It’s easier than ever to become a professional photographer thanks to the internet. Whereas once you needed gallery representation and connections to woo potential clients, today you can launch a photography career and attract clients with a professional photography portfolio website.
Digital portfolios are so common in the photography business that some professional photographers consider them mandatory for winning future clients. Here’s how to make a photography portfolio, and some best practices for setting one up.
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What is a photography portfolio?
A photography portfolio is a collection of photographs. Professional photographers use portfolios to attract potential clients. A photography hobbyist, on the other hand, might create a personal portfolio for friends and family only.
Professional photographers who once displayed their work in printed portfolios now rely almost exclusively on digital portfolios and photography websites accessible to anyone on the internet. Many website builders let you easily build an online photography portfolio. Some portfolio sites may even display prints that interested clients can purchase directly from their website, or via an ecommerce partner.
How to make a photography portfolio
- Identify your niche or target audience
- Select your images
- Design your photo portfolio
- Market and promote your portfolio
Whether you opt for a printed photography portfolio or an online portfolio, you should carefully curate your images. Here are four steps to create a strong photography portfolio.
1. Identify your niche or target audience
An all-purpose photographer might display a wide array of images, but a specialist will focus on a particular niche. A New York fashion photographer who posts shots of models on the runway probably wouldn’t include nature stills from the Rocky Mountains.
2. Select your images
Choose photos that will connect with your target audience. How many photos you post depends on how effective each image is. You can create a stunning photography portfolio with a few images that show the scope of your abilities. In other cases, you may need dozens of images to demonstrate your skills with a camera.
A professional photography portfolio might show specific images—think a collection of headshots for a school photography business—or have many kinds of photos to make up an entire portfolio showing the breadth of a photographer’s abilities. If you aren’t sure if a photo represents your best work, seek a second opinion from a trusted friend or colleague.
3. Design your portfolio
Potential clients will pay attention to your portfolio website’s design. Photography portfolios should be easy to navigate and view, avoiding images that create a sense of clutter. Many of today’s portfolio website builders offer clean, visually appealing design templates. Pick a template that speaks to you, and choose the photos that best represent your work.
Take a look at our Art and Photography themes, or grab a free theme that you can change later. And, if you want to add some extra features, check out some Shopify apps like Digital Downloads (it's free!) or this one for creating Instagram galleries.
4. Market and promote your portfolio
Once you’ve launched your own photography portfolio, you’ll want to promote it by posting it on social media sites such as Instagram or Twitter, or linking it to a photography platform such as Behance and Dribbble. You could also buy pay-per-click ads to market your portfolio on platforms such as Google and Facebook, or simply spread the word among family, friends, and your network.
6 best practices for photo portfolio sites
- Choose the right platform
- Optimize for mobile devices
- Make it easy for potential clients to contact you
- Update your portfolio
- Use photo editing tools
- Provide context and background information for your images
Here are some ways you can maximize the value of your online photography portfolio.
- Choose the right platform. When shopping for a digital portfolio platform, consider factors such as ease of use, customization options, and cost. If you want to sell your photos online, consider selecting a platform like Shopify that has a built-in ecommerce component. If visual aesthetics are your top priority, you might gravitate toward a design-centric platform like Carbonmade.
- Optimize for mobile devices. Many of your site visitors will use a smartphone or tablet, so choose a platform optimized for mobile devices.
- Make it easy for potential clients to contact you. If people don’t know how to get in touch with you, they can’t hire you, so include contact info in a clearly visible spot on your portfolio website, such as the footer at the bottom of the page.
- Update your portfolio. Your work may evolve with time and experience, so make sure you have new and representative work near the top of your portfolio. Some marketplace websites may also show active profiles to more visitors while minimizing exposure for profiles that haven’t been updated recently.
- Use photo editing tools. Editing your photos with photo editing software can help make them look even more professional. Some photo portfolio websites have photo editors that let you do things like crop an image, change its white balance, or add a filter.
- Provide context and background information for your images. Use pages or captions on your photo portfolio site to provide background on your image or to describe your creative process.
Where to sell photos online
- Getty Images
- iStock Photo
To sell your photos online, you can incorporate an ecommerce store into your existing photo portfolio by using a service like Shopify. Alternatively, platforms such as Burst, iStock Photo, and Getty Images can connect you to broad customer audiences, but charge a high commission on each sale. Depending on the platform, you might net 15% to 50% of the retail price paid by a customer. Others may pay you more but charge a membership fee.
Here are some of the leading photo portfolio platforms online.
Burst is an offering from Shopify that connects photographers with entrepreneurs and creatives looking for original images. When you submit photos to Burst, they undergo a selection process and, if approved, Shopify members can use your photographs free of charge in exchange for attribution. You can use this as a jumping-off point to connect directly with clients and negotiate prices for other work.
The Alamy platform has millions of stock images and videos from over 60,000 worldwide contributors. Its companion app, Stockimo, lets you sell iPhone photos to roughly 110,000 buyers around the world. You don’t need a paid subscription to sell on Alamy. Your payment will range from 40% to 50% of an image’s sales price. The exact rate depends on whether your images are exclusive to Alamy or not.
To sell photos on SmugMug, you must purchase a monthly membership, which includes multiple ecommerce tools to boost your store’s exposure and convert sales. This can cost less than $20 per month if you purchase a full-year membership. SmugMug sets a default minimum price for its prints. You can then add a fee to that minimum price, which is how you get paid. SmugMug takes 15% of your surcharge, and you keep the remaining 85%.
Getty Images is a go-to platform for brands and publishers that need high-quality or hard-to-find exclusive images. The platform can be picky about the quality of images it accepts, but it prices its photos at high rates and pays creators 20% to 45% of the sale price.
iStock Photo is a Getty Images offshoot that showcases photos on a non-exclusive basis, which means you can list your photography with other agencies as well. The main Getty platform does not allow this. On the downside, non-exclusive iStock photos pay less. Usually only 15% of proceeds go to the creator.
Did you know you can create a portfolio website that integrates your ecommerce shop? If you use Shopify, it’s easy to add ecommerce features to any website.