In this post, I explained the importance of doing Portfolio Reviews and how to prepare for one. However, I shared my actual experience during the process. This is because when you look online about “How to prepare for a portfolio review”, you find many results. I felt sharing my own experience would help many people who are preparing for this opportunity.
I also found that no one discusses how the portfolio review actually works, as in what to expect, what things can go wrong, where you wait, what happens during the dead time, and other issues. I think these things are very important. What I’ll share here is my personal experience and what worked for me. It’s not universal, but I hope it helps you to understand what to expect.
A FEW DAYS BEFORE THE PORTFOLIO REVIEW
A few days before the portfolio review, I always recheck all the bios, LinkedIn, and Instagram profiles of my reviewers. This is very important because when you sit with them, you want to find a genuine connection, either through your work or on a more personal level. In my case, I checked Instagram to see if they had a dog or liked animals, or if they traveled somewhere interesting.
I took a small notepad and wrote down specific bullet points to study before my meeting.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN YOU GET THERE
The first thing you do is to register. Then you go to the waiting area/photographers lounge. Each event is different. For example, for L.A. Photoworks, we had this cool studio space with tables to work and hang out with other photographers. I had to spend many hours there waiting for my next review, so it was nice to have this space to work and network.
When I went to the Palm Springs Portfolio Review it wasn’t that convenient. They just had a few chairs lined up with no space to leave your things or work. The space was so small and crowded that I barely had an opportunity to network with anybody as I would have if I had the chance to wait somewhere else more comfortable.
Then, 2 minutes before my next meeting came, the organizer arrived to send everybody a reminder. At this moment is when I pulled out my notes and revised them to remember exactly what that person does and what she looks for in a photographer. I also prepared my materials:
- Portfolio Book
- Table or Computer (to show extra work if necessary)
- Notebook and pen (to take notes)
IT’S YOUR TURN, WHAT NOW?
You may find, when you are lining up to go in, there are papers with the names of the reviewers and their table number. In my experience, I was taken to another area and looked for the table where my reviewer was. I went there and I did a proper handshake and I did my pitch. I know that the handshake must feel obvious, and there’s nothing more horrible than the “wet fish handshake”. Nobody likes it and you shouldn’t do it.
My pitch was: Hi, my name is Alicia, and I’m an animal photographer. What you’ll see in my book is mainly personal projects, my commercial, lifestyle, and editorial commissioned jobs.
I cordially sat and let the reviewer lead the conversation. Typically, many interviewers like to take time to get to know me a little more, even before opening my book. They ask questions, such as
- Where are you from?
- Have you done portfolio reviews before?
- What do you expect from this meeting?
- What do you want to get out of this review?
Depending on the person, I say one thing or another. For example, when I was with Molly Roberts, National Geographic Magazine’s Senior Photography Editor, I told her that I wanted to talk to her about how could I be featured in National Geographic. I asked questions, such as, “How does the magazine choose the stories, and what are they based upon?”
However, when I talked to Jigisha Bouverat, owner and photo agent at JBC, I told her that I was looking to get an agent and that I wanted to show her my work in the event a future opportunity were to arise.
When I talked to Robert Morton, editor, agent, and artists seeking publication in books, I told him that I’ve been wanting to make a book with my series of the Sphynx Cat. I wanted to show him my work and get his honest feedback and see if there were any opportunities for us to work together.
This is why it’s important to check each reviewer in depth to make sure you are choosing the ones who can actually help you. For example, I liked how Palm Springs Portfolio Review was prepared because when looking at the reviewer’s bio, they included what the person was looking for:
Reviewer Preference: Open to seeing motion samples, in addition, to still photography.
Reviewer Preference: Photojournalism/reportage, environmental portraiture, travel features; love to look at personal projects. Please no still life and catalogue photography.
There were some reviewers that I wanted to speak with, but I knew that my portfolio would not be of their interest because they either don’t have clients that have animals or because I don’t have motion or photojournalistic work to show. When you meet a reviewer and you show them something they are not looking for, it’s a lack of respect and a waste of time for both parts. So please do your homework!
In addition, I always have my notebook ready to take notes about some of their feedback, comments, or ideas. You might think “I’ll remember”... but you won’t. Bear in mind that you only have 15 or 20 minutes to be with each reviewer (time depends on each event), so you will talk about many things and many people. You will want to follow up on the notes. In Palm Springs Photo event, I had 4 reviewers in a row with no time to sit and write their comments, so I’m glad I had my little notebook to take notes during the review.
