Portfolio reviews are a popular, core component of photo festivals and conferences; but such reviews tend to book up fast - and require your physical presence at the event, something that can become a costly affair. Whether you're a veteran photographer or an enthusiast who wants to advance your imaging to the next level, an image portfolio review can help kick start your next project. Sometimes you need a fresh eye on things; or perhaps you need some guidance on moving outside your usual comfort zone.

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Enter Eyeist, a portfolio review for the digital age. Eyeist takes the review process online and, compared to photo festivals, the service is on-demand, providing access to professionals in the field who'll review your images in the context of your specific creative project.

Within the space of a week, you can get customized feedback, ranging from audio commentary to live interaction to editing and sequencing assistance - all from the comfort of your desk chair. The brainchild of Eyeist chief operating officer Allegra Wilde, who participates in countless festival reviews, Eyeist takes the travel and the at-times random nature of reviews out of the equation. Instead, you can get a review tailored to your content and project type.

Sounds good in concept, but how does the service work when applied in the real world? I took it for a spin using my own photos for a very common and real-world project: Selecting images for a portfolio and Web page. When you have hundreds, even thousands of images to choose from, it can be hard to narrow them down to the work that represents the best of your best. Eyeist provides that impartial, unbiased eye.

Before you start, you'll want to nose around the section that introduces the reviewers, about 50 at the time of this writing. The bios are detailed, with each reviewer's markets and specialties enumerated.

Eyeist offers four different reviews, each at varying costs and degrees of depth. The Basic review is the most reasonable, and offers the fastest turnaround. A project review of 30 images costs $100, or $150 if you prefer to choose your reviewer. In 72 hours you'll get an audio commentary back that you can listen to at your convenience. The Website review, $150, does the same for your professional site.

The Live Review, at $200, is the marquee offering - and the one that may offer you the best value if you know you want to work with a specific reviewer (in that view, it's only a $50 step-up, and you get an interactive review to boot).

Pros working on larger projects will want to consider the Editing ($200) or Editing and Sequencing ($350) reviews. These will help you narrow things down from a maximum of 150 pictures. While for some of us this may still be only a small fraction of the total images we're choosing among, this kind of help can be invaluable in helping to weed through a collection - and in rethinking how to approach editing your own images with a more critical eye towards your particular project. Either of these may be upgraded to a Live Review for $75 more. And that Editing option with Live Review is well suited to high-volume shooters looking to get perspective across a wide swath of photos.

 Click image to see curated gallery Click image to see curated gallery 

While you'll likely start your process by tapping on Book a Review - necessary so you can see the available options - the real place to start is to enter the Workspace. You can upload JPEGs directly to a project, and further finesse your image set from there. The upload speed varies, of course, depending upon your connection, so you'll need to leave a chunk of time for the upload to complete. Twice, in two very different, average speed environments, I found it took more than an hour to upload my images.

Once uploaded, your images are viewable in your Workspace, either as your entire library, or by project. The online tool was functional for reorganizing and paring down images, but ultimately, I'd recommend that you complete your image selection outside of Eyeist, using your usual workflow tools, and do a final pruning on Eyeist. Given my high volume of images, I found that easier.

Eyeist gives you a workspace to create your project portfolio, which you do before submitting for review.

From within the Workspace, you can choose to ‘Book a Review’ at the bottom; or choose the same from the main nav bar. Once you initiate the booking, you're presented with the aforementioned review types, outlined with the specifics of how many images each supports.

When you start out with a booking, you select which type of review, and choose which project; but, you can't make any changes to the project once you start.

Eyeist's design assumes your project is set to match the type of review you plan to do; you can't do any further adding or subtracting to a review once you start it; nor can you save a booking once you've begun the process, exit back to the Workspace to make a tweak, and then return to pick up where you left off. This could be handy, since you'll be filling out questions about the images, project, and what you want out of the review experience. The questions vary depending upon the review type you've chosen,b and the more detail you provide, the more specific your reviewer can be in answering your questions.

As you move through the booking page, you'll be asked questions about your image set and your goals for the review. The questions will vary depending upon which review you choose. Shown here are the questions for an editing with live review.

I chose an Editing + Live Review option, and the review went very smoothly. Within a day or so of submitting, I heard back from Allegra, my reviewer, to schedule the live portion of the review. She took the time she needed to do her portion of the review, and sent me some comments by email and submitted the project to me digitally. This way, by the time we met on the phone (Skype is another option), I had already had a chance to digest what her feedback was, and form a list of questions so I could best learn from the experience.

When we hopped on the phone for the interactive review, we both had had a chance to view and digest the images, which led to a productive conversation during our 20-minute block. We both viewed the project at the same time; a bar at the top of the display reflected this, and noted the call in progress. If the reviewer moved over an image, that same highlight was evident in my screen as well; this, coupled with the image numbers, made following along remotely much easier than you might think. In the case of the Basic review, you get an audio recording of what's said, though I wish there were a way to have an audio archive of the interactive conversation as well. At the end of the review, the reviewed project is viewable in your Workspace.

This image of Canadian gymnast Victoria Moors spawned an entire conversation about capturing the emotion of the sport.

The feedback was all very solid, useful, and tailored to my goals and project. But it also gave me ideas of ways to grow and expand, and to push myself creatively, both at the point of capture as well as packaging and displaying my images. I have other creative projects pending, and can see myself returning to Eyeist for another review, for a very different type of project.

During your live review, both you and your reviewer are viewing this screen simultaneously, so you can follow along on the comments, or ask specific questions about a specific image. You can also return to this view later to see the images selected. 

I spoke with two professional photographers to get a sense of what others' experiences were. And the feedback was very similar. Both echoed my experiences, and some of my impressions of the role and benefits of a digital review. Los Angeles-based Marjorie Salvaterra, a fine art photographer, did a Skype review with someone she hadn't met before, and noted how 'it was a great way to continue the conversation, and we were able to get into more details without the distraction of other people around. It was a really worthwhile, focused session.'

As for how Eyeist compares to the festival experience, Salvaterra says she found her review to be 'comparable and even better in some ways. It felt like she had given it a lot of thought before we had even talked. For [the review], the 20 minutes isn't about first showing the work, so it's a really full 20 minutes' of feedback with the reviewer. Another benefit: 'Here, you have instant access; you're not flying around to meet the people. It's so much easier.'

 Click the image to see a sample of Salvaterra's curated images on Eyeist.com

Salvaterra's work, for what she calls the Hallelujah Portrait Series, was selected by her reviewer, Kathleen Clark, for inclusion in the Eyeist Reviewers' Choice gallery. The gallery is just one way Eyeist is building its community; another way is the site's regular blog with photography tips and insights from reviewers.

The service's site design could be better, as I found several rough spots during my review. For example, while perusing the reviewer bios, you can't sort the reviewers by market or genre, to help you more immediately home in on someone in your specialty. When you click on the 'Get Started Now' button on the home page, the sign-in page assumes you're already a customer with a username and password (look in the upper right corner to register). 

I would have also preferred if the site walked you through the process the first time around, pointing you to the types of reviews to choose from and then sending you to the Workspace to upload your images. Nowhere after the signup or logging in does it prompt you into the Workspace. As of this writing, you have to guess that you need to add images to the Workspace before you start to book a review. If you don’t, you'll start the booking process, and then need to back out and upload images to the Workspace before starting again.

Ultimately, Eyeist's core strength is its focused and personalized service, with genuinely good quality advice in my experience. That, coupled with a relatively facile process, bumps and all, should continue to attract pros and enthusiasts alike.

Click here to visit Eyeist.com