Practical Advice to Benefit from Portfolio Reviews

Doing a portfolio review can be a great learning opportunity for photographers of all levels. With many festivals offering in-person meetings and more online sessions becoming available, we reflect on why they can be a valuable experience and what you can do to get the most out of the opportunity.

© Mariagrazia Beruffi, from the series Another World

Some say portfolio reviews are not worth the effort or money, but we believe that they can actually be a valuable learning experience and an outlet to facilitate personal growth and the development of your work. You can participate in a portfolio review at different moments in your career and for different reasons. Maybe you want to use it as a networking opportunity, or to get advice on a specific edit you want to submit to a contest or grant application. Another reason can be to find ways to get your work published or exhibited. And sometimes, the learning experience in itself can be reason enough. It is a good exercise in how to talk about your work and a very good way to get a better understanding of your own practice as a photographer and learn from professionals what you can do to improve.

Naturally, the experience and success of the portfolio review depends to some extent on the connection you feel with the reviewer and vice versa. However, the experience is also highly influenced by aspects that you as a photographer control. So what are they?

In preparation for the actual review, there are a few issues to consider.

Formulate what you want to get out of it. Maybe you want industry advice, guidance on a particular project, information about opportunities to get exposure, or feedback on an edit of a specific project. In short, set your objectives.

Get familiar with the reviewer’s background. It’s the minimum research you should do as a photographer. It’s actually a good idea to come prepared with a few questions for your reviewer. This makes it easier for the experience to grow into a discussion and open dialogue rather than a one way conversation.

© Gabriel Carpes, from the series 1000 Years from Now

Put your best work forward. Only show work that you feel is worth showing to someone. Don’t feel rushed: sometimes you simply need to work longer on a certain project before discussing it. That said, input on a project or work in progress can of course help you find the best direction and ways to move forward.

Arrange your portfolio so the narrative unfolds logically. Don’t include too many images. Make sure your portfolio is tight, regardless of the format. Besides the fact that time is often limited in a portfolio review, less is more. You can actually do a test run of your portfolio, edit or overall pitch with someone you trust. It can be a good exercise and help you adjust certain aspects before you go to the actual session.

Present your work the best way possible. Often, in face-to-face reviews, a physical portfolio is prefered above a digital one. Try to find the best way for the specific occasion. When you do an online review, prepare your work and presentation so it’s easy to navigate for the reviewer, and yourself of course. Don’t lose time looking for images or trying to get organised during the review.

Be on time. When you’re doing an online review, make sure the applications you are using are installed and working. Connect in advance and expect the reviewer to do the same.

© Ania Mininkova, from the series A Guide to Unknown Animals of America

So, now that the review is prepared to your best capabilities, what can you control during the review in order to get the most out of it?

Ask questions that will help you advance your photography. Ideally, the reviewer will provide you with critical and constructive feedback. If this is not the case, and if your reviewer says something harsh, ask them why they are coming to that conclusion and how you could improve. The same goes for positive statements: have your reviewer explain why they like something. Be conscious that you have some influence in making the experience as constructive as possible.

Don’t take criticism personally. Take it constructively and think about how to apply the reviewers comments to further your work.

Take notes and listen carefully. It’s important to introduce yourself and your work, but also allow for the reviewer to speak. You should be able to summarise the project or photograph in a few words.

Ultimately, remember that you are showing your work to engage, be interested and interesting. There's always something to learn or reflect on from a positive conversation.

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Talking About Education is a monthly feature where we reflect on current opportunities and practices to form and develop yourself as a photographer. To learn more about our live one-to-one educational program, please visit phmuseum.com/education

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