Skip to Main Content

Photo Documentation for Portfolios

This guide will cover how to light and photograph artwork and objects for portfolios.


Portfolios are an important part of applying for scholarships or professional opportunities. It is important to capture high-quality images to show your work as it is meant to be. The three main stages that this guide will cover are: Setting up your lighting, choosing the right camera settings, and using post processing software to color correct your images.

Setting your Lighting

For flat and even lighting, grab two lights and place them equal distance from the object being photographed at 45º angles.

Start with lighting an object the same way as a flat image, and then use a third light if needed. For 3D objects, think about how you want the object presented. If you want something more dramatic, experimenting with shadows could work in your favor.

Bring your lights to one side and try it out!

Unless your event is a photo shoot you've planned, it's unlikely you'll have time or space to set up lights. For shooting at events or in crowds, always be sure the light is even in the space you're shooting. If it's not, be sure the light is behind you and facing your subject to get the best lighting.

Camera Setup

Camera Position:

If shooting 2d artwork, position the camera above the center of the piece. If shooting an object, determine the angle at which you want to photograph and then adjust your lights accordingly. The angle you shoot at affects the way your work is presented!

If you want a birds eye view of your object, you can use a tripod arm to mount the camera directly over your object.

Camera Settings:

If the Intelligent Auto setting on the camera isn't giving you the results you want, try some of the following controls:

Aperture Priority Mode:
Select "A" on the mode dial, then adjust your aperture to around f/8 for more consistent detail over the whole object. In general, f/8 is a good aperture to stay around for documentation since you have control over your own lighting.

Manual Focus:
Auto focus has improved a lot over the years but it doesn't always give the results you are looking for. If auto focus is not working for you, try switching the camera to manual focus.

White Balance:
Once your camera and lights are all set up try setting the white balance on your camera. This will help with editing later. Most cameras have settings for different lighting conditions. Many cameras also will allow you to hold up a white object like a plain sheet of paper in front of the camera and set the white balance based on that.

Note: All cameras have these settings in different locations, if you cannot find what you are looking for try doing a quick Google search.


Editing / Color Correction

Raw Files: If your images are in a raw format Photoshop will automatically open the image in the Raw Image Editor. The Raw Image Editor functions much like light room and many of the options should look familiar. If you click on the dropdown menu next to White Balance you should see the preset adjustment options.

Once you are happy with your changes you can click on Open Image to go into Photoshop, from there you can make further adjustments or export accordingly. It is important to note that unlike Lightroom Classic, Photoshop does not allow you to make changes to multiple images at the same time.

Jpeg Files: If your image is a .jpg or another compressed format you can still use the Raw Image Editor, there is just an extra step. Photoshop will open your image into the main editing window, from here you need to go to Filters, Open In Camera Raw Filter. This will open your image in the Raw Image Editor. The options for adjusting the white balance based on light will be gone but you can still choose Auto or Custom.

The last method of color correction works for raw or compressed images but requires a little more fine tuning. Photoshop has a number of adjustments that can be added in the form of adjustment layers. You can open up the list of adjustment layers by clicking on the half circle at the bottom of the layers panel. There is no single adjustment layer that can give the same result as some of the other methods presented for adjusting the white balance but by stacking two of them like Levels and Hue and Saturation, you can get a similar result.

In Photoshop you can find the Cropping Tool in the tool bar on the left hand side. You can either freely adjust the crop or constrain it to a specific ration like 16:9.


Resizing and Exporting:

Once you are done making adjustments to your image it is time to export it. To export go to File-Export-Export As, this will bring up a menu where you can set the file type, like .jpg, and the overall size that you want the image to be. The pixel settings in this menu are constrained so that your image will maintain its proportion.

Lightroom Classic is a great way to quickly adjust the white balance and apply other color corrections to a group of images. The options available for adjusting white balance depend on whether or not your image is in a raw format or a compressed format. Both have access to As Shot, Auto, and Custom; however, raw images get a number of other options to adjust for specific lighting conditions.

With the custom option, you can click on the eye dropper button next to the white balance selection and then click into your image where there should be white pixels. This will cause Lightroom Classic to see the area you selected as white and adjust the rest of the image accordingly.

Ligthroom Classic lets you copy adjustments from one image to other images you have imported. To copy settings click the Copy button in the bottom left and make sure that the settings you want are checked. After clicking Copy, use shift to select all of the other images you want to apply the copied settings to and then click Paste.

Exporting and Renaming:

Once all of your images have been edited it is time to export and rename them. Lightroom lets you batch rename all images in a sequence.

White Balance

White balance adjusts the color temperature in your image to bring the temperature back to neutral and in turn make the image look more natural. White balance can be adjusted on the camera before shooting or in post-processing software after you have already captured your images.

Raw vs. Compressed Files

Depending on how an image was captured it will either be in a raw file format or a compressed file format like a .jpg. Raw files are uncompressed and contain much more information than .jpgs or .pngs. Raw files allow for more changes to be made during post-processing. Lightroom Classic and Photoshop both offer a number of additional settings for editing raw files that are not available for a compressed file.

Ask a Librarian