Portfolio Reviews: Fotoweek DC

I rarely get a chance to review portfolios. In the past year I’ve only had one chance, so this coming opportunity at Fotoweek DC is a gem I’m very much looking forward to. What I like about reviewing is seeing how someone will take something they love, something that is so important to them and encapsulate all of it into a very small, edited, edible size. It isn’t easy, but that is the point. HOW someone does this is also very interesting. What do you present? How much? And in what form will you deliver the work?

If you haven’t had your work reviewed I can’t emphasis how important this is. What is the difference between showing your work on an iPad and showing a box of prints? What about a book? How many images do you show? What if someone sees something they like? Should you have extra work in reserve? What should you leave behind? Are you prepared for rejection? All of these questions are a starting point for being reviewed. Also, choosing the right reviewer is a key element.

The last time I had my work reviewed, for real, I was completely and utterly unprepared. Completely. I was showing the work you see here to book publishers, and beyond being able to answer the question, “What is your name?” I was unable to answer a single question in relation to this work. Who is the audience, Italians or Italian Americans? Where should the book be printed? How many copies? What size book are you thinking of? How many pages? What paper? Who is going to write the forward? Are you prepared to have shows in NY and LA entirely on your own? Etc, etc, and perhaps most importantly, do you have “X” amount of money upfront?

This was me…”Ahhh, I don’t know?”

My advice, learn from my mistakes.

The reason I included these particular images is that they are all portfolios from the exact same body of work, but each portfolio was designed for a certain type of review, or a certain situation where I might end up showing the work. And these are ONLY the print versions. Let’s not forget I have these images on my phone, website, etc. After having created these different versions there were a few that immediately began to stand out. The large print box (13×19),the smallest print box(3.5×5) and the smallest book(7×7) were the items I used the most. The iPad was, and is, the version I use the least. For some reason I don’t think work is considered the same way with the iPad that it is when showing prints or a book.
However, the phone has worked very well because the size actually brings people closer to work. The phone is like printing tiny prints which force the viewer to get close, as opposed to wall size images that actually physically make people back away. All of these dynamics are changing with the current explosion of viewing options. This is a good thing.

There are several things I would advise. First, you don’t need massive prints. I see this once or twice every time I’m at a review. Occasionally this can work but in many cases the idea of handling massive prints becomes an obstacle, and with twenty minutes total, most of the time it doesn’t work that well. And, if you are going to make massive prints make double sure your imagery requires this size print. I see a lot of work printed huge for no particular reason other than we now have the capability of doing so. As a reminder, my box of 3.5×5 prints has been as well received as anything I’ve ever done.

You also don’t need to show a huge number of images. Most of the time I’m going to see what I need to see within about ten images, twenty maximum. It’s great to have work in reserve, so if something strikes someone you can pull out the backup.

Finally, I think it’s best to have a user friendly portfolio. I know there is something museum like about white gloves but I don’t want to wear them and I surely don’t want you to have to sit there and turn the prints for me. At my last review I was approached by several people with white gloves and STACKS of prints. STACKS. Once they began turning prints, without me touching or feeling anything, I was so ready to say, “Okay, DONE,” but I’m too polite and endured the print onslaught. However, after about ten prints I was only thinking about how to get out of the review. And people I’m a “build you up, look for the positive” type reviewer, not the “break you down, focus on the negative” kind of reviewer.

Ultimately, in addition to all these physical or electronic options at our fingertips lies the all important reality that as an “artist” we MUST to able to TALK about our work. Did I mention how important this is? I might look at a body of work and think, “Not my thing,” or “Not sure what to say about this” but when the photographer can clearly state their intentions their goal and their influences, feelings, reason, etc., it allow me to sometimes see the work in a new way. When I learn the “why” I can sometimes aim the photographer in a direction I might not have otherwise been able to do.

And just to emphasize my obsession, I’ve included this image of me TALKING about this same work. Don, if you are out there, I think you shot this but let me know if I’m wrong about that.

Enjoy the review process, it’s one of the most interesting things we can do with our work. Take the lows and the highs and chop them off. Most will walk away somewhere in the middle, which is my experience isn’t such a bad place to be.

14 responses to “Portfolio Reviews: Fotoweek DC”

  1. Linda says:

    If you and any of those who come to you for a portfolio review are up to it, I’d love to see the work they asked you to review. I think it’d be very interesting to hear what and why they included certain things and what you thought of them. Just starting out I haven’t even begun to think about a portfolio yet so hearing about the feedback others get would certainly help.

    Have a great time! 🙂

  2. LionelB says:

    I have been looking at this idea recently but it seems to be a lot more common in the US than here in the UK. What intrigues me is how to choose the right reviewer. Someone who will just say nice things is clearly a bad choice but equally if their sole interest is wildlife in the Serengeti what use are they to someone who photographs minimalist still life ?

