What To Do At A Portfolio Review From A Photographer’s Perspective

There are plenty of blogs about photographer portfolio reviews.  Most blogs on reviews are from art buyers, reps and agencies like PhotoShelter and they all have good things to say.  I’ve listed several of them with links at the bottom of this blog.

What I’ll talk about here are my observations on what worked during my reviews with real clients working on accounts that hire photographers and who are meeting with you during their normal hectic work days, and NOT at a scheduled portfolio review event, like at Palm Springs Photo Festival.

women camping with iPad

Ladies campout getaway. Four women looking at iPad at camp in South Fork Eagle River Valley, Chugach State Park, Alaska.

I’ve done 10 reviews in the past year, mostly in cities far from home.  I just did 2 last week, one in Denver and another in Santa Fe.  I’ll be completely honest.   None of my reviews in the past year have resulted in an assignment … yet.  While this can seem demoralizing I recognize that here are too many possible reasons for that – none of which are that I am not a capable photographer.  One review has lead to asking for an estimate which is good.  It was for a potential job later this winter that hasn’t been approved yet.   They tell me I’m still a contender if they do a campaign.

It boils down to this.  Regardless of how “connected” you are on social media, art buyers still want to work with those they feel they can work with and trust.  And the best way to get someone to know you and trust you is with vintage social media – old school face to face time – not Facebook time.   A portfolio review is simply an introduction and a first step to building a working relationship.

And just to throw a curve, it is still possible to receive a job simply based on your website and phone interviews.

Our meetings have mostly been with advertising agencies who have accounts that we feel we are a good fit for.  Two were client direct meetings. Don’t contact a prospective client and request a meeting until you’ve  sent them some promotional material first.   Usually it is at least a couple of eblasts, a direct mail promo or a targeted and personalized email letter of introduction along with some recent samples of work.


BE PREPARED TO MEET WITH MORE THAN ONE CREATIVE.  Even though we made an appointment with one person, in more than half of my reviews my reviewer ended up bringing several other creatives to the meeting.  This was horrifying the first time.  Now I welcome it and consider it a compliment!  It means more creatives to introduce your work to.  I now bring several business cards and leave behind pieces with me.  (SIDEBAR:  If others at the meeting are interns or not “decision makers” treat them as equals.  One day they may become art buyers.  Remember, people may forget  what you said or what you did but they will NEVER forget how you made them feel.)

BRING SOME GOODIES.  My favorite is a small box of fine chocolates and truffles. Skip Walgreens, and buy from a popular local fine bakery or chocolatier.

INTRODUCE YOURSELF.  Practice your 30 second elevator speech:  who you are, what you love to shoot, maybe who you’ve worked for recently, and tell them why you wanted to meet with them!   If you’ve done a little research, mention a campaign you liked that they worked on, or, in the absence of that, mention something you may have in common that you  found out from their bio or LinkedIn profile.  Keep it short!  Like literally a minute!

OFFER A CHOICE OF PORTFOLIOS.  Truth is, a book is still king!  Creatives look at computers all day.  A well done  book is still the best presentation method.   My book is 10×15, contains 18 spreads with lay flat pages that are 30″ across.  I also offer my iPad with a collection of images tailored to them or brand new relevant work  shot since the book.   More often than not creatives looked at both portfolios.

LET THEM DRIVE THE MEETING:  But do ask a relevant question or two.  If you really want to shoot for a particular campaign it is OK to ask how to improve your chances to be considered.  If nothing else I ask how they would describe their ideal working relationship with a photographer.  I get a lot of good information this way.  If they are pressed for time they will let you know.  If they like you and want to chat,  take all the time they will give you.  I’ve had meetings last from 5 to 60 minutes.

CLOSING THE MEETING.  At the end of the meeting thank them for their time and hand them a leave behind piece.  Ask how they prefer to be contacted  and if you can continue to send them future promotions.  Ask if you can connect on LinkedIn if you have not done so already.  Don’t expect a job offer.  Remember, this is simply an interview and a first step to building a potential relationship.

FOLLOW UP.  With in a week follow up with a short but handwritten real thank you card, not an email.  For really special or dream clients, consider sending a nice print, especially if it is a shot from your book they really liked.  I like ready to hang aluminum prints.  Keep it small, like 8×10.  Most creatives sit in cramped offices and don’t have room for posters.

