The Builder's Guide to Creating Great Project Photos For Your Portfolio
How to show off your best projects in the best possible light… pun intended.
So you’ve decided it’s time to ramp-up your portfolio, or you’re creating your first one ever. Either way, it’s a great decision! A strong portfolio will not only help your business grow but it’ll establish your credibility as a professional builder.
No matter what your industry or trade – you’re defined by the quality of your work. That’s why the quality of your portfolio is critical. It shows what you have to offer, and is a summary of your best work. And many times it’s your first impression with a potential client – so you need to make it a good one.
The first - and most important - ingredient in creating a portfolio that impresses new clients is great photography. To save you time and get you started on the right foot, we researched and compiled everything you need to know to beautifully capture your work in the guide below.
If you're ready to create incredible portfolio images and lock-down your ideal clients, this guide is for you.
Let's get started ...
How to Photograph Your Own Work for Your Portfolio
Hey, you might need photos on the fly or maybe you want to capture the whole process. Learning how to take good quality photos is not as hard as it seems. There are so many resources out there and exceptional equipment that makes photography easier than you think.
Photography Using Digital Cameras
The first thing you’ll need is a great camera. You can start with a beginner camera or go all out. For starters we like the Canon EOS Rebel T7 coming in around $399. They go up in price from there. The Sony a7s II is one of our top pics at an impressive 26.1 Megapixels, but with a price tag of almost $2,000. And if you want to fall somewhere in the middle the Canon EOS 6D Mark II is the Goldilocks of cameras and is just right, with a manageable cost of $1,200.
Lenses can be tricky, in most cases you should not use a wide-angle lense like you see in real estate photos. It may make a space appear larger, but it can also distort the room like the image below.
However, in rare instances you might need a wide-angle lense to capture the entire room when just can’t do it with a standard lense.
If you do decide to add a wide angle lens to your equipment, the top choice for interior photographers is the Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L lens. It’s a wide-angle lens, but it won’t distort the image like most. A budget-friendly alternative to the Canon lens is the Sigma 15-50mm f/2.8L. Both lenses will allow you to capture more of the room without it looking like you used a fish-eye lens.
Getting to know your equipment and photography basics can be intimidating – but it’s the first step. At first, shutter speed, aperture, and ISO can seem confusing, but they’re really not. Fortunately, there are many simple tutorials out there. You’ll learn how to adjust these settings to get perfect lighting without using a flash. And also how to make sure your camera is always set to photograph in the RAW format.
It’s also a good idea to learn how to bracket, which is capturing the room in 3 different exposures. This allows for you to combine them later in editing, taking the best features of each photo. Pretty cool right? And it’s not hard, it just takes a little while to learn and allows for easier editing in the end. And with digital photography you can see what your shot looks like instantly. So you do have some great advantages.
Since you’re only photographing the interior or exterior of a home it will be even easier. Lenses and basic settings will be similar for each job. You’ll likely only need minor modifications after finding that perfect setting.
Photography Using Your Cell phone
In today's digital age, most cell phone models have superior camera features. But, the newer iPhones are designed to give professional photographers a run for their money. The standard features on these phones are better than ever before. So, if you’re wanting to go the cell phone route to capture your portfolio images you might consider upgrading your phone to an iPhone11 or newer model. If you are happy with your phone, many of these techniques will still apply. You just need to familiarize yourself with your cell phones capabilities.
Apple has made the built-in features exceptional for capturing crisp, clear, well-lit images. The focus and exposure are automatic and easily controlled when you need to make adjustments. The camera also has a grid feature you can turn on in your settings which helps you keep your photo straight. However, it’s always best to use a tripod to ensure a super still image.
There are several built-in filters and adjustments for editing within the camera app on your iPhone. And if that’s not enough – there are several camera apps that add even more options and are still simple to use. Our top three picks are:
ProCamera: This is an easy to use app, and has features for both photos and videos. It also has an impressive 70 filters. This app offers the option to shoot in RAW format – that's one of the reasons this is our top pick.
