One Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

by Joelle Steele

A portfolio is one of the most effective sales and marketing tools you can have, since a visual presentation is always more effective than anything you can ever say to a prospective client. One picture really is worth a thousand words, and what you include in your portfolio will tell your prospective clients what you have to offer in the way of products and/or services.

Who needs to photograph their work for a portfolio? Landscapers, wedding and party planners, fashion designers, florists, stage designers, and almost anyone who creates something that they want to show to prospective clients in a format that isn't limited to tiny cell phone images.


Not every project or product may be representative of your best work or the work you aspire to do. Try to evaluate your projects and products from a sales standpoint. Do you really want to do more jobs like that last one? If not, don't include it in your portfolio where prospective clients can see it and hire you to do a similar project for them. If you have a project that wasn't that great but had a few nice features to it, just photograph those features and skip the rest. And please note that you should always photograph a project immediately upon completion so that it looks exactly the way it was intended to look.


If you are hiring a photographer to shoot your project or products, be prepared for him/her well in advance. Be sure you have everything out and ready to be photographed, or that you have obtained your client's permission to shoot their project. If your project is large, make notes about which areas you want shot and where you want close-ups, etc. Never make the mistake of assuming that a photographer, no matter how well-known and respected, will know exactly what you want or will understand your business.


Not everyone can afford to have a photographer come out and shoot a full portfolio. Sometimes it isn't even practical. Fortunately, we live in the 21st century, when almost everybody knows how to operate a camera — and what fantastic cameras we have to select from today. It's a digital world! You can shoot as many times as you want, at different angles, different exposures, and end up with a great collection of photos, many of which will probably be perfect for your portfolio.

If you are doing your own photography, try to find interesting angles from which to shoot, ones that have good lighting or some other feature that accentuates your work. When shooting products, use a plain backdrop, unless you are trying to showcase your product in an environment in which it would normally be used by a client. If possible or desirable, you should include some people or animals in your shots. They bring life and warmth into any photo.

Review your camera manual to avoid any last minute confusion. Be sure all batteries are fresh or recharged, and that you know how to set up the camera to create the biggest files possible in case you want to print out the photos. Also, when shooting a project, you can't afford to have anything turn out blurry because you probably won't be able to return and reshoot it. So always use a tripod and take a couple shots of the same view, possibly at different settings, just to make sure the camera didn't shake on one of them. Don't be misled by what you see in that small viewer of your digital camera. Your image could be quite blurry and not even show up until you open the image in your photo editing software and see if at full magnification.

If you are going to be shooting near windows, pictures, or other glassy surfaces such as display cases in retail stores, a polarizing filter would be helpful if your camera can accommodate one. These filters help eliminate glare and distracting reflections. A polarizing filter also helps if you are going to shoot a water feature. If you're going for an "artsy" effect you may want to use a soft focus attachment which offers an enhanced softness in certain settings.

Lighting is probably the trickiest area of indoor photography as the equipment can be very expensive and the numerous varieties of flashes and strobes and their different applications can be quite complex. Most digital cameras have built-in flashes that you can override or adjust by changing the picture settings on the camera. For example, on my Olympus cameras, the settings menus offer me indoor, snow, cuisine, portrait, etc. I have found that in many cases the cuisine setting works very well for shooting products indoors. If you can't override your flash, at least be as careful as possible to avoid aiming it in the direction of glass surfaces such as windows, mirrors, or pictures on the wall.

Unless you have a top quality printer, burn your selected images onto a CD and take them to your local camera store to have them printed out for your presentation portfolio.


If your best camera is a disposable one or the one that's built into your cell phone, it would probably be in your best interests to hire a professional photographer. There are many kinds, each having their own particular specialties — portraiture, advertising, etc. Finding the right photographer requires that you do some shopping around. The yellow pages and the Internet are good places to start, as well as asking friends and associates for recommendations. Once you get a few names, you can meet with them to examine samples of their work before you make a final decision.

Once you find a photographer whose work most closely reflects the look you are seeking for your own portfolio, you must discuss all the particulars such as availability, price, ownership, etc. Most photographers charge base rates by the hour or by the day plus the costs of prints. Be sure to find out exactly what you are paying for in advance.

Your photographer will provide you with a proof sheet, prints, a CD of JPGS, or a Web page showing all the photos from which you can select those you want printed or for which you want files to use on your Web site. Take your time in deciding which shots are best reflective of your projects or products. Carefully examine the various shots with the photographer and with anyone else who has an artistic eye. Your photographer will be able to advise you as to which shots will look best when enlarged and to what size they will retain their impact. If you see shots that are crooked or that look fine except for one little thing, they can usually be corrected.


For your in-person presentations you may want either a presentation portfolio that the client can leaf through, or you may instead want to bring a laptop and exhibit your online portfolio. Either works just as well, depending on how you feel most comfortable doing it, and how large you need a photo to be to fully illustrate what you do or sell.

A presentation portfolio should be capable of displaying photos that are about 8x10. Be sure to have all your photos neatly mounted and labeled on the pages. Try to vary the presentation from page to page with a large 8 x 10 on one page and perhaps a series of smaller 5x7s on the facing page. Your online portfolio will not be likely to have the large size photos that are possible with a hardcopy portfolio, but you can still select your photos carefully, making sure that they demonstrate your projects and products adequately at smaller sizes.

This article last updated: 03/11/2014.