New Printed Portfolio: Notes from a first time DIY printer

The printed portfolio. While people may say they have become irrelevant in this digital age, I believe they are still one of the most important tools in showcasing your work. Not only do they give viewers a break from the routine of starting at pixels all day, but there is really nothing that compares to the tangible feeling of viewing a physical image. Even if you aren't a working photographer and have no need or plans to show your work to existing or potential clients, I truly feel that almost nothing is as rewarding as seeing big, high quality prints of your photographs.

It has been a very long and drawn out process but I am proud to share the latest incarnation of my printed portfolio is finally complete. I decided to take on the process of printing in house and do it all myself. It wasn't easy and caused a lot of hair pulling, but in the end it was a great experience. I thought I'd take the chance to share my process and lessons to help serve as a reference to anyone planning to make a portfolio of their own.


THE EDIT

Quite possibly the hardest part. Editing and evaluating your work sucks. It's a maddening process that will drive you nuts. After contemplating all of your work over and over again, you will probably hit a point of wanting to throw it all in a fire pit and start all over (don't do that).

It all began a few months ago, this deep critique of my work. While of course I had my web portfolio as a reference, the selection for the printed book is a little different. Creating a selection deep enough to show off your range of talents, cohesive enough to distill your signature style, yet concise enough that can all be viewed in a quick 15 minute meeting can be a challenge for anyone. 

I started by making a folder in Lightroom with broad selection of options with different alternates from each shoot. From there I made some little thumbnail sized prints so they could physically be laid out. This, for me, made it much easier to see the body of work as a whole and evaluate what fit or what didn't. Much easier than trying scroll through all the images on the screen. This also made it easy to quickly explore options for layout and pairings. If you have the ability, I'd suggest printing them even larger and hang them on blank wall.

After making this first major edit, I went back the the Lightroom folder and edited it down and arranged the files to mirror the thumbnail prints. This the made it easy to simulate flipping through the pairings in the book.

 

Two major road blocks hit me during this phase.  The first was having a realization that my selection was too big. I imagined being in the shoes of an editor or art director who I would be showing the book to. It's pretty rare to have a chance to meet with someone for more than ten or fifteen minutes, and I realized I wanted to keep it short enough that each spread could be seen in a short amount of time. So with this came another thorough round of editing and cutting out redundancy and not just considering what images we best, but what images fit best amongst the others. 

The next and biggest road block was shooting new work. We are always evolving and improving as we create more work, and naturally we want our portfolio to represent that. However, at some point you have to set a deadline or it will just never get done. 

While it is your book and you make the ultimate decisions, I do not recommend going this process alone. Getting outside feedback is critical. Find friends you trust - maybe other photographers or artists, your agent, maybe even get someone who is removed from photography just to get a different perspective on it. If you are a baller it might be worth hiring a consultant. The pacing of the book is just as important as the images themselves, so do not half ass this either. I was lucky to have the help of a few photographers as well as my girlfriend who is a graphic designer for a book publisher. All were invaluable resources for this process.  


THE HARDWARE

There are many options for physically making the book. I first looked into some on demand printing options like Blurb. This was definitely the easiest and maybe cost effective option. While this is definitely a good way to go, it doesn't leave you with any future flexibility and you also have limited control over the quality of the final prints.

I decided to go with as screw post portfolio and make my own prints. I ended up getting a handmade book to hold 11x17" prints, made by kdbooks.com. I figured this allowed me the ability to update with new work, replace worn or damaged prints, as well as allow me to choose the paper type.

Based on recommendations from other photographers, I went with double sided Moab Lasal matte paper. Pina Zangaro sells a version of this paper that is pre scored and drilled to fit perfectly into a screw post portfolio. Once getting the printing calibrated, the paper prints beautifully. It is relatively affordable, and being pre drilled and scored made it a no brainer.

Lastly, the printer.  Again, based on recommendations from a number of other photographers, I went with the Canon Pixma Pro - 100.  Since Canon offers bundle deals with certain bodies/lenses and this printer, you can find these things at incredible deals. They retail for around $500 but I found mine brand new in box for $150 on Craigslist. So far it has been doing a phenomenal job. 

There isn't really a right or wrong choice for any of these things but it will all vary based on you budgets, taste, and how much elbow grease you want to put into it. 


THE PRINTING

This was the part I was most apprehensive about. Previously I had little to no experience with printing myself, always trusting labs to make my prints. I considered having a make the prints however, I wanted to have full control through the process and make sure that each print came out exactly how I wanted without the hassle of going back and forth with the lab.

After the whole process, I can leave you with one major piece of advice: Invest in the proper tools to build a proper color management workflow. You can find downloadable ICC profiles meant for your paper and printer but I discovered this to be quite a bit off the mark. The only way to ensure a proper calibration is through making a custom profile with the appropriate measurement tools from companies like X-Rite.

At the time of printing I did not have any of these tools, or know anything about making a profile, so I did it all the cave man way - run a print, realize how totally off it is, and use adjustment layers in Photoshop to correct it. I laid out all of the images into a contact sheet on one page and evaluated everything globally. It took me about eight attempts to globally get the images printing right and from there, also needed to do an additional luminance adjustment on the darker images as they were still losing some detail in the deepest of the blacks. 

Do your self a favor and learn from my mistakes. Make a proper printer profile and save your self a lot of time (and ink, and paper, and money...)

Once I got through this phase of calibration it was time for the real deal. In the mean time of all of this calibration fuss, my designer/girlfriend helped out greatly by preparing the layout for each image onto the 11x17 pages. For the most part it was smooth sailing but here are a couple of other bone head mistakes I will caution you to not make as I did -

- Pay close attention to the orientation of how you feed the printer your paper, especially if you're printing double sided.

- While you're at it, make extra sure that the image you are printing on the back of another is in fact meant to go on the back of that image.

- Always make sure your paper is clean as dust free as possible before sending it through the machine!


WAS ALL THE WORK WORTH IT?

I could not be happier to have chosen to print the book myself. Not only did I learn a ton in the process but there is something truly special about seeing your work emerge into your printer tray as a physical photograph. 

Now remember, the work doesn't end once the prints are assembled between the covers. The real work is making the contacts and getting that book in front of as many editors and art directors as you can so that you can land assignments and start shooting the images that will fill out out your next portfolio. 

Have you printed your own portfolio? Have any tips to improve my process here? Let me know!