Dekilahs’ Guide to A Photographer’s Portfolio + What You Can Learn From It

This guide will help you through the process of reviewing a photographer’s portfolio and deciding whether you wish to shoot with them based on what you see. Of course there are many other factors in whether you choose to book a shoot, but a photographer’s portfolio can tell you quite a lot and is often the first thing I check when considering a shoot.

Note: While this guide is primarily designed with TF/trade shoots in mind, many of these factors could apply to shoots where you are paying or being paid as well.

The first step, of course, will be to look over the photographer’s portfolio and in order to do this you’ll need to find or request the link to it online. I often ask photographer’s for a portfolio if I’m not quite familiar with their work as a portfolio is generally a collection of a person’s best images in their eyes and also of the work they wish to show to represent themselves. As a model you probably know that not every shoot will make it into your portfolio and photographers are much the same way. Many of us take on fun side projects or shoot for other reasons, but our portfolio usually represents what we want to shoot most often so it’s often a nice indicator of our style, comfort levels, etc.

Now that we’ve got a portfolio to look at, let’s look at the things we can learn from it:

The very first thing I consider when looking at photographer’s portfolio is if I feel their style meshes with my style and my general rules is simply: “Do I wish I were the model in any/some/all of their photos?” or perhaps “Do I think if I were the model in any/some/all of their photos that it would benefit my portfolio?” If I can say yes, I keep looking, if not I probably decide the shoot isn’t for me.

Next I look more closely at their style and content and I ask myself questions like…

1. What is their editing style (or lack of editing, in some cases) like?
You’re likely to find that many photographers are fairly consistent in their editing unless they’re experimenting so if most of their photos have an editing style you like, the photos you shoot with them are likely to as well.

2. What types of lighting and angles do they seem to prefer?
Lighting and angles can make a world of difference and even if you don’t know a lot about either one, you can usually pick up on the general feel. Some photographers like natural light, while others use studio lights. Some photographers light to shoot models more close in or detailed, others will crop just above the knee, and some will place the model more into a scene. Some will also do all three or it may vary, but if you see one of these is exclusively or very consistently included in their portfolio it’s fair to assume that they are likely to do the same for your shoot.

3. Do I like the quality of their images?
A common rule of thumb is to assume you’ll get photos of the same quality as the lowest quality photo in the person’s portfolio. I don’t always follow this rule, but I also never assume that my work with the photographers will automatically be as good as the best photos in their portfolio either. If the images are mostly in line with the quality that you want, then the photographer can likely reproduce images of the same quality for your shoot as well. Keep in mind, however, that the model is also part of quality of the image as well.

4. Do I recognize any of the models they have shot with?
I don’t worry too much about it if the answer is “no,” but if I do know or recognize any of the models it can tell me a lot and I’ll also have a reference I can contact if I want to. Looking at the models in their portfolio also gives me an idea of the “look” the photographer may prefer.

5. What is the level of nudity/exposure in their photos?
If I see a few photos beyond my limits, I’ll make sure I talk to the photographer about my limits and let them know which images would be outside of those limits. This is actually one of the things I hear about from photographers the most, they find that models don’t examine their portfolios and bring up what images are outside of their comfort range. Remember, you set your limits and you responsible for letting photographers know what they are.

Side Note: Should a photographer approach you with a concept not in their portfolio, they may send you example images or inspirational images and those can be viewed similar to images from a portfolio for #1, #2, and #5. I would still consider the quality of the photographer’s own photos for #3 in these cases.

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Dekilah's Guide to A Photographer's Portfolio and What You Can Learn From It

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