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Ad for photo reviews

By Frank Gallagher, NANPA Blog Coordinator

Collecting Instagram likes and compliments from mom and aunt Betty might feel good, but probably won’t make you a better photographer. You can take a class or go on a workshop, but those can be expensive and you may not get much one-on-one time with an instructor. Instead, one of the best ways to learn where you are and how you can improve is to have a portfolio review. In a review, a professional photographer, editor, or agent examines a selection of your images and provides critique, feedback, and advice. Portfolio reviews are often expensive, though many photo conferences include portfolio reviews as options. You, however, can get one at a very reasonable cost, without the time, travel, and expenses of a conference through the NANPA Foundation.

In past years, the NANPA Foundation has offered in-person portfolio reviews at Summit, but the coronavirus pandemic and new tech tools, like Zoom, Skype, Facetime, and more made it possible to do them virtually. The Foundation adapted and you’re the beneficiary. For the inexpensive price of $45, you get 30 minutes with a top photographer or agent who will review five of your images. That’s affordable enough that some photographers choose to get more than one review and benefit from varying perspectives (for instance from a nature photographer and from an agent), or have one review to set a baseline for their work and a second one months later to examine their progress, or even book two consecutive sessions for a one-hour review of ten images. Part of the fee goes to the reviewer for their time and expertise and part goes to the Foundation, where it can be invested in supporting nature photography.

The process is easy. Take a look at the impressive list of reviewers, read their bios, and pick one. Submit your choice and fee through the website. You’ll be put in touch with your reviewer to schedule the portfolio review and go over any details or questions. The reviewers include:

  • Michael DeYoung
  • Gordon Illg
  • Rosamund Kidman-Cox
  • Lisa Langell
  • Mary Ann McDonald
  • Susan McElhinney
  • Cindy Miller Hopkins
  • Sonia Wasco
  • Tom Wear
  • Dawn Wilson

Why do a portfolio review?

In a previous article, we covered five reasons to get a portfolio review. They are:

  1. You are not the best judge of your own photos. It’s hard to be objective about your own work and friends or relatives usually aren’t the best evaluators either.
  2. You’ll learn what is and isn’t working in your photos. An expert eye can help you identify where you excel and where you might want to improve.
  3. You’ll get a sense of the market, what is selling, what is popular and in demand. The art market changes rapidly. What sells one year might not the next.
  4. You can discover or enhance your personal style. Think of a famous photographer and you can probably identify their style right away. What about yours?
  5. You’ll make a connection, and who knows where that will eventually lead? In any business, building your network is critical.

Who should do a portfolio review?

The short answer is everyone. Wherever you fall on the continuum, from novice to professional, a portfolio review can improve your photography. Mary Ann McDonald, an award-winning nature photographer, a member of the NANPA Foundation Board of Trustees, and a portfolio reviewer, said that some of the reviews have been “for pros and semi pros to help them put together a unified body of work, to fine tune their images, develop their own style or niche in the business.” But reviews aren’t just for pros. “Sometimes, we get someone who always finishes fourth or fifth in their camera club competition and they’re losing confidence.” A portfolio review can make them feel better about the positives of their photos and help them work on what’s holding them back.

A portfolio review also makes a nice gift for a photographer friend or loved one.

Tips for a successful portfolio review

McDonald shared five tips for making your review as helpful as possible.

1. Know what you want to get out of it. What are you looking for? What do you want to learn? Are you looking for general information about where you are as a photographer? Constructive criticism? Help with composition or processing, lighting or camera settings, the story or mood in your images? Reviewers will ask you what your goals are and that sets the tone and direction of the review.

2. Choose your images carefully. Which of your photos match your goals? You might want to pick some of your best images if you’re looking for feedback on creating a unified portfolio to approach an agent. On the other hand, if you’re looking for help in a particular area, select photos that exemplify that problem. We’re all tempted to show only our best work in hopes of getting praise and a pat on the back. But that’s not going to help you improve. You want constructive, critical feedback, so choose your photos accordingly.

3. Research your reviewer. Their bios are on the website. Is there one whose style you admire? Is there one who specializes in the same type of photography as you? Which ones can help you meet your goals? Reviewers love what they do and want to share their knowledge and experience but it’s up to you to select the one best suited to help you.

4. Don’t take it personally. Critiques are part of the learning process and are not directed at you, personally. Instead, they are observations about your technique or process, given to help you improve. Reviewers don’t want to squash your creativity. They want to find your strengths and help you build on them, to bring joy and creativity to your work. Don’t be defensive. Be open to what the reviewer sees.

5. Come with questions. Have specific questions you want to ask. Without questions and a clear objective, the conversation can get sidetracked onto things that may be important, but don’t answer your needs. And ask follow up questions if the reviewer says anything you don’t completely understand. Ask for more details, an example, resources to learn more.

And one last bonus tip: Although it should go without saying, do something with what you learn from your portfolio review. Try the suggestions you hear. Make those edits. Think about those composition and lighting insights next time you’re out shooting. Although it’s tempting to think we can learn just from hearing, the proof is in the practice.

Time to start picking out your photos, deciding on your goals and questions, and then signing up for your portfolio review. You’ll be helping yourself grow as a photographer and you’ll be helping the NANPA Foundation’s nature photography initiatives. You can learn more about the NANPA Foundation’s work on the website. There are other ways to support the Foundation, and donations are always gladly accepted.

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