Ian Spanier’s Lessons from Portfolio Review Speed Dating

June 2, 2014

By Ian Spanier

© Ian Spanier

Aside from numerous ASMP NY Chapter-sponsored portfolio reviews, I have also attended NY Fotoworks and reviewed for FIT and SVA. Along the way, I have made a few notes on my experiences. I thought it would be helpful to share five points of advice:

1. Bring Your Best, Show the Least

The biggest mistake I have made in the past was to bring far too many portfolios with me. It’s overwhelming to the reviewers who are seeing as many as 15 photographers in the evening to see too much from just one person. iPad’s have compounded this issue, where you can easily have all your work loaded on the tablet. Although I have all my work loaded on it, I don’t even give the reviewer the chance to see it all. You can always say, “I have a portfolio of this or that kind of work…” and ask to email it to them. This not only whets their appetite, but also opens the door for future correspondence.

This review I decided to bring my printed portfolio of my Sport & Fitness work, which over the course of meetings and reviews this year I’ve found to receive the best response from the majority. Along with this, I brought my iPad with my Portrait work, and a copy of my personal project, a new book called Local Heroes: Portraits of American Volunteer Firefighters.

I began each review with the printed Sport & Fitness portfolio and always mentioned my other work is primarily portrait work, which includes everything from celebrity to business. This I have on the iPad ready to go if they want to see that, and I mention that I finished a personal project and the book just came out. Each reviewer wanted to see the book, and that brings up the next point.

I have printed portfolios, but I believe the iPad is the smarter and lighter solution. Images look great backlit, and being able to show all that is loaded on them is great. I’ve also been bringing a published book I did on Volunteer Firefighters, which was published last year. Each reviewer wanted to see the book, and that brings up the next point.

2. Personal Work
You must have some personal work with you. It’s a very difficult position to be in as the photographer with 10 minutes to impress someone. It’s basically speed dating for new clients. Truth be told, most of the time you have been judged in the first minute and/or first few images you show. I found myself in the past trying to show reviewers how I should fit their list of photographers because look I have all this commercial work that I do. Reality is a slap in the face, and the sting comes when  you realize thousands of photographers can do what you do. The real point of the meeting is that the reviewer wants to know who YOU are. It’s selfish, they want to know for themselves and,you know why? Simple, they want to know if they can stand being next to you on a shoot for a day, a week or a month. Showing personal work, and talking about yourself is more important versus all the commercial work you do. They can easily see if you have the talent to do the commercial work, so your time is best spent showing them who you are.

3. Go in with a Plan, but Be Flexible
Before the review you will get a list of the reviewers. From there, make your hit list with who fits (as best as you can tell) to the kind of work you do. More importantly,  be sure that what you are planning to show fits their magazine, ad agency, etc. At some reviews, I see many photographers clammering to get on certain lines to meet a certain reviewer because it’s a big title or ad agency, and they in no way fit the kind of work that reviewer does. We are all in it to try to get more clients and more work, so plan your time out well. Just going to the see The New York Times because you like  The New York Times does not mean it’s a good use of your time.  For the open reviews I put my hit list in a notebook, and when I arrive at the location I make notes of where each of the reviewers I want to meet are sitting.  I then prioritize where I will go once the reviews start. No plan and you will waste time, but you have to be flexible and maximize your time. The popular reviewers will have a line, because it’s inevitable that the 10-minute review will not coincide, and you can end up standing on line and waiting for up to an hour. This is a big mistake. I don’t get on any line of more than two people, and if I am last on line and see an open spot for one of the reviewers who is lower on my list, I’ll take the open chair. You are there to meet those top priorities, however, you are also there to show your work to potential clients. If you are standing on line the bulk of the evening, you will fail at your tasks.

For the paid reviews, do your research, study the list and make not only a realistic selection of reviewers you want to see, but also choose options that make sense.

4. Presentation,as Always Is Everything
That’s the golden rule. iPad’s have taken over of course, for their size, ease of use and memory to hold all you like. Up until recently, I may have been a bit too old school, and only wanted to show a print book. The majority of my work ends up in print, so showing how I take the image from start to print I believe is important. However, now I want to keep my books u to date and have access to all my work in one place. My early objection was that most everything looks good on an iPad. I’d hear the horror stories from many art directors and photo editors who made the mistake of relying on judging a photographer only from an iPad or website. I still have a big appreciation for nice prints, so when I can  I show them my ability to print as well. When I made the switch to the iPad, I made sure the presentation was equally strong as my print books. I am amazed that I still see photographers who show a stack of prints. It says volumes about those photographers, nothing positive in my mind. You could be a great photographer, but if you present your work like a slob, then you are a just a great slob of a photographer. At the very least, mount them, put them in a nice box, something. But don’t pull them out of a plastic bag and expect to be viewed in a positive light.

5. Thank You
During each meeting, I make a note of what image(s) the reviewer reacts to most, and that will be the image I email to the reviewer as an e-promo card post meeting. As well,  I thank the reviewer in the email and always mention something specific we spoke about.  I include links to my website, as well as to both my portfolios thatt I have on Contacting the reviewers after the meeting seems like a no-brainer, but I know for a fact many photographers do not do this. 

Hope this helps some of you out there, please feel free to email any questions!

Ian Spanier’s is an award-winning advertising and editorial photographer based in New York City. As comfortable as he is in  the studio, he can face any challenge presented on location. Ian’s first full book of published work, Playboy, a Guide to Cigars, documents his travels to nearly every country that manufactures cigars and is available at fine cigar shops and at major book stores. His second critically acclaimed book, Local Heroes: Portraits of America’s Volunteer Fire Fighters, is out now in stores and online. You can visit the book’s Tumblr Page here. Spanier is a member of the Lowepro Team, Photoflex’s Pro Team, and Imagenomic’s featured photographer list.  He has been the recipient of  numerous awards from such major photo competitions as  American Photography, SPD, The International Color Awards, The International Black & White Spider Awards, PDN’s World in Focus, Planet Magazine, and Seeing the Light, to name a few. Finally, he is a regular lecturer for SMUG, as well as The Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. Ian Spanier is available for assignment. See his site at   For questions or comments e-mail him at: He is represented by Bill Charles.