Workflow Tutorial #3: Portfolio Management

I was going through my Flickr account last week trying to pick out a half dozen images to submit to a gallery and realized that I have over two thousand images in my library. This may not seem like a lot, I know many photographers with a ton more images online than me, but I always try to be ultra-critical with myself, only uploading what I feel are my best images. Taking a closer look, a large chunk of my shots have less than twenty views, with only 10% or so making up most of my daily hits. Thatís to be expected, but what really blew my mind was that quite a few of the images that get a ton of hits are ones I would never have put money on to be popular, some I even waivered on uploading at all. So what should I take away from this data as a photographer? Is it so bad that thereíre images on my Flickr that donít get a lot of views? Itís all really going to depend on what your goal with Flickr is.

Everyoneís going to have different goals when they put images online. Assuming youíre like me, itís to have an online portfolio of your work, a way to passively or actively advertise your skills. In that case, self-editing is a very important skill to learn. A skill that is constantly evolving as tastes and markets change.

The first type of editing you should be doing as a photographer happens way before you dump the images onto your computer. The cost of digital memory is getting lower all the time and itís very tempting to just keep shooting till you fill up your memory card. One of the worst things digital has done to photography has been the elimination of conservation. When I shoot film, I know I have to make each frame count; depending on what film Iím using, each time I trip the shutter can cost me between a quarter to a couple bucks after developing and scanning is taken into account. Consequently Iím much more careful, making each shot the best I can. With digital itís far too easy to snap off 5, 10 or 100 frames of the same subject. At a certain point youíre not getting any new images, youíre just increasing the amount of time itís going to take you to sort through your shots afterwards, and thereís *nothing* as frustrating as trying to pic the one best image out of fifty duplicate shots. It can actually cause you to miss choosing your best shot, as at some point most people get fed up and say ďmeh, this oneís good enoughĒ and skip the rest. Thereís definitely something to be said for bracketing exposure, and taking a few safeties to make sure youíve nailed focus, but every time you press the shutter a little voice should be saying ďwhy am I taking this shotĒ, and if you donít have a good answer, change something, change anything so that youíre creating a new image, not just adding to the duplicate pile.

After shooting a concert I may come back with anywhere from 200-1000 images depending on how many bands play that night. So letís say I shoot 500 images; out of those about half are culled right away, whether itís because of poor focus, composition or exposure. Out of the remaining 250 another half to three quarters gets cut pretty quickly; good exposure, good focus but maybe theyíre just unexciting, unflattering or just not as good as others. Now Iím left with just under a hundred shots, many of which are going to have very similar content; if youíre shooting a four piece band, thereís only so many combinations of people and poses you can get, especially if either you or the band doesnít move around a lot during the show. This is the really hard part, I donít want to spend hours editing each shot and then deciding which are my best, itís a waste of time, so learning to ďseeĒ which shots are going to come out on top pre-edit is a must.

My personal rule is no more than 2-3 images that have the same content, and even then, there has to be a very good reason to include more than one shot of the same thing. No one wants, or needs, to see a dozen images of the lead singer, waste up holding a guitar in twelve slightly different ways. Not only does it bore the viewer, it dilutes your talent. When you get through editing you want to present the smallest possible set of images that showcases your best work from the night. The smaller the set, the more likely a viewer is to go through all of them. Thereís a reason why many Flickr groups restrict the number of daily or weekly uploads; thereís nothing like a dozen shots of the same model in minor variations of the same pose to make me skip a set. Pick up any fashion magazine, youíll never see even two shots of the same model, same pose, let alone an entire ten page spread of it. Youíre basically curating an online photo magazine called ďMeĒ, and you have to give people a reason to flip through it. Each image should represent your very best work as well, donít upload a mediocre photo just because it has content none of the other shots have unless you have a very good reason to.

So in the end, out of the 500 shots from the night, I might only end up uploading 6-12 images. This should ensure Iím only uploading the best of the best from that shoot, but then you have to look at the big picture. What does that shoot add to my portfolio? There are two possible things a set could add: unique images that showcase my skills in a way my current portfolio lacks or keywords in the title, tags or description that arenít present in any of my other images.

Including only the best images will help keep people looking through my photo stream, but how did they get there in the first place? More often than not, it was through search engines or Flickrs search function, so if a set will add new possible search term hits to my portfolio they may get uploaded even if theyíre similar to other images I already have.

Looking at your online portfolio as a whole, over time youíre going to build up a large number of images if youíre an active photographer. Hopefully whichever image hosting service you use will give you some kind of stats as to number of views etc. so that you can gauge how well youíre doing at garnering an audience, one reason why I really like Flickr. Periodically, usually ever couple months when I get the time, Iíll go through and look at which images arenít getting views. Basically, there are only two reasons why an image isnít getting views: itís not being seen by or shown to the right people or itís just not a strong image.

My first step is to see if I can improve its circulation. Flickr Groups are a great way to get your image seen by the right people; by putting an image in a group you can showcase it to an audience thatís already predisposed to that type of image. Another way to increase circulation is to make sure your images are properly titled and tagged. Titles and tags are the only way for Flickr, or an external search engine, to pick out your image to come up in a search, so itís really important your tags and titles describe your image.

If an image is properly tagged and titled, and has been submitted to some groups, but still isnít getting many hits, it might mean itís just not as strong an image as you might have thought. It can be hard to admit sometimes; Iíve got images that I really love, but others just donít feel the same about. At this point it might be time to think about cutting it. Think hard about what the photo adds to your portfolio. Does it show something of your talent that isnít already covered by other images more successfully?

Just like no one wants to go through 50 shots of a singer holding a guitar in slightly different ways, no oneís going to go through a bloated portfolio unless each image is strong in and of itself. By culling the herd, you make sure that no matter where in your portfolio a random visitor lands, chances are they land on an image that compels them to look at more of your work. I takes every next shot being interesting to keep peoples attention, but only one bad shot to loose it.

Having one or more third parties help you with the culling process can also be extremely helpful, as I said, just because you like or dislike a particular image, doesnít mean everyone else will feel the same. Donít be afraid to get the opinion of others; I often recruit friends or social media polls to help me decide which works to submit to galleries or competitions. Editing yourself can be a frustrating and painful process; itís extremely hard to learn and takes constant vigilance to maintain. It may not make you a better photographer, but itíll make look like one.