Every photographer has one – the scrolling images from random weddings, a groom here, a dress there. Why do we have these things? What are you supposed to make of them? I recently updated mine and I was thinking that as photographers we understand them to be a representation of our best work, but for regular folks trying to make sense of our industry, a little bit of a guide could help.
You should care about image portfolios…
If done correctly, wedding portfolios are 30-50 of the very best images a wedding photographer has ever taken, presented in an easy-to-navigate (fingers-crossed!), typically slideshow format. You sit there and get bowled over with how brilliant the photographer is (results may vary) and decide that this person is a true artist. They showcase the variety of weddings a photographer has worked, as well as giving a general feel for the kind of images they like to take.
The best image portfolios will also give a clear indication of what a photographer is looking for at a wedding. Many inexperienced photographers feel they need to show every bit of a wedding, and waste precious portfolio space to represent parts of a wedding day they may not photograph particularly well. The best portfolios will demonstrate a photographer’s values and hopefully speak to the same values clients hold. For instance, many years ago, I used to have pictures of cakes, rings, shoes. I thought I needed to have a picture of a cake to show that I can photograph a cake. Now I know that my clients, while they may want a picture of their cake, are far more interested in my ability to tell a story, to capture emotion, to highlight joy. I limit myself to 50 total images in my portfolio, so I would never include a cake when I could have a grandmother tearing up, or a bridesmaid jumping in excitement or a groom getting emotional as his bride walks down the aisle.
…but you should also view them with a big grain of salt
The best of the best images a photographer has ever taken are sure to impress. But you should be fully aware that you are probably not going to have 50 showstopper images from your wedding. Each of the images in a photographer’s portfolio were taken in exquisite light, with ideal posing, plenty of time and – let’s be frank – their most attractive clients. Any wedding photographer worth their snuff is going to make their clients feel they’ve met the expectation of a wedding portfolio, but no one is capable of producing a career-highlight image for each part of the day.
The truth is, you don’t need every single image from your wedding to be breathtaking. When putting together a typical album, only a handful of images will be very large. Those are going to be your just-like-the-portfolio heart-catching-in-your-chest beautiful images. A photographer would have to dominate the entire day to be able to produce a full weddings’ worth of portfolio images – directing everyone about to stand in the most beautiful light, coordinating setup of tables, DJ, etc. – hell, choosing the venue for you. A wedding portfolio is a showcase of possibilities. There will be new ones at your wedding.
How to use wedding portfolios in your search
I always recommend folks searching for a wedding photographer look at one or two full weddings, ideally under similar conditions to their own (indoor vs. outdoor vs. church ceremony, mansion vs. vineyard vs. ballroom reception, etc. etc.) This way you’ll see the entirety of what the photographer can do. You’ll see how they take family formals, how they approach each part of the day, and what part of their coverage reflects the pristine images you see in their portfolio. Blog posts are helpful to narrow things down, but you really should be asking to see entire weddings – either in online galleries or in sample albums as a meeting.
Use the wedding portfolio to allow yourself to be wowed – your wedding images could look like that. But then ask to see the rest of the images from those weddings and make sure you are happy with the entire set.
Go easy on the wedding portfolio
Many photographers are pretty terrible photo editors. They choose images they love for personal reasons, neglecting stronger images that speak to someone who wasn’t there. As I mentioned, they include images to demonstrate competence across the wedding day, when a client is likely actually looking for brilliance whenever it hits. While all wedding portfolios are demonstrating a value system the photographer is promoting, not all photographers understand the effect. Sometimes they just think you want to see a picture of a cake.