Continued from Building a Cohesive Landscape Photography Portfolio – Part 1.
Find Your Focus
The portfolio quickly became about the desolation of the desert but the strength of the desert as well. I’ve always been attracted to the solitary tree or plant, and I swore I wasn’t going to go that direction again. But I’m just drawn to it. Probably eighty percent of my images are of those strong trees and cactuses that are preserving in this desolate landscape. I wanted to show that life continues on. So the movement of the clouds kind of gives the images more of a life – a sense that yes, life is carrying on in this very calm and quiet place that seems like nothing is living there. So that is what became my focus as I put together the portfolio.
Have a Common Style or Theme
The most important thing if you’re going to put together a show or portfolio with a certain number of images is that there’s a style that threads through your images. So if somebody were to look at one of your photos, they could tell that it’s your photography because it looks like your other work. If you have a black and white shot on one side of the show and a colorful sunrise on the other, it can work if you’re purposeful about how those images link together. But it seems that the most successful shows are those that have a common style or theme.
Process Your Images Consistently
I know a lot of photographers who have everything from landscapes to old cars to architecture in their portfolio. But because they’ve been processed in a similar way, you’ll see that they somehow all belong together when they are hanging on the wall. In my case with this show – and with a lot of my shows – I’ve stuck to the black and white or sepia look. For outdoor shows, I always feel uncomfortable when my booth is a mishmash of images that don’t really represent me as a certain photographer. I’m most comfortable when I feel like all my work gels together.
Consider the Gallery Space
When I was processing my images, I was not only thinking about how the images flowed together but also about the walls of the gallery. I knew I could only fit three images on some walls and had to ask myself, “which three images will fit together?” That part was challenging – not just the shooting and processing of the images but visualizing the images together.
Only Include Images That Fit
While I was photographing, I kept in mind how all the images in the series would work together. I shot 500 or more images a day, many of which were long exposures, and ultimately narrowed it down to twenty images for the gallery walls (plus ten more for bin prints). The images I ultimately chose were those that felt like they created a cohesive body of work. There were some images that I thought I liked at the beginning, and as I continued working on the portfolio, those ended up being put on the back burner – like this shot of the Milky Way. I absolutely loved the shot, but it didn’t fit the rest of the wall art, which had a softer feel.
Print Size Matters
Usually when it comes to prints, bigger is better, right? When I do outdoor shows, sometimes it seems like three feet by four feet isn’t even big enough. So my original thought was to print seven huge panoramic pieces. But once I finished shooting, it felt as if the images themselves were telling me they needed to be small and intimate. I didn’t want them to be in-your-face images. I wanted them to go along with the idea of the “breathe, pause and feel” thought that I had when I was there. So the biggest pieces is only 12 by 24 inches. The brownish tone I use also lends itself to that. It’s soft, subtle and calm. It’s more of a “stop and look, and you’ll find the beauty” feeling instead of “bam, it’s in your face.”
Have you hoped to hang your work in a gallery or perhaps even do your own solo show someday? Challenge yourself to find the common thread in your work, and maybe even try limiting yourself to one location for a while. Don’t rush through your photography, even if you’re in a chaotic place. Sit down and breathe in and feel and look and see and become one with the environment. Don’t try to just rush to the next location. Photography should be about emotion. With so many people being photographers, it’s all about finding a way to separate yourself from the masses. And one of the best ways to do that is to have that quiet contemplation with your subject matter. When you really take your time, the emotion you feel in the field will translate to the gallery walls.