Proof of a Portfolio Vs. Promise of a Resume

chasejarvis_lulu lemon athleticaPeople that have “done it” will be able to do it again. Whether it’s shooting a successful commercial assignment, hanging in a museum, making a music video, or whatever. It may not be a de-facto truth, but that’s what’s believed on the open market. It’s SAFER for the person hiring a creative if they can point to something that you’ve already done. One reason I get a lot of work is that I’ve done a lot of projects. They’re banking on my portfolio–work I’ve actually completed, work that I can point at, not a “resume,” or work that can be surmised.

I’m not saying it’s right or fair. It’s just the way it is.

But what if we’re not on the up-side of experience? For someone trying to get their first chance at anything where the keys to the kingdom are closely held by someone else, this can be a huge paradox.

If what you think you need is a new platform to show you can do something, you’re barking up the wrong tree. “Just gimme a shot and I’ll deliver” won’t cut it, no matter how loud you say it or how much you hope for it. The people making the decisions want proof. After all, if you fall flat, it usually means their ass is cooked.

So instead of lamenting “woe is me”, try this: Don’t create a resume, create a portfolio. Create actual WORK that looks like what you want to get “discovered” for. And make that work very strong.

Stop waiting for someone to take a chance on you. Do the work. And then show it to whomever’s got the keys to the kingdom. Once you’ve “done it”–and done it well–the phone will ring.

[inspired by a recent post featuring Randy Nelson from Pixar]

72 Responses to Proof of a Portfolio Vs. Promise of a Resume

  1. Kyle Tunney October 18, 2010 at 9:27 am #

    Very well said. Currently working on launching all new images in my portfolio over the next few weeks. Looking forward to the feedback then :)

  2. Royd October 18, 2010 at 9:29 am #

    Agree with you 100%. It is, of course, hard for people like me who are just starting out, but there is no substitute for hard work and the only way to succeed is to actually go out and get work done instead of waiting around for people to come ask you.

  3. Chris Alwin October 18, 2010 at 9:30 am #

    Very true just what im working on atm. Although im currently trying the sustain element of your philosophy or rather the get going…

  4. Jerlyn October 18, 2010 at 9:34 am #

    You’re absolutely right! Also, some employers never really read your resume until you get there anyway.

  5. JeresyStyle Photography October 18, 2010 at 9:35 am #

    As usual, well said.

  6. Donnie Bell Design October 18, 2010 at 9:36 am #

    We’re living proof of this. Our firm has the business we have because of the quality of our work.

  7. Chase October 18, 2010 at 9:38 am #

    Heres a hint that helps. If you see something you admire, like or think is awesome. Get out and try to recreate or reinterpret the idea. Sift thru mags, online, etc and find some inspiration and call friends, find models, etc, and create a project.

    Wash, rinse, repeat. It will help your chops, your vision and your networking. It will make a huge difference.

    You will get hired for that. Just like CJ said above.

    Thanks for the blog CJ, awesome as always.

  8. Destry Jaimes October 18, 2010 at 9:43 am #

    This SLAMS the nail right on the head, Chase!

    It’s so important to get out and shoot vision based work so that you get hired for that vision.

    Whether that vision is a mood, a look, a lighting style, whatever – shoot it, develop it, refine it, evolve it even further, and don’t stop.


  9. Jason Pratt October 18, 2010 at 9:44 am #

    A very inspiring blog. Something that I have taken from you from your earlier videos like the RAW Ninja’s one.

    You said “No one will ever employ to shoot Ninja’s but the fact that I have done it shows I can do it” (or something like that)

    However what I took from that was the fact that your personal projects are as much an extension of you like the work you get paid to do.

    Jason P.

  10. Nicolas Chauveau October 18, 2010 at 9:49 am #

    So true. x2.

  11. Jason October 18, 2010 at 9:54 am #

    Well put, as always. Chase, thanks for inspiring some of us that aren’t even photogs. You rock!

