Portfolio Review Dos and Don'ts

Photos by George Long http://GeorgeLong.com, used with permission.

Photos by George Long http://GeorgeLong.com, used with permission.

(Originally published in 2014, updated January 2019) I just returned from 4 days of photo-related festivities in NYC. The mothership of the week is the PhotoPlus Expo at the Javits convention center, with other events happening around the same time to capitalize on having so many photographers in town at once. Every night there are parties and book signing and openings.

Aside from all seeing old friends and meeting new creatives and photographers, I spent most of my time during the day doing portfolio reviews at the PDN/Palm Springs Portfolio Review. This was probably my 15th organized review event and I thought it'd be helpful to give some guidance on how to get the most out of one.

I also reached out on twitter and facebook for creatives' pet peeves. Below are some of the most popular answers.


Be honest with yourself about if you are really ready to show the work. Maybe you need another year of shooting before you start showing your book to art buyers, art directors and photo editors. You only get one chance at a first impression, don't rush it if it's not the right time. Ask people who you trust for their honest opinion.

Research your reviewers and make sure that your work is relevant to what they do. You have 15-20 minutes, often with some pretty influential and powerful creatives in the industry, don't waste it. Would you roll up to a job interview without knowing anything about the company?

Have a purpose for each review and communicate that purpose to the reviewer when you sit down. Example: "I've been following your magazine for years and feel my work would fit in. Do you think I'm ready to shoot for you, and if not, what needs improvement?"  Or, "I would love get feedback on the book and recommendations for colleagues in the industry who may respond to my style of work." Or, "This is a new personal project that I'm working on, would love to know if you think it's ready to show to galleries."

Come armed with 1 or 2 specific questions that are pertinent to your reviewer's area of expertise.

Do bring the actual portfolio that you intend to show to clients. Hopefully the reviewers you meet with are also potential clients. They're not going to give you a pass because you intend, later on, to make a better book. So don't bring a hastily thrown together book and then say that you are going to change it later. The whole point of the portfolio review is to get feedback and how can someone give you good feedback if what they are looking at isn't what you really want to show?

New Orleans Photo Alliance's PhotoNOLA portfolio review session at the International House Hotel conference facility. Photo by George Long, used with permission.

New Orleans Photo Alliance's PhotoNOLA portfolio review session at the International House Hotel conference facility. Photo by George Long, used with permission.

Make sure your prints look great. This is especially important when seeing galleries.

Leave behind a well-printed leave behind. Invest in a graphic designer to help you create something that looks professional. Just because you know Photoshop doesn't mean you are a designer. If you are seeing a dream client, kick it up a notch and leave something more unique than a postcard. However, don't go overboard. See below.

Keep notes. By the end of a long day, all the reviews can start to blend together. Make a separate page for each reviewer and mark down which images they pointed out liking, where they paused a bit longer, what questions they had about your work and specific feedback they gave you. You may also want to record audio of each meeting, if the reviewer is cool with that.


Don't default to an iPad presentation. After having looked at about 20 people's work this weekend, I’ve seen that the iPad is not necessarily the best way to show still photography.  The glare in some rooms makes it very hard to see the photos, especially if your images tend to be dark. I often found myself looking at my own reflection instead of the photos.

Also, unless the iPad presentation is really slick, it can feel like not enough care was put into the portfolio. I mean, let's admit it, how hard is it to create a folder of images for someone to flip through? When I see a beautifully printed portfolio, it lends the photographer some legitimacy, makes them at least appear to have invested a lot of time and effort into their work, all which helps me take them more seriously.

Everyone spends so much time on their phones now, consuming an almost endless stream of imagery. It doesn’t feel as unique to be swipe through an iPad. Print feels special.

All that said, pay attention to your budget and don’t spend the extra money on printing if you can’t afford it.

Don't force your leave behind on the reviewer. Some people flew in for the event and may not want to tote a bunch of promos and books back. Or they may feel it's environmentally wasteful and rather not have the extra 'stuff' in their lives. Or they just may not have liked your work enough to want to take a promo. Ask if they'd like a card, but don't push it. Also don't just offer a huge and bulky leave behind. If you want to make something big, it's also nice to offer something small like a postcard.

Don't make excuses. Popular examples include: "I didn't bring my strongest work." "I didn't have time to put together much, but this should give you an idea." or "I just found out about this event."

