Putting Your Portfolio On CD ROM
The Technology Is There, But Is This Any Way To Show Your Work

This is how I lay out both my web site and my CD. I have three categories--people, products, and places--with dozens of thumbnails. Click on any thumbnail and the image pops up on the right. The images are compressed so much and so small that I'm not worried about theft. On CD the site works on just about any machine.

Last year I wrote about the need for every photographer, regardless of their ability, to have a current portfolio. In my business as a commercial photographer, a killer portfolio is a necessity. I received a few e-mails inquiring about the new trend toward portfolios on CD-ROM, so I investigated. There are any number of ways to put a decent CD-ROM of your work together, but my first question is, why? Besides my portfolio, bimonthly promotional post cards and web site, do I really need another way to market my images? Well, according to the kind of work you're looking for, the answer may be yes.

Obviously the task of either personally showing a portfolio or FedExing one around the world can become tiresome and expensive. While a web site is an excellent way to give clients a glimpse (albeit a low-res one) of a nice cross-section of my work, I'm severely limited by bandwidth. I'd love to include sharper, larger files, but the site would be deathly slow. According to photographers I've spoken with and my own experience, a portfolio on CD-ROM allows for higher res images, more special effects and other normally bandwidth-choking features.

The Routes To A CD
There are dozens of ways to create a CD-ROM that showcases your work. Most popular image browser programs like Compupic, ACDSEE, Thumbs +, and many others allow you to create either an autorun Picture CD, clickable preview page, or a full-blown web site. Any of these formats can be saved to CD and easily viewed by anyone running a Windows computer. In my case most of my clients are ad agencies and graphic design firms. These are Mac-only shops, so .exe files are of little use to me. Cross-platform solutions usually revolve around the dual-platform Picture CD format, regular old HTML web sites saved to CD, and Apple Quicktime presentations. I also have a really neat portfolio that is a Microsoft PowerPoint show that will run on any machine that has Office 97 or newer, Mac, or PC.

Protection Concerns
My web site does a nice job of presenting viewable images accessible from anywhere in the world. If a viewer decided to "right-click" and save the image to their hard drive, they've got a 320x260 pixel image compressed to death. Not good for much. If a client decides to make a copy of an image in my portfolio or worse scan a print, then they have a usable copy of my work. However, I have a pretty reasonable clue as to who stole it when the work appears in print. On the web I have no idea.

When distributing a CD-ROM portfolio you have the question of how much is enough? If I include very small images then they're very difficult to use for any commercial application, so they're practically theft-proof. If I include higher resolution images then they look great on screen, but now they might be good enough to be pirated. After all, once you send out a CD to someone you really have no control over how or where it is used. This issue of copyright protection and the preservation of your work is a sticky one. I hate to be so paranoid, but every working commercial photographer at some point will find their work showing up somewhere without their permission (or any additional compensation).

Here is the package that I send off to Art Directors. I printed this label and the jewel case packaging on my color laser printer, and put together 50 complete CDs. That was a lot of work, so now I've sent off an order of 500 CDs to a pro duplication house. At around $2 a piece it's money well spent.

The Creation Process
Copyright issues aside, how do you create a decent CD-ROM? The easiest way is to simply save a folder of JPEG or TIFF images to a file and burn the file to a CD-ROM. You can dress up the disk nicely and even create a brief manual for the jewel case. The advantage is that this is the quickest and easiest way to do it, and JPEGs in particular are viewable on any platform with practically any software. The disadvantages? This is just too homemade a solution. Prospective clients don't want to exert any energy to see your work. To open a disk, then open a browser or image viewing program is a pain. They'll toss your disk in the trash rather than deal with the files.

A lot of photographers are going with image catalog software that takes a folder of images and creates a ready-to-view "Portfolio." Craig Edwards, a photographer in Big Sandy, Montana, has a CD portfolio created with Flip Album software (www.flipalbumcd.com). Edwards scans proofs from his portrait sessions and uses these to create a photo flip album. The nice thing about his package is that you can either click on the thumbnails on his "Index" page, or just let the scrapbook format flip through the pages and see the whole show in order. The problem with most of these packaged portfolio software arrangements is that they are PC only, and my clients live in a Mac-Centric world.