  12. J W Nienstedt October 18, 2010 at 9:59 am #

    Thanks for delivering the cold hard truth on this. I think a lot of us would love to hear the stories of how photogs such as yourself were able to do that work early on, what you did, and how you got the right people to see it. David duChemin touched on it in his second book in the section on you but I would love to hear you elaborate on your photographic beginnings.

    • sal October 18, 2010 at 2:29 pm #

      i second that…yea Chase, lets hear your beginnings as a photographer trying to be discovered ….or be seen. :)

      • Ahmed Eid October 19, 2010 at 6:25 am #

        This post is amazing. So True. Thanks Chase!

      • Dorian October 29, 2010 at 12:26 am #

        yes lets hear how you started. i would love to know

  13. Suki October 18, 2010 at 10:01 am #

    Thank you so much for these words. They totally hit home over here.

  14. shaunoh October 18, 2010 at 10:07 am #

    I really appreciate your honest voice of inspiration. The creative world is competitive no doubt. I find it very refreshing to see someone encourage and give advice to others in his field, even when one day they may be in competition for the same job. It shows that you are really in this game for the right reasons. For me it is these honest insights and lessons of yours in which I constantly find true inspiration.

    Thanks so much Chase.

  15. Mike Behnken October 18, 2010 at 10:09 am #

    Thanks for that post, everything you blog comes off as perfect advice…

  16. Ben Fullerton October 18, 2010 at 10:15 am #

    Well put, Chase! And very true…

  17. Alvin Catacutan October 18, 2010 at 10:20 am #

    This applies to anyone in a creative field. I shared your link on my Blog for Actors.

    Thanks for the inspiration Chase!

  18. SINSIR VISION October 18, 2010 at 10:27 am #

    Agree with you 100%. It is, of course, hard for people like me who are just starting out, but there is no substitute for hard work and the only way to succeed is to actually go out and get work done instead of waiting around for people to come ask you. But when u put the work in on portfolios websites ect it’s still hard to get it out there and when u do ppl try to take advantage because of the fact that ur a hungry artist. I work with everything from 3d max 2010/2011 real flow cs5 photoshop adobe after effects ect . and stil find it hard to get what i’m lookin for

  19. Morten Koldby October 18, 2010 at 10:36 am #

    So true. This is why personal projects become even more important when you don’t have any work at the moment. It’s also important to show potential clients that you are continually using & honing your skills.

  20. Sara Loft October 18, 2010 at 10:58 am #

    I’m a visual artist and you’re right on how building a portfolio is the modern way to show your work. A resume is good as for how much employment and skills you have, but the experiences segment can be clearly shown in your work unless your field is otherwise. Keep it up for posting awesome tips to success! You’re already a star for sharing others what’s good for them. ;>D

  21. Ophlex October 18, 2010 at 11:03 am #

    Thanks a lot i feel inspired

  22. J Oliver October 18, 2010 at 11:03 am #

    Great advice, and very well put. Plus, building up a portfolio forces you not to cut corners like you might do in mock-ups you don’t plan to publish online. With a functional portfolio, where people can click around and interact with the images/page, you have to get it spot-on. As they say, practise makes perfect.

  23. Harkiran October 18, 2010 at 11:15 am #

    Three years after struggling on my own + barely doing 6 editorial shoots, have finally realised that this is a BUSINESS + needs to be run like one. Done with the Portrait of Young Man as a struggler!!! I’ve become more of a wilted photographer than a budding one ;)

    Thank you for your blogs. You truly are an inspiration for these depths of loneliness + depression + being absolutely broke. every time i get to the edge + feel like I can’t do it…thank you. for being there with your amazing blogs + videos.

    Finally started doing test shoots + collaborating with various talent a few months back…hopefully it’ll click ;)

    warmth, Harkiran

  24. Matthew Dutile October 18, 2010 at 11:40 am #

    Well said. You have to do to prove you can continue doing. It’s a show game, not a tell one.

