A portfolio review is when a professional photographer, photo editor or agent examines and critiques your carefully-curated portfolio of top images. Reviews are often available at photo conferences, including NANPA’s 2019 Nature Photography Summit and Trade Show, where you can sign up for a portfolio review with one of more than 20 top-notch photography professionals. But, why would you want to do this?
You are not the best judge of your own photos.
You absolutely, positively cannot fairly and completely evaluate your own work. Neither can your friends, and certainly not your relatives! If your mom’s like mine, she’d find a photo of the back of your lens cap an intriguing abstract composition ready to be hung in a museum. Your opinion of a shot may be colored by fond memories of the experience of capturing that image, but no one else will have those memories. You need to ask someone who can look at your photos with fresh eyes, be objective (well, as much as anyone can be) and give you a solid, unbiased evaluation of your work. Often, your reviewer will be similar to your ideal client or audience. Who better to tell you if your photos pique their interest or fill a need?
You’ll learn what is and isn’t working.
Knowing what worked is as important as seeing what didn’t work, both for an individual image or for a collection of images in a story, project or portfolio. If you listen to where your work falls short, you can make dramatic improvements in future images. And, while reviewers are looking for weaknesses, they also point out your strengths, which allows you to capitalize better on what you already do well.
You’ll get a sense of the market.
A good reviewer can tell you whether your photos fill a market need or whether they’d be difficult to sell. Trends are fickle. What’s popular this year probably wasn’t last year. Are your photos of a type that people are buying for their wall? That photo editors are buying for their magazine or stock agency? In what subjects or styles are you hitting the nail on the head and where are you missing the mark?
You can discover or enhance your personal style.
Preparing a portfolio forces you to look at your catalog of photos and select the most appropriate ones for the given review. In the process of culling and selecting, you very well might start to see themes, strands or even a dominant style to your work. That can help differentiate you from the crowd. Your reviewer will also likely see themes or styles you hadn’t realized were there.
A portfolio review is highly unlikely to end with a delighted reviewer offering you a contract on the spot. And it’s not really the place for a hard sell on your part. Instead, it’s a chance to make a connection, to acquaint someone with your name and your work. It’s the start of a dialog. And it’s a chance for you to learn from their experience and expertise. If any work eventually comes your way, it’s likely to be several steps removed—the reviewer knows someone who knows someone who’s looking for the kind of thing you have. You’re now on their radar.
If you’ve already registered for the 2019 Nature Photography Summit and Trade Show, you can easily add a portfolio review, but do it soon! These have a habit of selling out. If you haven’t registered yet, what are you waiting for? Here are a few more reasons to get yourself out to Las Vegas next month. Pre-conference prices are only available through January 20th.
A portfolio review may sound intimidating. Who wouldn’t be a little nervous having one of your photography idols looking at your work with a critical eye? But the benefits are more than worth the cost.
There are a few things you can do to make your portfolio review at NANPA’s 2019 Summit (or wherever you get one) go smoothly.
- Read all the instructions and follow the rules and suggestions. It seems like a no brainer, yet there’s always at least one person who brings too many images, or in the wrong format, or books a review in the wrong category.
- Make sure there’s a flow and consistency to your portfolio. One image should logically and gracefully follow another. You don’t want to present a bunch of wildly divergent subjects, lighting, compositions and editing styles, each one jarringly different from another.
- Have a purpose going in. Be able to tell the reviewer what you hope to learn. Have a couple of questions you’d like the review to answer. Don’t make the reviewer do all the talking.
- Listen carefully and be prepared to take a lot of notes. Maybe you want to record the review on your phone (ask first, to be sure it’s OK). You can get a lot of information and advice in a 20-minute review.
- Do your homework and learn about your reviewer. You want their background and experience to be similar to your goals and intended audience or buyer. Do you have a passion for wildlife photography? Maybe you should be signing up for a review with Stacey Frank at the NANPA’s 2019 Nature Photography Summit. Her agency, Minden Pictures, is one of the premier providers of wildlife and nature photography. Do a lot of travel photography? Then you might want to book with Danita Delamont, whose agency represents travel and culture photographers, as well as nature and wildlife pros. Focused on breaking into the Fine Art market? Maybe Ron Rosenstock the one for you. The reviewers at the NANPA Summit cover all genres and all skill levels.
A portfolio review is one of the best ways to grow as an artist. It’s fast, chock full of actionable information and, if you go into it in the right frame of mind, it can even be fun!