Saturday, March 14, 2015

Print Portfolio vs iPad Portfolio

I recently had photographers' rep, Mark Cook, come speak to my Business of Photography class at SCAD Atlanta. Mark owns a firm called Fotorep and he reps a full range of photographers, make-up artists and hair stylists. During the lively discussion we had with him for a couple of hours he said something that got me thinking. Actually, there were a lot of things that got me thinking, but one in particular got my attention. Mark said that paper portfolios were dead- the iPad was now the only way people wanted to see work. I know a number of people who show their work on tablets, but physical books dead? I wondered. . .

I put an open call on Facebook asking, " Commercial photographers- Are physical portfolios a thing of the past? Is the iPad a suitable replacement? Do you still prefer to show prints when possible? Please help me give my students the best and most up to date information. Thanks!"

The response was significant. Photographers, art directors, photo editors, and graphic designers all tuned in and spoke up. It was a lively conversation. What is my conclusion? You can find it at the end, after you read the whole thread.

I've condensed and summarized some of the comments, so my apologies if anyone finds their thoughts removed.

Ben Colman I believe both physical and electronic portfolios are useful, as I tell my students. You need to do your homework before presenting work, know your audience. What will reach your viewer best, an elegant portfolio/book or the vibrance of an electronic presentation.

Matthew Jones Check out my recent article on petapixel, and/or FStoppers to spark some inspiration. Physical ports are still live and kickin!

Matthew Jones

Make a Pocket Portfolio for a Way to Stand Out When Out and About
As a photographer, I’m constantly striving for new ways to...

Judith Pishnery I found people still like prints. AND if you are meeting them in person, prints are good. Otherwise they can just look at your website. An iPad portfolio is not that different from the website

James Rajotte Print portfolios are a must for meetings with editors in my experience.

Robert Johnson Try a zine like mag cloud as well a nice leave behind.

Jesse JHutch Hutcheson I prefer a student bring me a digital portfolio when applying for an internship. Just my personal preference.

Wendy Marks I prefer actual prints and a face to face meeting with the photographer when curating work for a gallery.

Stephen Mallon No plastic sleeves. Have both, if the work is going to the web its fine to see it on a screen. If you are trying to get a print job, it’s good to see how it looks in paper. Update the print book once a year, keep the iPad up to date

Dara Dyer Sarah Silver (NY fashion photographer) invests a lot into her specially printed portfolio AND promo cards. Apparently messengers there still deliver physical portfolios because she advised me that mine was too large and should be a suitable size for a messenger to carry.

Walter Colley Just like there will never ever be a replacement for the 8X10 chrome, there can be no equal to fine prints-well presented. That said, I have told students & personally believe that iPads are also a "good" alternative when talking cost and ease of use, etc.

Jim Cavanaugh I just made a new print portfolio and have been showing it around the last few weeks. Still an important part of the process. The interaction is far more compelling than swiping by images on a screen.

Aaron Ingrao The entire reason for having a physical portfolio is for meetings. Since meetings are an important part of establishing relationships, with potential clients, absolutely every photographer should have a print portfolio. The impact of a well presented, large scale print cannot be overestimated. An iPad can be taken along as a supplemental, but it's not a substitute. The large scale portfolio, packaged well, presented well and dealt with as fine art, shows a seriousness and care for production value and presentation.
If I were a buyer and met with a photog who only had an iPad, no matter how awesome the images, I wouldn't take that photog very seriously. It's lazy.

Roger Bruce I do you agree with Wendy, but as Kevin Kelly observes, New technology does not replace -- it piles on. The iPad can make for an elegant presentation but its constraints of scale may compromise many kinds of work.

Jim Cavanaugh If I'm going anywhere where I may run into clients, I bring my iPad with the portfolio on it. But for formal meetings, always the print book.

Molly McMullin Prints. I hate ipads.

Sara Elder A couple of photographers have come to the office recently with beautiful print portfolios. It was a pleasure looking at them.

Marjorie Crum I'm seeing both iPad and print versions for design students but I think most prefer decent prints, and not 8.5x11 size, seeing it bigger is always better and that's where the iPad fails.

Scott Hamilton iPad for video work. Custom book makers are building iPad holder within a print box or book. Showing on a iPad can be annoying but also can save you in a pinch of you haven't the time to insert a series or piece within printed book. And good for showing maybe a experimental direction or bunny trial that normally wouldn't fit within context of a printed book. Also just because a new technology comes to be doesn't mean it makes another obsolete it's all about zigging when everyone else is zagging.