Don't argue with constructive criticism The people looking at your work know what they are talking about. They may all have different opinions, but that is valid considering that people come from different backgrounds and that visual art is very subjective. You may not agree with someone, and that is ok, but don't tell them that they are wrong.

Photographers, what about the typical speed-dating format would you change? Do you get enough out of the reviews to justify the expense (if it was a paid review?)

Reviewers, what are your pet peeves? Can you share any review success stories where you ended up working with someone after a review?

Want to get ready for a portfolio review? Contact me to learn how we can fine tune your portfolio, create a great promo and get the most out of the time and money you're investing.

New Orleans Photo Alliance's PhotoNOLA portfolio review session at the International House Hotel conference facility

New Orleans Photo Alliance's PhotoNOLA portfolio review session at the International House Hotel conference facility

Portfolio Reviews By Month

Portfolio Review at Texas Photo Roundup. Photo by Nick Cabrera, used with permission.

Portfolio Review at Texas Photo Roundup. Photo by Nick Cabrera, used with permission.

Updated October 2017

Thinking about attending a portfolio review event? Here is a list of review opportunities in the United States, organized by month.

When choosing which reviews to attend, keep in mind that some are geared more toward fine art photography and others are more commercial and editorial. Research the reviewers who will be in attendance to see if they are a good fit for the kind of work you do. Looking for tips on how to prepare for a review? Check out my Portfolio Review Do's and Don'ts




FotoFest Houston: International Biennial of Photography and Photo-related Art with portfolio reviews.

MOPLA Portfolio Reviews: A juried, annual portfolio review. Fresh Look pairs photographers with top photography experts in their respective fields for an in-depth conversation that provides professional feedback and critique in a casual, relaxed environment.

Photo Alliance held at the San Francisco Art Institute, produced in cooperation with Lens Culture

New Orleans Photo Alliance's PhotoNOLA portfolio review session. Photo by George Long http://GeorgeLong.com (used with permission)

New Orleans Photo Alliance's PhotoNOLA portfolio review session. Photo by George Long http://GeorgeLong.com (used with permission)


Photolucida Portfolio Review: Photographers at the mid-career level register for one-on-one meetings with the reviewers of their choice. Each review session lasts for 20 minutes and we limit the number of participants to assure that everyone receives 4 or 5 reviews per day for four days. It's a great way to network. Numerous photographers have walked away with opportunities to exhibit, publish and sell their work after attending the Portfolio Reviews.

Palm Springs Festival Portfolio Review: As part of Palm Springs Photo Festival, Over 1,000 Portfolio Reviews with industry professionals will be offered during the week. Prices start at $250 for 5 reviews.


NYC Fotoworks: Bi-annual portfolio review where photographers can have 1-on-1 meetings w/ industry professionals.

PhotoPlus Expo: Designed exclusively for emerging and professional photographers, this is a great opportunity to meet and present your work for critique and receive the advice of the industry's top professionals. Takes place at the Javits during Photo Plus Expo. 

Filter Festival Portfolio Reviews: Participants sign up for twenty-minute face-to-face reviews and receive candid advice about their work, as well as information on getting their photographs exhibited and published.

Atlanta Celebrates Photography Portfolio Reviews: the ACP Portfolio Review and Walk offers artists the opportunity to meet with highly respected curators, dealers, editors, and agency representatives from across the United States and beyond. The Portfolio Walk (following the review sessions) gives participating photographers the opportunity to present their work to the general public at an evening reception, open to all. On hold for 2017 with new format to come in 2018.

American Society of Media Photographers: Annual portfolio review in New York for commercial photographers that is free for members.

CENTER's Review Santa Fe: The three-day, annual event offers participants a minimum of nine portfolio reviews, inclusion in the Review Santa Fe 100 online resource, a reception at the New Mexico Museum of Art, and a reception at Photo-eye Books and Prints.


Medium Festival of Photography, Eye to Eye portfolio reviews: Eye to Eye portfolio reviews offer an opportunity for photographers to receive exposure and feedback about their work from influential gallery directors, curators, and industry professionals. Takes place in San Diego.


PhotoNOLA Portfolio Reviews: Annual event that coincides with PhotoNola. Offers twenty-minute face-to-face meetings with gallery owners, editors, publishers and museum curators from throughout the U.S.

Year-round opportunities

Portfolio Reviews at The Center for Photography at Woodstock: As a benefit of membership, CPW staff are available for in- person portfolio reviews. Intended to provide constructive feedback, portfolio reviews are a great way to receive professional advice and guidance. They also feature portfolio reviews by Skype!

