Pursuing a career in digital photography begins with building your experience and developing a portfolio that highlights your best work. With an online degree in digital photography, you can leverage your coursework and academic network to start developing your photography portfolio.
A photography portfolio is a selection of 15 to 30 of your best images, typically available online, for prospective clients or employers to see. Starting while you're still a student can help you land photography gigs, secure internships and even connect with job opportunities before graduation. It's never too soon to start thinking strategically about gaining experience and showing your work in the best possible light.
Cohesion and intent are key, according to Betsy Schneider, a clinical assistant professor at Arizona State University’s Herberger Institute School of Art. “There are so many formulas for how to take a picture, but making yourself different – making you you – is so important,” she said. “Use your portfolio to show what’s special about your vision, what you care about, and how you’ll show you have something to add to the conversation.”
To help you prepare for your future career, these eight steps can show you how to create a photography portfolio while you're still in school.
1. Make the most of class assignments
If you're taking a photography course, think about how you could maximize the assignments to gain high-quality samples of your work. Challenge yourself to go beyond the requirements of an assignment and tell your professor that you're starting to collect photography portfolio ideas. Then, select the best examples from your work over the semester and use them to begin assembling a portfolio.
“In our coursework, we think it’s important for students to think about what their work looks like as a whole and to get them to continually move forward continually in their work and take themselves seriously,” said Schneider.
2. Define your goals and niches
You might need to gain more experience before you decide on a specific digital photography career. Start now by considering your favorite types of subjects and shoots, such as portraits, sports, landscapes, or photojournalism. Once you identify your top interests, use them to help define your career goals and turn them into specialties. As you build your online portfolio, you can create separate pages for each of your niches to help potential clients or employers find and review your work in each category.
3. Look for internship opportunities
Internships are a great way to gain firsthand experience with the mechanics of photography and the nuances of a career in the industry. Connect with local photographers and ask if they would be open to having you tag along on a few shoots to learn more about the equipment, setup, strategies and etiquette involved. If possible, intern with photographers in a few different focus areas — for example, a nature photographer and a studio photographer — to get an idea of what it's like to work in the fields you're most interested in and decide which focus area is your best fit. Seeing how a professional chooses their best images among the many that they shoot will both give you digital photography portfolio ideas and help you develop an eye for selecting the images you want to show off in your portfolio.
4. Identify your best work and define your vision
Once you've gathered a body of work, approach it with an eye for excellence and a cohesive vision. Photography is both a science and an art, so be sure to pull examples that reflect your own style and preferences. Choose shots that demonstrate the diversity of your work and reflect different photographic styles and techniques.
“You want to pay attention to your portfolio’s sequence of images,” said Schneider. “You want consistency without redundancy. Make each picture matter; each should have a relationship to the other pictures. Be intentional with every aspect of your portfolio.”