Career Jumpstart: Prime your Portfolio Part I

Getting your work seen, Part 1: Prime your portfolio

You've made the decision: You're ready to show your photographs. Now what?

Without overstating the obvious, in today's highly competitive marketplace it's harder than ever to get to see people in positions to purchase your work or give you assignments. What can you do to get your work seen? First, you need to ask yourself a few questions; the answers will help you formulate a plan in presenting and marketing you and your photography so you can achieve your creative (and professional) goals.

Photo by Mason Resnick

Two Questions

What is my work about? Put your thoughts on paper. This will help you with everything from choosing the appropriate images to whom you will be contacting. It's also the start of your Artist's Statement, a very important aspect of your presentation, and one that will be in your portfolio and on your website. Your Artist's Statement should be a few concisely-written paragraphs about you which describe your photographic work in enough detail so that the viewer will have sufficient information to "get it" without you physically being present to explain a particular project or photograph.

Do I have a style? What is it? Arguably, style is the singular most important aspect of your work. You need to have developed your vision to the point where you have enough photographs to create one or more cohesive bodies of work. Do your homework and know the current trends. Understand what's hot and what has become passé in your specific area of photographic interest. I'm not suggesting that you want to follow the trends or copy them too closely, but knowing them will help you set your work apart and give it a distinctive signature style that makes you a sought-after photographer.


Get out there!

Attending industry events like PhotoPlus Expo and joining photographers' organizations like APA (Advertising Photographers of America) and ASMP (American Society of Media Photographers) will give you opportunities to keep current with everything from the latest technology to viewing other photographer's work and making good contacts while networking.


Let's say you're interested in commercial photography, including people, lifestyle, fashion, still life, and even editorial and stock. You should constantly be looking at ads. It's been said that New Yorkers see 500 ads before noon! You should know and recognize the current buzzwords that trend forecasters are using--"Authenticity," "Scenesters," "NASCAR Dads," and "Real Women," to name just a few current ones. And let's not forget, with corporations collectively spending billions on their ad campaigns, it's all about the appeal and connection consumers make with what they see. Never underestimate the value of great casting and storytelling in your photography. They always make the sale.


Photo by Mason Resnick

Fine Arts Marketing

For the fine arts photographer, researching who to contact and getting a sense of what is being shown can be accomplished by going to galleries and museum shows, attending workshops, photographic auctions, and events such as the AIPAD Photography Show (The Association of International Photography Art Dealers) and Photo New York, Photo L.A. and Photo San Francisco. There are more in the United States, and many others worldwide. And since there is so much crossover today, whether it's a fine art photographer shooting editorial or commercial assignments, or a sports photographer shooting fashion, creative research has to be an ongoing process for the successful photographer.

Your goal should be getting your work out and seen by as many eyes as possible, and this can be accomplished in a number of ways. You need to lay the groundwork; the way to get there is by building relationships, which is at the core of conducting any business.

If you are relatively new to photography, or perhaps with all the turnover at agencies and magazines, you need to start fresh with new contacts, getting your work seen will require some ingenuity.

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