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Portfolio Reviews and You

This is one of those articles I'll come back to in a few months when the next Photoshop World comes up, but I was thinking about it recently.  By this point in time, I've had a few portfolio reviews.  Two of them at Photoshop World, and two of them at the Sports Photography Workshop. Overall, I was very pleased with all four of them. The ones at Photoshop World, each time, I was paired up with people I respected (Alan Hess for the first one, and Dave Black for the second), and at the Sports workshop, I asked two instructors if I could buy them lunch in exchange for a review, which went over well with them :).  Each person told me good things, but they also told me things I needed to work on, which was the entire point.

I know a few people who've done reviews as well, at both places, and while the majority of people I've spoken to were pleased with their reviews, a few...well...weren't.  They grew extremely defensive when the reviewer told them something they didn't want to hear (they needed to hear it, but they didn't want to), and overall came away from the experience with a bad taste in their mouth.

With that said, what do you need to listen to in a portfolio review?

The answer is simple - whatever you think will help you grow as a photographer.  The first question you really need to ask yourself whenever you're getting a review done, is do you respect the opinion of the reviewer? If the answer is "no," then you shouldn't do it at all - you're wasting your time because you won't listen to what they have to say regardless of what it is.

The second question you need to ask yourself is "what do I expect?"  If you expect the reviewer to say your stuff is the best they've seen, and shower you with love and roses, then mentally you're probably not ready for a review at all.  The odds of that happening are probably slim to none.

For me, I do want to hear what I'm doing right in my photos, but I also want to hear what I'm doing wrong.  If I keep doing the wrong things, then I'll never grow as a photographer, or get any better, and ultimately that should be all of our goals.

Once you get past those two questions, and you sit down to the review, present everything as is, don't tell any stories about the photos, or get defensive, or say, "I did it this way because...," just listen to everything the reviewer has to say. I actually ask them if it's ok if I take a few notes, and then pull out my iPhone (my portfolio is normally on my iPad) and write down a couple of things they've told me to work on.  Then my goal in the future becomes to work on those items.

At the sports workshop, I did get a chance to run some of my stuff by Dave Black (informally), and I took away a lot of good information about what I needed to work on. It was very cool for me, then, to get him as my reviewer at the last Photoshop World.  I had a completely different portfolio, and he was able to tell I'd taken to heart everything I'd learned at the sports workshop, and his eyes lit up when he could tell I'd done something differently. Did he still give me stuff to work on? Heck yeah, I wouldn't have expected anything less!  Am I working on it?  Definitely!

Even if you aren't at an event where there's a formal porfolio review process, find somebody you know, and whose opinion you respect, and ask them if they'll look at your stuff.  If they will, don't get defensive, stop talking, and let them talk to you about your photos. You'll be glad you did.