W Keith McManus I think a photographer would be best served by having more than one method of presentation. Certainly a iPad (or other tablet) would a good idea in this day and age. My experience as a photographer and editor has been almost entirely in the editorial world and in that environment a one-on-one approach can be the most effective.

Kendrick Brinson Portfolio book. We bring an iPad with our most recent work, too

Emily Harris I've seen more and more people use iPads...but I am still old school and like to show prints, but it is often easier and quicker to show people work when you have it readily available on hand

Gavin Thomas The iPad is awesome because you can update and customize your "book" more often and specifically to different clients with a push of a button. Don't forget to have nice business cards and promo pieces to leave behind!!

Aaron Ingrao The name of that book maker Matthew Jones posted about is

Todd Joyce Both. There's nothing like a big splash to impress someone and an oversized book really is impressive. And making an impression is why we're there. Each has its merits and as Emily says it's what you have on hand. And you're not going to carry an oversized book every day like you would an iPad. Depending on what work I was showing, if I were a student, I would favor a book for those few big appointment opportunities and carry an iPad for any chance/quick meetings. BTW, using an iPad at a shoot to show current clients recent work, is a great way to get more/new types of work from existing clients.

John Robert Brown I would prefer you share photos electronically for first blush, and then show me a few large key prints if you wish. But for the most part, well-saved digital shots are most appreciated by me.

Scott Hamilton Yea John Robert Brown . I often assemble custom electronic PDF portfolios after initial conversations. I have a templated Indesign doc that I use to arrange then output. also at the point of my website I can create a custom PDF. Which reminds me to say that the website is the most important element in my mind, over iPad or printed book portfolio.

Jamey Stillings I have not been asked for a commercial print portfolio for a few years. We usually create custom electronic ones for prospective clients. In the art / documentary world, I always start with prints and only rarely go electronic on first face to face meetings.

Aaron Smith I do a new book at least twice a year and then iPad for all the new work. My reps still like doing physical books and physical mailers!

Timothy Archibald Hey there- the iPad makes for easy updating , but the viewer just rips thru those images very very quickly. Makes all my life work suddenly get reduced to some anecdotal clickbate. I use a book, 13 x 19 horizontal pages printed on Moab Entrada thick and tangible watercolor paper.

Grant Taylor Morning, Forest! For some time, I've been showing prints on 13 x 19 paper, (12 x 18 image area,) when meeting face-to-face with potential clients. The art directors really seem to enjoy the tactile process of leafing through them, and also love the size of the image. I haven't used a book for probably 4 years. The large prints are super, as long as you have the table space to play with. I'll also create electronic portfolios for specific requests, and yes, the web site is important. (Trying to develop a new one now!) While I understand the merit of an iPad, I personally wouldn't choose it over large, gorgeous prints unless the situation made the showing of prints inconvenient.

Anne Esse Hi Forest! While a website is the first place I go to view work for a shooter I'm considering, I love the oversize prints (like Grant described) when viewing work in person. If we need to jump on an iPad to see more examples that are relevant to the discussion that's very okay too.

Jonathan Rutherford Forest! I believe it is still important to present a traditional portfolio, especially when the potential job has a printed output. When I have a face to face review, I bring a traditional printed portfolio, an iPad portfolio, and a small printed portfolio to leave behind. (I just started using the 'book' function in Lightroom - printing with Blurb. I will send you my latest one) I have been loading my iPad with additional work that is not in my printed book. These images are usually specific to the client. I also add 'tears' to the end of the presentation if it is appropriate. My last thought on the printed portfolio: Even if a client isn't specifically requesting a traditional book, why wouldn't you present them with one? Imagine how may digital images a photo editor or art director consumes in one day. As humans we are inherently tactile, and by presenting work in a tactile fashion, I believe it makes your work more memorable and makes a greater impact. Lastly, a week after a meeting or portfolio review, I will follow up with a promo card and thank you note.

Rob Neiler I’d say 90% of the designer portfolios that I see are digital. When we present concepts to clients I prefer boards (I like the interactive nature of holding the work and passing it around the room).
The photography portfolios I see are still printed boards by a big majority. I think the printed boards work for photographers the same way. The prints are passed around the room and evoke more conversation. For some reason the digital counterparts seem to get less discussion. Less interactivity, less theater, less personal.

Wayne Calabrese Hey Pal, clients still love the tactile experience of looking through a print portfolio. I feel it slows down the interview process and gives the artist and buyer time to connect as 2 people who may eventually spend time in a foxhole together. Showing work in print form is usually the 2nd or 3rd step in the sales process, after viewing a web site or iPad presentation. So by the time you are actually face to face, it's nice to have a different media to share your work. Actually, it's very Italian, you never show up at someone's home without some special goodies to share.