Camera + 2: This app features advanced controls allowing you to have some manual control over the settings. Another great detail is that the features are built right into the shutter screen.
VSCO Camera App: This app takes photos to a whole new level. It’s not as user-friendly as our other 2 picks, but it’s worth the learning curve. It has exceptional photography features, and the editing options are pretty amazing too.
Take a look at the features in the app you’re considering and decide if it’ll work for you. If you can shoot in RAW format it will give you more editing options in the end. You have to use a third-party app to shoot in RAW format. The iPhone doesn’t have that capability, yet.
Hiring an Professional Photographer
This guide is designed to help you create your own portfolio images. But the truth is, maybe taking your own photos doesn’t appeal to you? Then consider hiring a professional. We know what you’re thinking…
Wow, that doesn’t sound easy or affordable. But, guess what? It is!
A great place to start is to ask your realtor! Most real estate agents rely on photographers to showcase their properties. Calling a popular office in your area is a great way to get a referral. And, as we all know, a referral is better than just randomly choosing someone online.
Keep in mind that photographing real estate is a different style of photography than interior design. So be sure to ask the photographer if they do both kinds of photography. Most do – because the differences are slight, involving camera lenses, lighting and angles – but it’s still a good idea to ask before you hire someone.
Another unexpected place to look, is wedding photographers. They are highly skilled at capturing special moments in real life so they can do a lot with interior photos. Again, this is where you need to ask questions about their experience. But, most understand lighting and basic staging, it’s part of what they do. And they have a creative eye for the details.
Remember, every photographer has their own style and look. So it’s important to always look at their portfolio before choosing. You want a photographer who can bring your style, look, and feel to your photos.
Finding Portfolio Photography Inspiration
Photography is only part of the process. So whether you go all-out and hire a professional photographer or you choose to take the pictures yourself. You need to realize the importance of everything that leads up to getting that perfect portfolio-worthy shot.
I know you probably never thought Pinterest or Instagram was going to be your best friend. But, here it is, find inspiration by looking at… you guessed it, other people’s pictures.
Looking at similar images in magazines or online will help you understand what you like and don’t like.Your company has its own style and vibe, so keep that in mind while browsing images. Stay true to your brand and find images that give you ideas on how to expand on that. Look at the details. See how certain rooms are staged and look at how people add pops of color tastefully.
The image above has a very light and airy feel to it. It feels clean and inviting.
This photo has much different lighting and editing. It creates a warm and comfortable feeling.
Both images have a very different feeling, but are still well lit with natural light. And the angles are showcasing the details beautifully.
How to Stage and Style Like a Portfolio Pro
Staging is an overlooked component of a construction project photo. But, it’s a crucial element to creating an amazing portfolio. Staging brings warmth and makes the finished project feel like home to the viewer. It’s what makes your project feel complete and professional.
And you don’t need to be a designer to stage effectively. In fact, anyone can do it!
This is where your inspiration searches come in. Think back to the images that resonated with you and make your project come to life.
Remember, less is more in staging – so just keep a few select pieces of furniture in the shot. Arrange things in a way that looks good on camera and don’t worry about functionality. Just use what you need and move the rest out of the frame.
Create vignettes, which are just a few knick-knacks grouped together and carefully placed. Select a few key locations and arrange items in odd numbers. And always consider the room you’re staging. If it’s a kitchen you can use a canister, bowl of fruit, and try to incorporate a pop of color. If it's a bathroom go for some fancy soap, rolled hand towels, and some flowers. And remember, you’re setting the scene, but don’t overthink it. Take a test shot and see what it looks like on camera, then adjust if necessary.
If you’re a home builder and staging an entire house consider hiring a professional. Most staging companies already have furniture and smaller items for vignettes. And it’s less expensive than purchasing an entire house of furniture.
Lighting Is Everything
It’s important to have consistency throughout your portfolio.The mood you create with lighting and photographic style can help establish a consistent signature look. A lot can be done in editing so don’t stress too much on the light. And over time you’ll learn what does and doesn’t work as you take more photos.
