The importance of one-on-one portfolio reviews

Jan 8, 2024

Honore Brown

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

The importance of one-on-one portfolio reviews

Jan 8, 2024

Honore Brown

Dunja Djudjic is a multi-talented artist based in Novi Sad, Serbia. With 15 years of experience as a photographer, she specializes in capturing the beauty of nature, travel, and fine art. In addition to her photography, Dunja also expresses her creativity through writing, embroidery, and jewelry making.

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portfolio reviews

Portfolio reviews are an essential way to connect with clients and share your work in a personal way. Traditionally, these meetings were almost always in person and tended to involve some travel and a lot of time and money devoted to keeping your book fresh, curated, and up-to-date. Although this is without a doubt still one of the best ways to make a lasting impression on a potential client, there are now many opportunities to share your portfolio virtually and to schedule video meetings rather than to meet in person.

As with many things work-related, a great deal has shifted over the past few years away from traditional office life involving a lot of time spent in person in a shared workspace. As we’ve all become more comfortable and efficient interacting on online platforms, the landscape has opened up for photographers to cast a much wider net for meetings geographically and to share work in ways that often go beyond the physical portfolio book.

So you may be asking yourself, should I still maintain my printed portfolio book? There is much to consider here, so we’d like to share our perspective on portfolio reviews generally, their ongoing value, and the evolving landscape of sharing your work.

portfolio reviews
Photo by Berlin-based commercial photographer Stefan Hobmaier.

Survey

Last August, we sent an anonymous survey to photographers and clients in our network to get some hard data about what (and how much) has changed about the way publications, agencies, and brands meet with photographers since Covid. Here’s what we learned. 

  • Online portfolio reviews are now the dominant trend. This is due to continued hybrid work scenarios, but also because of the freedom that video calls allow for meeting with photographers and clients from all over. 
  • In video calls, photographers use presentation decks (also known as pitch or slide decks, a digital slide-style visual presentation) more heavily than websites to showcase their work. Many applications offer this feature, but some of the most common ones we have seen include PowerPointKeynoteLightroomPhoto MechanicFlowpaperSlack, Instagram, or a simple PDF. 
  • At in-person meetings as well, digital portfolios are more common than print portfolios.
  • Although a significant portion of photographers and clients have expressed distaste for this trend toward digital, less than half of the photographers we heard from still maintain their print portfolios.
portfolio reviews

Case Study: A Photo Editor’s Perspective

As a photo editor, over the years I have had the opportunity to meet with and review the work of many photographers both in person and online. Most recently, I participated in a Zoom-based portfolio event organized and hosted by ASMP. As the reviewers (a wide spectrum of art buyers, photo editors, consultants, and producers) bounced between breakout sessions to look at work, we were brought back into a shared meeting room where a lively discussion took place about who of the reviewers present preferred online portfolio reviews vs. in-person. Although there was broad agreement that in-person meetings with physical portfolio books were extremely effective, for many, the ease and convenience of online meetings with photographers simply tipped the scale towards virtual portfolio reviews.

This is not to say that your printed book, if you maintain one, is no longer important. But, having a printed portfolio book seems to no longer be considered an industry-wide standard for formally presenting your work to clients. A polished, thoughtfully curated presentation deck can be a viable alternative for any portfolio reviews that take place online. For in-person meetings, the same deck can be shared on a laptop or iPad.

Whether you decide to share your work in a printed portfolio book format or as a digital presentation deck, the general approach to sequencing your images, pulling in relevant content for your upcoming meeting, and taking advantage of your branding as you design things is essentially the same. Strong branding and tightly curated edits are the foundation of a successful portfolio review. So let’s dig in and talk about how to prepare.

The good news is, whether meeting online or in person, much of the preparation and fundamental approach to sharing your work remains the same.

portfolio reviews
Photo by Queens-based commercial photographer Ken Pao.

Preparing Your Promotional Materials

Before even setting up a meeting, your promotional materials need to be in order and ready to go.

Research Your Prospects

Whether you’re traveling across the country, or just opening your laptop, take the time to do some research and make sure you’re barking up the right trees. Check out each client’s website to make sure that your photography matches up with their needs, so you don’t waste your time or theirs. You will only be able to meet with a relatively small number of prospects throughout your career, so make each appointment count.

As useful as list services are, nothing is more valuable than personal networking. When you find one client who responds to your work, ask them if they know any others who might be a good match for you. As you start to cultivate relationships with prospective clients, it will be essential to keep good records of your interactions with them.

Requesting & Planning for Meetings

After you’ve compiled your list of prospects that you want to meet with, the next step is to start reaching out. We’ve found that contacting people roughly a week before you’d like to meet is a good rule of thumb. Do it too far in advance, and you risk having them forget about the meeting or canceling on you. Too little notice may find them already booked up.

