How to Photograph Your Portfolio Work in 6 Simple Steps

How to Photograph Your Portfolio Work in 6 Simple Steps

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This is a guest article contributed by Rahat Bashar.

For your design portfolio to stand out amongst the crowd, it needs professional photography to give it the edge. Professional photography boosts the perceived quality of your work, thus allowing you to increase your prices and ultimately get a better end product for your client.

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But hiring a professional photographer could cost you hundreds just to take a couple of shots. However, if you invest in buying your own equipment, you could literally save thousands while taking as many professional shots as you want.

Here is a run down of how you can photograph your portfolio in 6 simple steps.

1) Daylight Bulb

The main reason we use a daylight bulb is because it matches the colour temperature of ‘daylight’. This keeps the photo looking natural and balanced, which makes it pleasing to the eye.

2) Desk Lamp

A flexible lamp is needed to control where the light is facing. This allows us to control the types of shadows that we create in our photos.

3) Backdrop Paper

The color of the backdrop paper will dictate the mood and atmosphere of your portfolio piece. Be sure to use a smooth paper instead of textured.

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4) DSLR or Point and Shoot Digital Camera

Both types of cameras are great, however a DSLR camera offers more flexibility and functions that will be discussed later. In this post, the camera that I’ll be using is the Canon 1100D. I highly recommend this camera for anyone who doesn’t have much experience in using DSLR cameras. It’s low cost, has tons of functions and as you’ll see later it takes great photos. You can see some some photos that I’ve taken with this camera here.

5) Tripod

A tripod is needed to ensure sharpness in the photo. In this case, I used a Gorillapod, which is highly flexible and easily allows you to take sharp photos while keeping your camera at a low distance.

6) Shutter Release Cable

Having a shutter release cable is useful for taking sharp images without the need of touching the camera.

What Your Setup Should Look

Photography Set Up

Not as pretty as you may have thought, but it works. As you can see, there’s really not much to it besides having all of your equipment and materials in one place.

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However, if possible, try to photograph your work outside on a cloudy day. If you don’t have the means to do that then photograph your work in a room where there is lots of natural light.

By shooting your work where there’s plenty of light, it allows your photographs to have maximum sharpness.

Step 1: Find Inspiration

Before photographing your portfolio, it’s important to first have a look at other designers work for inspiration. Some good sites you could have a look at are Behance, It’s Nice That & Dribbble.

Behance Example

Step 2: Setup Your Portfolio Piece

The next step is to setup your lighting. Depending on where you place your lighting, the shadows will come out different. If you use two or three different lamps then this will either eliminate any shadow in your photo or make the shadow softer.

If you want to add some depth to your shadow, I recommend that you place a small item underneath your portfolio piece in order to give it a slight lift.

Shadow Example

Step 3: Find a Focus Point

It’s important to create a focus point when photographing your work. In the photo below, I wanted to show emphasis that the book was made using the French folding technique.

Focus Point

Focus Point

Step 4: Setup Your Camera

Camera SetUp

The ISO should be around 100-200. This will remove any noise and keep the photo sharp. Also if you want to focus on an item and blur out the rest, switch to the mode AV (Aperture Variation) use a low aperture. In this case, I’m using an aperture of 4.5.

Step 5: Experiment With Different Compositions

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In order to test different compositions, be sure to take photographs of the same portfolio piece in multiple angles. By arranging your pieces in different ways, even the same piece will look different and unique.

Composition One

Composition 2

Step 6: Photograph In High Places

If you were photographing a book, it would be a good idea to keep the camera on a high place. This allows you to take a full photo of the pages while keeping the same layout.

Having a shutter release cable is also useful for taking sharp images without the need of touching the camera.

Photograph High Place

Book Shot

Book Shot 2

The Optional Step

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If possible, try and photograph your pieces in a quite place… some place where there is no distractions.

Cat inf Camera

Edit Your Photographs

All you have to do now is edit your photographs. You should take all of your photos in RAW as this ensures that the quality is at its highest and it also allows you to edit multiple elements on it.

The white balance, exposure and etc, should all be similar to ensure that the images remains consistent.

Raw Editing

Now To You

I’m sure that there are many designers here who have some great tips. Are there any photography tips that you could share? Be sure to let us know in the comments below.

Rahat Bashar is the founder of the design blog, where he helps creatives develop their online portfolio.

30 thoughts on “How to Photograph Your Portfolio Work in 6 Simple Steps”

  1. Awesome article Rahat!

    Taking pictures of your work is a must, especially as a graphic designer trying to land jobs based on your portfolio.

    I’m definitely a fan of using the lens cap to give some extra shadows…

    Thanks for the camera settings, I’ll have to try those out with my Canon Rebel, I’ll let you know!

  2. Some thoughts:

    – The color temperature of your light source is not important as long as your white balance matches it. Minor adjustments to color temperature in RAW processing can achieve the desired look. Trust your eye.

    – More important is the CRI (or color rendering index) of your light, and the only lights with a CRI of 100 are typically incandescent or halogen bulbs, and natural sunlight. CRI is related to the even output of colors by a light source, thus indicative of how well colors are rendered by the light source. For example, if you were to photograph your work under a street light, you’d notice that everything has a monochromatic orange look, because sodium vapor (the typical lamp used in a streetlight) has a very low CRI.