American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) and American Photographic Artists (APA) members might have local portfolio review offerings depending on your chapter. Furthermore, both ASMP and APA often provide discounts for members that attend portfolio reviews.

New Orleans Photo Alliance's PhotoNOLA portfolio review session. Photo by George Long http://GeorgeLong.com (used with permission)

New Orleans Photo Alliance's PhotoNOLA portfolio review session. Photo by George Long http://GeorgeLong.com (used with permission)

Are there great portfolio review events that I am missing? Contact me and I'll add them.

Awesome Things about Look3, in No Particular Order


I just returned from three (was meant to be four... thanks a lot American Airlines) days in quaint, charming and lush Charlottesville, Virginia and the fabulous Look3 Festival of the Photograph. Look3's motto is "Peace. Love. Photography." and they do a great job at celebrating all three. Here's a list of some highlights, in no particular order:

- Lynsey Addario's heart-wrenching and inspiring presentation of the work she has done on women's issues over the last 15 years.

- Robin Schwartz's presentation of "Amelia's World": Portraits of her daughter with various animals. Her daughter has a magical gift for connecting with animals.

- Camille Seaman's wonderful telling of venturing into the world of Arctic and Antarctic photography, and how we are all connected in this world. So inspiring!

- Sitting under the stars, drinking a miniature boxed wine (think grown up juice box) with David Laidler, Alyssa Coppelman, Timothy Archibald, Andrew Hetherington, Jennifer Whitney and others.

- Piling into a bus with 19 other people to go from the Razon party to the Luceo Images party.

- Burgers and meeting the rest of the Prime Collective members

- Timothy Archibald's fantastic "Echolilia" project, in which he and his autistic son embark on a photographic journey together

- Simon Norfolk's Astra3B series

- Swimming in the river on our last day, while a bunch of baptisms were performed right behind us.

'Til next year everyone!

SXSW: Another stop in the photo festival circuit?


SxSW Interactive and Film Conferences have more photo-related seminars than ever before -- a testament to just how prevalent photography is in everyone's lives. If you were lucky *and rich* enough to score one of the sold out badges, here are some of the events you can check out (click the event title for a link to more details):

Is Our Photo-Madness Creating Mediocrity or Magic? Over 100 million photos are uploaded to Facebook every day. There are 3.5 billion cameraphones in use around the world. Instagram reached 13 million users in just 13 months. We are nearing the end of what Philip Gourevitch of The New Yorker called “the decade in which the world went camera-mad...the decade where everything is depicted, and every picture must be shared.”This panel will address the many ways in which the rise of mobile photography is affecting how we express our creativity, and how we connect and communicate every day. BONUS: We'll conclude with @Koci explaining how he builds his images and sharing a recipe toolkit for audience members to build their own.


Bob Gruen

Rock 'N' Roll Exposed: The Photography of Bob Gruen (Film Screening) From Led Zeppelin to The Rolling Stones, Elvis to Madonna, Bob Dylan to Bob Marley, John Lennon to Johnny Rotten, Bob Gruen has captured half a century of music through the eye of a lens. In this landmark documentary, Grammy award-winning filmmaker Don Letts reveals the stories behind some of the most famous rock 'n' roll photographs of all time. "Rock 'N' Roll Exposed" features interviews with Iggy Pop, Debbie Harry, Yoko Ono, Alice Cooper, Billie Joe Armstrong and many more.

Lomography Lomography, a film camera community and company has faced annihilation from not only digital photography, but now from mobile photo-sharing applications. We will talk about why, as a brand, they still grow and succeed; as well as tactics to refocus dying brands and most importantly, why it's a good idea to not please everyone.

Shoot, Share, Repeat In the past 10 years, the advent of social photography has transformed the way we document history. Anyone with a smart phone can take pictures & share them with social networks in real-time, bypassing media gatekeepers to create a new type of living history. News media outlets have tapped into this power by employing content generated by these “phonojournalists,” to extend their reach beyond traditional means. The immediacy & intimacy of this approach resonates with people in powerful ways. One need only to look at images captured during the Occupy Wall Street protests or the Arab Spring uprisings to see how this disruptive technology can be used to inspire change. While social photography satisfies our appetite for real-time, all-access content, it presents significant challenges for existing media models. Join Getty Images CEO Jonathan Klein as he discusses how the shift towards social photography is transforming the way we consume media, and what we can do to embrace the change.

