How smart students showcase their work with a printed portfolio

Whether you're seeking mentorship, entering a competition or pitching for work, you can stand out from the crowd by creating a professional printed portfolio that does full justice to your photographic skills and talent. Canon printer and Hahnemühle paper experts advise.
A photography student wearing a yellow coat studies an A3 image printed on a Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 printer, which is on the table next to her.

It pays to look good on paper. Even the most stunning images can look uninspiring when viewed on an ordinary smartphone, everyday tablet or average computer screen, where you have no control over the viewing conditions or how badly the display may be adjusted. Whether you're seeking mentorship, pitching for work, applying for an exhibition or entering a competition, a quality printed portfolio can put you in control of your images and take you where you want to go.

Here, Canon Europe print expert Suhaib Hussain shares his tips for producing a printed portfolio that will showcase your photos in their best light and ensure that your images are viewed just as you want them to be. In addition, Eveline Eisermann and Alexander Cartellieri, respectively Marketing Communication Specialist and Digital FineArt Product Manager at fine art paper manufacturer Hahnemühle, explain how choosing the right paper can help give your portfolio the edge.

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A black Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 printer sits on a white desk, a full-bleed colour print resting on its output tray.

In addition to being affordable and compact for an A3+ printer, the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 delivers spectacular print quality for both colour and black and white images on glossy, lustre and matte photo papers, as well as fine art media.

A selection of prints, plus boxes of Hahnemühle FineArt Inkjet Paper, are spread out on a desk.

Taking control

Size matters when creating a portfolio – in two senses. You won't gain anything by bombarding your recipient with an overload of images, so limit the number of prints in your portfolio to no more than 20 to 30 at most – some busy picture editors want just 8 to 12 to begin with, and will ask to see more if they need to. If you're entering a competition or pitching for a commission where a precise number of images is specified in the terms and conditions, make sure you stick to this.

Next, remember that the physical size of the prints is also important. Unless a particular size is specified, bigger is better – A4 prints can look a bit unimpressive, so print at A3 or above for more imposing images that will better showcase your technical ability.

Suhaib says the cost-effective Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 A3+ printer is the ideal tool for the job. "When you're creating a portfolio as a student, it's important to demonstrate that you have an understanding of the different aspects of photography, whether it's lighting, composition and technique, or the ability to create strong black and white images," he explains. "You need a printer that's going to be able to deliver that on paper, simply and without being too expensive, as your budget is bound to be limited as a student. Printing your photos can also be a key element in your development as a photographer, because it really helps you to critique your own work and see how you could make improvements at the shooting stage.

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"The imagePROGRAF PRO-300 puts you in full control," Suhaib continues. "Its pigment-based ink set is designed to deliver a broad colour gamut along with superb black and white prints with outstanding tonal range and really deep blacks. It's also exceptional for skin tones in portraits. There's certainly nothing wrong with dye-based printers, but the imagePROGRAF PRO-300 delivers superior results on matte and fine art papers, while its Chroma Optimizer cartridge still enables great print quality on glossy and lustre papers.

"In fact, the choice of paper is critical when creating a portfolio, which is where a company like Hahnemühle comes in. Canon printers directly support fine art papers from Hahnemühle and other manufacturers."

The Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 printer with its paper input tray extended.

The Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 is a cost-effective A3+ printer incorporating advanced professional-level features including the same pigment ink technology used in Canon's Large Format Printers.

A close-up of the corner of a photo print on heavily textured paper, showing a pale woman's face wearing bright red lipstick.

Add depth and texture to your images with the finely woven surface of Hahnemühle Cézanne Canvas, a heavy inkjet canvas made of pure cotton.

Paper selection

Compared with regular photo paper, fine art papers can bring far greater levels of depth and expression to printed photographs. So, are there certain Hahnemühle papers that are particularly suited to portfolio printing? Eveline says no.

"I think the decision about which fine art paper to use should always be based on the message that the photographer wants to get across, and how they want to convey a certain expression," she explains. "We often say that there's no perfect paper for any given image. One photographer might prefer a glossy look and go for something like Photo Rag Metallic from the Digital FineArt Glossy range, while another might want more of an old-school darkroom feel and go for Photo Rag Baryta. We have some beautiful papers in the Digital FineArt Textured line, and it can be amazing to see how the different textures of the paper can combine with texture in the photographic image to bring it to life."

A user taps the screen of a smartphone to print to a Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 on the table in front of her.
A close-up of the corner of a photo print on lightly textured hemp paper, showing a large rock in front of a misty, mountainous landscape.

Hahnemühle offers a huge range of fine art papers with different textures, surfaces and gloss levels. It can seem a daunting task to get to know the characteristics of different papers and find what suits your specific needs or your general style. "Like most of us, students need to be budget-conscious and spend their money wisely. We offer sample packs of various different papers, so they can explore the range and see what works best for them," Eveline says.

