The Power and the Story: Field-Tested Tips for a Knockout Portfolio

How To  /  Photography
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An online portfolio: if you want to take the next step as a photographer, you know you need one, and you know why, but if you’re like me, putting one together can be incredibly daunting. Your portfolio is your work’s life story after all, there for everyone to see. Done right, it captures your passion, your vision, and your own unique artistic style. It’s a personal and creative statement that proudly says to an audience Here I am! This me, and what I stand for. So no pressure or anything.

Here are four tips for building your portfolio that I’ve learned through making mistakes and trial and error. I’m a wedding photographer, so you’ll see a few blushing brides here, but the principles apply to any kind of portfolio.

Variety is essential to a powerful portfolio. Keep your audience engaged and anticipating what the next photo will be by mixing up images with different themes, color schemes, landscapes, and people. Visual presentations are strongest when their images simultaneously echo and contrast each other. Surprises can also make a portfolio striking and memorable.

Look for pictures that make each other more interesting when seen next to each other, like these two images. I chose them because they visually work well together, and yet they’re completely different in content, mood, and color. Although they both show us romantic love, their subjects feature different environments and emotions. Ultimately, their differences complement each other so that they offer a well-rounded view of how I capture love and romance.

Bride reading letters from her family. Photo © Mary Campbell DSC_9775


Avoid repetition. These three images have a lot in common: flowers, smiling women, and a bride. So although I’m proud of them in that they’re all good images, I didn’t put them in my portfolio together because my audience would be bored of bridesmaids after one picture. (Be honest: weren’t you?)

Bridesmaids with the Bride. Photo © Mary Campbell All the bridesmaids with the Bride. Photo © Mary Campbell

More bridesmaids with the bride. Photo © Mary Campbell

Once you’ve communicated that you have a skill set in capturing one type of imagery — say wedding preparations, ceremonies, or receptions — it’s time to move on to the next. To do this, ask yourself questions like: what kind of lighting situations do I want to highlight? Evening backlight or midday shadows? What interesting kinds of composition do I have in my pictures that stand out, like being willing to break the rule of thirds? What themes do I want to convey, like family, intentionality, or mystery?

I care a lot about emotion in my images, which is why I included these two photos in my portfolio:

Powerful portfolio shot. Photo © Mary Campbell Bride tearing up while listening to the Groom's vows. Photo © Mary Campbell

The photo of the bride was taken while her husband-to-be read his vows to her during their private first look; the black and white photo of the girl was taken while we ran through corn fields at sunset. We couldn’t contain our glee in that moment, and you can see it in her expression.

Look for power. It’s essential to edit your pictures based on your personal strengths, but once you have a bunch of images you think work well together and highlight your different strengths, it’s time to evaluate the strength of the images based on composition, emotion, color, and story. Portfolios should always be packed with powerful imagery, but the definition of powerful will be different from image to image. For instance: the image of the wedding ceremony below is filled with genuine, overflowing joy. But notice how the landscape is dramatic and dark. Both are striking, but in their own way. Powerful imagery takes many different forms based on your subject matter; the artistry of putting a portfolio together lies in curating them.

Sunset in Washington. Photo © Mary Campbell Smiling Bride & Groom during wedding ceremony. Photo © Mary Campbell

Less can be more. After narrowing down your pictures based on these criteria, continue until you have 20-30 photos. The exact number is debatable, but a portfolio should be long enough to have impact on your audience yet short enough to easily go through in two or three minutes. Keeping the length of your portfolio contained is essential to maintaining your audience’s attention.

Once you’ve gathered your portfolio images, it’s time to choose what kind of platform you want to share them on. For offline and in-person sharing, Mylio offers an easy, beautiful, and clean way to show your images to friends, family, and clients. Online platforms such as Squarespace and WordPress are extremely customizable and user-friendly. I personally use Squarespace for its accessibility, photo layouts, and mobile friendly features.

Snapshot of Mary Campbell's portfolio. Photo © Mary Campbell

This is my personal process for portfolio creation; maybe yours looks a little (or a lot!) different. I’ve found these criteria can be great starting points when feeling completely swamped by a catalog of work. They’re meant to be loose guidelines, not strict rules.

Get creating! You have a lot of great photographs the world can’t wait to see!