Ask an Agent / Should I Have a Printed Portfolio?

Ask an Agent is a regular monthly feature answering your questions about the business of photography – the photography industry’s first Agony Aunt!

If you have any questions you’d like to ask a photographers agent please send them to Questions can be on anything to do with the photography business, such as photoshoots, marketing, professional practice, pricing, contracts, legal stuff – anything.

Dear Ask an Agent,

Do you think I really need to have a printed portfolio, or is it ok just to show images on my laptop or iPad when I present my work to advertising agencies? Can you give me a bit of advice on presentation and edit if you think I really do need one?

Fion Snow

Thanks Fion,

I get asked this question quite a lot actually, and my answer is always – yes, I do think it helps to have a printed portfolio!

At the end of the day a well presented, well edited, and well printed portfolio will make more of an impact than a presentation on a laptop or iPad. Potential clients can look at your website to see your images on a screen whenever they want, so if you’ve managed to arrange some face to face meetings at advertising agencies, it makes sense to really give it your best shot (pardon the pun!) in terms of presentation and show them something different. The larger agencies will certainly be used to seeing printed portfolios, may expect it, and in this competitive industry you need to do all you can to make an impact and be remembered.

All the photographers here at LPA have printed portfolios, which we regularly take out to meetings. We get so many favourable comments from art buyers and creatives who really seem to enjoy seeing printed work, and it really is a pleasure seeing our photographers images as large prints that we are used to only seeing on screen.

So I would say go for it! Here’s a few more tips:

- Get the best portfolio and slip case you can afford. A lot of our photographers have their portfolios made by Cathy Roberts/Delta Design, who makes amazing bespoke cases. You can choose what material or colour you want and she can emboss your name on the front. Ideally this should be in your chosen font to match the rest of your brand identity for consistency.

- You can also buy off the shelf cases from other places such as Silver Print, Plastic Sandwich or Brodies Folios.

- These all give you the option of changing the prints whenever you want as the prints are hole punched and screwed into the folio, so they can easily be taken out.

- Avoid a bound book as it is important to update your folio, also the option to tailor it to clients requests is a bonus.

- Avoid a box of loose prints. It’s just easier to flick through an album style book rather than worry about having to put the prints back in the same order and the right way round. It also seems a bit ‘studenty’ to me, or something that might be more relevant to the fine art world.

- In terms of colour, black is fine, but you could try something different. The general rule is the colour and design should enhance your images, a bit of subtle personality coming through doesn’t do any harm.

- Make sure the prints are good quality on decent paper- hahnemuehle fine art inkjet paper is very nice. Choose either matt , gloss or semi gloss paper according to what suits your work best, there isn’t really a preference . I would avoid acetate sleeves as they are reflective and can get scratched, making it difficult to see the images. Some of our photographers invest in their own printers and do it themselves and some go to a specialist printer. We can certainly recommend M Print.

- Size wise, A3 or A3 plus is about right.

- A page with all the necessary contact details, website address etc, at the beginning or end of the folio gives it a professional edge and provides the necessary information, as does a tag attached to the carry case, with your name and address details on.

- I think it’s best to present the images either in landscape or portrait format according to which best suits your work. (not both)

- I like full bleed, however a white border does suit some photography, so this is your call.

- 30- 50 images is an acceptable number in the U.K ( for some reason the general consensus in the U.S is to present less images, more like 20) . If you print on both sides (which looks really nice, although makes it less easy to update) and include some pages with multiple images, you can get away with including more.

- The edit is key. Your portfolio should have a strong beginning, middle and end. Be mindful that the viewer will want to ‘make their minds up’ about you from the first few images. So start off with your strongest work, something that really represents the type of work you do and want to get more of. I’ve written photographers off many times initially ( to represent) because the beginning of their folio is not well thought out. Get some advice if you can, (I do a certain amount of portfolio reviews here at LPA). Sets of images together allows for a more coherent edit. You can never please all of the people all of the time however. We sometimes get conflicting opinions when we take the books out. Some clients want to see lots of commissioned work ( some even with copy on) some would prefer to see mostly personal work. A mixture of both seems the best option to me. Whichever, only show your strongest work that you are proud of, I often see photographers making the mistake of including commissioned work just because it’s commissioned. I’ve actually had another question recently about editing images and I’ll expand on this on next months Ask an Agent, watch this space!

- A ‘recent clients’ list or perhaps thumbnails of the contents with captions, including client names, will give confidence to a potential commissioner.

- And finally, update the portfolio on a regular basis. An art buyer at an advertising agency once told me that there’s no worse turn off than seeing a book that’s not been updated for ages, it could give the impression that the photographer hasn’t been shooting much recently. There’s no excuse for not shooting personal work to keep the book looking fresh.

Think that’s the main points covered, hope that helps!!

Whether you’re a creative director or a student, a photographer or a designer, an art buyer or an assistant, if you have any questions you’d like to ask a photographers agent please send them to and we’ll answer as many as we can!

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Lisa Pritchard, LPA and guest bloggers take no responsibility for any omissions or errors.

The images used in this article are for illustrative purposes only and do not necessarily correlate with specific facts or examples cited in the text.

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