Fashion and the New Taste Graph A new generation of social curation communities have risen over the past year with the mission of enhancing shopping and product discovery across retailers. These services provide an easy way to create wish lists and curate styles. Soon we will see shoppers, retailers, brands, media outlets and blogs joining these services to curate photography, new products and news stories. We will explore how social curation is currently being used and its future impact on the taste graph.

SxSW PhotoCamp If photography is your vocation, your avocation, or simply an iPhone obsession, you won't want to miss SXSW's first-ever, day-long PhotoCamp. To give you the opportunity to meet other photo-minded folks, discuss the topics most important to you, and identify potential creative collaborators, each 60-minute PhotoCamp session will include facilitated group discussions, followed by 30 minutes of free time to connect with potential collaborators one-on-one. 9:30-10:30: What kind of collaborator am I? Improve creatively by defining your strengths and weaknesses. 11:00-12:00: Are we collaborating yet? An open discussion of collaboration models. 12:30-1:30: Everyone knows everything. Learn from others' collaboration lessons and revisit your own. 2:00-3:00: Open networking.

Shoebox Full of Photos: Beyond Digital Storage Do you remember when you cracked open that shoebox full of snapshots in your grandmother's attic and discovered a past generation? Will your grandchildren be able to have the same experience? Will they be able to log in and dig up your Facebook albums? Will they be able to boot up your old iPhone? Hundreds of thousands of photographs are uploaded to online services every day with little consideration for the temporal nature of everything we put in the cloud. If Kodak decides to stop making film, the photographs in your closet will remain, but the same is not true if Facebook decides to shutter its photo business. And while a tattered photograph continues to tell a story, a corrupted hard drive or a hacked account can destroy a lifetime of photos in an instant. Is a shoebox full of photographs simply nostalgia, or is it more? Are the images we take just for us, or do we have a responsibility to leave behind more than just a pile of bits for future generations to discover?


Gregory Crewdson

Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters (Film Screening, multiple showings) Gregory Crewdson: Brief Encounters follows the acclaimed photographer’s decade-long quest to create a series of haunting, surreal, and stunningly elaborate portraits of small-town American life. His photographs are like single-frame movies — partly because each composition brims with narrative, partly because he uses cinematic tools such as special effects, hundreds of lights, and huge crews of technicians. As we travel with him — from first inspirations, through countless creative and logistical obstacles, to the instant where all the elements coalesce in a single perfect moment — we realize that, despite their vast scale, Crewdson’s images grow from his most intimate dreams and fantasies.



Texas Photo Roundup:Marketing Strategies Seminar + Portfolio Reviews

12/1/11 Update: Currently the portfolio reviews are sold out, if you would like to be added to the waiting list, please email info@texasphotoroundup.com. There are still spots available for the morning marketing seminar. Austin Center for Photography (which I'm a board member of) and ASMP Austin/San Antonio have teamed up to produce a day of events geared towards professional and semi-pro editorial and commercial photographers. We're dubbing it the Texas Photo Roundup and if you live in Texas, you don't want to miss it!

February 3, 2012

One Day, Two Great Events

Marketing Strategies + Portfolio Reviews

Save the date for this one! Registration opens soon.

Morning Event:

Real World Marketing Strategies for Photographers

ASMP Austin/San Antonio and Austin Center for Photography invite you to join commercial and editorial photography industry experts for a three hour interactive morning seminar and panel discussion. This event is geared to both emerging and professional editorial and commercial photographers who are looking to kick their business into high gear. Topics that will be covered by our experts include:

  • Defining your target market
  • Creating a marketing plan
  • Making the most of your marketing dollars
  • Choosing the strongest images for your marketing
  • Strategies for print and email marketing
  • Social media marketing

You will also have a chance to share your current promotional materials, home page or social media strategy with the group and have them critiqued by the panelists. Follow us on twitter for details!

Please come prepared with specific questions for the included Q&A session with the panel of experts.

Panelists include:

  • Jennifer Kilberg, Creative Consultant
  • Matthew Mahon, Commercial and Editorial Photographer
  • Shannon McMillan, Senior Art Producer, GSD&M
  • Allen Murabayashi, co-founder of Photoshelter
  • Amanda Sosa Stone, Creative Consultant
  • Zana Woods, Director of Photography, Wired Magazine
  • Alison Zavos, founder of FeatureShoot.com and Social Media Consultant

(Read more about the panelists)

Afternoon Event: Portfolio Reviews

Join us for an amazing opportunity to get your work in front of potential clients. This event will give you 20-minute one-on-one meetings with prominent art buyers, photo editors, artist reps, and industry experts.

