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What is a Portfolio?


A portfolio of art work should be a collection of your best and most recent work. It is a crucial part of your application. The portfolio helps the school evaluate your achievements and potential, and represents your view of yourself and your work.


Many different portfolios are necessary during your career as an artist: for graduate school, exhibits, galleries, buyers, and employers. The preparation of each portfolio varies according to its purpose. The admissions portfolio required for application to most professional fine art and design schools should include ten to twenty pieces in a variety of media. Fewer pieces may not allow an accurate assessment of your potential. The college will be interested in your drawing ability and use of color in two-dimensional and three-dimensional work.


We can give you suggestions and technical assistance, but there is no exact formula for preparing the “right” portfolio. Art teachers can help you with the selection and photography of your work, but you should make the final decisions on what best represents you.



Slide Portfolio

Slides will be necessary throughout your career: when you seek employment, grants, commissions, or exhibits, as well as when you apply to graduate school.


Photographing Your Art Work

The following is a list of techniques to help you assemble slides that will represent your original art work faithfully.


  • Use a 35mm single lens reflex camera. A tripod and cable release will prevent blurred pictures at slow speeds.

  • Use a solid white, gray, or black background: a clean painted wall, seamless paper, or large sheets of drawing paper. Black cloth reflects less than black paper. Avoid any busy background that detracts from the art work.

  • It is important to purchase the correct film for your light source. Each film chemistry is made for one kind of light. Use daylight film for out of doors and tungsten film with tungsten lights for indoors.

  • Do not mix light sources.

  • For best results inside, we suggest tungsten film (Ecktachrome ASA 160) with tungsten 3200K photoflood bulbs. Use two 250-watt bulbs in reflectors on stands, so they can be moved.

  • For flat work, set one light on each side at a 45-degree angle to start. The distance of the lights from the work is determined by doubling the distance the camera is set from the work.
Photographing a Slide


  • A light meter and a gray card are helpful. Whether the meter is handheld or in the camera, you should take a reading at the center of the art and at the four corners. Adjust the lights so all the readings are the same.

  • Fill the frame in the viewfinder with the image of your art work. The frame lines will help you to position the work so it is centered, level, and parallel to the sides.

  • Prevent shadows from falling on the work. This is a problem when photographing outside because of clouds or trees. When outdoors be sure to use daylight film and a simple background.

  • Bracket the meter reading: photograph at one setting, then expose a half stop above and half stop below that setting.

  • Soften shadows in three-dimensional work by adding a third light. Sometimes shadows are desirable because they define edges or materials. Try using only one light for a more dramatic effect. For each piece take five or six shots emphasizing different angles, details, or textures, then select the best two of each for your portfolio.

  • Project the slides before making your selections. In most cases they will be seen projected by the college reviews committee. Have duplicates made if you are applying to more than one school. (Remember to keep a set for yourself.)

  • Handle slides carefully and avoid fingerprints on the film.

  • Identify the slides as shown below with a pen or marker. Place a red dot in the lower left hand corner on the front of the slide.

  • Place slides in a plastic slide sheet (available at camera stores) and number them consecutively. Make a corresponding inventory sheet noting title, media, size, date, and any other pertinent information about each piece.

  • Do not use labels or tape on the slides. Such additions can cause the slides to jam in the projector.

  • Your local camera store can help you. Also check your library for books on photographing art work.


Resource: The School of the Art Institute of Chicago