George Kavanagh is a British commercial photographer that mixes his work with fine art photography. I have browsed through his portfolios and found some interesting images like the examples in this post. In particular I like quite a bit some images in his “New Work” gallery (like the examples on the top of this post) as well as some images in the “Location” galleries (like the examples below).
Something I noticed reviewing George Kavanagh’s website is that there are too many images in the portfolios, and more important, some really excellent images are mixed with other pictures that don’t match that well in quality or context. This situation reminds me about an important topic: portfolio editing.
The more I am exposed to see portfolios of photographers the more sensitive I am to the editing that has been done to select the images in the portfolio. Editing means making sure that the portfolio is cohesive (style, topic etc), well selected to target a defined audience, and limited only to show the best material. There are many reasons to make a portfolio, so one could apply different rules for each purpose, but if the intent is to convey an style or to share a fine art project there are some rules I learned from others that I find reasonable.
(i) Start defining a purpose and the audience for the portfolio. It is important to be aware that the portfolio intends to send a message to a defined audience. In the web most times the audience will be broad, but perhaps it is just for a subset of the fine art community. Deciding on the contents of your portfolio will be much easier if you define the intent and know who your audience are. This knowledge will be helpful to make choicdes regarding the images that should be included, the style etc.
(ii) I find that a portfolio benefits largely by the presence of an artist statement that explains the intent of the portfolio. Sometimes this is not necessary, and a general artist statement may be sufficient rather than defining an artist statement for each portfolio.
(iii) Avoid using more than 15-20 images in a portfolio to express an style of work for a given topic (e.g. portraits, landscape). This limit is also important when showing the work to gallery owners or editors for a portfolio review, but it is also very important in the web. If you don’t have 20 excellent images, that’s fine, fewer will be OK in most cases. I believe that 8-10 images are sufficient to express an style. If you have the need to show more work than 20 images of a selected topic, perhaps it is better to create additional portfolios and distribute the images in the most cohesive way within these different portfolios. Again, avoid putting more than 20 images per portfolio. Of course, this rule may not apply in cases when the portfolio intends to communicate a story. Even then, the patience of the viewer rarely will goes beyond 15-20 images unless it is combined with audio or other multimedia.
(iv) Make sure that the images are cohesive in photographic style and topic. No mixing landscape with life style, no B&W mixed with color. A cohesive portfolio of pictures will – preferably – include pictures taken with the same film type or post-processed following similar digital methods (color, tonality, contrast, dynamic range, borders, etc).
(v) Presentation is key. In the web, make sure the images are presented in a navigation friendly format that (a) have proper image size -about 750 pixels is good; (b) the color space is complaint with the web (sRGB); (c) the portfolio has a list of thumbnails that rapidly gives a sense of the images in the set; (d) the images should load fast in a clean page – neutral colors like black, white of gray are preferred. The patience of the viewer is usually not that great, and most people don’t look to more than 10-15 images, and even less if navigation is difficult.
(vi) If possible, don’t do the editing and selection of images for the portfolios yourself alone. Share the work with other colleagues, ideally photographers that know about the audience you target, and learn from others which are the images that have the highest aesthetic impact.
(vii) Even if it is difficult, try to eliminate the “less than excellent” images that are not on a par with the best ones, even if you love them. A portfolio with 8 excellent images will have higher quality and impact than the same portfolio mixed with 4 additional average images. This is one of the reasons why it is useful to do the editing after receiving feedback from other photographers, editors or artists; it is difficult to be objective with your own images. The best way to learn about portfolio editing is to received feedback from the experts and colleagues. There are several avenues for the fine art photographer to get expert feedback and in the future I will refer to some of the options in a new post.
Like always, comments are open for your ideas, agreement or disagreements on this topic.