It‘s always best to use the existing natural light. So open all the doors and windows to let as much sunlight in as possible. And stay away from using the interior overhead lighting. Hard light coming from recessed lighting can create pockets of glare. If you absolutely need the lights on to get the shot, always use LED lights, they’re softer and create less glare.
Another sure way to end up with inconsistent lighting, or “hot spots”, is using a flash. Rarely will flash photography work with interiors. So as a general rule stay away from using a flash. You can use accent lighting where it makes sense. Softer hues come through from a bedside lamp or a desk lamp, but use them sparingly.
If you’re shooting outdoors, ideally you should try to shoot on an overcast day. It’s much easier to correct outdoor lighting in editing so don’t worry if the conditions aren’t perfect.
This is also why shooting in RAW format is beneficial, because you can use different exposures and combine them to get the best of all the exposures.
The composition of your photo is how it all comes together and how well it’s all expressed. This includes the angle choices you make, which can maximize the impact of your images. And where you need to assess whether you’ll use a wide-angle lense or if additional lighting is necessary.
First decide on your focus and what details you want to capture. If you just did a kitchen remodel and the backsplash is custom tile, then make sure you’re highlighting that. Move around the room and photograph from different places and angles. Always get some photos straight on and don’t be afraid of getting close-ups of your craftsmanship. You’re not trying to sell a house, you’re showcasing your talent and those details are what your potential clients want to see.
Take the advice of experts and keep your camera at hip level or slightly lower, but never on the ground. David Duncan Livingston, San Francisco-based interior photographer says,
“I like to shoot with my camera about 40 inches off the floor. When your camera sits lower than eye level, your photos will look more like those you see in magazines.”
With digital photography you can see your images instantly. This will allow you to make adjustments for lighting, make sure you’re in focus, and double-check that your exposures are just right.
Choosing and Editing
So you’ve successfully captured your project with the best possible lighting and angles. You took plenty of photos and did everything right. Now you need to choose, edit, and finalize them.
To pick the photos that work the best, first get a variety. You don't need or want several of the same pictures. One is plenty. Look for the ones that compliment your work and that showcase the details.
The rest is done in editing. This is where most people can feel overwhelmed. Don’t panic, in today's digital world editing is a breeze. You’ll need to be clear on your signature look so that you can find consistency. There are so many editing options out there, so we have made it easy for you.
The iPhone photography apps ProCamera, Camera + 2, and VSCO Camera App we discussed earlier, all contain filters and editing features. However, the app of choice is Lightroom, you can edit on your iPhone, tablet, or a computer. Making it the perfect software to learn so you can use it with a professional camera or an iPhone. This can also come in handy if you switch between devices for convenience.
Lightroom also allows you to use presets. Presets are a configuration of settings that are saved in the app. So with one click you are finished editing, getting beautiful and consistent results. They are meant to help you achieve a certain look or style. It will cut down your editing time, establish consistency, and you’ll get a great looking photo every time!
Some third-party companies also include presets that are specific to interiors. Like Loox or our top pick The Luxe Lense has a wide variety of interior choices. The interior design and real estate lightroom has 27 presets in one package and retails for $99. And if you’re on a budget you can wait for a sale. They run specials often. You can do your own research too. There are hundreds of presets available from many different resources.
I know this seems like a lot to take in but start with baby steps. Take your camera or iPhone and start with your own home. Take a few images and play around with them. The only way to master this is to take pictures, lots of pictures. There will be a day when this is all second nature.
A few highlights to remember:
- Always open all the blinds and doors to let in as much natural light as possible.
- Stage the area, move furniture when needed, and create a few key vignettes.
- When shooting from the corner of the room avoid standing in front of a window.
- Stay out of mirrors, the last thing you want is your reflection in the shot.
- Always use a tripod, they make ones that will work with both a camera and an iPhone.
- Never shoot high, keep your camera at the hip or slightly lower (unless you’re going for an artistic look or a social media post.)
- Always shoot in RAW format, for optimal editing options.
Take your time and follow the above recommendations. Your portfolio is always a work in progress.