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In January, I was asked to be a judge a portion of the 2017 Texas Associated Press Managing Editors (TAPME) photo contest. The contest encompasses stories as well as pictures. I judged a news photo category as well as what the TAPME calls their Star Photojournalist awards.

The single photo category is pretty straightforward: pick the best individual image The Star Photojournalist category was a little more difficult. Entrants had to send in a portfolio of twelve of their best photos from the year.

The Galveston Daily News’ Stuart Villanueva’s portfolio was head and shoulders above the rest. Everyone else was just competing for second and third.

When evaluating a portfolio, whether for a contest or looking for a prospective job applicant, one has a few things to consider.

The first, of course, is how good are the pictures. Are they technically sound? Do they connect on not only an aesthetic level with the viewer but an emotional one as well?

Most of the entrants to the contest easily reached this bar. Villanueva’s work also exhibited a certain photographic cleverness. Many of the pictures not only showed a technical excellence but there was a certain visual delightfulness to them as well.

Secondly, how well to the pictures all work together as a group. This goes to the ephemeral quality of “style.” Style is when an editor or reader can look at a picture, like it and say themselves “so-in-so must have taken it.” If ever find myself reading a paper in Galveston, I now can probably pick out Villanueva’s photos. His work had his signature all over it and it felt all of a single piece. Others did too but to a lesser extent.

Lastly, there’s a saying in photography that a portfolio is only as good as its weakest picture. For me, what brought down many of the other portfolios was that they felt like they were just trying to round out the limit of twelve. In other words, they might have had a strong eight or ten photos but added a mediocre one or two to make the twelve. If would’ve left those extraneous picture out then they would have had a strong portfolio. The weak ones brought them down. Villanueva’s work was consistently good through and through.

To produce a good portfolio one must have to be a strong editor of their own work. You have to look at your photos with a dispassionate and brutal eye. Never hold on to a picture because of sentimentality. I know it’s easy to be swayed by factors like what it took to get the shot or if there’s someone who’s famous in it, but with every picture you have to ask “is this good?” And “why?” Villanueva’s portfolio was very tightly edited. I wonder what great work was left on his cutting room floor.

I have seen a number of portfolios in my time and the best ones were like Villanueva’s, excellent and consistent. You may wonder why putting together a portfolio may be for you. If you’re an amateur looking to become a more serious one you may want to organize one for a Web site or even for job hunting. A good, well-edited portfolio can showcase your work and show what you can do.

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