Several times a year I get asked to review portfolios; a printed book or digital gallery designed solely to showcase an artist’s best work. Typically, these opportunities come during photography festivals, trade shows, or other industry events. Seeing as I stopped working as a full-time photographer several years ago, I usually try to get out of doing these reviews. But sometimes like the Al Pacino character in The Godfather, I get sucked back in. My main takeaway from these reviews is this: There is a difference between the printed portfolio books and digital portfolio websites that I see.
In short, printed portfolio books tend to be edited better, are generally more thought out, and when I question why a certain image is being shown, there tends to be a more thorough explanation and rationale.
However, does that mean I am recommending you forego a digital portfolio site in place of a printed portfolio book? Not exactly, but let me explain the pros and cons of each of these strategies.
Digital Portfolio Websites
Let’s start with the upside of creating a digital portfolio site. Firstly, it’s easy to update, unlike a printed portfolio book which remains the same once you hit “print.” Where this digital advantage comes in handy is when you need multiple portfolios for multiple, potential clients. With a digital portfolio site, it’s easy to present a tailored, refined version for a specific client. It also makes it easy to add in your most recent and up to date projects.
In addition, a digital portfolio website is all about convenience. I never thought I would show my work on a mobile device, but I do it all the time, on planes. If someone asks me what kind of photography I do I can pull out my phone, iPad, etc. and show them my digital photography portfolio site.
Another point to consider is your style of work. If you are primarily a digital artist, then it makes total sense to stick with the screen.
A digital portfolio website sounds pretty amazing. How can there be a downside?
Well, I would argue that a great portfolio requires ruthless editing. No superfluous, stray images. With a digital portfolio website, there is unlikely to be a cost penalty for leaving in something that would otherwise have been left on the editing room floor. This is why I tend to prefer printed portfolio books. Often times when I am presented with a digital portfolio site, the first thing I do is look to see how many images are in the gallery. It’s not uncommon to see 50, 75, or even 100 images which is far, far too many. Personally, I would never include more than twenty-five images in a professional portfolio, and even that can in most cases be culled to even fewer.
When presenting a digital portfolio site, you will also need to consider the size of the device it’s being displayed on and the viewing conditions. Not all locations are friendly to the screen, and even a large iPad isn’t that large when multiple people are trying to get a good look at your work at the same time.
So, in summary …
Pros: Ease and convenience
Cons: Less motivation to edit and curate thoughtfully, and may be difficult to present in an impactful way
Printed Portfolio Books
Now let’s talk about print. Print requires a different level of commitment and often an additional cost. Once you hit print there is no way to change your book without considerable work. This means that printed portfolio books tend to be edited and curated to a higher level. The artist knows that there is a time and cost implication to everything they choose to include. Not only does this tend to result in a well thought through, impactful piece of work, but professional clients (the kind you want to work with) respect the thought and effort that goes into this process.
Printed portfolio books are also not restricted by screen or device size. Just think about a beautiful book of 16×20 or 20×24 images. Talk about impactful. And, not only can prospective clients see your work as it was meant to be seen, but they have the option to touch and feel it. Print is tactile and offers viewers a new way to absorb your images. Research has highlighted the importance of this tactile experience with some studies showing a 20-30% drop in comprehension between paper and screen.
Printing itself offers unlimited creative possibilities; a chance for you to present your original work in a truly unique way. Maybe you still work in the darkroom and prefer homemade chemistry, or perhaps you use a strange printing profile on your inkjet prints which identifies them as yours. Print is the best way to realize your true creative vision.
But print isn’t perfect, right? Nope, not at all. Printed portfolio books, as I mentioned, can be expensive. Printing your work requires time that not everyone can afford, particularly when it comes to tailoring or updating. Perhaps you created a printed portfolio book and realized after the fact that your best image should have been on page one and not the cover. Oh well, might have to print another.
A printed portfolio book can also be heavy and logistically difficult to lug around compared to a digital portfolio site that’s accessible on your phone or tablet. It’s also true that some clients today specifically request that you don’t send anything in print form.
So, in summary …
Pros: Encourages thorough curation and editing, more impactful
Cons: Can be expensive and heavy to carry around
Are you looking for a moral to this story? Good, because I have one for you. Make both. Create a digital portfolio website and a printed portfolio book. There is really no reason to not have multiple versions of your portfolio in both print and digital forms. You just never know which format will resonate with a particular client.
Finally, I will leave you with this. Enjoy the process. Creating a portfolio is your chance to show the world just how good you are. If you are capable of making great things, and I believe you are, then your portfolio becomes a testament to your talent and something that will be respected by those who know. Best of luck.
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