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How do you curate a portfolio?


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Hi,

 

I'm not sure if this topic belongs here, but I'm curious how folks "curate" a portfolio. I usually end up with 1000-ish decent photos (in focus, ok lighting, something of interest) from a one week dive trip (4 dives/day, 24-28 dives total) that I will keep for my own records to remember what I saw. From that 1000-ish photos I can generally pick ~150-200 photos that I like better than the rest (composed well, lit well, interesting critter) which I then post online and share with family and friends. Where I struggle is to cut that down even further to say the best 20 photos - my husband often complains that 200 is too many to go through and it would be better and more impactful if I can narrow it down to just a handful. I don't know whether to pick the rarest critters (wonderpus, blue ring, etc) or the best photos (and how do you judge that - there are images that I really like that / was really hard to get (snooted with SMC in current for example) which my husband was unimpressed by, and others that he like that I thought was quite ordinary).

 

I would like to print some shots for my house, or print one of those photo books as a dive log, and curious how others narrow down their best shots.

 

My Flickr albums are here if helpful to refer to specific examples: https://www.flickr.com/photos/184457560@N06/albums/

 

Thanks!

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A really interesting question!

 

I think we've all been there. Back from a trip, really excited about some of the images, cull them ruthlessly, show the "best" to someone else and.... yawn.....

 

A couple of thoughts:

 

Know Your Audience - wonderpus, many macro shots and those "very hard to get this" images, though fascinating to underwater photographers, can often leave a non-expert viewer unimpressed. There is often no wow factor - which, for me, is the key. Hanging upside down, water going up your nose for that shot-of-a-life time is something maybe to remember but it doesn't necessarily create an amazing image for the average viewer. Ditto those super macros images of the eye of [fill in the blank].

 

There's no pleasing all the folks, all the time! Trying to find an image that two home-sharers agree on is pretty well impossible.....  some like strong, colourful, powerful.... others like restful, thoughtful.....

 

You have some lovely images where you've used negative space really well. Those, for me, would be good images to select for display where there is a powerful graphic element and strong and limited colours. But your husband may hate that!

 

For a book? Are you looking to show a range of u/w images from wide-angle to macro; or to demonstrate a clear individual style? Do you want to show the range and variety of life on the reef? Or capture the way you see the scene as a photographer. These produce very different and all very valid approaches.

 

 

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Great topic and good advice from TimG!

 

It all comes down to the audience and purpose: the same shot might do well on social media but not work for publishers or contest. Also vice versa. Same is true for divers and non divers. Often non divers will like a classic shot of a turtle or clownfish more than divers. Divers might like shots of sharks more than non divers.

So the portfolio should be tailored to the audience.

 

But of course for private use, you can just use the shots you like best! Because your pictures only needs to be of value for yourself!

 

That said, I constantly struggle myself with that and I think I might get it wrong a lot of times 😉 

For me, I would look at the overall appearance of the shot. As an example: if you have a lot of macro shots with black background, I would rather dismiss some of the good but similar shots and bring other shots (with blue or colorful  background), even if they are not that strong than some of the dismissed shots. Pictures that "look" the same tend to tire people. Having more diverse shots is in my experience a better option, even if some of the stronger shots have to be dismissed.

 

But as TimG said: There's no pleasing all the folks, all the time!

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I suffer really badly from this dilemma. Form my web site its easy, its a catalogue of everything that doesn't get thrown away, not a sweet and simple portfolio advert.

 

For a particular project, as @TimG says, knowing your audience becomes important. For a show with words, or an article, its often the words that dictate the pictures. If a picture doesn't support a point in the story, it gets culled. For pictures shown just as pictures, they need to have wow or interest for the expected audience. These factors are often more important than picture quality. Any picture that needs to be explained or justified beyond the words of the story (or no words) gets culled.

 

Even then I always end up with too many and struggle over the final cull. The pictures then go through the friends filter. Do they like it? no, then cull it. 

