A Portfolio That You Love (and that actually works)

Quick Summary

  1. The goal of the portfolio is the conversation. The conversation will lead to whatever it is that your goal is. But it wont get anywhere if your work doesn’t start that conversation.

  2. Prove that you can do the work and, prove that you are able to solve problems and create strategy for clients

  3. There is NO “perfect” number of pieces that should be in your portfolio. Work instead on focusing your portfolios and make sure you get a focus for what you want to do in your career.

I’ve been in the creative industry and working in commercial arts for quite some time, doing many things like graphic design, airbrushing, motion design, traditional print, web design, video design. Twenty-ish years ago when I was in my mid 20’s, I was an airbrush artist taking on clients at my commercial art business.... But I’ll save that story for another day.... ;)

Fast forward to when I started photography 5 years ago:

Honestly? I had no idea where it was going to go. I was a snowboard coach at the time, and with the camera provided to me I started taking pictures to use as a coaching tool.

And then...

I started really liking what I was doing. People liked the pictures I was taking, and gave me great feedback. Then they said “Hey, could you take some more pictures?”. After a while, people said that they would pay me a couple bucks for a picture, which is pretty cool! But, here’s the thing: from 20+ years ago, to 5 years ago, to right now. I have ALWAYS had to make a Portfolio. More importantly, I’ve had to learn what makes a great portfolio.

One of THE most important things I’ve learned is how important it is to have some sort of “Conversation” around the body of work in your portfolio.

Now what I mean by that: If your work is powerful enough to tell it’s own sort of story, or captivate someone, or inspire curiosity or questions, or just a need to “find out more”, your art/photography will start some sort of conversation.

The BEST portfolios start great conversations...

Before we get into the nitty gritty of what goes inside your portfolio, I want to share…

Things nobody told us:

We have to be able to prove ourselves.

Our portfolios are our “proof”

All it takes is one piece… one solid piece of work that PROVES that you can do that work.

It will showcase:

  1. That YES you can do the work, and high quality work.

  2. That you can solve a problem

Thats so big nowadays; to be able to come up with that strategy on how you solve a problem. The proof is in the growth of what it was used for. An example would be if you worked with a brand on a campaign, you did the photography, graphic design, or the tee-shirt design for them. Some questions you can ask yourself (and your client) are:

  1. Did this generate more sign ups for an email campaign (or any sign up campaign)?

  2. Did it gain more “likes” or “follows” than the brand normally accelerates at?

  3. Was there an increase in their newsletter following?

Ask questions that have stats behind them. Those are ACTUAL statistics that can back up your work, and those are the “benefits” that people want to buy nowadays.

Try to look at it this way: I know for myself if somebody comes to me and they're offering me something, I want to know what they've done in the past. Be it when they're working with their clients on how they helped solve those problems, and provide some strategy for those clients who are unable to come up with those ideas and strategies on their own.

Ask yourself: What are you going to do with this content? What can you I with this content right now to get it out there and get the message across?

Starting anything is hard, but we are In This Together. Let’s dive into...

Specializing your portfolio:

You WANT to specialize, you WANT to focus your portfolio. You want to make sure it’s not this blast of all these different types of work.

We all have different skill sets, but we don't want to put EVERYTHING into our portfolio.

We want to be known for something specific.

Everybody has that specific focus at different points, and it can change, and it’s okay if it changes. The cool thing is that there are so many different ways we can get our work our there. You can use social media, or any platform to “focus” your work. Create a different instagram account for your stills, and a different account for your video work. Utilize the tools on each, like using “story mode” on instagram for video, and using an instagram account for really specific and themed stills.

Now your work is out there, in a focused, “niched” way.

This strategy will be a lot more work for you, so make sure these are directly related to work that you love doing, and work that speaks to you, and work that you really want to do in your career right now.

How many pieces should be in your portfolio:

This is an area that’s up for much debate, and there are lots of different arguments and opinions about having (or not having) a lot of pieces in your portfolio. When I’m working with students, or interns who want to come learn from me; I want to see what they’ve been creating and what they have done. Certain books and places online are going to tell you that you need 7, 12, 15, up to 30 pieces in your portfolio and those are the “ideal amounts”. But as soon as you start to think about all these numbers it starts to stress you. You’ll ask yourself “ What if I only have 4 pieces, but the ideal number is 7, or 12, or 30?”

Nothing you ever put in your portfolio should be sub par. Everything that’s in there should be something you wholeheartedly love. Something that that you put everything into that has a strong story…. It will be something you can sit and have a deep conversation with somebody about the work that went into your work, the beautiful process that you went through in order to create the work.

Start creating work that you love and are proud of to put in your portfolio. If it’s only 4 pieces, it doesn’t matter, as long as you love it.

So, in summary:

  1. The goal of the portfolio is the conversation. The conversation will lead to whatever it is that your goal is. But it wont get anywhere if your work doesn’t start that conversation.

  2. Prove that you can do the work and, prove that you are able to solve problems and create strategy for clients

  3. There is NO “perfect” number of pieces that should be in your portfolio. Work instead on focusing your portfolios and make sure you get a focus for what you want to do in your career.


Every day, make something amazing.