner card then have the lot encapsulated or laminated between two sheets of clear plastic, so the print is fully protected, and any fingermarks can be wiped off. The best way to present colour transparencies is in black card masks. A variety of different types are available, but the most flexible are A4 or A3 sheets of stiff black card with apertures cut in to accept individual black mounts. These are ideal because you can mix upright and horizontal shots on the same sheet, whereas the standard multi-image masks limit you to one or the other.

Tearsheets from books, magazines, brochures and so on can be mounted on card then encapsulated like prints. However, I prefer to use good quality hardbacked 'pro-books' which have a leather cover and contain 20 or more clear plastic pockets with sheets of black card in. The 14x17inch books I use are an ideal size to hold A4 tearsheets, and provide a neat black border around the page Once you've put together a portfolio it obviously needs to be stored in something.
Professional photographers often spend a lot of money having bespoke cases made from wood, leather and all sorts of exotic materials. However, you needn't be so extravagant to make a lasting impression.

The most popular form of case is the design with a zip on three sides and a ring-binder mechanism on the spine onto which you can clip clear pockets containing your prints, slides and tearsheets. They come in all sizes, look good and are economical. However, they're also a little impractical as you either have to lay the whole thing out on a table or remove the contents.
For this reason, I prefer briefcase style cases with a hinged lid and open interior as they're more flexible if you need to combine items of different size. Large artist supply shops usually stock them, and manufacturers often advertise in the classified section of art design and professional photographic magazines.

Overall, the key to creating a stylish portfolio is keeping it simple, consistent and up to date. Don't put dozens of pictures in it unless you've got a specific reason for doing so - 20-30 pictures are more than enough - and make sure you update it regularly with new work, or remove items that are beginning to look tatty. It's also a good idea to tailor the contents to suit the person you're seeing, rather than showing the same pictures to everyone - a portrait client won't be interested in seeing landscape, and equally, the editor of a gardening magazine won't be interested in creative studio portraits.

Websites to check for portfolio materials and cases: 

Cut windowmounts from white or off-white card for colour or black & white prints. Archival board is your best bet, and can be purchased from good art supply shops.

Place mounted prints in clear polyester sleeves. Not only does this protect the print from damage caused by repeated handling, but it also looks very polished too.

High quality artbooks containing clear pages are ideal for showing tearsheets of previously-published work.

The cheapest portfolio cases have a three-sided zip and ring-binder mechanism to hold clear plastic sleeves into which prints can be slotted. They're ideal if you're working to tight budget.

If you can afford it, a briefcase-style portfolio case like this one from Plastic Sandwich is well worth investing it. Go for a 16x12in or 20x16in model.

Handmade aluminium cases are the ultimate in portfolio chic - you can have them made to your own specification, they look seriously stylish and they last, quite literally, a lifetime.


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