Photography by Quinn Lovero

A guide to photographing work for your portfolio

article cover image

While it can be hard to know where to start with photographing your work, you don’t need to be a professional to do it well. There are some universal principles that are always worth learning, so whether you’re a student, just starting out, or looking to upskill, we’re covering all of the essentials – from setting up your shoot, to capturing objects and printed material.

You can spend ages getting your work right, but then comes putting it into context for your portfolio. You might be a ceramicist, designer, or anything in between – whether you need to shoot objects, garments or printed material, we’ve got you covered in our very first illustrated guide. And the good news is that you don’t even need fancy equipment to do this well.

Why is it worth photographing your work?

Digital mock-ups and templates can be hugely useful when putting a portfolio together. They offer a controlled environment – from lighting to angles and context, and you’re not limited by space, or photography equipment available to you.

However, for creatives who produce physical objects, artworks, ceramics, paintings and more, learning how to photograph your work and present it in a portfolio can be a vital tool in sharing your work with people who might not be able to see it in real life. Most importantly it can help put your work in context and better communicate the ideas behind it to a viewer.

In this guide, we’ll be covering:

  • How to photograph objects
  • How to photograph books and printed material
  • How to photograph installations and exhibitions
  • After the shoot: editing your photographs

Before you begin: What are you looking to achieve?

There are a few things to keep in mind before you get going. What do you want to accomplish in your images and how do you want them to look? While we’ll offer stylistic examples and a few starting points, you should consider the mood, tone, or personality you’re trying to evoke.

Where you’re shooting will impact your art direction. If you’re renting a space, or only have a certain amount of time in a location (or due to the weather if you’re using natural lighting) you want to make sure you don’t waste the time you have. Here are some failsafe steps to planning your shoot…

📌 Identify what elements you want to showcase

Is there a particular print process, binding, layout or material that you want to highlight? Is there a particular spread in a book you want to show? Make a note of them.

🧐 How do you want your work to be shown?

Consider the context. Do you want the look of your photographs to be very stripped back and minimal? If so, consider showing it laid flat, on white, square-on to the camera, with even and flat lighting.

But that’s not your only option. You could consider showing your work more playfully, with props, on the floor, on a desk, or even a shelf. Do you want to shoot it on grass outside? Are there multiple copies of the book that you can arrange? You could also have a mix of two styles: some straight-on spreads alongside a few playful ones. The tone of voice is up to you.

You don’t always have to photograph your work within a studio-like setting. If you’ve created an object, prototype, sculpture, ceramic or garment, it can be useful to photograph this in a relevant environment to help bring your ideas to life. Here are some examples:

  • Photographing a printed menu in a restaurant environment
  • Designed a new type of garment? Photograph it on a model

✍️ Fail to plan, plan to fail

Plan out the shots you want to take in advance. As we say in our PDF portfolio guide, you should be selective about the images you include; e.g. you might not need two shots of the same book from a different angle, unless each image showcases a unique detail. Be specific: know what spreads you want to capture, angles you want to show off and techniques you want to highlight.

What shots do you need to tell the story of your project? Do you need before and after shots, or photographs to capture an element of the process that might help a viewer better understand?

Drawing some sketches of what you need can ensure you don’t waste time and know exactly what shots you need to get the message of your project or work across.

A simple spread of a publication
The cover of a publication, with a spread
A close-up of a unique detail, taken from a different angle
An array of publications
Focus on a single object or set of objects
A collection of printed material, arranged together

What equipment do you need?

It goes without saying the most important thing you’ll need, apart from your work, is a camera.

There are a huge range of cameras and lenses out there, but try not to get too fixated on securing the best gear available. While you can use the camera on your phone, just be sure you’re happy with the resolution of your images in case they need to be seen at a large scale like on a website. If you’re looking for something more high-res, you could look into renting a camera for a day, or even asking a friend if you could use theirs. Below are some essentials you’ll need to get you started...

  • A camera (and if you’d like, different lenses)
  • Large sheets of paper or card
  • Ironed sheet or fabric
  • Lights, or access to natural light
  • A tripod
  • Masking or gaffer tape

Remember that you can also use pretty much whatever is available to you; you don’t always need 'professional' equipment. Sometimes a simple mug is all you need to prop up an object at a certain angle, or stop your book from falling over.

