"Once you have a sense of your style," continues Hanson, "you can begin to pull together your portfolio(s). Portfolio development is always a tough decision; some photographers do it by subject matter, some by location and some by project. I personally prefer project-related portfolios because it shows how you approach a subject or issue, and if the project is something you're passionate about, it will come through in the imagery."
After determining your style and paring down to the essentials, your portfolio still isn't finished. In fact, it never will be finished. Hanson says you have to prepare for your work, and your portfolio, to continually evolve.
When you succeed at creating an organized portfolio that showcases your vision and your best work, you follow the gallery's instructions and, against all odds, find yourself included in an exhibition, it's important that you have realistic expectations about what that means. Being accepted for exhibition isn't the same as a long-term agreement for representation.
"An exhibition," Hanson says, "is for a predetermined length of time—nothing more. Treat being accepted for exhibition as the major accomplishment that it is—an end in itself. A very small percentage of our exhibiting artists evolve into long-term representation or follow-up exhibits at our gallery. Those who do need to be constantly evolving their work, and the work needs to be the right fit to our mission and our clientele. Just getting into a gallery is a start; it's like your first audition. You may not land the role, but you learned something to take with you to your next audition."
How To Edit Your Own Work
Jolene Hanson of The G2 Gallery says that the digital revolution has made editing more difficult for photographers simply because we're now free to shoot so many images. "I think those who are still shooting film have it a little easier," she says. "They're spending more time determining the shot and have less options to pull from on the back end. So my first recommendation to photographers is to slow down, capture the shot, edit in the camera before you edit at home. Looking over the 3,000 images you took yesterday afternoon is absurd. Treat a shoot as if you have a limited quantity of frames, like you would have with film." When it comes time to edit for a portfolio, Hanson offers these 10 tips to pare down a cohesive body of work.
1. Determine what you're saying with the portfolio and what you want the viewer to walk away with before you put it together.
2. If an image has a flaw, no matter how much you love the image and how small the flaw is, let it go. Print it up for your office or your mom, then move on.
3. Is the image a duplicate, just like something else in the portfolio? If so, throw it out.
4. Print contact sheets of your already-edited work, then edit them again. Something printed can look completely different than it does on the screen.
5. Walk away. Go do something else for a while and come back to it later.
6. Make a decision regarding your images, yes or no. If it's a maybe, it's probably a no.
7. Does it fit in the place you've put it in the lineup of the photos? Does it flow and show your style while also showing your diversity? The flow is essential. If an image doesn't flow with the others, it should be omitted.
8. Most importantly, get outside opinions. I can't say that enough.
9. There's no magic number of images for a portfolio, but I like the number 24. It shows that you have a solid body of work, but it's not overwhelming. Fifty of more or less the same image is boring, but two dozen images that address the theme or content of the portfolio, reflect your style as a photographer, and show diversity and successful execution of the project or subject matter—that's what you want.
10. Your images could be compared to restaurants. You may want to go to In-N-Out Burger, but it's not good for you; you need to focus on the four-star restaurants. The drive-through diner is what it is; you may love it and you may be craving it, but it's not going to provide you with the nourishment you need.