6 innovative ways to photograph your portfolio

Presentation is crucial in a design portfolio. And whether the final outcome is digital or printed, a beautifully art-directed approach to photographing your work can help you stand out from the crowd.

This is particularly true of printed collateral and packaging work, as it's always hard to do justice in a flat, still image. The more creative, dynamic and original the approach, the better.

Read on to discover six top design agencies that have nailed the art of shooting work for their portfolios...

01. Add punch with a vibrant backdrop

Corofloss branding by Anagrama

Mexican studio Anagrama shot its Cocofloss project on a vibrant coloured background

One of the simplest but most effective ways to add punch to your portfolio images is to shoot your work on a brightly coloured backdrop.

Although shooting on white and then adding a background colour later in Photoshop is always an option, coloured backdrops – perhaps even combined with coloured lighting – can achieve a memorable effect that leaps off the page or screen.

Mexican branding agency Anagrama used exactly this technique to shoot promotional images for Cocofloss, a California-based company making flossing a "fun and rewarding experience for everyone".

Anagrama developed a fun, vibrant visual language, using a pastel-based colour palette and holographic foil to break from the clinical white usually favoured by oral care brands. Shooting on a bright backdrop not only complemented the vibrant packs themselves, but also reflected beautifully in the foil detailing.

02. Art-direct a scene to add interest

PARKSIDE Brooklyn by Vault49

New York agency Vault49 took the time to art direct a simple scene to show off its PARKS!DE Brooklyn branding

Showcasing digital work in print is, if anything, more challenging than doing the opposite, as any interaction and motion design elements are lost in the static image.

And while showcasing online work in its natural habitat is theoretically as simple as including the appropriate hyperlink, sometimes a stylised image is needed to add some extra wow factor when it's presented in a portfolio environment.

Stock imagery of laptops, tablets and smartphones can be great to mock up digital work in situ for this purpose, and can save both time and money shooting the same hardware yourself over and over. But sometimes it's worth going the extra mile.

PARKSIDE Brooklyn by Vault49

The branding scheme features beautiful hand-drawn illustrations, which also feature in the portfolio showcase

New York-based agency Vault49 did exactly that to show off its branding work for The PARKS!DE Brooklyn, a luxury NYC apartment complex.

Tasked with appealing to millennials with a lifestyle-driven message, the agency created a comprehensive branding system, and accompanying promo materials – with refined handcrafted illustrations used to add a touch of sophistication.

In Vault49's online portfolio, the PARKS!DE Brooklyn website is showcased on a laptop, iPad and iPhone in a carefully art directed 'scene' that continues the lifetime theme, complete with miniature shrubs, textured backdrop, and accessories such as a notebook and wooden pencil holder.

03. Arrange print collateral in quirky ways

Grid notebooks by Hey Studio

Hey Studio's gridded notebooks could have been shot on white, but the grid pattern adds an extra stylised twist

Just as with digital work, sometimes a high-quality stock image can help you showcase your print collateral effectively – comping your latest identity work onto stylish shot of some blank stationery will certainly save you time and money.

However, a quick search for branding work on a platform such as Behance will demonstrate just how many similar shots of isometric collections of stationery there are. It can pay off to do things differently to suit the project at hand, or to establish a unique style of art direction for your studio.

Grid notebooks by Hey Studio

Raising one notebook on a jet-black box adds an extra dimension to the portfolio shoot

To promote its range of high-quality gridded notebooks, Barcelona-based Hey Studio photographed them carefully aligned on matching grid-patterned paper, for an incredibly striking effect.

In one image, Hey also made use of a jet-black box – also perfectly aligned with the grid pattern – to raise one notebook above the others, creating an eye-catching geometric interplay between the different objects that adds an extra stylised twist.

04. Adds GIFs and slideshows to demonstrate processes

Talking Ceramics book by Trapped In Suburbia

Trapped In Suburbia used a simple animated GIF to demonstrate the 'bake to reveal' process for its Talking Ceramics book

Sometimes still images aren't quite enough to communicate why people should care about a project, especially if there's an exciting creative process or dynamic interactive feature to show off.

