Professional photographic documentation of your print portfolio work is essential to communicating your talents on screen. The physical portfolio, while great for face-to-face interviews, has become secondary to showcasing your work in a portfolio site. Employers can easily narrow down a pool of candidates by accessing portfolios online, and you want to make sure the documentation of your work is equal to the craft and creativity of the pieces themselves. A great photograph can make average work seem better than it is, and the opposite is true of a great project shot in bad lighting, at an odd angle, with a distracting background, etc. Taking the time to plan out how you'll shoot each project is a great start, but there is also learning curve to studio photography. If you are inexperienced or lack confidence in your photography skills hiring a professional is worth the investment!
A Step-by Step Process for Documenting Your Work
1. Look at your body of work and research examples of print design shot in the style(s) you plan to use. There are lots of great examples at FormFiftyFive, Lovely Package, The Dieline, Visuelle, and Bitique.
2. Create a document for each project. Include the title of the piece, colophon (paper, fonts, binding, special processes, etc.), a brief description, quick photo sketches (camera phones are ok for this) of all the shots you'll need to showcase the project, and the style of shoot/type of backdrop you plan to use.
3. Schedule a shoot date with a professional photographer, a reliable and capable photo student, or plan to shoot your own work. WARNING: If you're thinking, "I got this! My iPhone camera apps make all my photos look sweet!" please hire a professional.
4. If you're still confident in your photography capabilities, begin gathering the necessary equipment - a digital SLR camera, a tripod, lenses, backdrops (seamless paper is a must!), studio soft boxes (lighting), and an assistant. Depending on the piece, you made need to employ some photo styling tools to create the perfect set up (foam core, double sided tape, sticky tac, etc.).
5. Organize your work into categories, so that pieces that are similar in size and chosen background style are shot consecutively - this saves set up/tear down time.
6. Shoot 10 times the amount of images you think you'll need. Yes, this will take longer, but it will save you the headache of having to go back and reshoot when you realize you've missed something. Always shoot in RAW and make sure you move around your lighting on each set up, bracket your exposures, and vary the angles and compositions of the images. Take details of illustrations, typography, bindings, folds, papers, textures and special processes (use your camera's macro mode). Holding a business card in your hand or turning a page helps to illustrate scale and can create a feel for the stock and finishes that you've used.
7. Review your images during the shoot on a laptop or desktop screen to make sure they images are in focus, exposed properly, and that you have enough variety. Once again, this takes some time, but ensures you won't need to reshoot at a later date.
8. Once you've finished, back up your RAW files in a few locations. View all of your images in Adobe Bridge and star the shots you want to further edit. Open those you've selected in Photoshop Camera Raw and fine tune the temperature, tint, exposure, and contrast. Remember to never save over your originals!
9. Open your edited photos in Photoshop to make further corrections - remove dust and dirt spots, edit shadows, etc. You can even cut out your background all together and create your own shadows and backgrounds digitally.
Taking the time to plan out your shoot and carefully documenting your work pays off in the end. You've spent hundreds of hours creating and perfecting your portfolio projects – applying professional standards to the documentation will ensure that your work receives the same reaction on screen as it would in person.