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.”
5. Develop a streamlined online photography portfolio
There are many online options for creating a photography portfolio, so look around to find the one that best suits your needs. Some are free, while others require a subscription. Social media accounts such as Instagram and Pinterest are also great places to highlight your work, network with other photographers, connect with potential clients and make sure your current work stays top of mind.
It's particularly important to create a dedicated, curated, web-based portfolio that you can share with people for an overview of your strongest work. Maintaining your own photography website can help you put your best foot forward and give you more control over which photos visitors see when they land on your homepage. If you're not a web designer, check out easy-to-use site builders such as Wix and Weebly, or photography-specific options like Zenfolio and SmugMug.
6. Ask for feedback
Once you've assembled your portfolio, share it far and wide and ask for constructive comments. Seek out feedback from professors, classmates, internship supervisors, friends and family members as needed. If you're still choosing the best examples for your portfolio, find an experienced colleague who can offer suggestions. That feedback can be very helpful when you're thinking about how to create a photography portfolio.
7. Optimize for user experience and search engines
After you've finalized your portfolio, review the site content for any technical problems, such as broken links, misplaced captions or confusing navigation. Take note of these issues and fix them before you share your portfolio more widely. If you need help, ask a design-savvy friend or classmate, or contact your web platform's technical support service.
If you're looking forward to starting a photography business, you'll want to spend some time on SEO, or search engine optimization. Research which keywords potential clients may use to find photographers, and use keywords relevant to your business and specialty within your site to help clients find your site more easily. For example, if you're a Phoenix-based sports photographer, make sure your site description includes keywords that customers might type into a search engine, such as "Phoenix AZ sports photographer."
8. Keep your portfolio current
As you continue to gain experience and take more photos, view your portfolio as a dynamic work in progress. Update it frequently, but keep the overall selection of photos on each page to a minimum. Think of your portfolio as a hallway gallery with a limited number of picture frames — this can help your visitors see your best work at a glance instead of sifting through hundreds of images. To demonstrate your knowledge, you might also choose to include information about locations, camera settings and other technical details in your photo captions.
Earn your degree in photography
If you're interested in pursuing an academic degree in the field of digital photography, ASU Online's Bachelor of Fine Arts in digital photography can help you prepare for a variety of careers. The program emphasizes contemporary, creative and expressive forms of digital photography and can help you improve your technique as you increase your understanding of aesthetics and conceptual thinking. A community of peers, professors and mentors will encourage your artistic development, and you'll graduate with a final photography portfolio and a cohesive artist statement.