The Online Darkroom Store

Wednesday, July 10


Bored in Braemar

I was lying in the bath the other night and, for once, I wasn't playing Words With Friends on the iPhone but reading an old copy of Black and White Photography magazine. Ailsa McWhinnie, the magazine's founding editor, was one of a number of people asked what their biggest achievement of the past year had been (it was a 2006 copy if I remember correctly) and her reply got me thinking.

She said it was reprinting her entire portfolio to a standard 12x16 size. The reason it made an impression on me was because I don't have a portfolio and I'm wondering how many of you do. Am I the only one who isn't organised? I've got prints lying around, a few framed and on the wall, but nothing that is representative of my best work neatly presented in a form that I'd be happy to show anyone. Which is a pity because there are some lovely - and expensive - portfolio boxes around!

Should I sort this omission out? It would be quite an undertaking but it would also be an awful lot of fun as well. Before even starting to whittle the negatives down, I'd need to decide what size to make the prints. Would it be better to print everything, regardless of format, on 12x6 as Ailsa did? Or should I have two portfolios - one for square negs and one for everything else?

Poor Cows

Road to Craigowl

Then there's the make of paper, bearing in mind the considerable cost of the really good stuff, and the surface. And what developer and print colour should I go for. Neutral or warm (I'm not wild about cold-toned prints)? They'd all have to have the same colour otherwise they'd tend to look more like a collection of individual prints rather than a cohesive portfolio.

Pumping Station, Stanley Mills

Glamis Dam

After that lot had been sorted out, it would be down to the nitty-gritty: selecting the negatives for printing. I've posted a few of my favourites from over the years here but there are lots in individual neg bags in a couple of shoe boxes and lots more in negative files. Just looking through everything to make a shortlist would take time but it wouldn't be much of a chore.

I'd need to decide on a figure for the number of prints and try to stick to it otherwise there'd be no end. That would inevitably mean that some I like would be left out but that's life. What's a reasonable figure anyway? How many do you have in your own portfolios? Twenty? Fifty? More? How many would fit in a typical portfolio box?

Solar Probe

Glen Lyon

And how long would it take to print a portfolio? Assuming I'd want to make the best possible print - and what would be the point otherwise? - I'd need to stay in the darkroom with one neg until I'd achieved that. It could be that I'd produce no more than three really good prints for every two darkroom sessions. Maybe more and, heaven forbid, maybe even fewer! Well, you wouldn't want to hurry it, would you?

That could mean, for a 50-strong portfolio, 30-40 darkroom sessions. That's a big time commitment. Maybe that's the reason I'm sitting here without a portfolio! So, will I get round to gathering my best negatives from the last 35 years or so together and making a start? I don't know. I've got a few good ideas for projects on the go already and it's always difficult finding the time to work through them. Should I take on the burden of another big commitment?


Omar Özenir said...

Since you asked, I do have a portfolio :)

It's important to have one ready just in case someone (who might possibly open doors) asks "let me see your photos".

My portfolio contains 20 prints. They are all 9.5x12 inches and put into museum quality transparent plastic sleeves. The whole bunch goes into a box. I think 50 prints is a lot...much more than I'd personally like to go through in a couple of minutes. IMO, you should be able to convey what kind of work you produce in about 12 to 20 prints.

The biggie is content and even more importantly cohesiveness. The work should have a common thread; obvious or subtle. That's where I personally have to put in a bit more work.

Andrew Sanderson said...

Well Bruce, I have two portfolio boxes 20x16 inch size, and about 300 prints in them! I have a load of stuff that I've shot since I put these together (about ten years ago), and I'm constantly trying to find the time to print those up. I too keep thinking that I should put some serious time aside to getting some good prints done, but that always seems to be just out of reach.

Gracjan said...

Hi Bruce,

Just like with any other enterprise, no matter what kind of activity is it, I would first ask myself - why? What is the goal I want to achieve? Do I want to impress potential buyers, show my pictures to my family or just have something material in my hand? Then it's time to ask - how to achieve this goal? Maybe it's paper portfolio, maybe it's web gallery (you already have one) or - if you are a good orator - just speaking about your pictures makes enough impression? :)

I would say that you can ease your conscience; if you have no printed portfolio yet, probably you don't need it at all. :)

morris1800 said...

Go for it Bruce . You have some great shots here that will surely be included in the portfolio. I think a 16x12 quality print is a thing of beauty in its self.There is of course the digital options for a portfolio showing your photography skills i.e the DVD slide show of your best images to entertain with music and fades ( popcorn and ice creams a must)or making your own customised hardback book (have seen some excellent examples) where text can be added giving location details or your own thoughts on any of the images. A nice keepsake for the family. I have considered all three options and done neither!But I must admit whilst the quality print is the most desirable option the time and potential cost makes it easy to leave it on my things I'd like to do list.


Thanks for those three great comments. You've really got me thinking now.

Your point is well made, Gracjan. I think the fact that I'm thinking about it tells me I should probably start work on a portfolio. I was happy enough with an online gallery when I was using a DSLR but now that I'm using film only that seems a bit odd. Plus, it's always irked me that if someone were to knock on my door and ask to see some photographs I'd only really be able to show them some jpegs.

That leaves the question of how many prints? Andrew, you deserve a medal for having 300 prints in your portfolio! Quite honestly, if I were to duplicate that, I'd end up with about 200+ prints in there just to add bulk. Haha.