When there are 5 minutes left, somebody typically goes around and gives the heads up, so you know the time is coming to an end. When the time is up, I wake up, hand over my leave behind and I say how great was to meet them and I thank for their time.
Once I’m back to the waiting area, I write down all the things I have discussed with the reviewer so I can do a proper follow up with them after a week.
Here is a photo of the notes I took so you get an idea:
If you choose to speak to PHOTO REPS, get ready to answer questions like:
- What are your marketing efforts?
- How much do you spend monthly / yearly?
- How often do you shoot for commercial clients?
- Why do you think you need an agent?
- Why are you doing a portfolio review?
However, not all my meetings went as planned. Here are some of the situations I encountered and how I reacted.
MY REVIEWER TALKED TOO MUCH
I met this one reviewer that was a very nice guy but he loved to talk. And did he ever talk! He talked about things they weren’t relevant to me, like how much he loved Barcelona (where I’m from) or the things I could do to promote my work (99% of the things he said I was already doing them). So I found myself wanting to interrupt him but without being rude. I tried to lead the conversation again, and in a moment he said something about Barcelona, and that is when I jumped in and said: “Exactly! For example, this SHOOT HERE was done nearby Barcelona” and I made him focus again on my work.
Remember that you are paying a lot to meet these people and you are doing it to get something from it: contacts, feedback, and advice. Make sure you say all you have to say.
IT HAD BEEN 5 MINUTES IN AND MY REVIEWER HADN’T OPENED MY BOOK YET
I met with this reviewer that also loved to talk. Five minutes had passed and she was still asking questions about my life and why I chose animal photography. I was getting a bit anxious because this was only a 15-minute review and I only had 10 minutes left to show my book. Of course, I didn’t want to shove the book into her face, but at some point, and while she was talking, I grabbed the book and opened it and left it there. It wasn’t a smooth move but I reminded myself that I was there to promote my work and get future commissions, so I had to do it.
I WAS RUNNING OUT OF TIME AND THE REVIEWER HADN’T GOTTEN TO MY BEST WORK
Typically, the reviewers start checking your book from the beginning and while they pass the pages you are also chatting. And of course, they want to see each page and show their interest in your work. But, in this instance, I found myself in a couple of situations where the reviewer was halfway through and hadn’t seen my favorite work yet. So I had to jump in and say “I’m sorry, I see that we only have 5 minutes left, so let me show you some of my favorite projects” and showed him.
One of the things I learned from this experience is that time flies and that I have to swap my work in the book and start with my personal series like the Hairless Cats, and A Dog’s Life first. The reason why I had most of my best work at the end was that I thought that, this way, they would leave them with a strong memory. However, that wasn’t working for me and on multiple occasions, both photographers and reviewers told me that I should move my second half of the book to the front. So that’s what I learned to do.
WHEN I HAD NOTHING ELSE TO SAY TO THE REVIEWER - HE WAS QUIET. IT WAS BECOMING AWKWARD...
This is a rare scenario, but it happened to me. I wasn’t sure if he really wanted to be there or what, but he mentioned that he was overwhelmed with all the reviews so he looked kind of tired and didn’t engage with me much. We still had 5 minutes left to talk but he was pretty much done with me and I wanted to avoid that awkward silence. So, I tried to think of a story about a photo from my work or an anecdote to keep the conversation going. If that happens to you, you can pass the ball and ask the reviewer something about what kind of projects does he/she likes to produce, for instance.
Here is the overall feedback I got from my 2 portfolio reviews:
- Start with my personal work, as it shows who I am as a photographer
- Add my strongest work to the front
- I need to add more stories to the book
- Start with more powerful images (right now I have a cat)
- Only one person said that he preferred another type of paper. The rest liked my book and printing. Although I know I could have done something better, time and money was a constraint. I’ll invest in a better book after digesting all the feedback and creating new work.
- Consider having an iPad to have different portfolios depending on the reviewer I’m meeting with.
Discussion about publishing my Sphynx book.
My Personal project A DOG’S LIFE got buzz and interest in being published in other magazines.
2 photo reps are interested in my work and to possibly start a relationship.
I got free photo editing advice.
Brainstorm of possible stories or how to get into National Geographic magazine.
Networking with other photographers to collaborate on projects together
Portfolio reviews are undeniably the best method of getting your work presented and noticed by experts in the field. In my experience, I have had to make quick decisions and be quite savvy in meeting with top-notch professionals, and they have seemed to work out. There are ways to make the best of your short time with these experts, and I hope that my ideas give you the knowledge and confidence in doing so.
Portfolio Review Dos And Don'ts