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  3. How to create a great commercial illustration or photographic portfolio (Quick Guide)

How to create a great commercial illustration or photographic portfolio (Quick Guide)

In this article we will take you through the basics of making a commercial portfolio, for example a photography or illustration portfolio. The idea behind a portfolio is that it will get you more freelance creative work.

You can showcase your portfolio to potential brand clients for free, on creativehub’s new service to match creative artists with brand clients

What are the considerations when making your creative portfolio?

The type of content you should include is:

  • Show content that brands would need. Can you visualise your images as ads and in marketing content? 
  • Show a range of your work. Consistency of style, diversity of subject matter.
  • Show your skills clearly. Show off all of your talents and diversity whilst keeping the style consistent. For example, as an illustrator it is more and more important these days to show you can animate your work, as this drives far higher engagement on social media so brands will want that. 
  • Show finished ads. Show your work in the final ads. This shows you can deliver on commercial creative project briefs.

Let’s look deeper into this.

Is your creative portfolio showing a consistent style?

Brands need to know exactly what they are going to get if they hire you for a commercial marketing or advertising project. The budget for most brands is tight and they are in competitive markets, so they have to make it count. 

They are looking for a style that runs through your work, so they know that if you work for them they will get that style. The last thing they need is to have to guess what kind of style you will produce for when you turn up on the day, or not be certain you can pull it off.

Often your client will be an intermediary between you and the brand, like a design or marketing agency. In this case you will find these people even more focussed on seeing consistency in the style of what you produce. If they recommend that their client use you, they need to know exactly what they are recommending, as the risk for them is to lose their hard-won client. 

Take a look at some of the most successful photographers and illustrators who produce advertising and commercial work, and see that the similarity between them is that they have a really clear style. We have listed a couple we can think of below: 

http://www.nickmeek.com/ Photographer

https://www.malikafavre.com/ Illustrator 

https://www.martinapaukova.com/work Illustration & animation 

https://www.ilkafranz.com/ Photography & video 

https://www.wilsonhennessy.com/ Photographer

https://www.martinaflor.com/ Illustration & typography

https://www.jeanjullien.com/works/ Illustration & painting 

If you need more examples please go onto some creative agents websites and you will see that consistency is absolutely key to agents. Creative agents are expert at selling their artists into agencies and brands.

That said, highly successful commercial photographers can develop different styles, although from our experience, we see this less with illustrators. If you do have a range of styles then we recommend showing these in different portfolios on our /Find service, or in your physical portfolio or websites group them into distinct projects. This signals that the style difference was intentional, and that you can consistently work to any of the styles you show.

Can you see your images as ads? 

Think of the brands that might want to hire you. Can you see your style used in one of their ads? If you can, that’s a great start, so you might want to ensure that you have enough of their type of content for them to hire you. 

So, for example, if you can see your style of photography being used by a car brand or a jewellery or watch brand you should have some cars, jewellery and watches in your portfolio. 

What kinds of subject matter should you have in your creative portfolio?

The mantra for your portfolio should be consistency of style, diversity of subject matter

You should hit all the main subject matter types if it is possible with your style. So for example if you are an illustrator then get people in there, in a range of different settings and doing a range of different things. If you are a still life photographer get as many different product categories in there. 

Do some research to see what the biggest advertising categories are, for example read this: https://www.statista.com/statistics/275506/top-advertising-categories-in-the-us/  You should be aware of what the biggest growth industries are that advertise heavily, and look at the types of imagery they use in their ads. 

Having diverse content in your portfolio in is important in two ways:

  • It shows clients that you can apply your style to a range of product and service advertising. 
  • You will be more likely to have the subject matter in your portfolio that a brand client is specifically looking for.

Should you have more than one portfolio?

If you have developed multiple styles in your work then that’s OK too, so long as you separate these out into distinct portfolios, to let the viewer of the portfolio know that this was intentional. 

As we mentioned earlier, having several distinct subject matter areas is important as it shows versatility to the client. However keeping these in one portfolio might weaken your appeal as it will make the portfolio look less consistent. If you separate out your work in certain subject matter areas in separate portfolios, then you can show the relevant portfolio to any prospective clients. 

This is how our /Find service works. We will show clients looking for photographers and illustrators on /Find the relevant images with the subject matter they are searching for. So when they click through to your profile they will be taken to the portfolio that image came from. If you separate the images into portfolios with other similar examples then you will be giving yourself the best chance of finding work. 

Updated on 3 November 2020

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