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Portfolio Advice

Firstly this is an important part of any application process, so you should seek the advice of your tutors who know you best. But here are some starting pointers.

Your portfolio is about showing the breadth and range of your skills and interests. By all means take along sketchbooks and supporting work, but in most cases the portfolio itself should be made up of no more that 20 pages and around 8-10 sets of images. Some institutions will ask for an exact amount, say 12 A3 prints, but most let you choose. So here is some guidance, but remember it is your portfolio and you ultimately have to decide what to include and what not to.

Good luck!

My Guide:

Your Portfolio Shows:


  • What you enjoy and do best
  • The range of your abilities
  • The areas and styles of photography you have experimented with

  • Interviewers will notice what is not in your portfolio as well as what is; try to cover a wide range of photography

  • Your portfolio should be made up of around 10 ‘sets’
  • Each set being on a double page spread
  • Consider the best layout for each set individually

Size and Format
  • Should your portfolio be A4, A3 or A2?
  • Do some mock layouts of sets and see what works best with your work

Grouping sets
  • Some sets will have a ‘main’ image and supporting images, this informs the interviewer that you think that image is the strongest and shows analytical skills
  • Some sets work better as a unified set

  • Some images are strong enough to work on their own
  • These images can also be used to open or close a portfolio

What to do first
  • Make an appointment with a lecturer you trust, someone that knows you and your work and about photography
  • Go through all of your images (including images from outside of college)
  • Make up around 10-14 sets that cover the breadth of your photographic experiences
  • You may have to shoot some images specifically for your portfolio, to widen its appeal and maximise the skills you display and to fill any gaps

  • Decide on how each set will be laid out
  • Decide on the ratio of Black & White images to colour
    • (note: very few colleges still do B&W and the feedback we have received is that it impresses interviewers – so include if possible)
  • Get your prints produced at a good lab (my advice is to avoid boots, but there are some good online services)
    • though look for the don’t crop to fit option, you don’t want them cutting off parts of your images
  • Buy a proper portfolio and proper archival sleeves, this shows off your work to its best.

  • Before sticking down your images
  • Lay them out and go through them with a lecturer you trust
  • Decide on the final layout, get any reprints done if sizes need to be changed
  • Edit the number of sets down so that every set is strong
  • Finally stick in the images using a tiny square of double sided tape under each corner – this allows for easy change

Here I have mocked up a portfolio, so you can see example of the different sets, or page layouts.

Photographic Portfolio example 1
Buy a nice portfolio, is a small investment that makes you
look professional and shows you are taking the interview seriously.

Photographic Portfolio example 2
Open with something strong and representative of your dominant style,
note the extended essay is tucked inside the pocket, the interviewer won’t
read it but by including it you show that you are confident about the
writing side of the course.

Photographic Portfolio example 3
Don’t constantly turn you portfolio from portrait to landscape,
it’s just annoying to look at, and that is not what you want to do.
So a few turns only.

Photographic Portfolio example 4

Photographic Portfolio example 5

Photographic Portfolio example 6

Photographic Portfolio example 7
If you have a strong single image, then let it stand alone.

Photographic Portfolio example 8
Use size to show you know which is the strongest
image, it shows discernment.

Photographic Portfolio example 9

Photographic Portfolio example 10
And finally, finishing on a strong note.

Photographic Portfolio example 11

Consider the rhythm of your portfolio

A fashion student portfolio might go:

Fashion, Fashion, B+W, B+W, CityScape, Fashion, Fashion, Abstract, Slow shutter speed, Studio, B+W, B+W, Fashion, Fashion

Your Portfolio has to flow, with your strongest work at the Beginning, Middle and End, sandwiching your more experimental work.

Finally if you are applying to study Photography at University, my advice is not to take along other types of art work, they often say in the letter inviting you to interview to bring along any type of artwork you have done, but my experience is students that have done this get asked, how they know they want to do photography and not ceramics, or fine art painting etc, you spend more time at the interview trying to convince them that you are sure that photography is for you, that you miss out on time telling them what you love about photography and showing them your work... now that is my advice but really its up to your what you include and how you present it.

Now see my preparing for a Interview tips page.

© Nigel Watts 2011-2016 Contact/About