Putting together a photography portfolio that’s an honest representation of your skills and voice as a photographer is a completely worthwhile exercise. It can be incredibly gratifying to produce a set of images you’re proud of, but the highlight of the process is perhaps the reward of seeing your own artistic growth unfolding in your work.

As part of the #MyFujifilmLegacy project, I sat down with photographer Nella Sammartino, who’s preparing her commercial portfolio to apply for the highly competitive Click Pro program. As a photographer, Nella aims to capture her clients’ stories with authenticity and emotion.

I had prepared my portfolio a couple of years ago to apply to Click Pro. The process was informative and eye-opening, so for my mentorship session with Nella I’m using preparing a portfolio for Click Pro as a case study, but the advice I’m sharing here applies to other types of portfolio submissions as well.

1. Show them who you are.

If you feel ready to begin the application process, the first thing you’ll need to do is start collecting images that represent you and your best work. Many applicants find it easier to start with more than 150 images (the number of images required to be submitted when applying for Click Pro), and subsequently cull, add and replace images as needed. Creating a collection in Adobe Lightroom for this purpose is a convenient way to organize your images and simplifies the job of final editing touch ups.

Whether you choose to include client work, personal work, or a mix of both, is up to you. The important thing is that your set represents you and what you do best. Don’t know where to start? Look at what you’ve shared on social media, most of your favorites should already be there. Starting with recent images and working backwards will save you time, and is a good way to ensure your set represents who you are currently as an artist.

Most photographers reach a maturation point where things start to fall into place artistically, and there can be an obvious difference between work that was produced before the “a-ha moment” and what follows. Essentially, you want to try to avoid including any images that aren’t up to par with your current work; the judges do not want to feel as though they are looking at a portfolio from two different photographers!

Girl texting on a bed in strong light: how to build a photography portfolio

Video: When you’re ready to put together a photography portfolio, here’s where to begin (8 min.):

2. Be meticulous and ruthless.

Go through your set with a fine-tooth comb! Review your images one by one, and remove any with obvious issues that can’t be fixed (limb chops or no catch lights are two examples), as well as any others that you are simply incapable of fixing in post-processing. Be ruthless; if you wouldn’t give a photo a perfect score, remove it and replace it with something that’s a better fit.

Try to separate yourself emotionally from your work, and ask yourself if you would love these images if you were a stranger looking at them for the first time. Besides being strong technically, is there anything that makes the image compelling to the viewer?

Finally, ensure that the editing is consistent throughout your portfolio, and if you are including older work, don’t forget to make editing touch ups so that it matches your current editing style.

3. Fill in the blanks, and take your time doing so.

Continue the process of culling, adding, and replacing images until you feel that every single image in your set speaks to you and where you are as a photographer. Hold yourself to this new high standard of shooting for any new work to be added to your portfolio, and enjoy the feeling of knowing what needs to be done! Amazing work may not happen every day, but the important thing is that you know you can produce good stuff. Relax and take the time you need to complete your set.

Boats in Venice: how to build a photography portfolio

Creative challenge

Choose a recent image of your own that you love, but that you know isn’t strong enough for your portfolio. Plan a re-shoot of this one image, intentionally working toward improving the new version enough to earn a top spot in your portfolio.

Post your new photo to Instagram using #MyFujifilmLegacy to inspire yourself to keep going.

Video: How to fine-tune your portfolio objectively (9 min.):

4. Find your flow.

You’re almost there! At this point, you get to decide how you want to present your work. For a large photography portfolio, the images should feel like they are a part of a cohesive set. Be kind to your viewer; don’t throw 150 images together with no rhyme or reason! Instead, try to find commonalities to make the transition among images a smooth one. Elements such as color, genre, subject matter or storytelling can be used to link your images through style or theme. Imagine you’re taking your viewer on a guided journey of who you are as an artist. Be sure to do everything you can to make their journey a smooth one.

5. Reach out.

Find friends, peers or mentors whose opinions you trust and who understand the rigors of a professional application process. Share your set with them and pay attention to the feedback you get, particularly if they suggest improvements or changes. Go back to your set, rethink your choices, and if necessary, make more adjustments. If you enjoy working with others toward a common goal, there are Click Pro prep groups you can join on the Clickin Moms forum. Joining a prep group is a wonderful opportunity to both give and receive feedback on working sets, making the experience a win-win for everyone involved. It’s normal to feel hurried at this point in the process, but take a deep breath and know that more eyes on your final set before you submit is never a bad thing.

Video: How to bring your photography portfolio together for your viewer (8 min.)

6. Hit the submit button.

Putting together a photography portfolio requires skill, work, and patience, but the good news is that it is an attainable goal! Your final set should give a clear sense of your strengths as an artist, your technical skills and your photographic style. Seeing this ensemble of your strongest work in one place should also make you happy and give you a sense of satisfaction, one that ideally would not be diminished even in the face of rejection. Like so many things in life, the more you put into it, the more you’ll get out of it.

Now, ask yourself, are you ready? If so, know you’ve done your best and hit SUBMIT!

Girl in a pool in beautiful light: how to build a photography portfolio

8 Steps in preparing your photography portfolio:

1. Get to know the target audience’s guidelines.

2. Compare your work to the standards. Be honest!

3. Be sure every image speaks to who you are.

4. Take the time you need.

5. Cohesion is key.

6. Solicit opinions from those you trust.

7. Review your set some more.

8. Ready? Submit!

Photos by Anda Panciuk were taken with Fujifilm mirrorless cameras and Fujinon lenses.

This post is part of the The Fujifilm Legacy partnership.