August 15, 2013

Pancake Session: Common Portfolio Mistakes

Happy Pancake Day!

Justin & I have been putting off working on our new brand for a while now, mostly because it was something that we knew we didn’t want to rush. And also to be honest, we’re still pretty happy with the one we have (which is such a testament to the amazing guys at Infinet Design who did our current brand over 5 years ago now. Especially when most photographers I know end up wanting to change their brand every year because it’s still not quite right!) But we do know that it’s time to move forward & get serious about the vision we have for this new chapter in our business and where that’s going. And one of the first major steps for that is picking out the images that will go in our new gallery/portfolio and will make up the look of the site.

In other words, we need to pick the top 20-30 images that sum up what we want to stand for as photographers, what our Why is, what our style is, and who we want hiring us.

Nooooo pressure.

So all of this got me thinking about some of the mistakes that we made earlier on when we were putting together galleries for our past websites, and some of the most common mistakes we see from people who come to do mentoring sessions with us now when we’re talking about their brand. And I thought it would be helpful to put them all here in one place, so that we can all hopefully get better. Together.

1. Having too many images. Plain & simple, for every so-so image you keep in your portfolio….you water down & take away from the really good ones. You want to instantly make your work seem stronger? Start by taking out the five or ten weakest images in your gallery, blog post, facebook album, etc. Annie Leibovitz in her book “At Work” said something to the effect that the greatest & hardest work we do as a photographer is being the editor & curator of our own work. True that, Annie. True that.

2. Showing what you DON’T actually want to shoot. Whether it’s saying you want to be exclusively weddings & then having a picture of the cutest baby on the planet as one of the first five images on your site, or showing images you HATE to shoot (like the bridal party jumping up in the air shot)….whatever you put out there, you will attract. So go over your portfolio images with a fine tooth comb. Look in the background for things you don’t like. Ask yourself what the image is saying about you as a photographer. Identify the Why that it stands for. And then eliminate whatever doesn’t align with where you want to go.

3. Having a mix of different genres of photography in one gallery. Even if you shoot weddings, newborns & seniors and want to keep it that way…give each one of them their own dedicated gallery (or even better, their own website!) Put simply, brides aren’t yet ready to think about babies. And moms need to know you know how to pose their newborn safely, not fluff a veil. Concentrating the work in to their own separate galleries will also make the work in each seem stronger. And it will make each type of person who hires you, feel like they are getting an expert in that field.

4. Showing too much from the same wedding/shoot or showing images that are too similar. Remember that we only have somewhere between 10 seconds & 2 minutes to make an impression on a potential bride/client, send a clear message about our style, and look like we’ve done this before! :) So when you lead off with too many images from just one wedding or shoot, it can very quickly send the message that you haven’t shot a lot before and don’t have a ton of experience. If that’s in fact the case, then create opportunities to shoot as much as possible even if they are just styled shoots. It will give you more variety in your portfolio, and even more importantly, the practice will make you a better photographer. Similarly, showing images that are too similar (i.e. the same couple in the same pose, one with them looking at the camera and one looking away) doesn’t do anything to work for you. Having both images, in fact, divides the impact of either, it’s honestly kind of boring, and it wastes some of that precious time where you could be making an impression. If the client wants to see a whole wedding later, you can always send them a link to the full gallery. But for these purposes, I want you to think of your portfolio like Top Gun: it’s for the best of the best.

5. Not updating the gallery with new work often enough. If there is one thing we hear over & over during mentoring sessions when we go to pull up that person’s website it’s “Well, this hasn’t been updated in a long time and the work has gotten a LOT better. So don’t judge it too hard…..and the blog is really the newer, better stuff.” And that’s all well & good and trust me we’ve all been there (Lord knows we’re guilty of this too!)….but the problem with that is that we don’t get the opportunity to give that little disclaimer to every bride or potential client who comes over to our page. And they will rightly assume that when they click on the gallery, they are already seeing the best work that you can do right there. So we all have the choice whether we want to make that really work for us or not. Even if you just made it a goal to swap out the first 10 images on your gallery this week, that would be a huge improvement right there!

As always, we hope this helped! And if there are any questions, requests for future Pancake Sessions, or you just want to say hi :) …you can add them in the box below!


  1. Stacy Hart

    This couldn’t have come at more perfect timing. My designer has asked me to start gathering portfolio pics for the site and I am feeling a bit overwhelmed. Thank you so much!!! Can’t wait to see your new brand.

  2. Kristin

    Such good advice!

  3. Tira J

    THANK YOU!! This post came at just the right time because I am going to be tearing apart all of my galleries next week and starting over. Because, I’m that crazy busy gal who hasn’t updated her site in a loonnnggg while! I just told Brock yesterday that I’m starting over. I can’t wait to see what you two have brewing in the branding/site pot! Thanks again for this post and have a beautiful day! xoxo

  4. rachelle

    great advice!

  5. Rici

    Oh , this post came to it´s right time! WOW! Thank you for putting it all into one place! <3 you guys are doing such a great job! I so badly need to renew my not really existing portfolio. I changed sooo much over the past months.
    Hugs & Saluti!

  6. Heidi

    Thanks for the advice – really guilty of not updating my website on a regular basis. Thanks for putting it out there.

  7. Mikael Långström

    Great article. After reading this, I know I have some work to do on my galleries.

  8. Paulina

    thanks for the advice Mary!! I definitely need to comb through my portfolio ASAP. Haha =).

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