A Portfolio Review Primer

The Palm Springs Photo Festival is known for the quality of its Portfolio Review program. This is where you can show your work to museum curators, collectors, art directors, editors, ad agency creatives, leading photographers, educators, gallery owners, reps and others who can offer you a valuable critique and advice.

The Palm Springs Photo Festival Portfolio Review Program at PhotoPlus Expo will offer a unique opportunity to meet with a wide rage of qualified industry influencers. If you called to arrange appointments with them at other times, it would be extremely unlikely that you’d have success in arranging face-to-face meetings. Most if not all have drop-off policies in place. Here you can schedule 5, 10 and even 15 or more appointments to fit your schedule and benefit from a strong jolt of networking opportunities. For those living outside the NYC area, this opportunity is even more valuable!

Take a look at the list of our Portfolio Review Faculty, and make a list of the reviewers you’d like to meet. Do your research before attending the review. You don’t want to show sports pictures to a food magazine. Remember the reviewers are there to take you seriously.


Some FAQ’s to help you prepare for your Portfolio Reviews:

What should I bring?
We think it’s best if your work is as concise and consistent as possible. It’s not in your interest to show a wide variety of work because the reviewer will not remember anything from your portfolio. Who are you? What would you do if I assigned you a job? Show a body of work that’s strong and represents a strong singular vision.


What is the best method of showing my work at a review?
This depends on the reviewers you’ll want to meet. In many cases, showing work on a laptop or iPad is perfectly acceptable, particularly if you are showing editorial clients, advertising agency creatives and reps. They are used to looking at a photograph’s content, and there is usually no objection to a presentation of this kind. On the other hand, showing work to the fine art community in this fashion may not be advisable. They’ll want to see your printmaking and craftsmanship. We don’t recommend prints larger than 16×20 inches if they’re matted. You can also bring a printed piece to offer the reviewer when your review is concluded for them to keep. Remember, they are there to discover new photographers so helping them to remember you is smart.


Many reviewers are also interested in seeing brief motion samples.  We’ll place special notes in their bios. If you want to share video work, please bring headphones so you do not disrupt other reviewers.


How many photographs should I show during my reviews?
You want to make a strong impression. We recommend you have friends and colleagues look at your presentation and offer their opinions in order to get a bit of distance. We all have a tendency to want to show too much. You don’t want their eyes to glaze over at your review. If you’re showing prints, perhaps no more than 20 pieces would be ideal. Remember you want to maximize the impact of your work in your meeting. Let the reviewer guide the meeting – don’t try to do all the talking because you want them to concentrate in their own way on what they’re seeing. You can’t show your entire website to the reviewer. It’s best to present the work in as clean and concise a way possible. Strong, impact-full presentations are remembered. You can always have a second body of work under your arm if they should express interest in seeing more. It’s important to have rehearsed how you will describe or discuss your work. Fumbling for words will waste precious time and not leave the right impression. The experience for the reviewer is that they want to get your message – see that you have thoroughly considered your presentation so that they may honestly offer you advice and direction.  Never apologize for anything in your review. Many photographers begin by explaining problem areas or defending aspects of their presentations, which turns the reviewer off. Let them have the experience. Remember it’s the first time they’re seeing it.


What do I have to know about the review process?
We advise you to arrive at the portfolio review front desk at least 20 minutes before your review is scheduled to give you time to check in, and be ready. A staff member will announce your review appointment. You will have a ticket indicating the table that your reviewer will be waiting for you at. Follow the signs to the room where that table is and locate your reviewer. Introduce yourself and open your portfolio or present your laptop or iPad to begin the review session. During the reviews, there is a 5-minute bell and a final bell to let you know that you need to conclude your meeting. The next attendee will be waiting to take your seat so please don’t remain seated and continue your discussion with the reviewer. This is a courtesy to the reviewer and the next attendee. You may ask the reviewer if you might contact them in the future if you felt it went well but we don’t advise pushing this point. It’s best to let them broach that subject. You might, however, plan to include that person in your future mailings with a personal note reminding them that you met at the review and briefly mentioning the work you presented. Plan to give your reviewers a leave-behind that they can keep.


What should I hope to gain by my portfolio review meetings?
The most important thing is to remember that you’re there to hear what they have to say – to watch carefully as they look at your work and take note of which images they pause longest on – study their reaction to your pictures. This will offer you a great and valuable insight into how your work is perceived and help you to strengthen your presentation and better understand your work and how well your work communicates your capabilities. The reviewer is there to see new work and you are there to learn about your work through the review process. Be open to their comments; listen to the subtexts of what they are saying to you. This is the most immediate method to better understand how your work is perceived in the real world. The reason the reviewer is there is to help you. The last point is that you should consider going to reviews on an annual basis or as often as you can: in this way you can continue to refine your presentation, and sense the progress you are making.


Director, Palm Springs Photo Festival