How to shoot print work for your portfolio

With a bit of photographic know-how, a half-decent DSLR and a sprinkling of art-direction flair, there's no reason why you can't shoot pro-quality images of your print work that will do them justice on screen.

"Don't worry if you're not the most skilled photographer or don't have the best camera on the market," advises photographer Neil Watson.

"These days even the most basic cameras and equipment will get you a long way; any entry-level DSLR or high-end compact with an external flash can be used to get great results."

Set the stage 

"The way in which we photograph our projects is a part of what defines our visual style," says graphic designer Patrice Barnabé. "First of all, be aware that photography, as much as design, can be a victim of trends."

"Remember the trend of holding a giant poster with your fingertips in front of you? Or framing all of your posters? A few years ago everybody was doing it and now it looks completely outdated. Don't be tempted to imitate a photographic trend; instead, find your own way to do it and your pictures will stand the test of time."

Consider background colour carefully

Chris Logan of The Touch Agency likes a neutral colour for the background: "It works well when you have a variety of projects of different size, colour, print finish and scale to accommodate. It also allows for consistency across all of our project shots."

Barnabé warns against creating something too clinical. "When you create your set, make sure it doesn't look like a laboratory. White or pale grey backgrounds can be cold and inexpressive. Don't be afraid to incorporate a colour background that relates to the look and feel of your project; it will help create a cohesive set of pictures."

Think about your theme

"You can adorn your set with objects that give an indication of the project theme. For example, if you designed the identity for a flower shop, a few rose petals distributed harmoniously next to your stationery can add a sensible and fun touch."

Think about adding props to indicate a theme, as Neil Watson has done here

Watson echos this: "I sometimes like to add props that create a sense of an environment. This could be something as simple as a shadow from a plant, or even a cup of coffee."

But don't go overboard with your accoutrements; Julian Zimmermann of Deutsche & Japaner stresses that it's important to stage the work in a well-balanced way: "Don't over-stage the imagery; let the work shine in the foreground."

Lighting matters

When you've worked out your set or backdrop, you'll need to think about lighting. Watson has a clever technique for creating a miniature studio that works with a DSLR and an external flash (speedlight).

"Place a large sheet of white card against a white wall and set up the work you wish to photograph on the card. Attach the external flash to the hot shoe of your camera. Most speedlights have a rotatable head; point this upwards so it is facing the ceiling. Take the picture by standing above your work, looking down onto it so the flash is pointing directly at the wall.

"Shooting with a flash in this way uses the wall to create a softer light source that will make a shadow below the item you are shooting, and shouldn't create too much reflection on it.

Try using a colour background that relates to the look and feel of your project, like Robot Food did for this project

You can also have another sheet of white card balanced against your legs, facing back into the shot, which will act as a fill light, softening some of the shadows at the lower half of the frame." (A fill is a light source used to reduce contrast.)

If you don't know much about lighting and don't have any special equipment, Barnabé recommends natural daylight. "Cloudy days and afternoons are ideal since they create smooth shadows and they reduce high contrast. Create your set next to a big window and reduce the impact of direct light with a translucent white curtain."

Next page: getting the right angle and using the correct lens...