    – Diffusion of your light source is essential. Pointing a non-diffused bulb at your piece will result in a hard shadow, and is significantly more reflective, which can be very bad if you have a particularly glossy piece to showcase. Diffusion can be as complicated as a piece of Lee 250 diffusion or as simple as a bright white piece of fabric or tissue paper (just take care not to get it too close to the bulb as it could present a fire hazard).

  3. Hello fellow designers. A few things I’d like to add.

    First and foremost, I would recommend getting a gray card to ensure accurate color when editing your photos. You spend hours getting the colors right, only to have them different in your portfolio. I think not good sir! A gray card is easy to use, and around $10.

    Second, if your lens has and image stabilizer, you most likely wont need a tripod. Also, there is no need for the shutter release cable if you don’t already have one. Just use the self timer function of the camera.

    All in all, skip the shutter release and go for the gray card!


    • Hey Nik,

      Nice tips, especially re the self timer function but I can imagine that would get a bit cumbersome after a while. The grey card is a great tip too, I had totally forgot about that. Haven’t been doing much photography of late.

      See ya in Orlando / Vegas / NY soon!

  4. Never though that one can shoot like a pro this easily. I must thank you your tips and inspiration for this new-found passion I have developed reading your article.

  5. While this was a great article with lots of advice, I think the best rule of thumb is, let photographers be photographers and designers stick to being designers.

    Much how we hate the DIY designs, I’m sure our fellow photographers would appreciate respect for their own craft.

    I personally don’t have the time or money to invest in the right equipment, so instead whenever I need my work shot I call up a good photographer friend who went to school with me. She appreciates the business, I get to help out a friend and get amazing photos that I couldn’t have taken myself. Since it was a friend, I got my whole portfolio shot for under $300. Might sound like a lot to some, but if we want to be professionals and charge more ourselves, we got to be willing to invest in our own business. Practice what we preach.

    In a side note, I’m one of those people that strongly believes you can’t be good at everything; already there are too many graphic-designers-web-developer-photographers wannabes. I’m not saying you can’t have a hobby or do this for yourself, but I think it’s best to focus on one craft and become as good as you can be.

    • Sheila, I can see where you coming from, but not many people can afford a pro to take photos of their work, specially students or recent design graduates.

      I think the article is a starting point. You are lucky as you know a photographer and probably he/she gave you a discount, but even if no discount was given, $300 is still a lot for some people.

      Regarding “let the pros do the professional work”, I agree with you up to certain extent. For example if I want to have my house painted, I could get a pro to do it for me, or I could try and do it myself… Clearly, results will be different, but the question is is it worth it?

      Whoever takes the time to read this article is looking for alternatives to professionals. Today digital photography is accessible to almost everyone, so its really hard not to be tempted and try the millions of “how to’s” that can be found online.

  6. Hello and thank you for the great tips! I recently took photos of my portfolio pieces and I wished I came across this post sooner. I don’t have a shutter release cable so I used the timer, its a bit time consuming but it works well.

  7. Thanks for the article.

    I have to agree with Jeff – a diffuser is a must to soften the shadows. To build on this, there are great tutorials for building lightboxes for under $10. This would help your lighting and give your shots that extra oomph if you add it to the ideas in this article.

    Thanks for posting!

  8. This works great for smaller items, as I have used variations of this. Any thoughts on what happens when you are photographing objects that are a bit larger in size? I have tried using sheets, but the material becomes distracting and wrinkles are a problem. Any ideas for new material choice for bigger back drops?

  9. Rahat is quite right. Photography and your work is crucial. Great photography and great portfolio presentation can definitely give you the edge you need to get that job or freelance work.This is a great article.

  10. I’ve recently (very recently) started shooting my portfolio pieces in an environment fitting to the piece. I actually started doing this because of your first step, looking for inspiration. I began to notice that my favorite pieces are those that have been shot in dynamic–but not competing–environments. Here’s one of my favorites:

    Do note, however, that they do still have the bottles isolated on a nice, solid backdrop (black, in this case).

  11. I definitely agree that a diffuser is necessary to remove a harsh shadow, but there are two other options. You can bounce the light off of another surface (its best if its a white surface, but the backdrop will work) this will break up the light and return it more softly. You can also add another light to the scene, and either point it from another angle or bounce it off a surface from another angle to offset the light.

    The key is light!

    Great article! I was looking for a way to really nail down portfolio photography and this really helped me out. Thanks!

  12. Thanks for a great tips!
    Photographing my work has always been a nightmare to me. The lighting just never worked… Recently I made an experiment and I photographed my work in real environments. My cookbook came out really nice with the kitchen set-up!

  13. Ya….I understand but the main thing is that we should have very high resolutions digital camera with good picture quality with Carl-zesis lens.
    Overall your share is wonderful Jacob.
    I like it.

  14. I understand Sheila’s point on the professional photographer, but my issue would be that we may need to photograph print work most days of the week. Being able to do this in house using a fairly simple method is exactly what I was looking for 🙂

  15. Thank you Jacob, I googled “how to shoot print portfolio” and I hit this goldmine. I have a Canon Rebel and I plan to try this out. Most of my friends are photographers, good ones too, but I would like to be able to edit my portfolio as I have new works printed. I don’t want to have to keep going back to their studio and bugging them to shoot one piece. I have been working on my new site for a while (I am very busy, work from home and have little kids) and I want to use photos for all the print work. Putting up digital images just doesn’t do anything justice, especially after a great print job. Thanks again.

  16. A simple process for the beganing photographer. I like this article very much and enjoying while reading. Helps me alot. Thank you….. ????

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