PORTFOLIO REVIEWS. If you, like me, had never heard of a professional portfolio review don't worry. You're not alone. It seems like an obvious thing to those exposed to this industry, but for those of us who know no one in the industry, are not familiar with the practices, and are learning everything from Google searches, these common portfolio reviews are a secret world we have to dig for. I thought mistakenly that portfolio reviews were only for students and were held by the universities sizing them up. Little did I know that these reviews are available all throughout your career. There are portfolio events for fine art, commercial, or both. At these events you can get feedback on the look and structure of your portfolio, advice on the direction of your career, how to better market yourself, and just meet new potential clients and buyers for some of the top industries. It's a WEALTH of information just waiting for you to snag it up. Yes you pay for entry and yes you pay for the 20min or so that you sit down with your reviewers, but I am telling you IT IS WORTH IT. Especially from a beginners point of view. You are face-to-face one-on-one with these industry professionals. That beats a Google search any day. So what did I learn from my 5 reviews?
Focus your Portfolio
A commercial portfolio needs to have multiple images within series/projects and needs to be obviously selling a product or service.
Since I went to a fine art school while knowing I wanted to be a commercial photographer my portfolio is currently reflecting this indecision. I've kept in conceptual story-telling, which is a strength, but I've been hesitant to include actual products or brand names. One example that was given to me was to think of a brand, research it's general mood/identity, then create a series of images like a campaign while using my style and conceptual story-telling. The important part though is to make sure that I am selling a specific product and not just a random collection of fine art concepts. So moving forward I'll be thinking and working in terms of series & campaigns instead of individual images.
Assist Established Photographers
Contact local photographers and ask to be added to their roster of assistants.
Again I was not aware that assistantships were a typical method of getting into the business. Not to mention you can actually make a full career out of freelance assisting. I've been told that assisting is really the best way to get to know the other players in this industry that you'll need to know- stylists, producers, other photographers, retouchers, buyers, art directors, etc. Since coming home I've contacted about 5 other photographers and sat down to speak with two of them. I've learned even MORE things just from these conversations. I'd also like to say that so far everyone I've spoken to has been ABOVE AND BEYOND helpful and all have offered their business card, contact info, and said I was more than welcome to call or message with any questions I have in the future. So far this industry has been a lot more helpful and encouraging than I ever expected it to be.
Getting assignments from magazines is usually a bit easier than getting big gigs from advertising agencies. Published work shows that you are reliable, can follow through with an assignment, and can collaborate with others.
I have been so focused on getting in contact with advertising agencies that I hadn't even thought to focus on contacting magazines. At the reviews I was told that magazines usually have set budgets that are much smaller than big ad agency campaigns. Therefor, their risk is smaller and they are more open to newer photographers with less experience. Building up completed assignments from magazines or smaller local businesses shows a body of proof for ad agencies to trust you. So once I feel like I've built up a more focused commercial portfolio I plan to contact as many magazines that are relevant to my style as possible. In the meantime I'll be researching which ones best fit my genre and might be interested in working with me.
There are many national, international, and accredited organizations out there for photographers. Join, participate, learn, and network.
The ASMP and the APA are two huge organizations with chapters all over the place. This is still an area in which I have a lot of research to do. The benefits of joining an organization like this seem really great if you're ready for that step. There are fees, but so far it seems the benefits probably far outweigh that cost. You have access to directories and contact information for other professionals. There are meetings for the various chapters where you can mix and mingle. You can get free or discounted slots in their ad books that get sent out to agencies and buyers. There are also contests a plenty to join, and winning contests is another great way to get your work and name out there for others to find you.
Now what? I'm a planner. I plan my plans and plan when to plan. It focuses me and helps me keep motivated. So, I put up a large piece of contact paper on my wall to serve as a giant dry erase board. It's an ongoing To-Do list. For the moments of doubt I printed out a page of some of the encouraging comments I got from my reviewers along with the photos I presented to them. This is all in my little office nook in my apartment and since NY I have been furiously barreling through my To-Do list and adding more as I come across new information. I'm definitely at the beginning of my career, but thanks to my first portfolio review I have some much needed direction and clarity. Refreshing and motivating! Time to push it!!!!