Web To CD
The elegant solution is simply to port a version of your web site to a CD-ROM and put your homepage (usually index.html) out front to make it easy to click on, or create an autorun version that starts upon recognition of the CD by the computer. Unfortunately, making a CD that autoruns on both PCs and Macs is a bit more complicated, but not impossible. Joe Hoddinot, a designer, illustrator, and photographer located in Hockessin, Delaware, says, "I chose to simply create a local web site on disk, which can be accessed through Internet Explorer or Netscape. I'm an illustrator by trade and fresh out of school, so naturally I'm looking for inexpensive ways to do things. My issues are cross-platform€on Macs you cannot leave a space in the (file) name. There must be a character (usually an underscore) where I was using spaces. My advice is keep it simple, so that anyone can understand it and navigate it."

I've seen some amazing HTML portfolios with excellent Flash graphics, mini Quicktime movies, awesome soundtracks, and incredible design sense. My own personal sense of the market is that people are getting fed up with too much flash, so I've stripped my once elaborate site down to a simple black background, lots of pictures layout.

Here is Craig Edwards' CD, created using Flip Album software. The metaphor of the photo album is a nice touch, and the whole package runs on any PC.

Create A Site
"I like this idea, but I don't have a web site," you say. Guess what--it's never been easier to create a terrific web site of your images with one-button simplicity. How? Well practically every image editing and viewing software creates simple and elegant HTML galleries from any folder of files. Don't bother resizing the images and web-enabling them, just click on "Web Photo Gallery" in Photoshop 6.0 and you're ready to rock (File/Automate/Web Photo Gallery). Photoshop now allows you to choose a headline, page description, change foreground, background colors, and even change the color of the box that surrounds each image. You can choose the size of your thumbnail preview and even the size of your "big" image. It couldn't be easier.

Very slick HTML generators are contained in ACDSEE (www.acdsystems.com), Thumbs + (www.cerious.com), and Compupic Pro (www.photodex.com). These image browsing programs allow you to create quickie web sites with a bit more design sense, and they do the job a bit faster than Photoshop. (They're cheaper, too.) The ACDSEE web site is a terrific place to shop as well, with PhotoAngelo looking like a nice tool to create image slide shows that run on any PC.

Distribution Matters
So now you've got your portfolio assembled. Maybe it's a Photo CD, maybe a runtime version of an image-viewing program, maybe just a well done web site. How to copy it and distribute it? Let's say you would like to put your CD in the hands of 300 prospective clients. Well CD-ROMs are as cheap as dirt. I can buy 100 excellent quality 16X CDs at the local Computer Superstore for $29. I have nice paper sleeves that cost about 10 cents each, so I'm in for 39 cents apiece. You can't get it much cheaper than that. Of course, to package in a jewel case with a nicely printed CD label and labels for the inside of a jewel case you need to add maybe a dollar, so lets round it off at $1.50. Still pretty cheap.

Have you ever sat down and tried to copy 300 CD-ROMs? It's a daunting task. Even if you just use you spare time it's a brutal endeavor. Add to that all of the labeling, CD sleeve printing, scoring, and folding. Wow! What a job. What's your time worth? Getting CDs professionally burned and printed is a surprisingly affordable process. CD duplicators like Disc Makers (www.discmakers.com) not only duplicate your discs, but they offer a lot of different options for printing and packaging. To have 300 CDs burned and screen printed with up to three colors is only $885. Add a professionally printed four color cardboard sleeve and you're only up to $990. For a couple of cents more you can add a jewel case or any number of other presentations like fold out cardboard mailers. I like the idea of the fold out sleeve, since you can add some more information about your work, your business, and maybe even some personal info. There are dozens of other CD duplication houses out there--a simple web search will turn up plenty of hits.

It's never been easier to create a digital portfolio and distribute it. While it still costs hundreds of dollars to print up a full portfolio, a reasonable approximation can be burned to CD for a couple of dollars and mailed like a letter to anywhere. If you're comfortable with your work going out in the mail with no promise of its return, then a CD portfolio might be the right tool for your own self-promotion. Different types of photographers are choosing different CD formats, from simple HTML designs to complex autorun movies. I've had a pretty good reaction to my own CD portfolio, and have just ordered another 500 copies for a little over $1000. Time will tell if this new batch will pay off.