Setting up your shoot

Choosing the right location to set up your shoot is essential to things going smoothly. Ensure you have the right amount of space, exactly what you need and that you plan efficiently to do whatever you can to set yourself up for a successful shoot. Here are a few things to keep in mind...

☀️ Go in search of light!

Lights, camera, action – pretty much in that order. Arguably the most important element to consider when thinking about where to photograph your work, is lighting. You can either use natural light or artificial lights such as camera flashes or lamps.

When selecting your location, try to set up your photography space so that your source of light falls naturally to the side, or ideally overhead, which will give a really flattering shadow beneath your object.

Using natural light
The light will be most forgiving if it’s coming from the top edges of the frame to the bottom edges, casting a shadow underneath the book. If the light comes from the bottom to the top it tends to look quite harsh. This is important to remember if you’re going to be shooting a lot of work in the day – because you’ll need to set up, bearing in mind that the sun will move around.

Using flashes (if you have them)
Using dedicated camera flashes or lamps means that your light will stay consistent, and also gives you the option of shooting all day and evening, or over multiple days.

Avoid putting flashes too high up because it will normally cause glare on the printed text or image. If the light is too harsh, bounce the light onto a wall instead which will soften it.

🏡 Location, location, location

This can also depend on the size of the work you’re photographing; large scale sculptures or objects will require more room, whereas some printed objects might only require a table. Some good locations for your shoot might be:

  • College or uni studios
  • A well-lit room
  • Outside with natural light during the day

🧺 Set up a backdrop

Regardless of what you’re photographing, you’ll likely want some kind of backdrop for your photos. You could move a table so that it’s flush against a wall, or prop up a large piece of paper and card on the table so that it naturally bends down onto the table, creating a seamless backdrop. This will ensure you don’t have any harsh lines in your shots.

Most importantly, make sure that this card or fabric is bigger than the work you’re looking to photograph so that it sits comfortably within the frame. Okay, you’re good to go!

Quinn shows how you can set up a backdrop using card

How to photograph objects

From ceramics, sculptures and textiles to prototypes and products, there are plenty of objects you might want to photograph for your portfolio. Thinking about context, lighting and set-up will help you get the images you're imagining. Here’s a step-by-step to get you started...

📍 Position your object

If you’re looking for a simple, clean shot, place your object in the centre of your set. You can experiment with different angles, depending on what element of the object you’re looking to capture. Remember you can always take a couple of shots of shots and edit later.

🏗️ Get your camera level with the object

When it comes to the angles of the camera, try and avoid shooting everything just from the height you would hold the camera at yourself. Drop it lower to get level with the object which will show off the shape better, or even shooting directly overhead with the object laying down.

Keeping the camera at a right angle to your subject can have good results

💿 Use card to block reflections

A common problem when shooting objects is that they might be reflective or glossy, and you don’t want to see yourself reflected in the image. Hang some plain white or black card or fabric just outside the frame of the image to minimise any reflections you don’t want.

💡 Bounce light to brighten your image

For both natural and artificial light, you might find that an area in the image looks too dark. A really easy way to brighten it up is to use a white piece of card (or even a white shirt) to bounce light into the image.

For example: If the sunlight is coming in from the top-right hand side of the image and the bottom left looks a bit dark, place a flat white material towards the bottom left to bounce the light back into the picture and brighten it up.

Quinn demonstrates the difference between natural light, a blocker and a reflector
Lighter material will bounce light and brighten your image
Darker material will block light and create darker shadows
Naomi Anderson Subryan 2020 Cowboy boots

Naomi Anderson Subryan Queen Lizzie Candle 2020

Naomi Anderson Subryan 2019 Elephant9

Naomi Anderson Subryan
Naomi’s approach to photographing work is all about colour, lighting and composition. She often echoes the bright and bold nature of her pieces with their backdrop – shown here with the vivid yellow. She also uses minimal editing or post-processing, maintaining a natural look and feel that avoids feeling artificial. Composition is also important for storytelling, consider whether you're setting a piece alone in the frame or pairing it with other work to tell a narrative.