Introductory Email

Start with a casual email that includes the following:

  • The prospect’s name
  • A little about how your skills and interests might match up with their needs
  • A link to your site
  • The dates and times you’re available

There are a few tricks you can use that can help you get noticed:

  • Don’t attach images to your email. This increases the chance of your email getting stuck in spam filters. But it doesn’t hurt to attach a JPEG to your follow-up email.
  • For in-person meetings, give the impression that you’re going to be in town for other meetings (even if you haven’t set up any others yet). You don’t want anyone to feel the pressure that you’re making a special trip for them.
  • Don’t ask for too much time. “A few minutes” is what you should ask for. If you get more than that, then great!

Here’s a basic template you can follow.

portfolio reviews

Follow Up with a Phone Call

A couple of days later, if you haven’t heard back from them, follow up with a phone call. Keep the call short and sweet:

Hi, this is XXX, I’m a type of photographer based in city. I sent you an email a few days ago about meeting with you for a few minutes to hear about your creative needs and if there’s a way my style would fit in.

Sometimes it’s helpful to write out a script and practice it, so you’re comfortable with what you’re going to say. You might have to practice it a few times, so you don’t sound like a robot. Creating a succinct message that you can deliver in a relaxed way will give you the best chance of success. Creating an alternate script for voicemails is a good idea too.

Similar to the email, only ask if they have a few minutes to take a look at your book. If they don’t answer or don’t get back to you, you can try sending one last email. But don’t get hung up on this one client, just move on to the next. Remember, the more people you reach out to for meetings, the more likely someone will have some interest or time available.

The Meetings

Now that you’ve booked your meetings, time to do some additional research on the clients. One-on-one portfolio meetings are usually with one or two other people and are quite casual, lasting less than 20 minutes. Check out their LinkedIn, Instagram, and social media sites in addition to their website. You’ll want to demonstrate that you know their business and you’ll have enough to talk about. If you’re meeting with an agency because you think you’d be a great fit for their client, make sure they still have that client. See if there are any similarities between the two of you, it’s nice to have those candid moments during the meeting that show your interest and preparation. Plus, the client will feel more at ease.

Even for video calls, make sure you’re dressed for the occasion. While most ad agencies have casual dress codes and work environments, that doesn’t mean you should show up for a meeting in a hoodie. Dress the part of someone who could command a high-value shoot.

portfolio reviews
Executive Producer Bryan Sheffield presenting a print portfolio.

At your meeting, it’s time to turn on the charm! Be relaxed, but energetic. I’d start with your elevator pitch and then walk them through your portfolio, explaining your creative process, and then offer up interesting stories or details about your experience on that shoot when you see them lingering on a certain image. You’ll find that some clients are expressive and chatty when looking through your book or presentation deck, while others like to flip or swipe through the pages quietly. You’ll have to gauge yourself whether or not they feel like talking while they look at your work.

Common Pitfalls

Marianne Lee, one of Wonderful Machine’s Marketing Consultants, who also produces ASMP online portfolio reviews, had this to share,

From what I’ve heard from reviewers, doing too much talking and not enough listening is probably the biggest pitfall. Photographers need to show up with a goal for the review, ie knowing what they want to get out of it. Maybe it’s a job, maybe it’s advice in a new project, maybe it’s feedback on their homepage, or feedback on whether they appeal to their target market, etc. But sometimes a photographer will over explain themselves and if the reviewer has to fight to get a word in, it’s not as useful for the photographer. 

Don’t ask clients to critique your photography or your presentation. That’s not their job, and it will make you seem like an amateur. Just guide them through your work and express an interest in their projects. Show that you’re interested in what they’re doing, but no hard sell. They may ask you about any personal projects you’re working on… sometimes to see if you are an inspired photographer with your own ideas or sometimes to see if it’s something they’d be interested in seeing.

Don’t expect to get an assignment on the spot and don’t be upset if you feel like you didn’t get the praise you were hoping for! The purpose of these meetings is for creatives/photo editors to get to know you and hopefully build up a comfort level so they will ask you for a bid when an appropriate project comes up.

Follow Up

A few days later, send a handwritten thank-you note. Keep it short and sweet, just to thank them for the meeting. 

From there, an occasional email or print promo update is appropriate (every few months), especially if you have some news to share. It’s also smart to connect on LinkedIn so you can keep track of their career path. Creative departments are continually evolving and switching accounts, or following accounts to different agencies – you never know when a good prospect moves to a new company that would be perfect for your photography. Plus, it helps you to stay on their radar.

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About Honore Brown

Honore Brown began her career as the studio manager for Max Vadukul, where she maintained and archived photographs, coordinated photo shoots, and printed Vadukul’s portfolio for agency representation. She then moved to the New Yorker to take these skills to a higher level. She is currently a senior photo editor at Wonderful Machine while pursuing her own photography career. You can find more about Honore and her work on LinkedIn. This article was originally published here and shared with permission.

We love it when our readers get in touch with us to share their stories. This article was contributed to DIYP by a member of our community. If you would like to contribute an article, please contact us here.

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