When I first started attending portfolio reviews as a commercial and editorial photographer a couple years ago, I was faced with the question: Printed portfolio or iPad? I wanted to position myself among others who I perceived were mostly using books, so I created a printed portfolio. I even enlisted a friend who is a wood artisan, to create a gorgeous portfolio book made of black walnut. I loved it (and strongly recommend his work). I had something that was unique. On a conceptual level, it suggested the “real nature” of the “real people” that I generally work with.
I spent days printing work at great expense, after making difficult choices about what to include and what not to include, mindful that a reviewer has a compressed period of time while turning oversized pages.
I wanted to distance myself from the digital media of an iPad. I thought printed material would convey a certain seriousness of my work as an artist, which is also something I had read in some interviews of portfolio reviewers.
But in the end, I decided to use an iPad Pro. Why?
Having gone through a few reviews with both a printed book and an iPad, this is what I’ve personally found:
- You can’t control for the light in the room when viewing prints. There’s no doubt that prints can be impressive. But if you’re stuck in a dark corner with a reviewer, your prints could appear dark and suffer from the lack of radiance they had while making your gorgeous print. If you’re stuck in an incredibly bright part of a room, your prints can look washed out. At least when you’re printing for a gallery show, you have some control over user experience. You can’t really say at a review, “Well, trust me, this looked fantastic in the room where I printed.” Yes, it’s true that the iPad can have glare, but usually by tilting the screen, using a non-glare surface screen, that goes away. I personally haven’t found that to be an issue. I’ve certainly found that colors on an iPad will often sing more than on a printed page.
- Having a reviewer slow down to see every detail of your large print may work for your genre but it may not. In fact, it can steer the conversation away from the strengths of your abilities. I’ve observed that a reviewer will take more time and consideration with a print than a screen they can swipe. This is great if you’re the kind of photographer who invests hours or days into making a single image with detail, complexity and a level of production that you want the reviewer to notice and appreciate. But if you’re a storyteller like I am, “real moments” are more important. You might want someone to see a number of photos on the way to a mood, feeling or sense of intimacy. I also like to show I can work quickly, creating image libraries with emotion and action.
- An iPad offers more potential to customize your presentation. This is more important when you attend a portfolio review event with multiple reviewers. I happen to have many bodies of work, some with more commercial flavor, some with more editorial flavor and others in between. But at reviews, you can’t bring five printed books with you easily (just the optics of that raises eyebrows) but you can quickly customize your portfolio based on the research you’ve done. Easily customizing your galleries helps keeps your conversation on target with your reviewer and leads to less confusion about who you are as a photographer.
- If you have a lot of work to show, an iPad is less overwhelming. At my most recent review, I showed far more work on my iPad than I ever could have shown via a printed book, and it still wasn’t enough for some reviewers who enjoyed the pictures and wanted to see more. Conversely, some reviewers appeared overwhelmed when a photographer’s voluminous portfolio book landed with a thud on the reviewing table. I would think the more you can show while respecting a reviewer’s time, the better.
- If you have motion to show, you’ll have an iPad there anyway.
- There will be reviewers who enjoy printed books, and there will be some who like iPads. But will it really affect whether you get work? I’m guessing the greater influencers are whether they have need for your type of photography, whether they like your work and whether they trust your skill sets. I would think your conversation and your personality, more than the style of presentation, would give someone a greater edge.
If you do decide to bring an iPad, however, here are a couple tips I hope will be helpful:
- Be sure to completely charge the iPad, and to bring a portable battery charger or long battery cord. Or both. Like with any photo shoot, back-up your back-ups.
- Bring a soft cloth to wipe off fingerprints from the screen in between reviews.
- Turn off all notifications, update the system software and put the iPad into airplane mode. The last thing you need is a text or system message to pop-up during a review.
- Turn off the auto-lock, so you won’t have to deal with punching in your code in front of the reviewer. If you end up chatting for a few minutes in between viewing images, the iPad may decide to take a breather.
- I personally use Foliobook, but there are many different types of iPad apps out there for photographer portfolios.