See more from Naomi here

⛅️ Shooting outside with natural light

Depending on the look and feel you’re looking to capture, you might decide to photograph your work outside. If that’s the case, be sure to choose a day to shoot where the weather is consistent. Pick either a fully cloudy day or a fully sunny day, it’ll make the images more consistent. Cloudy days will give a much more forgiving and flattering light that is easier to work with. Sunny days will give you the opportunity to play with interesting shadows like dappled evening sunlight.

Do some location scouting and be playful with how you can use the environment around you to bring out elements of your work. Think about how different textures, shapes and structures could be incorporated to help bring your work to life. Take a look at Milo Little’s work below as an example.

Milolittle 7

Milolittle 5


Milolittle 2

Milolittle 3

Milo Little

Milo Little's approach to photographing his work takes a more situational approach, playfully putting his pieces into real-world settings to enhance their practical appeal. The high-quality and well-lit nature of his photographs means all the detail is visible, and the overall impact is very clean, bright imagery where his work really stands out.

See more from Milo here

How to photograph books and printed material

Photographing books and printed material might seem more straightforward than other objects, but there's still lots to consider. Remember to take a look at the list of shots you made earlier and consider your set-up. What lighting and backdrop will show your work best? Are there particular details that you want to make sure you capture? The scale of your work will impact your approach, but you can always edit individual shots into one big spread.

🔆 Scan or shoot?

The most simple way to capture a book is to scan it, if you have access to a scanner. Leave the scanner hood open for a black background or closed for white. Take a look below at Danya Abu-El-Hawa’s work as an example of this. Scanning can also be a good option if you create any collage work and you want to show off all the different textures and layers of your pieces at a high resolution.

If your book or printed material is too big to fit onto a scanner, however, you’ll need to use a camera (more on that below!)

Danyaabuelhawa 2

Danyaabuelhawa 1

Danyaabuelhawa 3

Danyaabuelhawa 6

Danyaabuelhawa 4

Danya Abu-El-Hawa

In contrast to Milo or Naomi's bright contrasting backdrops, Danya takes a more minimalistic approach. Her approach is distinguished by its minimalism, with the negative space ensuring that each element is clearly defined and appreciated.

See more from Danya here

📐 Do you need to readjust your set-up?

When shooting spreads, it’s often easier to shoot from above. So you might want to consider laying your book and background on the floor to make it easier to get the camera high enough above it.

This is also a good time to reassess your backdrop: is it larger than your book when opened out to a spread? Try using a well-ironed piece of heavy white fabric, white foam board or a large sheet of white card (G . F Smith offer large paper samples which are perfect for this).

Quinn demonstrates shooting a spread from above with an overhead light

🖼️ Test your framing

If you want all of the images to be shot straight down, make sure that you set up the camera with the book open first to see how much room you need. The worst thing to do is frame it up nicely with the book closed, then open it to find that it’s way too tight in the frame.

Test different heights with your camera from above, and once your framing is more-or-less settled, fix the background to the floor so you don’t accidentally knock it flying. Tape the paper to the floor, or if using fabric, use tins to pull it taut. Consider shooting everything landscape as it’s easier to crop the image to portrait if you need it, compared to the other way round.

↕️ Reposition your camera

You’ll want to hold your camera (steadily!) above, directly over the book, but know that this could result in your images being a little inconsistent. If you have a tripod, you can use it to hold the camera out sideways and look directly down which keeps the legs of the tripod out of the shot.

If you don’t have a tripod, you could use two chairs and a long stick like a broom handle or curtain pole, and attach the camera in the middle using gaffer tape. Have a look at @shittyrigs for more inspiration. If that worries you, you could use a GorillaPod and wrap the legs around the pole.

⚓️ How to keep your book still and flat

A common problem when shooting spreads is that the book doesn’t always stay flat enough. A good way to get around this is to place a larger book on top to help press the book flat between taking images. Then, to keep the book in place between spreads, you can use re-positionable sticky glue dots to stick the back covers down to the background.

After you have these shots, you want to highlight some of the details you noted earlier. So take the camera off the tripod and be playful with angles. Experiment with moving the light around to see how it best brings out the textures and shape of the print.