This event is geared towards professional and semi-professional commercial and editorial photographers.

Confirmed reviewers from a variety of top notch companies will be reviewing work, including:

  • Texas Monthly Magazine
  • GSD&M
  • Door Number 3
  • Men's Health Magazine
  • Renee Rhyner
  • TracyLocke
  • EmDash
  • T3
  • Wired Magazine

(read complete list and bios)

Registration opens October 18, 2011.

Produced by

Questions? Email us at jasmine (at) jasminedefoore (dot) com.

The Problem Isn't Photo "Spammers"

A few days ago, a creative director with an axe to grind threw up a poorly conceived website aimed at stopping what he calls "photo spammers". He named specific photographers who he claimed were guilty of being "spammers" because they had sent unsolicited e-promos. He, along with a handful of other creative directors (note: no art buyers signed the list) pledged to not hire these blacklisted photographers. The photo blogosphere lit up (see aphotoeditor.com and mediabistro.com), with people pointing blame at certain photographers, reps, database products like Agency Access and Adbase and email marketing products like MyEmma and Mailchimp.  Said creative director claims he was just trying to start a conversation about a system which is broken.Well he certainly got people talking, but not very constructively.

What nobody seems to be mentioning is that the problem is not the fault of any one party. The problem lies in the fact that there are just too many photographers trying to make a living doing what they love and not enough jobs to go around.

The barriers to entry into the profession continues to dwindle. Technology has made it very easy to make good looking pictures. iPhone photos are winning World Press Photo and being published in Martha Stewart and The New Yorker.  (I'm not saying all you need is an iPhone to be a good photographer... of course you have to have a good eye and a sense for what makes a compelling image). Technology won't slow down, so this is a given that we have to accept.

And at the same time that it is getting easier and cheaper to make great pictures, there are fewer ways to make a decent living doing it. This has been argued to death on other sites and I won't go too much into it. But it's important to admit that the pie is getting smaller and there are a lot more people wanting a slice.

Staff changes at the places that hire photographers have made it so that art buyers, photo editors and creative directors are responsible for a bigger workload than ever before. So they have even less time to be sifting through e-promos, yet the amount they are getting is at an all time high.

Not to mention the erosion of copyright and the licensing model...

To say the system of self-promotion is broken is too simplistic. A well thought out and well-targeted marketing plan that uses a combination of producing new work, sending print promos, e-promos/newsletters, social networking, in-person networking and following up is still essential.

My advice for photographers: DO NOT send any kind of promo (print or email) to someone who does not work on projects that you are right for. For magazines, this should be pretty easy. Just go to the newsstand and look at them.  When pitching to art buyers, make sure you know what accounts that agency is working on. If you can't name what a certain creative on your list does, then you probably shouldn't be marketing to them. This takes a lot of discipline and research time but it is very important.

Also, make sure you are complying with the CAN-SPAM act, which requires you to include a physical address and an unsubscribe link in every email.

And most importantly, make it a priority to increase awareness of your work through non-promotional means. Create new bodies of work or personal projects at lease once a year. Share your work with others, start an event in your town, put together a DIY exhibition, print limited edition books, participate in the online photo community, attend festivals, do portfolio reviews. Get offline and concentrate on creating and sharing and creatives will learn about you in a way that feels more genuine than any promo could.

My advice for creatives who feel inundated with unwanted promos: Feel the pain of the photographers who are trying to get jobs. You get paid a salary, they do not. Their agents only make money when their photographers make money. Think of the silver lining, that you have people who value what you do enough to spend time and money promoting themselves to you. And use that unsubscribe button.



Palm Springs Portfolio Review Registration is Open

I'll be reviewing portfolios in Palm Springs as part of the Palm Springs Photo Festival. There are some great seminars and workshops planned as well.

Some business & marketing highlights:


SOCIAL MEDIA MARKETING: Putting Facebook, Twitter & Linked-in to Work for You with Frederick V. Johnson.


HOW TO GET YOUR PHOTO BOOK PUBLISHED with Michelle Dunn Marsh and others

Blurb Presents: The PHOTOGRAPHIC BOOK: Editing, Sequencing, Designing, Producing and Marketing Your Work In Print


More info at http://connect.palmspringsphotofestival.com/connect-2011/


Don't forget to read up on how to make the most of a portfolio review.