John Neel An iPad or laptop doesn't represent scale or intimacy. There is no surface or tactility. The presentation is cold and distant. Everything is less remarkable. Likewise, a poor presentation of prints can undermine the experience. I would take a selection of my better works as prints along with a well thought out presentation to show electronically on a tablet.

Josanne DeNatale Hi Forest. I'm in agreement with several other posts, with a preference for prints because they encourage more interaction and conversation. It's cumbersome to pass around a device, it might fade to black, and you lose one image as soon as you move to the next one. Prints can be spread out and passed around, which results in a more connective conversation. And that is what will make me remember someone. I seldom remember the images that swiped past my eyes on a small screen. I still will refer to website before/after the meeting, and if there is an image I really like, I will print it out and tape to my wall. I like to stare at powerful images.

Billy Howard I've used an online portfolio since before online was cool, It works with my clients and my niche, but I know a lot of advertising agencies and magazines like physical, it depends on your market. I will admit, there is something to actually holding a portfolio book and there are so many options for designing them that really show off your work....There is my non-answer.

Robbie McClaran I still prefer to show printed work. To my mind, that's what makes it a photograph, a 2 dimensional object, and while images on a screen certainly can look nice, there is no substitute for a good print. I have to admit, I don't get the opportunity to show printed work as often as I would prefer, but I do keep an updated printed portfolio at the ready. And FWIW, I show prints either bound in book form, similar to what some others described, as well as individual prints in a nice box.

Richard Kelly I like both depends a great deal on the reason for the presentation. I find that designers - I work with graphic design firms a lot. Really like a well designed and printed portfolio, unless the project is e-based. I've had photo editors react enthusiastically to a printed book as well. Especially if looking at a Personal project. I like the iPad for spontaneous meet ups and clients looking for quick updates on recent work. Forest McMullin this is a wonderful topic thanks for posting.

Nancy Newberry Always prints here

Molly Roberts Hi Forest, for the most part I am happy to look at portfolios on iPad. But it's also really fun to see handmade books or prints if that's how the photographer intends for the work to be seen.

Billy Howard Even if you have a print/book version of your portfolio, it would be impossible to have the reach you have with an online portfolio. For those who have both they can target their most desirable clients with the physical book and reach a broader audience with the online portfolio.

Michael Weschler  We're seeing that art buyers largely still want to see a print book occasionally. When it comes to editorial & advertising, they like having the confidence that your work doesn't just look good on a screen. Print is a higher standard and if you're expected to deliver visual assets not only for Digital, you should also expect to be asked to show examples first. For example, our New York chapter has three portfolio reviews per year & screens are not welcome: Fine Art, Commercial & Student. Incidentally, this is a free benefit with membership which more than covers your annual dues.

Debbie Weiss Benkovich Hi Forest. I would say large printouts are really nice to view and I find us art directors do take more time with the prints over the iPad. Websites are really important to review photographers that I'm not familiar with.

James Wondrack My $.02: Consider the audience and ultimate placement of the images. We may all like to look at big prints, but if the gig is for digital use, I'd prefer to see how well a photographer can shoot for screen use and for potentially smaller sizes.

IN SUMMARY AND CONCLUSION- It seems to me that most photographers and buyers agree- for face to face meetings, a selection of beautifully printed photographs still makes an indelible impression. Bringing an iPad to offer additional and/or specialized content is a good idea, especially, of course, if video is part of what you do. Several people reminded us that plastic sleeves are a good thing to avoid. And, no surprise here, a well designed and functional web site is the best way to make a good first impression. A few folks agreed with Mark Cook- a tablet presentation is the only thing you need.

There you have it. Thanks to everyone who participated in the discussion. Let's do it again some day!


  1. This was very helpful and informative...while I am an earlier adopter of technology I have to agree that engaging a print is a sensory engagement with images that can't be replaced by the iPad.

  2. I am very glad to see the results. Digital portfolio is more convenient to give the first impress. Hard print always conveys more. Prints is an art by it self that is not replaceable. Once my art history teacher said, traditional art form like painting and photograph(anything can be hanged on the wall) will never be outdate for museums and collectors. Collectors are more willing to purchase them than any other new media form. I totally agree with that.

  3. Interesting post. I still use a print book - in addition to everything else. It's important for meetings. Just make sure you keep it up to date - I often see student/assistant books and they tell me about something they've recently done, but it's not in their book! When you update your website - update all.

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