Photographing your portfolio can be hard work. As a designer, chances are you’ve attempted to achieve that perfect image of your latest portfolio piece and ended up settling for something less than ideal. Photographing your work well takes either experience or a healthy dose of trial and error. If you don’t have the time or energy to figure it out for yourself, I invite you to keep reading.
In my quest to achieve portfolio photography greatness, I turned to a very talented photographer friend of mine, Scott Drickey.
Scott studied film and photography at Brooks Institute in the 90’s, and spent his early years hopping back and forth between the East and West coasts. After exiting the life of a celebrity photographer’s assistant, he came back to the Midwest to rediscover his love of agriculture, open spaces, blue collar life and architectural photography. Nowadays, he’ll be shooting portraits of farmers in Mississippi one day, bridges up and down the Missouri River the next and doing product photography in his studio another. Needless to say, Scott could answer my portfolio questions in his sleep.
Shooting portfolio work is essentially “product” photography, and carries the same principles. I’ve compiled what I’ve learned from Scott (and my own trial and error) into these key points.
- Shoot on a white background. This can be the trickiest type of photography, but is what often makes objects look the best.
- Scott recommends shooting on a “sweep” or seamless background. Seamless paper works well, and if you have a little more of a budget (and space to store it), a 4×8 sheet of white formica is even better. If the objects are white, consider a gray background if shooting white on white proves too difficult.
- If you’re on a strict budget, you can also try the DIY method.
- Scott suggests investing in a basic Smith Victor lighting kit (with tungsten incandescent bulbs) to get started. You can find one online for just over $100. For budget friendly lighting, you can experiment with clamp lights (available at local hardware stores) with a wax paper diffuser.
- As a general rule, place two lights at 45 degree angles directly on the piece so the piece is equally illuminated. Take the lights and pan or feather them towards each other, which will help light the piece evenly.
- If you’re having trouble with reflection, try using a circular polarizer (a filter you place on your lens) to knock down the reflection.
- Subtract light with black poster board, or add light by using white poster board as a reflector.
- Try using a third light, and placing it slightly above and behind the the object if you experience any harsh shadows.
- Start with bigger objects further away, and smaller to the front to stay more accurate to the size of the object.
- When arranging the objects, remember that your job as the photographer is to animate the inanimate. Bring life to small objects by propping them up as if you’re building little “sculptures.” Scott uses small lucite cubes and “tacky wax” to keep them in place.
- An odd number of objects creates better composition.
- Ask yourself: What size are your objects? What are their features? Each object has its own personality and functionality. Think about the way something is naturally or universally viewed. For example, Scott says, ”A shoe is designed to be looked at by its side, so naturally, you would make sure to capture the shoes best features. Think of your portfolio in the same way.”
- Experiment with different angles. Shoot straight down for a more graphic approach, or make objects look monumental by shooting up at them.
- Shoot with a longer lens – anything longer than a 50mm focal length will work.
- Shoot at a higher aperture so you have more depth of field and each object is in focus.
- Make sure you’re shooting with the correct white balance in your camera. If you don’t, your colors will be inaccurate.
These basic guidelines will help you get starting down the path to better portfolio photography, but as Scott says, “There are no rules, only fundamentals.” To learn more about Scott or to see examples of his work, visit his website at http://scottdrickey.com/.