George and Kathryn Lepp doing a portfolio review at NANPA’s 2019 Nature Photography Summit. Photo credit: Janice Braud
By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Marketing, Communications & Blog Coordinator
A portfolio review can be a powerful learning opportunity that helps you grow as a photographer and artist. A reviewer can show you where flaws are or what gaps exist in your work. And a reviewer can point out your strengths and the positive paths on which you already may be moving forward. It’s no surprise that portfolio reviews are always a popular part of NANPA’s Nature Photography Summit, as well as other photo conferences.
So, there are compelling reasons to sign up for a portfolio review. But how do you make the most of the opportunity.
Making the most: why and who
As you get ready to sign up for a review, make sure you know what you want to get out of the experience. Are you signing up to help improve and focus your photography? To identify and develop your own unique style? To eventually get a gallery show? A book deal? What do you hope to learn?
Now that you have your goals set, which reviewers are best placed to help you meet those goals? Photo editors, stock agency buyers, professional photographers, and gallery representatives each bring different perspectives to evaluating your work.
Begin with a quick intro
Make sure you have an elevator pitch ready. In just a couple of sentences, you’ll want to introduce yourself and say why you’re there. Also mention any specific kind of feedback you’re looking for, like comments on the sequencing of your photos or how your shots work as a narrative. Then be quiet. Let the reviewer study your photos and start the conversation.
Follow the directions. If you are told to bring a dozen images, don’t show up with thirty. If you’re asked for jpg files that are 1200 pixels on the long side, don’t show up with full-size PSD or TIFF files. If you’re supposed to have 8×10 prints, make sure you have 8×10 prints.
Present a coherent body of work
Present a coherent body of work and not a potpourri of random images. Do your images reflect a common theme, style or genre that shows who you are as a photographer.
You will only have a limited amount of time with each reviewer so choose a small selection of your best photos. However, you should also bring a secondary project or series of images in case there’s extra time or the reviewer asks to see more of your work. Make sure you have enough business cards, too, in case you’re asked for one.
Realize that a review won’t “solve” any problems you’re having with your technique, composition or lighting but it can point out areas where you are weak, where you can improve.
Be prepared for criticism and don’t take it personally. Look at any negative comments as a challenge to improve and a promising direction to go.
Conferences are a great place for networking and so are portfolio reviews. Ask if the reviewer knows any colleagues who may be interested in your work and, if so, can you use their name as a referral.
Set some time aside right after your review to jot down notes for later. Also note any ideas or suggestions the reviewer gave
Send a thank you note, especially if there were key take aways from that reviewer. Snail mail might be more appreciated, so get an address while you’re at it.
And then put into practice what you learned. If you were told that your compositions were flat and two-dimensional, get out and work on making some three-dimensional photos. And watch your photography, and your portfolio, improve.
There’s still time to sign up for one or more portfolio reviews at NANPA’s 2023 Nature Photography Summit in Tucson, May 4-6 (with optional field activities on the 3rd and 7th). Get the details here. Specific instructions, including number and format of images, will be sent to prior to the conference.
Frank Gallagher is a landscape and nature photographer based in the Washington, DC, area who specializes in providing a wide range of photograph services to nonprofit organizations. He serves as NANPA’s Interim Marketing and Communications Coordinator and manages NANPA’s blog. He can be found online at frankgallagherphotography.com or on Instagram @frankgallagherfoto.