    • Linda says:

      I also have never heard of this type of event, but it sounds really neat. I would think that as long as someone chooses someone whose work they admire they will get a good critique. I’d probably research everyone who would be attending and then choose the person whose style I enjoy or aspire to. 🙂

  3. Jason Timmis says:

    I just watched the Danny W-F video / post for about the 6th time and the wow factor hasn’t lost anything. His images and way of working definitely provoke day dreaming of being able to do ‘that’ as a full time job (photography just being a hobby for me). Then I read this post and the day dream ends and the business owner in me comes roaring back. I think man, this is great and invaluable info Dan is sharing for anyone trying to ‘make it’ but the amount of work needed on the business / marketing side seems like too much time taken away from enjoying the process of photographing FOR ME. Not saying one shouldn’t seek advice and reviews from those they look up to to keep one’s self grounded but when we get to the time and skills needed to plan ‘multiple attack options’ to sell one’s self I start backing up and turning away…..Yep, I think I’ll keep my day job and caring on with the fantasy of magically being discovered. Well that and going for beer with people I look up to when the opportunity arises 🙂 !

    • Linda says:

      Hi, Jason! You know I think I let myself get overwhelmed by all of the business work for a long time, but within the next year I’m finally taking the plunge. (Unless something goes horribly wrong, or I chicken out, lol.) The fact that I actually have had people offer to pay me kind of blows my mind, but at the same time we have a little girl and are a one income family so the second income would really help. I totally understand what you’re saying about it taking the fun out of it though. I’m working hard to make sure there will be a balance and I’m doing most of the icky business work up front (like figuring out my pricing). Then I can just focus on having fun taking pictures! 🙂 I know more goes into it, but for me the money issue was my biggest setback as I’m horrible at math. I realized that if I took that one element out of the equation and did it up front that I would have no excuses holding me back from creating my photo/design business. I do however have plenty of other hobbies that will remain just that, hobbies. 🙂

      p.s. Where is the Danny W-F video you mentioned? It sounds like something I’d like to check out. Thanks!

    • Smogranch says:


      he is talking about DAnny Wilcox Frazer, a post I did about two weeks ago. Good luck with your move to pro. Have fun, shoot what YOU want to shoot.

    • Linda says:

      Daniel, I wasn’t following until about a week ago so I missed the Danny Wilcox Frazer post, but I’ll go look it up. Thanks for the luck, I could always use some! 🙂 I really think that’s the key to shoot what you want as a photographer. It seems like those that take on all of the jobs that bum them out are the ones that are miserable. I can’t wait to get started. I’m also terrified, but also excited! lol

    • Jason Timmis says:

      Hi Linda,
      Trust you found the post and video already….a very talented guy!

      And yes, good luck to you if you are trying to move into the professional side. Hope you can find a balance in keeping it fun at the same time.

    • Linda says:

      Jason, I did find it and thank you! Daniel, thanks for sharing and Jason, thanks for mentioning it so I could catch it. Very beautiful images! That is the kind of work I admire, but it’s too close for me as my heart breaks too easily.

    • Smogranch says:


      Going from hobby to business typically changes photography to a tremendous degree, if you mean full time working professional. Things change. I didn’t really show my work for years, had no real desire too, and I still feel the same today. I love shooting more than ever but don’t feel the need to promote, or get funding or blanket the world with my images. I just like the hunt more than anything else.

  4. Malina says:

    Thank you, Daniel for the valuable info. I’ve found out about this portfolio review opportunity couple of weeks ago and frantically started to prepare the portfolio. I’m probably doing everything wrong starting with my choices of photographs and ending with the print sizes (11×14) to fit the box that I have. It’s my first portfolio review, never shown my work. Doing everything last minute ad having no clue but a lot of anxiety, especially not knowing what I’m doing or what I want to achieve. Should I quit now (amidst printing the pictures)? or is it OK to go unprepared and take someone’s time? And how to chose the reviewer- didn’t do that yet either – such a procrastinator. Still more questions than answers. But something that struck a cord for me is the last paragraph – the hardest part is talking about your own vision, concept and plans , your influences – shouldn’t a picture say a 1000 words? 😉 It is just difficult to know “why”, let alone articulate it. Wonderful read – thanks again. Have a nice day! Malina )

    • Smogranch says:

      Don’t quit. Ever. Second, what you are going through is what makes this so good and important. Making decisions, critical thought, this is what will allow you find focus and direction. Never lose site of the fact this is supposed to be fun. A photo can say a lot but you need to be able to speak about your work. There is no alternative. Again, this is the fun part. Sometimes the “why” takes a long time to figure out. My latest project, three years in I finally figured it out. Three years.

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