Portfolio Review, Chapter One (In the Beginning)

Well, after several false starts, I finally was able to sit down and record the inaugural portfolio review – Chapter One! In this 1-hour recording, I looked at the portfolios of two real estate photographers.

Please note that I am not linking to their sites, nor am I going to use their full names in print, to avoid any chance that a client could Google them and discover this video. If you’re going to cross-post this, please respect that as well. And please join me in thanking these two hardy pioneers for putting themselves “out there” in a very vulnerable place so that the rest of us can benefit from scrutinizing their work.

As I mention in the video, the opinions I give are MINE – and they’re worth what you paid for them, y’know? No doubt a careful look through my own website could discover some of the very same problems that I’m pointing out today. The idea here is to take a slow, careful look at a couple of portfolios and start thinking about them objectively. I didn’t hold back – when I thought an image sucked, I said so. As I usually do, I also spent a fair amount of time critiquing the really good images, and the almost-really-good images, because those represent the leading edge for that particular photographer.

Chapter Two is scheduled to go up in 10 days or so – and is Titled “Down Under” – we’ll be looking at a couple of Australian photographers.

If you’d like your website to appear here, send me an email with “Portfolio Review” in the subject line, and your url, along with a quick description of your shooting style, your background, and your goals.

18 responses to “Portfolio Review, Chapter One (In the Beginning)

  1. Scathing! Merciless! Dead on the money!

    Thanks for the critique, Scott. I had suspicions about a couple of those shots, which you confirmed. Having said that, it looks like I need to be more suspicious!

    Great points on silly things like the gray caption bar and the varying photo sizes. I’ll get them fixed up.

    Also a good point on the other portfolios. I’ll edit and consolidate.

    As I’ve told you before, I’m getting there with the lighting but still have a lot of learning to do about composition. I’ll keep your suggestions in mind next time I’m out shooting.

    One last thing – not to humiliate you or anything, but that shot of the dinette table and all the windows wasn’t HDR – it was lit. I just did a little bit of shadow recovery, not much. Maybe too much. Dunno.

    Anyway, thanks for taking the time to do such a detailed critique. Next time you’re in Knoxville, I’ll buy you a coupla beers.

  2. Lots of really great information that everyone, not just Dale and John, can learn from. Nice work, Hargis!

    I might suggest doing only one critique per episode, though. An hour was a little long for my attention span and had to watch this in two sittings.

  3. I’ll restate what I said in my eMail. Very good info. Excellent presentation. I’m going to work on the things you mentioned. I really want to get the “lighting” thing down in my shoots. I will only get better with learning and practice. Since I have my review out of the way, you should now charge for a review. Could you imagine what Joe McNally would make if he did this? I see a niche here Scott (Glad I got away with only 2 beers). Again thanks so much

  4. Thanks, guys, I hope it was worth the time and any angst you suffered.

    “…not to humiliate you or anything, but that shot of the dinette table and all the windows wasn’t HDR – it was lit…”

    Damn you, John!

    Dale, 2 beers is about all this is worth. Besides, any more than that and it would feel like work. I’d rather play.

  5. “Damn you, John!”

    Hey, I couldn’t let that go – I was particularly proud of getting that shot with no window reflections.

    I’m still tearing apart Photoshelter, trying to get rid of that gray caption bar….

  6. Thank you for this Scott; it was very insightful and informative. As TulipChain said, those being reviewed aren’t the only people benefiting – I certainly learned a lot!

    This blog is great. I just discovered it last week after hearing your name mentioned in the Strobist DVD series, and I’ve already read it front to back! Do you know of any similar blogs or resources where I can pick up information about shooting real estate and architecture? I’m currently doing Virtual Tours (you can check out my website at http://www.trueviewimages.com) but I’d like to focus more on photography.

    Looking forward to the “Down Under” review…Cheers mate!

  7. Great post Scott! Your critique had me constantly flipping back to my own RE port as well as coming up with ideas for my next shoot.

    As for John’s awesome bathroom shot from the Raleigh workshop… John was my partner on that room and we shot it with the same lighting, but his is still better. Just goes to show that there is an art to this stuff.


  8. Great stuff Scott, really interesting to look hard at a website and it’s content with a critical eye. I’ll be reviewing my own site in the light of these [and Zack’s] critiques, I’m sure it needs a refresh as it’s been a year or so since I’ve updated it. I feel the winter slow down fast approaching so I’ll have time to work on it.

