Let’s get something absolutely out of the way here: your Instagram page isn’t necessarily your portfolio. A photographic portfolio is a body of work that helps let others know what kind of photographer you are. It’s a product you’re capable of delivering. For example, Toyota’s portfolio includes the Camry and their other cars. Peter Hurley’s portfolio includes headshots. Annie Leibovitz’s portfolio has portraits and editorial work. These are the products that we know they’re capable of producing. And in the same way, a photographer needs to tightly curate that portfolio, specialize (despite what some may tell you not to do, and they’re dead wrong), and put forward images and services that really make them standout from the rest.
But before you even go about doing this, you’ll need to figure out your photographic identity.
Shoot everything at least once
You know how you tried to figure out what kind of a job you were going to have? College and High School did that for a while and you had years to refine and figure things out. That’s sort of what it’s like to figure out your photographic identity. So with that said, I encourage photographers to try everything at least once. In fact, give it a genuine try twice. Try weddings, landscapes, portraits, street. etc. Don’t ever tell yourself you can’t do something because of a camera. You can figure out a way to do anything with any camera you have. There are sports photographers who sometimes use large format cameras and there are landscape photographers assigned to tell stories by the NYTimes. Photojournalism is a great way to get involved in photographing everything.
So give it a try. Like something? Do it again.
Try sorting through your work
I strongly recommend you spend your first year or two shooting all sorts of things. Don’t say no. You’re still learning and you should take things as learning experiences, within reason. When you’re done with it all, take a solid month to sort through all the work you’ve done. You’ll be able to split things into categories with ease when doing this.
Find the trends
When you go through your work, you’re going to find trends. For this, what I like to do is label the who, what, when, where, how and why. So ask yourself a few questions, like these:
- Who am I as a person?
- Whose work is influencing me or do I really have an affinity for as a photographer?
- What do I really enjoy shooting?
- Is the stuff that I enjoy shooting any good?
- Can I give that stuff a dedicated, serious try at least once?
- Do I see myself shooting more of that stuff years from now?
- How long did I spend trying this or that?
- Do I feel like that’s a sufficient amount of time to call it quits on that subject or to give it more time?
- Why do I like this one thing over another?
Figure out what you’re good at
Figuring out what you’re good at requires getting some sort of portfolio ready. At this point, I genuinely recommend putting together two or three different portfolios. Then shop them around on forums, reddit, Flickr groups, etc. Or even get a professional portfolio evaluation.
Shoot more of what you’re good at
Once you figure out what you’re really good at, keep shooting it. When you do that, consider the fact that you have to have some sort of passion for your subject matter. If you don’t, then leave it behind or else you’ll just lead yourself down a poisonous road. But know that is part of your major photographic identity.
Maybe you’re a conceptual photographer. Or a portrait shooter. Or a landscape shooter. Or a wedding photographer. Or maybe you’re really good at photographing food.
Everything that is your passion you can shoot for passion reasons
On the side, have a special passion and hobby for shooting. It can be related to your main subject or it can be something different that lets you explore new skills, etc. Personal work often gets you hired because you’re 100% in control of the creativity.