⬆️ How to keep your book standing

Other common problems with shooting books, especially thin books, is if you need it to stand up. You could try putting a smaller, thicker book behind it to prop it up. But if it’s too thin, you can cut a piece of stiff card or foam board slightly smaller than the book. Then use double-sided tape or sticky dots to glue the rigid board to the back of the book, which makes it easier to prop up.

Again, remember to consider all your options here. This approach might be too clean and clinical. You could, for example, photograph it using a cheap point-and-shoot disposable film camera with a harsh front flash.

How to photograph posters and artwork

🧱 Find the right wall

Shooting a single sheet, like a poster, is a bit easier, as you can use sticky dots or Blu Tack to pin them to the wall. This also means that your camera doesn’t need to be overhead. Keeping a poster straight in the frame can be the tricky bit, but keeping your camera at a right angle to the wall will help avoid your poster being on a tilt.

How to make sure your work is straight in the frame

📒 Treat your poster like an object

However, don’t feel like you need to only shoot it straight on, be playful if you want. For example, if you chose a thin and lightweight paper, it might be interesting to deliberately show the print gently folding over itself. Show the piece as an object in itself. If you decide you do want to get the poster flat, try weighing it down with heavy objects for a day or so – it'll make it easier to photograph in the long run!

Try flattening your work with books for 24hrs, or fold it back on itself
Sebastiancuri 1

Sebastiancuri 2

Sebastiancuri 3

Sebastian Curi

Sebastian Curi's approach is characterised by vibrancy, playful composition and a strong narrative element. His use of bold colours and dynamic angles reflects the lively and expressive nature of his designs, while his photographs also incorporate elements of humour. Showing his work both in situ and stand-alone, we are given a sense of how Sebastian's work exists in the real world.

See more from Sebastian here

How to photograph installations

🚪 Installations and site-specific work

When photographing installations and site-specific artworks, including murals, a reminder to consider:

  • Lighting: Using natural light will help with accurate colours, supplement with artificial sources if needed
  • Utilising space: Frame shots to include relevant surroundings for context
  • Angles: Capture from eye level, multiple angles, and show the artwork in its surroundings
  • Interactivity: Include people and moving elements to convey engagement and scale (e.g someone walking past)

Capturing the context is super important here – you want people to know where your work's been hung! Molly Kent's photography below is a great example of shooting your installations in a way that shows their texture and detail, whilst giving the context of their surroundings.

Mollykent 01

Molly's work photographed by Leo Sartain

Molly kent 05


Molly Kent

Molly Kent's approach to photographing their work prioritises capturing their designs in real-life settings, often incorporating elements of everyday life and human interaction to add depth and context to their photographs. Showing the large scale of their pieces on the wall – the style is naturalistic and uses soft lighting and minimal post-processing to maintain the genuine look and feel of their pieces.

See more from Molly here

After the shoot: Editing your photographs

Once you have all your images, the golden rule of thumb is to get as close as you can to the finished product in the camera first and foremost. Try not to rely too much on having to over-edit to produce a great image. More often than not, there are a couple of timeless edits you might want to make with your shots. Some suggested considerations for editing are:

  • Exposure and white balance
  • Texture and contrast
  • How to clean up background; removing dust, dirt
  • How to clean up objects
  • How to remove white backgrounds
  • Standard images sizes / crop ratios
  • Cropping your image

Overall, remember not to over-edit, avoid over-saturating your images (unless that’s what you’re going for!) See the videos below for guidance on how to edit your images in Adobe Photoshop.

Some basics of editing on Photoshop
Cleaning up your images using the content-aware fill tool
Cleaning up your images using the spot healing brush tool
How to edit the perspective of your flat-lay images

In summary, photography for your portfolio doesn't require professional expertise and you can do a lot with a more basic setup. You've already made the work – it's just about showing it off! If you choose physical photography over a mock-up, context is key. Using real-life settings can enhance understanding and appreciation of your work, especially if you're putting it in situ.

Planning is super important, as well as considering elements like mood and desired outcomes. It's essential to set up your shoot in a well-lit space with a suitable backdrop, whatever art direction you're choosing. Think about how you want to use post-processing, and how you'll achieve your creative vision to showcase your creations.

When you're finishing up, make sure you export to the resolution you need (small files for PDF portfolios and websites to avoid slow-loading images and large downloads).

Photography by Quinn Lovero