    I agree with Tulipchain that an hour is overlong, but I think you could still fit two sites in. There’s quite a lot of repetition; especially on the first site, where you go through the portfolio at least three times.
    I’m not sure that the grey overlay bar is too much of an issue for J’s site, it was annoying for you as by neccessity you were doing a lot of mouse over pointing, but I don’t think most viewers will even see it. However, unless there’s info on it, it ought to go as it’s superfluous.
    You often suggest framing tighter, and whilst I agree that 10mm [on a crop frame dslr] should be resisted, I think leaving door frames etc on the edges help ‘contain’ the composition, where otherwise the viewer might be pulled out of the frame too much. Maybe.

    • Marcus, the next one is a single-website review, and I’m seriously working on shutting up and keeping it short and concise! I actually think 2 different portfolios in one video is better, but only after I learn to tighten up my presentation. Thanks for the encouragement.

  9. I just threw my website up yesterday…but I did go to your “official” website….and is that FLASH. does anybody really use FLASH anymore? i tried to “stop” your slideshow too, but was unable….maybe one can if they use a mac. there is just way too much good code out there via WordPress templates ( hell mine is a freebee…but i can spend 40 bucks and make it rock at anytime) and it all loads on iPhones.

    i just tried loading your website on iPhone….no go…just as I suspected…much like ya said “get rid of that toolbar”…get rid of FLASH…it is so yesterday. that ticking clock is always a BAD sign.

    and yes, my PFRE photos suck, cuz i just started and i SO SO SO SO appreciate your insight (I have been shooting multi-flash libe band shots for years..so had all the equipment already).

    you ROCK.

    • Jerry, I’m not sure what the issue is with Flash – I’m no web designer (I hired LiveBooks), but I tend to let myself be guided by what I see other, more successful photographers doing. Looking at my list of “idols”:
      Joe McNally —- flash website
      Chase Jarvis —-flash website (livebooks)
      Gregory Heisler — flash website (livebooks)
      George Lange —- flash website
      Tim Tadder —– flash website
      Dan Winters — flash website
      Michael Melford —- flash website

      So I’m not sure that Flash is such a killjoy. These guys are pretty savvy photographers, and even savvier business people. On the other hand, there are plenty of examples of great photogs with html sites, too. Hedrich Blessing, for starters! So I’m left thinking that maybe it’s more about the content, than the underlying structure. You probably never got past my home page, which I don’t think you can stop, but in my individual galleries, there’s the standard FWD, REV, PLAY/PAUSE controls down at the bottom.

      In any event, I’d be the first to say that my site is a bit of a mess right now! Two interiors galleries (what’s up with that?) and way too many images. The good news is, I’m too damn busy with big cool projects to deal with it right now! I’m hoping for a nice mellow December so I can get it all fixed up and ready for 2010.

      Anyhoo – stay tuned, Chapter Two goes up tonight!

    • Jerry,

      You’re right, flash is on it’s way out. But for now, its still the standard.

      Rob Haggart said it best on his APE blog that Livebooks is the standard look for portfolio sites and if your site isn’t better aesthetically and functionally than an LB site, then its sub-par.

      Incidentally, he also came out with a new template hosting service called APhotoFolio.com that is not Flash and IMHO looks as good or better than most LB templates. Dave Hill has a Javascript site that looks pretty sweet too, but that’s a custom site by Drew Gardner.

      When Livebooks starts to transition their new offerings away from Flash, then you’ll know that the standard is changing.


  10. my point wasn’t about whether successful photog’s use FLASH…just that times have changed, and QUICKLY such is life on the web…LIFEBOOKS would and could charge a fortune for thowing up a website…but with the open source that IS wordpress….for the “start up” photographer…and EVEN major companies….the ability to change things on the fly…whole layouts…is SWEET. and for peanuts. (ala SB-80DX, no)

    the fact that apple/iPhone has shunned flash speaks volumes…it was around when i spent 4 grand on a Canon 30D back in 2000….it was easy to MAKE custom WEBSITE using it ….SLIDESHOWS….but one can do the same now SANS flash….FLICKR slideshow…below is just ONE example of WORDPRESS templates ( i’ll be getting the F8 soon soon soon)…for now i use the totally free Fullscreen


  11. so i thought maybe i was CRAZY w/ bringing up the whole topic (my best friend is a frustrated Flash programmer). But alas, even he agrees w/ me so i know i have something…

    ANYWAY, scott your blog rocks….i was just given my 3 cents worth, which is why i like your post, cuz ya do the same.


  12. Nice job on the reviews, Scott! It was pretty helpful to hear about what works and didn’t compositionally for the photos. Thanks for taking the time to post your thoughts!

    It took me two sittings to finish watching the video, too. So, I’m glad you’ll only be doing one portfolio in the future reviews.

  13. Finally made it back to the first portfolio review . . . I hope you’ll be doing more of these. Really helpful. Thanks again!

  14. Hmmm…I had thought of pulling these off the shelf, but not sure if I’d just be repeating myself over and over.
    Hang tight though, I do have a video project in the works that should be interesting!

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