 

Then its off to the editor because I just cant cull any further. Some editors are really good and select from the submitted pics to work with the story, but only if there are not too many to select from. I have occasionally worked with less refined editors who select the first N from the folder no matter how they work with the story. Hence a pressure on me to cull even further before submitting.

 

But this is a happy problem to have. Better to get home with too many pictures for a story than not enough!

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Posted (edited)
On 5/30/2024 at 2:22 AM, jjmochi said:

I'm not sure if this topic belongs here, but I'm curious how folks "curate" a portfolio.


Such a great question and topic for the group.  First, congratulations on making some beautiful images!  The results show how much time and effort you invest in making quality frames.
 

Like us all, I too am frequently far too attached to my images.  While they are important to me or bring back some wonderful memories when I see them, they can end up being too much like a corp PowerPoint presentation to others due to, not the quality, but the simple quantity.  I like how you have your images cataloged by event/date.  I also like what you have in each catalog as it is meaningful to you.  In addition to comments already shared, here are a couple thoughts that may help.

 

 - Within your current galleries, select the top 10-20 images in each catalog and move those to the top.  This will “wow” your audience at the grab their attention.  This will also allow them to see your best work should they decide not to view the entire catalog.  Make sure they are images your audience can understand.  Ask, “what we would see in a National Geographic or Alert Diver article about that destination?”

 

 - Within the top 20, include the “classic” images and then the details.  In those top images, include a few that transport the viewer to your destination.  Maybe even include an image of the liveaboard while moored or the resort as an establishing image.  Once the viewer is at the destination with you, they can appreciate the smaller details in the journey.  Think of the Eiffel Tower.  There are countless images of it, but the unique beauty is in the delicate closeup details.  Without first showing the tower overall the audience would not appreciate the interesting sights you found that others may have never seen. 

 

 - By having your top images already at the top, you have an easy place from which to pull those images you may want to print, publish, etc.  

 

 - Perhaps even include a thin horizontal divider after your top 20 that says something like, “Dive deeper into the details.”  The remainder of the images would be after.  This would give the viewer a natural choice to either continue viewing the rest or be happy they enjoyed your best from your adventure and politely stop there.

 

 - Think wide, medium, and tight images.  If possible, try and include a mix of views to help the viewer get a sense of size.  An example could be a school of snapper on a colorful reef, then a tighter view of just the faces of a couple snapper.  

 

In short, continue to curate the overall gallery down to around 10% of the total you like.  (You are already doing this.). Inside each, move the best 10-20 to the top that tells the story and becomes your “wow” images of the trip.  (Sharp, colorful, eye catching)  When sharing with others, tell them they can see the top 20, and then they can dive deeper if they want to see more details.  


Thank you for sharing your work.  You have some wonderful images! 

 

Edited by ChipBPhoto
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I think there is a simpler answer to the excellent question than others have suggested. But I don't expect many people to share my point of view... because it's going to hurt!

 

Some assumptions: first, I believe you are the best person to judge your work IF you are honest with yourself AND you benchmark your work against the best you can find.

 

Second, your benchmarking includes against non-underwater photographers. I am a huge fan of Henri Cartier-Bresson because of the way he captures 'decisive moments' ; and lately, William Eggleston, because he can turn something very ordinary into something truly memorable. Or check out the work of any truly great street photographers.

 

Third, I am not referring to technically proficient photos taken for other reasons, such as fish IDs. We can all achieve technical proficiency (and 'acclaim' from others), if we put enough money and time into our underwater photography.

 

So, with the above in mind, how to judge your best work (or anyone's really):

 

To be 'great', a photo has to generate an emotional connection with the viewer. Can be any emotion or even a WTF, but the point is you can't ignore that image; it forces you to engage / ask a question.

 

Go to a gallery or exhibition and really focus on what (if anything) really grabs you, forcing you to linger, or come back for yet another look.

 

Imagine you print and frame a photo that you think is great, and hang it in your hallway. The question then becomes - how often do you look at it? Every time you pass it? Or can you walk past it and ignore it?

