Commercial, Personal, Photo Gear, Photojournalism, Portrait
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Printing Dat Portfolio

I’d like to introduce my portfolio – I’m super proud of it and yet it’s still nowhere near where I’d like to be, but it’s exciting to have it up regardless.

At the risk of repeating every other photographer on the Internet, print portfolios are super important and here’s why:

1. It shows that your work looks good on paper (that is, if your work looks good to begin with)

2. It makes you feel good to have one.

3. You don’t look like a doofus walking into a meeting with nothing but an iPad, or worse, a laptop.

I bet some of you bristled when I mentioned that last point right? Don’t delude yourself into thinking an iPad is a worthy substitute for a book. YOU NEED A BOOK. The very fact that the word ‘substitute’ is part of the equation means that you’re compromising, and you should never compromise when it comes to showing your work off to people who you want to get money from. And let’s face it, if you’re putting your effort into printing and editing your own portfolio, at least you look like you care. Also, prints are special, in a way that stuff on a screen is not. If you want to show your work in the its most flattering form, then some lovingly made prints are the only way forward.

That said portfolios are expensive to make and it can be tough to get one up. Don’t despair, it’s not worth making one until you have enough decent photos to put into it so until then just keep shooting new work and get by on whatever small jobs you can manage. You’ll know once you have the photos and money to put together a decent book – and it won’t be when you’re first starting out.

Anyway what’s different about this newest iteration of my portfolio is that I took complete control over the printing, which up until now I had been outsourcing at exorbitant rates – something like 4000+yen for an A3 print. You can see if you’re ending up with 40 or so prints that cost will add up, to the point where I can buy my own printer, some ink, and take some courses to learn how to print. Which is exactly what I ended up doing. In other words I’m taking that money and investing it back into myself, (hopefully) giving myself a new skill which will grow along with me.

Anyway, here’s the portfolio itself:

Tokyo Editorial Photographer Irwin Wong (10)

Tokyo Editorial Photographer Irwin Wong (11)

Tokyo Editorial Photographer Irwin Wong (2)

Tokyo Editorial Photographer Irwin Wong (8)

Let’s go into the process of making a portfolio a little bit:

Editing down:

This is DEFINITELY the hardest part of making any portfolio. Assuming you have more than 40 or so good photos to begin with, trimming them down into a cohesive collection that showcases both your versatility and your uniqueness is definitely one of the most difficult things you can do. I certainly haven’t mastered it, and I’ve had some harsh reviews that made me swear a lot at myself. Also, it’s difficult because forcing yourself to take stock of your current body of work really makes you depressed about how far you still have to go. Swear a lot at yourself and then go out and shoot 🙂

Anyway, the first step in this process is the culling. A lot of photographers say how hard it is to pick and choose amongst their babies, but you really shouldn’t be thinking like that. Your photos are not your babies. They are your bitches. They are your unfortunate red-headed stepchildren that you clumsily gave birth to. Your ideas are your babies in a perfect world, and your photos are born from them but happen to be missing a chromosome or two. So, pick and choose wisely. Keep the stepchildren that work well for you, and work well with each other. If one looks too different to the others (ie: looks like another photographer gave birth to it), then throw it out. Don’t keep any ugly ones just because of the effort required during the birthing process. No one cares about anything but the finished product.  Also, keep the stepchildren who can stand up and speak for themselves – you shouldn’t have to explain or make excuses for your ugly stepchildren. If you’re required to step in and speak for them then they’re not pulling their own weight and it’s off to the coal mines with them 😀

Also, here’s another thing – I tend to shoot a lot of prototypes and tests for my own amusement, but don’t take them too much further – which tends to shoot me in the foot a little bit. In a world saturated with pretty pictures with no end in sight, people want to see in-depth projects that you’ve stuck with for a while. So if you really want to differentiate yourself from the rest of the books filled with pretty pictures, that’s just what you’re going to have to do.

Tokyo Editorial Photographer Irwin Wong

Seriously though, treat your photos with disdain and a vague sense of shame (they are your photos after all), and it should make it a little easier to cut out the ones you don’t need.  Have fun editing, and once you’re down to 30-40 solid images then it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to represent them. If you don’t have 30-40 solid images, swear at yourself a little bit and go out and shoot 🙂 (story of my life)

The cover:

There are a ton of creative ways to represent your work depending on your budget; mahogany boxes with prints made of unicorn leather etc, but seeing that I am just a lowly editorial photographer I just bought the most expensive regular binder that I could afford.

The cover is synthetic leather with my name embossed – the good folks at Brewer Cantelmo in New York helped me put it together with the help of Cosmo Int. Tokyo. I’d recommend any Tokyo photographer to go get their portfolio cover there – they are super helpful and there are a lot of options for people with all sorts of budgets.

The paper and printing:

All of the prints were made on my own Epson R3000. Paper choice was a little bit more difficult – I was originally set on using Ilford Gold Fibre Silk but for some weird reason, they don’t make it in A3 sizes (at least for the Japan market). They only have A3+, which would have looked kind of silly in my A3 sized binder.

That kind of forced my hand a little and I had to consider other options, which is how I eventually settled on Pictran Baryta. Never heard of it? Neither had I – it’s a special paper, made entirely in Japan with traditional washi techniques, and it’s amazingly easy to print with. Also, it smells like baryta paper should – tangy and and a little bit like fixer. From what I could gather on their website (all in Japanese, which I am too lazy to read :D), ICC profiles are not necessary because of the incredibly high absorbency of these papers, allowing the ink to really show up well on the paper…or something? I don’t know too much about the finer details – all I know is that the paper feels weighty and expensive, looks amazing, and reproduces my photos pretty much dead on to what I see on my calibrated monitor. If you’re interested in trying out these papers here’s a US based site that stocks them. There are some closeups of my prints so you can check them out – it doesn’t do the paper justice but hopefully you can see the lustre and definition that you get printing with this stuff.

Tokyo Photographer Irwin Wong

Tokyo Editorial Photographer Irwin Wong (3)


Tokyo Editorial Photographer Irwin Wong (4)

I can’t stress the importance of a book enough. Even if you don’t have enough to afford one right now, you should start planning for one and keeping a folder on the desktop full of your best photos – that way you’ll get used to the idea of editing down your own work and you’ll have a better idea of what your body of work is lacking, plus the overall direction you want to take your work in the future. Think about it!

The next step is obviously getting the book in front of people and that could be a separate blogpost all on its own – hustle. No point having the greatest book in the world if you can’t hustle enough to get your book in front of people who can give you work. I’ll leave you with a tip though – here’s what I did in my first years as an aspiring photographer: I went to bookstores, browsed the magazine stands and wrote down the phone number of magazines I wanted to work for. Then I went home and called them. Not sure how that works in the US, but it got me my first real gigs in Tokyo.

Hustle! 😀


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