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Are you presenting your best work? (Jan 2011)

Are you sure?

“Of course I show my best work”, you might say. Hopefully, after reading the following, you will be doing just that.

In this issue I focus on possibly one of the most difficult aspects of selling commercial or fine art photography: Presenting your best work. Obviously, this applies to any art media, but photography presents some unique challenges – and opportunities.

Best Quality Images

First, let me define what I mean by best quality images. They are your jaw-dropping, unequivocally great images. Not merely the best in a group of images, but ones that deserve high praise when viewed individually. I’m setting a pretty high bar, I know.
Ask yourself the following:

  • Can I put your hands on these images, either physically or digitally, in a matter of minutes?
  • How do I know they are my best images?
  • What about those hundreds of unevaluated images created and sitting on hard drives for the past two years?
  • Have I included in my portfolio less spectacular images, those I rate B+?
  • What happens to my portfolio when I remove them? Is it stronger, but now lacking in quantity?

Let’s review the significance of these questions:

Three Step System

For your images to realize value, you have to have a system whereby you
1-Evaluate and Identify your best images,
2-Rank and then
3-Categorize them. By ranking I mean given them a quality value such as A+ to B. Keep in mind that there is a flood of images out there. To make the best of your time and money, you can’t afford to be showing anything less than above average – and even that may be too low quality.

When you organize your images they should represent cohesive bodies of work / portfolios, groups containing similar styles of work in a single genre. The images that go into your portfolio should only be the ones you ranked as A and A- quality. If a portfolio is generally considered a group of 15 – 25 images, then by critically evaluating and rating your images you can determine if you need to create or find on your hard drives more images to add to a specific group.

From the viewpoint of marketing and sales, this process is extremely important. By critically evaluating your images and then your portfolios you can determine where to focus your time and creative energy when creating new images.

I cannot over emphasize that importance of NOT including work that is not on par with your very best in your presentations and submissions. People who look at hundreds of images and portfolios as part of their job will detect your lesser quality images and most often interpret their inclusions as your having a very limited quantity of images with the quality they are seeking.

How do you really know the quality of your work?

Selecting images for a portfolio / body of work to present to a prospective client, gallery, book publisher, or put on your website is very subjective. There are many technical and artistic aspects to consider in the evaluation process. There is also often an emotional component invested in the image. Too often the emotional component blinds us from seeing flaws that may exist.

Once you have pulled your best work into the portfolio groupings, you are ready to seek out qualified people (more than one) to critique your work. Someone who is qualified generally has years of experience critiquing images. It can be a gallery curator, educator, publisher and many others. It is not your friends and family, or other photographers you know. Submitting individual images to contests will not meet your needs. You are looking for a comprehensive critique of a group of images with a given genre. This critique will guide you in your future work and should not be approached without planning and researching the people you choose.

In addition to the individuals I’ve mentioned, there are annual events, such as PhotoLucida, Photo Review, and several others to which you can present your work for evaluation. At these events your work will be seen by a number of reviewers that will give you verbal feed back during a 20 minute period. These events are fairly expensive when you add entrance fee, travel and lodging for three to five days. Also, they are limited as to how many people’s work they will consider. Often all the seats are sold out within a couple days of the announcement.


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