  25. david bram October 18, 2010 at 11:43 am #

    Perfectly said.

  26. Christian Anderl October 18, 2010 at 11:48 am #

    absolutely what i experienced. when i started to use my free time for free work, checked in some musicians of which i knew they couldn´t afford it anyway and just did some shots, went out for own projects (of which some were never shown anyswhere cause i simply messed it up) … all of a sudden the phone began to ring. and it still is that way – with every good shooting – no matter if it was free portfolio work or commercial work – the next customer appears (ok, with almost every ;))
    thanks for the blog post as a reminder, and as a good hint for everybody entering the business!

  27. Jusitn October 18, 2010 at 11:49 am #

    Great post, I’m gonna follow this advice and rock it out :)

  28. Nik October 18, 2010 at 11:52 am #

    So true, and so good to hear. I need to pick up a few more personal projects…

  29. David Dvir October 18, 2010 at 12:02 pm #


    Kind of wicked advice here! I really love it. I know personally, getting hired was a VERY even combo of actual experience, and projects I created for my portfolio. The point is to show the potential client you CAN do something by showing them something you’ve done.

    Love this advice!


  30. Hafe October 18, 2010 at 12:13 pm #

    Awesome post and great insight from one of the big guns.

    I am learning slowly that its not the job that matters its the passion. I can take a job for XYZ for the cash or I can take take it for the experiance and the idea I have. I am at such a starter position that money is the end all be all. The experiance the ability to be able to project my vision is the best part.

    But a dollar is fun…

  31. Kiren October 18, 2010 at 12:14 pm #

    Great effin’ advice!!!!!

  32. Britt October 18, 2010 at 12:20 pm #

    I completely agree, 100% percent, hands down.
    I’m currently a photography major at the art institute
    for my first year, but on my own for the past two years
    I’ve composed a portfolio with a plethora of concepts.

    I currently work at a portrait studio, and my classmates always
    ask me how did I get a photography job, when they can’t and I
    tell them…. i just show them my portfolio…. the rest speaks for

    You don’t take a photograph, you make it… When words become unclear, I shall focus with photographs. When images become inadequate, I shall be content with silence… ~Ansel Adams

  33. Hafe October 18, 2010 at 12:23 pm #

    You are kinda like Yoda.

  34. Phil Hoyt October 18, 2010 at 12:23 pm #

    Words to live by and what I have been doing for the past year!

  35. Will Foster October 18, 2010 at 12:33 pm #

    Ah yeah! CHASE! You are on the MARK! Great blog! I actually took this “resume” idea to a whole new level and created a portfolio/resume just for kicks. I was so frustrated that my traditional resume was just so boring and bland. So… I made my own style of resume. Most importantly it is a portfolio. All on the web, so I can change, add and remove photos.

    I am unemployed in the Seattle area so I’ve had a lot of time to really put somethings to test. Just needing to get a couple more shoots a month and maybe I can afford to eat more than Peanut Butter and Jelly sandwiches!

    Here is my portfolio/resume:

    Check it out! :-)

  36. Michael October 18, 2010 at 1:12 pm #

    Man, I eff-ing love this post. What a cut-to-the-chase, crystal clear, practical piece of advice that can literally, should one accept this approach, send one down a life path that’s filled with the what-ifs of creating the things, the portfolio, that you want to be hired for.

    I’m sure as one moves confidently and further down that path, building and creating more and more – there will be less need to have to prove anything to anyone. They can just forge their own path and success much as C. Jarvis has done.

  37. Lou M. October 18, 2010 at 1:31 pm #

    great post. saw this article today on seems
    like things are trending this way.

  38. Carl Licari October 18, 2010 at 1:32 pm #

    Amen Bro…

  39. david October 18, 2010 at 1:48 pm #

    The correct expression is “woe is me,” not “woes me.” :)

    • Chase October 18, 2010 at 3:51 pm #

      thanks david!

