1. Photo
  2. Editing & Post-Processing
  3. Portfolios

10 Steps for Building a Photography Portfolio to Be Proud Of

Scroll to top
Read Time: 7 min

Every two weeks, we revisit some of our reader favorite posts from throughout the history of Phototuts+. This tutorial was first published in October of 2010.

Collating a photographic portfolio can be a daunting experience. Many have the intention to create one, or even get as far as collecting materials, but believe that their work isn't good enough and don't know how best to present it. Putting together a portfolio can be a very beneficial activity and hopefully these simple steps will guide you through the process!

Step 1. What Is a Portfolio?

A photographic portfolio is quite simply a collection of work. The common misconception is that it is required to be a 'best of' of all the work you've ever done. Although this can be true in some cases, it is more likely to be a series of work with a unifying theme, style or taken through a specific medium.

photography portfolio tipsphotography portfolio tipsphotography portfolio tips

Step 2. What Is It For?

A portfolio is an opportunity for you to present your work, but it is important to consider what the portfolio is for. Are you taking it to a job interview, or are you looking to get your work exhibited at a gallery? Maybe you just want to bring your work together to present it?

Whatever the reason, it is vital that you create your portfolio with this in mind. A job interview might require you to display a variety of skills and techniques, whereas a collection for an exhibition would require a single unifying theme and will need to be presented with the gallery setting in mind.

photography portfolio tipsphotography portfolio tipsphotography portfolio tips

Step 3. Your Audience

Once you've decided your intentions for your portfolio, you need to consider the audience you're looking to reach. Try to consider what reaction you want to evoke - do you want them to be pleased, surprised, shocked? Not everyone is going to want to see your favourite landscape shot or generic shots that they see day in day out, so do you best to make your shots stand out and get the reaction you want.

photography portfolio tipsphotography portfolio tipsphotography portfolio tips

Step 4. Paper vs. Digital

At this point you need to decide what format you portfolio is presented in. In the past, everything was on paper, but technology has introduced the option of presenting your portfolio on a PDF, JPEGs or through an online medium. Being able to email a link to your portfolio through to potential employers is obviously extremely convenient.

I would argue that the process and final product of a beautifully printed out paper portfolio far outweighs the option of viewing photos on screen. For more on presenting an online portfolio, check out our Quick Tip article on the subject


photography portfolio tipsphotography portfolio tipsphotography portfolio tips

Step 5. Style & Design

It's now time to consider the style and design of your portfolio. You'll need a folder or portfolio case to hold it all in, but before you head out to buy something, consider what size your want your printed out shots to be. I would recommend something fairly large - maybe 20x30cm or about A4.

You then need to select the paper to print on and the print quality, preferably as high as you can afford. This said, remember there are no restrictions on size, shape or style - the more personal it is and the more it says about you as an artist, the better.

photography portfolio tipsphotography portfolio tipsphotography portfolio tips

Step 6. Theme

Next you'll want to consider what theme or style you want your portfolio to have. This will depend upon your audience. For a job taking portraits, you should only include your portrait work. You could have a collection of black and white or sepia work, a set of shots taken with a specific camera format or a collection of shots from a specific time period or geographical region.

If you are looking to mix up types and styles of shots, make sure you have a valid reason for doing so. Remember that regardless of the theme, you should ensure a consistent colour balance and quality throughout the set of work.

photography portfolio tipsphotography portfolio tipsphotography portfolio tips

Step 7. Choosing the Shots

The most difficult part of creating a portfolio is selecting the shots. There's always a huge temptation to just select your favourites, but a photographer isn't always the best judge of their own work as they take into consideration the setting, effort and editing taken to create the shot.

Try to get some help from someone whose judgement you trust and will be impartial. I'd suggest aiming to end up with a set of 20-30 shots, but start with maybe 100 and gradually take them out until you've got the desired collection. If a shot has any flaws, or is out of focus, leave it out. It's much better to have a few perfectly executed shots, than a large collection of fairly good shots.

photography portfolio tipsphotography portfolio tipsphotography portfolio tips

Step 8. Presentation

The presentation of the shots is vital to the reaction from viewers. A badly presented collection of great photographs just won't do them justice and you'll come away disappointed. Think carefully about how to enhance the images through presentation techniques, borders and the colour of the backing sheet.

It's also important to consider the order of the shots, whether they are arranged chronologically or to create a particular mood. When choosing a title image, don't just choose your favourite. Try and select something that captures the essence of the collection.

photography portfolio tipsphotography portfolio tipsphotography portfolio tips

Step 9. Contents

Once you've got the shot layout sorted, you need to consider what other elements you might want to include in your portfolio. It's totally up to you, but things to consider are:

  • An artistic statement - outlining your concept or theme and personal information
  • A list of shots included
  • Titles for shots and a brief explanation
  • Date/location of shot
  • A thumbnail contact sheet

You may feel that you want the shots to do all the talking, or it might be necessary to give each shot some background contextual information. It's up to you, but remember to keep it brief. You want people to be looking at the shots, not reading waffle about how you climbed a mountain at 5 AM to get the shot.

photography portfolio tipsphotography portfolio tipsphotography portfolio tips

Step 10. What Do I Do Now?

Try not to be tempted to add to your portfolio once it's finished. You'll always take better shots in the future, but I'd suggest that a portfolio is a collection of what you've done, and adding to it will spoil the continuity and thought that you've put into collating it.

Now it's time to show your portfolio to the world. Share it with family and friends and get some feedback, which may give you a chance to practice talking about your work in preparation for any potential interviews you might get. Good luck!

photography portfolio tipsphotography portfolio tipsphotography portfolio tips

Bonus Section: Portfolio Templates

As mentioned above, good presentation is very important. So here's a selection of professional-looking portfolio templates from Envato Elements.

1. Multipurpose Photography Portfolio

This InDesign template offers the perfect way to showcase your work. It has 20 unique layouts, is aligned to a 12-column grid, and is fully print ready.

Multipurpose Photography PortfolioMultipurpose Photography PortfolioMultipurpose Photography Portfolio

2. Minimal Fashion Photography Portfolio

This template offers a clean, modern and simple design that's ideal for any purposes. It's very easy to adapt and customize.

Minimal PortfolioMinimal PortfolioMinimal Portfolio

3. Square Portfolio

Looking for something different? This square portfolio template is instantly eye-catching. Showcase your best work in a professional, clean and modern way. Ready to impress your clients!

Square PortfolioSquare PortfolioSquare Portfolio

4. Minimal Photography Portfolio Brochure

This 20-page template is designed in a clean and modern minimal style. Of course, it's also fully editable. Any elements used in the template such as text, color, graphic elements, images, layout are easy to customize.

Minimal Photography Portfolio BrochureMinimal Photography Portfolio BrochureMinimal Photography Portfolio Brochure

5. Sylk | Photography Portfolio Template

If you're displaying your portfolio on the web, you can't go wrong with Sylk. It's a high-quality portfolio template for photographers that will showcase your pictures in a beautiful and unique way. 

This template is easy to use and coded with lots of care, as clean as possible. Customising this portfolio template is very easy, using the included helper classes and documentation. It’s also fully responsive, so it looks great on all the latest devices.

Sylk  Photography Portfolio TemplateSylk  Photography Portfolio TemplateSylk  Photography Portfolio Template
Did you find this post useful?
Want a weekly email summary?
Subscribe below and we’ll send you a weekly email summary of all new Photo tutorials. Never miss out on learning about the next big thing.
Looking for something to help kick start your next project?
Envato Market has a range of items for sale to help get you started.