 

Or maybe you have another amazing photo as your PC desktop. Do you ignore it, or do you catch yourself having a peek whenever it shows?

 

Or maybe you have whittled down your files to the best ones as suggested by others above. How often do you look at those, and how do you feel about them, especially after a year or three? Do you still get the wow factor, each time you view them? Or are they more 'ho-hum' after a while?

 

The answers to these questions will be self-evident, but unless you are some kind of photographer prodigy, the result will be that very few of your photos meet this tough criterion!  The rest may well be brilliant for other purposes, such as illustrating books, articles, scientific papers or impressing others; but are frankly... quite dull!

 

 

 

 

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For me, a portfolio is a selection of photographs that reveal you as a photographer to the fullest.
Individual, iconic shots. Shots that show your unique style (subjects, type of shooting, color, etc.).
As a result, you should get 20-30 photos for the entire time.
 

But the question of choosing a photograph is much deeper. Selecting photographs for an article, book, competition, social media. networks are very different.

I have had cases when I had to take technically unsuccessful shots and use them (even sell them).
We work a lot with nature reserves. And when I show photographs to scientists, they periodically find objects of interest to them not at all where we think.

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Posted (edited)
On 5/29/2024 at 8:22 PM, jjmochi said:

Hi,

 

I'm not sure if this topic belongs here, but I'm curious how folks "curate" a portfolio. I usually end up with 1000-ish decent photos (in focus, ok lighting, something of interest) from a one week dive trip (4 dives/day, 24-28 dives total) that I will keep for my own records to remember what I saw. From that 1000-ish photos I can generally pick ~150-200 photos that I like better than the rest (composed well, lit well, interesting critter) which I then post online and share with family and friends. Where I struggle is to cut that down even further to say the best 20 photos - my husband often complains that 200 is too many to go through and it would be better and more impactful if I can narrow it down to just a handful. I don't know whether to pick the rarest critters (wonderpus, blue ring, etc) or the best photos (and how do you judge that - there are images that I really like that / was really hard to get (snooted with SMC in current for example) which my husband was unimpressed by, and others that he like that I thought was quite ordinary).

 

I would like to print some shots for my house, or print one of those photo books as a dive log, and curious how others narrow down their best shots.

 

My Flickr albums are here if helpful to refer to specific examples: https://www.flickr.com/photos/184457560@N06/albums/

 

Thanks!

 

On 5/29/2024 at 8:49 PM, TimG said:

A really interesting question!

 

I think we've all been there. Back from a trip, really excited about some of the images, cull them ruthlessly, show the "best" to someone else and.... yawn.....

 

A couple of thoughts:

 

Know Your Audience - wonderpus, many macro shots and those "very hard to get this" images, though fascinating to underwater photographers, can often leave a non-expert viewer unimpressed. There is often no wow factor - which, for me, is the key. Hanging upside down, water going up your nose for that shot-of-a-life time is something maybe to remember but it doesn't necessarily create an amazing image for the average viewer. Ditto those super macros images of the eye of [fill in the blank].

 

There's no pleasing all the folks, all the time! Trying to find an image that two home-sharers agree on is pretty well impossible.....  some like strong, colourful, powerful.... others like restful, thoughtful.....

 

You have some lovely images where you've used negative space really well. Those, for me, would be good images to select for display where there is a powerful graphic element and strong and limited colours. But your husband may hate that!

 

For a book? Are you looking to show a range of u/w images from wide-angle to macro; or to demonstrate a clear individual style? Do you want to show the range and variety of life on the reef? Or capture the way you see the scene as a photographer. These produce very different and all very valid approaches.

 

 

My thoughts are said more expertly by @TimG , above. But the bottom line is know your audience and be ruthless in culling down to to the fewest images that tell your story. A portfolio, though, is an expression of what you consider your best work. A project or story is another thing. It's also good sometimes to involve other eyeballs to help shape your portfolio (for all the times your heart loves an image that means nothing to others).

Edited by humu9679
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