"A fine art paper can make an image look more 'real'," Alexander adds. "The texture of the paper works with the lighting under which you're viewing it to create an almost three-dimensional entity from a flat image. The right photo on the right paper can give the print a voice that will add drama and really speak to the viewer.

"Along with print quality, another aspect that's increasingly important is the environmental issue," Alexander continues. "Our Digital FineArt Natural Line has become highly popular and includes papers made from hemp, bamboo and agave. These crops are fast-growing and easily renewable, while requiring comparatively little water and no herbicides or pesticides. All of our papers across the whole range are vegan, and the factory itself is in an environmentally protected area, using pure, natural spring water, so we don't need to use any chemicals in the paper-making process."

A man adjusts the print settings using Canon Professional Print & Layout software on his computer. On his screen is a picture of Guatemala's Fuego stratovolcano.

Canon's free Professional Print & Layout software puts you in control of the printing process, with options to soft proof on-screen and hard proof on paper to help ensure colour accuracy without a lot of trial and error or wasted paper. © Magali Tarouca

Master the process

Creating top-quality prints for your portfolio is a multi-step process, beginning with good photographic proficiency and ending with a mastery of printing techniques. In the middle, there's the software. Canon's free Digital Photo Professional (DPP) software is designed to help you make the most of your Canon RAW files, and Canon's Professional Print & Layout app, which is also completely free to download and use, will enable you to get the best results from your Canon printer. You can use it as a standalone app or as a plug-in for DPP, Adobe® Photoshop,® Photoshop Elements and Adobe Lightroom®. It's optimised for the imagePROGRAF PRO-300 and the current range of Canon's larger professional photo printers.

Suhaib emphasises the benefits of using the soft-proofing and hard-proofing tools in Professional Print & Layout. "The soft-proofing tool uses the ICC profiles of individual Hahnemühle and other papers to give you an on-screen preview of how your image will look when it's printed," he says, dramatically reducing the uncertainty in photo printing. "It works really well, so long as you have a good-quality screen that's accurately calibrated.

"For hard-proofing, you can create a Pattern print, which outputs multiple thumbnail versions of the same image on the paper, with subtle differences in brightness, contrast and colour rendition, so you can pick your favourite option before creating the full-sized print. This is really effective, even if you don't have an expensive, calibrated screen, and removes all the trial and error, saving a lot of time, money and materials that could otherwise be wasted.

"Another plus point is that, like the larger Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-1000 A2 format printer, the imagePROGRAF PRO-300 has a high-precision paper transport system, enabling borderless or full-bleed printing on matte and fine art media instead of just on glossy photo papers."

Special features of the printer can not only help ensure quality prints but also save you money. "The imagePROGRAF PRO-300 has an automatic skew correction feature, which avoids wasted ink and paper resulting from paper misfeeds and misalignment," Suhaib adds. "Canon's photo inkjet printers also use FINE technology in their print heads. The tightly packed nozzles have a high level of redundancy so, if a nozzle should become blocked while creating a print, adjacent nozzles are automatically substituted to avoid the danger of banding or faint lines ruining the print. Again, this offers potentially big savings in ink and paper."

A Canon camera next to a Canon printer and a selection of black-and-white prints.

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Discover how to make the most of your printer's features to bring out the rich blacks and nuanced greys in your monochrome images.
A user presses the OK button on the front panel of the Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 printer, with the LCD screen displaying ink levels.

The Canon imagePROGRAF PRO-300 uses 10 pigment-based LUCIA PRO inks, which provide amazing print consistency, exceptional image permanence and a wide colour gamut, for vibrant and detailed colour and monochrome prints.

A hand holding a can of Hahnemühle Protective Spray over a black and white print of the face of an older man.

Finishing touches

Once you've created prints for your portfolio, you'll want to feel comfortable carrying them around and showing them off, without having to worry too much about them getting damaged by people handling them. "Our FineArt papers are robust but we've also developed products to give them extra protection," Eveline says. "There's Hahnemühle Varnish, which you apply with a roller, and Hahnemühle Protective Spray, which comes in aerosol cans. The varnish is really for canvas prints whereas the spray is for all of our papers. Even so, some customers mix and match or use one or the other for everything. They both help to avoid any yellowing from UV radiation, as well as protecting prints from scratches and fingerprints.

"We also offer certificates of authenticity that photographers can apply to their prints, as well as a signing pen duo, which combines a high-quality pigment liner and graphite pencil, and is great for signing prints without the risk of upsetting the chemistry of the ink or affecting the archival quality. It can give a really personal touch, as well as adding value by making prints feel more collectable."

For transporting your portfolio in style and safety, there are Hahnemühle archive and portfolio boxes, available in a range of sizes from A4 up to A2 and finished in an attractive dove grey with natural white interior. They're designed to protect your portfolio from light, dust and other atmospheric impacts, and are made from acid-free, age-resistant archival cardboard.

Adobe®, Photoshop® and Lightroom® are either registered trademarks or trademarks of Adobe in the United States and/or other countries.

Matthew Richards

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