  40. Simon October 18, 2010 at 1:59 pm #

    Well said. Just to clarify, though, I interpret this differently from doing work on-spec – ie. doing a job for someone for free, just “as a test” to see what your skill are. That usually ends badly for the person who’s doing the work, in my experience.

    Build your portfolio by doing your own projects and expressing your own vision.

  41. Niek October 18, 2010 at 2:02 pm #

    Totaly true. I’m on a mediadesigner-highschool in holland to become (ofcourse:) a mediadesigner.
    My diploma wil be just a simple peace of paper that will say: you pass! Nice. But if you have totaly zero input of creativity, than you will pass anyway. Because it’s just the theory. Hmmm…
    So, a portfolio separates the noobs from the pro’s i think.

  42. Bernie Greene Sussex Photographer October 18, 2010 at 3:51 pm #

    Spot on Chase. Just one question. You aren’t saying it’s right or fair. That’s okay until you try and think of something that would be more right or more fair. I don’t think you could.

  43. Brian Feulner October 18, 2010 at 4:13 pm #

    Whenever I’m feeling discouraged Chase always comes through with a nice little fortune cookie of a blog to make the day a little brighter.


  44. Jacob Pace October 18, 2010 at 4:23 pm #

    Thank Chase, You have backed up my thoughts and what I’ve been telling my self. Its time to push harder. :)

  45. jose October 18, 2010 at 11:04 pm #

    Well said. It’s advice like yours that pushes me beyond my safety zone.

    • Jon DeVaul October 19, 2010 at 6:47 am #

      Hate to “rain on everyone’s parade here”, let me play devil’s advocate. Number one, a resume is rather pointless…art directors/buyers, want to see what you can do, not where you went to school, who you assisted etc. So far we’re in complete agreement here. Now, here’s where I play devil’s advocate. You put together a nice website/portfolio. It can’t be tear sheets of previous jobs, or we wouldn’t be having this discussion, so it’s beautiful shots that you’ve set up, but they’re still not jobs. Here’s what happened to me within the last month or so. After looking at my website, an out of state art director asked me to bid on a job for Target. They loved my work, but went with the person who shot it last year. Shortly after that, I had an art director from a major ad agency tell me that he “loved my work, as a matter of fact, some of your work is breathtaking” and then this “but how much of was shot commercially?” I was honest…”none”. I have a friend who is a producer in NYC. I asked him what he would do, and he said “well, I’m not against lying a little”. I really don’t want to come off as either bragging or resentful, but to rather convey what is going on “out there in the real world”. Chase did say it’s not fair. Put yourself in the AD’s shoes. Do they take a chance on the new exciting photographer, or stick to the person whose been delivering very adequate jobs. There’s both a sense of loyalty and fear(and don’t get mad about this, because when you become that shooter, you want that same loyalty shown to you). Just to let you know, I’m no rookie. Back in the early ’80’s, I had a studio and shot for some well know clients. I do have tear sheets, but they are very out-dated. I dropped out over 16 years ago to be a “Mr. Mom”, and started back, just when the economy was “going south”. This means I’m like a “rookie with experience”. When I really did start out, ad agencies would give you the small jobs, while their “tried and true” shooter would do the big jobs. Once they got confident with you, you moved up the ladder. Now, a lot of art directors/designers will shoot the simple stuff themselves with their own digital camera, add to that RF stock, and it makes for a tough situation . Believe it or not, I’m an optimist and I think that eventually things will work out for me and you if we keep at it.

      • Jon DeVaul October 19, 2010 at 6:51 am #

        Oh, Chase, I didn’t mean to hi-jack your blog and turn it into a rant :D

      • Bruce Buck October 19, 2010 at 7:37 am #

        To dovetail with what Jon said, I think this also speaks to the fact that there are other factors at play when “getting the job” than just whether or not you can deliver the goods.

        Don’t get me wrong, I totally agree that in the end, that’s what usually matters. However, we also know that the old adage still holds true, in a corporate environment, that the competent people are not always the ones who keep their jobs, it’s the people who know HOW TO GET ALONG with others. Seems unfair as well, but also true.