Dutch studio Trapped In Suburbia has built a reputation for its innovative, boundary-breaking uses of special print treatments and engaging interactive technologies, and its Talking Ceramics book was certainly no exception.

In homage to the transformative, unpredictable power of a ceramicist's kiln, the book – white at first – must be baked in an oven to reveal the cover design.

Talking Ceramics by Trapped In Suburbia

The Dutch studio also took plenty of before-and-after photos, and shows a selection of spreads in a slideshow format

While the studio took plenty of before and after sequence images for use in the portfolio, the exciting nature of the process needed something more in-depth to show it off to full effect. 

Trapped In Suburbia created an animated GIF to show the book cover at different stages of 'baking', as well as producing a video explaining how it all works. A special edition version of the book also featured a 1mm thick porcelain cover intended to crack over time, to encourage the reader to embrace the beauty of mistakes.

05. Explore different angles and detail shots

Paper Wraps Stone by Build

Entitled Paper Wraps Stone, Build's sample book for Arjowiggins Creative Papers needed to be shot carefully

When it comes to printed portfolio items, particularly where different paper weights and textures, and special inks and finishes are involved, it's worth taking the time to shoot a range of different angles on the piece to show it off to best effect.

For its promotional notebook for Arjowiggins Creative Papers, entitled Paper Wraps Stone, Leeds-based studio Build worked with a selection of different papers, as well as a debossed cover and metallic silver Pantone.

Paper Wraps Stone by Build

Build took the time to photograph a range of different angles and detail shots to show off the texture of the paper

The final book has a matt grey cover with simple black type, and many of the colours inside are fairly muted, such as pale blue, beige and soft peach. If not photographed carefully for a portfolio, it's the kind of project that could recede easily.

Accordingly, Build shot the book to accommodate a wide range of different angles and close-up details, ensuring a range of angles and perspectives as well as showing off the soft sheen from the metallic Pantone, the crispness of the binding, and the subtle texture of the special papers.

06. Combine video and stills to explain experiences

Vision Wall by FIELD

FIELD begins by showing off the stunningly immersive generative visuals from its Vision Wall installation in video form

Showing experiential work in a portfolio is one of the biggest challenges a designer can face: in many cases, it's impossible to replicate the immersive experience of actually being there in person.

This is particularly true of a print portfolio, but even online with video at your disposal it can still provide a unique set of hurdles. It's important to document the actual installation as faithfully as possible, using whatever tools are available.

Specialising in generative design and interactive, immersive installation work, FIELD has mastered the art of documenting experiential design work – and in most cases, it involves finding the perfect balance between stills and video.

Vision Wall by FIELD

The agency then moves on to show the visuals in situ on the giant screens at the KAPSARC Centre

One example is its Vision Wall, a permanent installation of three ever-changing generative artworks in the KAPSARC Centre, Saudi Arabia, designed as metaphors for the spirit of scientific research. 

FIELD leads the case study in its online portfolio with a screen-filling explosion of motion graphics, but then features a wide range of images of the giant screens in situ, with a mesmerised onlooker in the foreground. It's an important addition to add scale, but also to try and put you in that person's shoes.

As all the above examples attest, the best way to treat any given project in your portfolio depends largely on context, but the common factor is that taking the time and effort to document it effectively will really pay off in the long run.

Related articles:

Thank you for reading 5 articles this month* Join now for unlimited access

Enjoy your first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

*Read 5 free articles per month without a subscription

Join now for unlimited access

Try first month for just £1 / $1 / €1

Nick Carson

Nick is a content strategist and copywriter. He has worked with world-class agencies including Superunion, Wolff Olins and Vault49 on brand storytelling, tone of voice and verbal strategy for global brands such as Virgin, Pepsi and TikTok. Nick launched the Brand Impact Awards in 2013 while editor of Computer Arts, and remains chair of judges. He's written for Creative Bloq on design and branding matters since the site's launch.