TRENDS. I’ve noticed the trends are consistent with what my stock agencies have been telling us.  There is definitely a desire for more authenticity in images.  Creatives understand you are setting up scenarios but the images need to have expressions and movements that look natural, real and not forced.  This just reinforces how critical casting is.  For the most part I feel I am doing a good job with that but it has made me re-think some of my shooting and portfolio choices.  I  always strive to show the most on target photography.  Even in advertising and promotion, clients are looking for a more editorial feel.


skiers and boarders climbing Kachina Peak at Taos Ski Valley in gusty ridgetop winds.

Here are some blogs about reviews.  My fav is from fellow photographer Todd Owyoung.  Todd designed our current website and its integration with our Photoshelter account and is an all around great guy.  I love that Todd, such a young guy, has great shots of KISS, a band from my generation.  OK, I just dated myself.  Good luck out there.  Feel free to share back any tips you have that have helped you!





Do Pros Still Take Photo Workshops?

by New Mexico adventure lifestyle photographer Michael DeYoung

It seems that a common characteristic of all good teachers and true “masters” is that they remain life long students and learners. Taking that to heart as a workshop instructor, and seasoned pro shooter I still see great value in taking photography workshops.

The last one I attended was a day long seminar called the Flashbus taught by 2 masters of speedlight location lighting, Joe McNally and David Hobby. Hobby has one of the most popular photography blogs called the Strobist. I’ll bet that most people reading this are already aware of the strobist blog. Joe McNally, a well sought after workshop leader (I took one of his workshops in Santa Fe, 80 miles from my home), wrote two of the best books on digital flash photography that I’ve read. They are: The Hot Shoe Diaries and The Moment it Clicks.

The Flashbus was a great deal at $99 even for a working pro who is familiar with most of the material they were presenting. This year’s tour is half over. I hope they will do something similar next year. As usual, I picked up a tip or two. Also as a workshop instructor always striving to improve my own presentation, these are 2 guys to emulate.

The capabilities of camera flashes today are astonishing compared to when I first started photography in the early 80’s. In fact, after some early trial and errors, I mainly avoided the use of flash other than basic fill lighting until a few years ago. I discovered a monumental change in hot-shoe strobe capabilities. The array of effective, portable light shaping tools on the market today is also amazing. Mastering the use of portable strobes is a great growth area for expanding your creativity. It is also right up my alley, since I often schlep gear into hard to reach locations for adventure photography, fitness photography and wilderness travel photography. So the capability to get studio quality lighting to remote places has greatly enhanced the value of my imagery. I wrote about such an adventure photography shoot in a previous blog post.

Adventure lifestyle photographer Michael DeYoung lighting his subjects under Wrangell-St. Elias National Park's Root Glacier located in Kennicott, Alaska

Michael DeYoung lighting his subjects under the Root Glacier with a Canon 580 EXII with wireless TTL triggered by a Radio Popper. A Honl grid was used to focus the light on the subjects and keep it off the ice walls. The camera on a tripod was triggered with a 10 second timer.

I am moving more in the direction of teaching more workshops. This summer I am scheduled to do my third weekend long workshop – Creative Outdoor Photography Workshop – in Alaska for the Alaska Society of Outdoor and Nature Photographers. I have done evening presentations for the ASMP Alaska chapter and for NANPA, the North American Nature Photography Association. I am scheduled to lead a10 day Alaska workshop next summer (2012) for the Rocky Mountain School of Photography.

Learning from the masters is the time honored way to helping yourself become one. I’m still a way’s off from being a master. Like many masters I admire, I will always remain willing to pass my knowledge on and give back to the photography community that has given so much to me.

ASMP’s Strictly Business Seminar is Well Worth the Cost

I attended Strictly Business 3 in Los Angeles put on by the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) in January. Wow, what an enlightening and rewarding event! I’ve been a member of ASMP since 1994 but this was the first national event I’ve attended and I can’t believe I waited this long. All the speakers, most whom are working ASMP members themselves, were very good to excellent. I really appreciated ASMP president Richard Kelly. In addition to being a natural at impromptu speaking I watched him introduce himself to new and young members making all feel welcome. I think this is a great characteristic for an organizational leader to have.

Speaking of new members, I was expecting the majority of attendees to be mostly middle aged guys like me. I was pleased to see a fair amount of younger shooters and women there and interested in learning professional practices in our industry. Strictly Business has its own blog http://www.asmp.org/strictlybusiness/ where you’ll find a few more articulate posts than this one about the LA event. As in any workshop or seminar, you get out of it what you put in. This is best $250 business investment you can make. The added camaraderie and making of new friends and acquaintances was icing on the cake.