        It’s possible that you could be the best photographer/videographer/cinematographer/etc in the world and produce the best work, but if you have a reputation of being a total jerk to work with, you may still find yourself unable to “seal the deal”.

        People skills are probably the most overlooked aspect of ANY job in any field, yet my belief is they are probably the most important, even more-so than technical ability.

        • Andrew Farrell October 19, 2010 at 8:50 pm #

          Chase, a tech question on portfolios if I may. You’re using the iPad a lot for questions to be recieved when you do your videos, do you use your iPad to show any of your work to Art Directors, clients, friends etc. If you do, how are you doing it?

          • Chase Jarvis October 19, 2010 at 10:06 pm #

            yes. i’m just loading it up with photos and videos and either leaving them with the prospective client or giving them a tour myself. quite handy. people seem to love it.

      • vince gonzales October 24, 2010 at 9:33 am #

        Great perspective!

      • Dorian October 29, 2010 at 12:40 am #

        i second that!!!!

  46. Marc October 19, 2010 at 6:55 am #

    Awesome timing Chase, got a few shoots setup just to create the portfolio that I want to show to people. What you just posted goes hand in hand with what’s been on my mind for two weeks now.

    Love it!

  47. nayan khanolkar October 20, 2010 at 9:39 am #

    so true Chase….very well said…

  48. Jesus del remedio October 20, 2010 at 10:32 pm #

    me a question arises: can a portfolio that contains different types of images, showing our ability to do different projects, or is it better to specialize in one type of photography, ie, sports, beauty …? (sorry for my bad english)

  49. vince gonzales October 24, 2010 at 9:34 am #

    Very helpful, thank you Chase

  50. Top Rated Cameras October 25, 2010 at 12:51 am #

    I absolutely agree on everything you’ve said. And that’s what I am doing now. Portfolio is like a reflection of your resume IMO.

  51. SFBeehler October 27, 2010 at 12:02 pm #

    Chase I have really enjoyed your many posts, this post in particular has inspired my latest post. I hope you don’t mind me linking to your blog from mine. Thanks for all the tips, and the open community you have created here on the web.


  52. Luke October 28, 2010 at 9:39 pm #

    I love this shot. Would love to create a whole theme for my site, Personal Training Melbourne, but gotta get my skills up… Having a consistent image in all advertising and marketing pieces is crucial I think.

  53. Dorian October 29, 2010 at 12:07 am #

    Hi Chase,

    As allways i enjoy your posts and i find you very inspiring and full of energy. i like this post and i know it makes the most sense. i would like to pose some questions though. you say do the work, make a portfolio, but what about the financial cost of putting a kickass portfolio together? and the arrogance condecending attitude of many Art D’s that has permeated Ad agencies? It seems that Art D’s expectations are becoming more and more outrageous. its seems one has to create more outrageous and fantastical portfolios before anyone even looks at you. this is sometimes just to get boring catalogue work! for someone who hasent got a big budget or is starting out, how do they compete? and then there is the sad reality of not what you know but WHO you are friends with. if you are friends someone in an advertising agency or department, you have a better chance of getting in. time and again i hear of photographers who have to go thru the humiliating proccess of presenting their portfolios to a panel of self absorbed condescending advertising ponytails sarcastically commenting on the portfolio, and making the photographer feel as if he/she is wasting their time and have a nerve taking them out of their creative space. these are strong words but i can assure you there are a fair amount out there in the world that can attest to these experiences.

    the real bone breaker is when the same photogrpaher finds out a little while later that a friend of theirs who knows very little about photography as they have just taken up an interest, gets called in to the same agency by a friend of theirs and gets work, without even presenting a portfolio!

    if you think this has happend to me, it hasent, it happend to very good and tallented photographer friends of mine and many others

    These Art D’s wonder why some photographers become so arrogant!

    your thoughts on this would be appreciated


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