Building an overview image is the hardest part of putting a photographic portfolio together. Printing your images and moving them around as if you were constructing a jigsaw puzzle is one way to approach this. 
I am a big fan of the Photographic Society of America’s (PSA) Portfolio Distinction Program.  Earlier this month, I found out I was successful in my submission for my Silver Portfolio (SPSA). However, the process was not without its challenges because I was required to resubmit four of the images. All of the images used in this portfolio were taken at Shark Bay, during a photography workshop with Tony Hewitt and Peter Eastway. If you’d like to read about the details of that trip, see Suspended Over Country at Gutharraguda (Shark Bay).
The Portfolio Distinction process is designed to be an educational process not a competition. There are 3 stages—Bronze, Silver and Gold, each requiring a higher technical standard and an increasing amount of images—with 10, 15 and 20 images needed at each step. Each portfolio must be accompanied by a Title, a Statement of Intent and an Overview Image. There are restrictions in the number of words that you can use.
This was my Statement of Intent:
This portfolio showcases the myriad of colors, textures and shapes that form the dramatic landscape found at Shark Bay, Western Australia. It contrasts the patterns created by nature with those formed by man. The red earth, the teal blue ocean, and the geometry of the salt pans is a visual feast captured by an aerial photographer.
The Overview image is meant to represent the collection, and viewed as one cohesive image that could be hung on a wall. The judges will be looking for consistency, balance, and symmetry in tone and composition. Minor distractions like sensor dust or distracting highlights might be an automatic fail.
I am relieved to have completed my SPSA and the hurdles I overcame have helped me grow my skills in constructing a portfolio. Here is a bit of information about the process from the PSA website, but please check directly for details: Portfolio Distinction Program
A PSA portfolio is assessed anonymously by a panel of 5 assessors, starting with the Overview Image. Next, your Title and Statement of Intent is read and the individual images are assessed one at a time. There is no discussion while each assessor absorbs the work you have put in front of them silently.
The process is repeated with each individual assessor determining if the Overview Image is both cohesive and reflects your Title and Intent. Scoring is done by each assessor saying “in” or “out” and consensus reached about comments to be sent back to the artist. Next each individual image is assessed to determine both its technical quality and fit within the portfolio. There are 3 possible outcomes. You can pass, fail or be offered a resubmit if up to 4 images fail to pass.
I did not pass first time around, but was grateful for the opportunity to resubmit. I was asked to resubmit 3 of my images and my Overview Image and offered a mentor who talked me through the process. Have a look at the initial portfolio I submitted.
I was asked to replace Images 1, 10 and 14. I was fortunate that I had lots of images from Shark Bay to choose from so keep in mind to shoot a lot, when preparing a portfolio.
The panel determined that Image #1 was too stark in comparisons to Image 5 and did not have the organic feel of the rest of the portfolio. Images at the end of each row should book end the collection and be complimentary. The entire image should have an organic flow. Visually literacy skills are really important as you consider the hue, saturation and luminosity and consider the direction of flow through this image.
As my mentor guided me, I saw that Image #10 was brighter and more saturated than image #6 and that my eye was being pulled to the right. I needed to balance this a little better. I had not noticed the buildings in Image #14 were quite different to the rest of the collection. I was also able to change the position of images in my resubmitted Overview Image to make sure this new collection was cohesive. However, I could not change the orientation of the original images, so that was certainly a challenge!
I hope you enjoy my Silver Portfolio. I am relieved to pass on my second attempt. If I hadn’t these images could no longer be used in a future attempt. I would encourage you to give the Portfolio Distinction program a go. It is a process that I have found really enjoyable and has helped me grow as a photographer.
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