Omar, I like your idea of 20 portfolio prints. That's a manageable target and I could always add to it. Your size of print is also good from a cost point of view. What sort of border do you have and how do you accommodate square and full frame 35mm prints in the same portfolio?


Andy, your comment is great as well but it came in just as I was posting my comment and I hadn't seen it! If I were you, I'd concentrate on building a portfolio of your lith prints. You're having a great time trying all these different techniques but I think Omar's right that a portfolio is better if it has a theme of some sort. I'd love to open a portfolio box and see your lith prints sitting inside. That would be a treat.

Andrea Ingram said...

I was actually looking at that copy the other night. Wasn't Ailsa a great editor?
Anyway, no portfolio at this end, just piles of prints around the [very small] place!

Omar Özenir said...

Bruce, I'll mail you a crappy iphone pic of my portfolio spread out on a desk. That should give you an idea about border size.

I like 9.5x12 inch paper mainly because I can throw the box of prints into a backpack...ease of portability.

Horizontal vs verticular vs square is indeed a problem with loose prints. I try to sequence the prints so that the viewer has to turn the stack only once. For example 10 horizontal prints from 35mm film followed by a mix of vertical 35mm's and/or square prints.

Paul Glover said...

I'm looking at doing something like this myself, at least once I get to a point where I'm happy with my printing. Lately I'm leaning heavily toward square format shots (must be all the time I'm spending with the TLR!) so I'm sure at this point everything would be square. Not sure if I'd want to go with maybe 10x10-ish or a bit larger (15x15?). Perhaps that question will answer itself when I see actual prints!

My plan is to keep it to about 20 prints and avoid having any particularly jarring changes of subject. I might even consider making more than one portfolio, with each one being a cohesive body of work. I've also heard of people having a single portfolio, but customizing it for the specific viewer; that might be more of a do-it-all commercial photographer's approach though.

I figure the editing process to get down to that number of final prints will be a good exercise in itself. Difficult, but worthwhile.

david kirby said...

Some great prints here Bruce. I particularly love yhe road to craigowl one-outstanding! If I can make a print as good as that in my life ill die a happy man!

Nick Jardine said...

I agree with Omar's suggestion. If your portfolio is to sell your work or gain commissions then 20 prints should be ample to do it - if you haven't convinced someone by then the chances are you never will.

Less is more (sure i said the same thing on a previous topic.)

I always use a portfolio case with the ring binder that takes plastic inserts sleeves (not the most lavish way to show prints, but easy to flick through) If I had the money and time, it would be museum boxes and archival protection pages

My prints are mounted onto matts cut from museum grade board, with a bevelled edge, and I leave about 1cm of white border on the print itself to the edge of the board. I use black museum board only because white gets dirty very easily with fingerprints.

I always mount the image centrally, which I think helps even out any different format sizes. I use a 16x12 board with prints of approx 10 x 8. This because most people view a portfolio with it on their lap or on a table in front of them, so pretty close. I also only put one image on a page, so that the viewer is never looking at more than one image at a time - that also helps when you've used different formats because there is no direct visual comparison.

I never title prints nor write anything about them. Geographical notes are fine but anything that tries to explain a print I think is a mistake. Images speak for themselves.

Of course, if you're doing it for family and friends, then you can pretty much do what you want, but I think it's a valuable lesson to be strict and discipline yourself. Editing is all part of the process, especially when working on a themed project.

I'm a great collector of books and looking what great photographers have done is always a good learning tool.

The classic for me, and one I would recommend to all is Robert Frank's 'The Americans'. It's a great starting point.

Bruce, I really liked the images of the cars in the scrapyard with the poetry, and for that I would make up a book. Mixing words and images works in a book much better than a portfolio. Good books cost quite a bit to get printed, but to put together a dummy and have it printed by one of these online companies is pretty cheap and although the prints are not of the highest quality, I've always found the results pleasing.


Thanks for that, Nick. Lots to think about there. I suppose I'd mainly be putting together a portfolio because it would ne nice to have something worthwhile and tangible. I suppose it would also make it harder for my kids to throw out my work. Haha.

Nick Jardine said...

Hi Bruce.

Yeah, sorry for the long post, thought I'd give you some precise details on how I do it.

Ultimately if the portfolio is for you then go with the sizes, mounts, matts etc that you think show off your prints to their maximum.

It's a good subject you've hit upon because editing is always overlooked when people talk about photography and yet it's one of the most important processes.


Absolutely no problem with long comments, Nick. The longer, the better and the more, the merrier as far as I'm concerned.

There's something to be said for larger prints but I'm conscious of the fact that Bill Schwab amd Michael Kenna, both of whom I think are pretty special, concentrate on prints around 8x8". 10x12 paper cut down to 10x10 and with a one inch border might be a nice way of presenting 8x8 photographs.

Anonymous said...

I too would tend to go with Omar. I think 20 is enough – any more and all sorts of fatigues start to set in.

I particularly agree with him on size and distribution of format: size, because these are not prints on a wall, six feet away, they're on a desk in front of you, and 9.5 x 12 is plenty big enough; distribution, because we feel comfortable with patterns that demonstrate continuity and progression.

I disagree, though, about the common thread. If your object is to have a portfolio of your work, rather than of a specific project, then you don't need thematic cohesion. Variety will show how versatile you can be.