Don’t Make This Portfolio Mistake

Hi Gang and Happy Friday. I wanted to talk briefly about something I see on a pretty regular basis when doing portfolio reviews or even just looking at another photographer’s work. It’s something that really weakens their portfolio, and so in this case, I want to talk about what not to do — and how to sidestep this portfolio mistake:

Don’t put the same subject in your portfolio more than once
Take a look at the portfolio above. Out of the nine images, eight are different views of the same lighthouse. Here’s what that tells me about your work overall:

(1) You’re not a very experienced travel/landscape photographer. Looks like you’ve been to one place — the Oregon Coast. Even if this was a gallery titled “Oregon Coast” people still wouldn’t want to see eight shots of the same lighthouse from different angles. That’s more a project you do in school (shooting the same subject from different angles), rather than a showcase of your best work.

(2) You must really like that lighthouse

If you love lighthouses, that’s great — now put together a portfolio of different lighthouses from different locations — not a bunch of shots of the same lighthouse. Now you’re cooking! :)

In most cases, I would suggest that you avoid repeating the same exact location twice, unless they are very different photos, maybe taken from entirely different vantage points, in entirely different lighting. So, it can work, but when it comes to portfolios, it’s your job as photographer to pick your best shot of that lighthouse, and only show that one.

This goes for shots of people, too 
For example, If you shoot weddings, if potential clients don’t see a wide variety of brides and grooms, they think you’ve shot maybe one or two weddings. That’s a warning flag for getting hired — nobody wants to hire a wedding photographer with what appears to be two weddings under the belt. Same thing with models — If you have 12 shots in your portfolio, and 9 of them are of the same model, and 5 of those are in the same outfit (I see this quite often). It says “this photographer must not have much experience.” Also, it’s just boring. Pick your best shot of that model, and then find more models to photograph and start building your portfolio.

Building  a portfolio of different people, different weddings, different landscape locations or travel destinations takes time. It’s something photographers have to constantly work at — you’ll probably wind up scheduling shoots and doing them just for your portfolio, and that’s OK, but while you’re in this process, avoid repetition as much as possible.

NOTE: An exception to this is high-end fashion, where you’ll often see the same model in four very different outfits from an editorial shoot, or a campaign, but for the most part, this “stick to one image of that subject” is a pretty good guideline to stick by. 

Hope that helped you side-step a little portfolio quicksand. :)

Hope you have a great weekend, and we’ll catch ya back here on Monday!



P.S. This weekend, do you want to learn the “Top 10 Things Every Photographer Should Know on Their Camera?” Here’s the link.  I think you’ll dig it. :)

  1. Hey Scott, great suggestion. I’m sure this will help loads of people. Could I add a related point?

    Don’t get too carried away that you end up showing weaker work in an effort to diversify your portfolio. As a travel photographer, I made this mistake. I tried to include an image from each country that I had visited, even though some countries were more photogenic than others. For example, in the ‘rural’ section of my portfolio, there are multiple images of Iceland and Norway as both lend themselves to that subject. In the ‘heritage’ section there is far more of Europe than of Australia, simply because Europe has such a plethora of subject matter in that category.

  2. Thanks for the advice! These portfolio reviews you speak of. Who does one have to bribe or pay off to get your eyes on one? Can we just say pretty please please, sir?! And it’s Friday. And you’re such a nice, talented, AMAZING photographer who really wants to help people grow ;)

  3. There are two things i see all the time that takes a good portfolio and makes it weaker. The first is exactly what you have in this post. the same seven or model or in my case the same band or musician. The second is to good (not great) shots because you like the subject matter, or you think there is some type of name recognition. I am in the middle of revamping my portfolio and it is tough. Is the shot of the unknown guitar player from an opening band a better choice than the famous guy? What about acts i have shot multiple times? I have great Bieber shots from the last 3 tours.. (I know it sounds weird to say great Bieber shots…) So difficult to stick to the rules when there is an emotional attachment to all the photos..

  4. While I agree with this in theory, a lot of ‘people with websites’ don’t use their websites as “portfolio’s”, but rather a place to just post their photos. Meaning they’re not looking to get hired.

    I think what you said above applies strictly to those who list fees on their websites, or are registered LLC’s..meaning those who use photography as their business, or side business. I think for the rest of us who aren’t taking photos “for money”, posting the same subject over and over is totally ok if it is something “WE” enjoy/love shooting. You know that saying with: “if you don’t like it, don’t look”. I don’t like horror movies, so I don’t watch anything that has a remotely horrific scene in it. Same applies here. I am telling you this not to start an argument, but because “just because” you don’t like seeing the same stuff, that doesn’t make it a rule for everyone else. I love the work that Daniel Kordan posts, so if he posts a million shots from Antarctica I am still looking at them. Even if they were shot from the same location. They make me happy, just as much as they make him happy to freeze his butt off to take them.

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