I’m Chanpory, and this is my site on how to live and work better as a designer.

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LifeSurface example

What’s an easy way to improve your design portfolio?

Make your work look real.

Did you design a killer poster? Show it hanging on wall or on a billboard. If it’s a magazine, take a picture of someone reading it. A web page? Put it in a browser and show it on a monitor. In other words, don’t just show the design work, give it a context.

In many cases, you won’t be able to physically place it in a real-world setting. For example, most of us can’t afford to rent a billboard to post design work just to take a picture of it. Thanks to the miracle of Photoshop and digital cameras, you can easily fake your way to looking real.

Just go outside, take a picture of the real billboard, and use Photoshop to composite your design work with the picture you took. Designers call this staging.

If you’re lazy and have some extra cash, check out LiveSurface, a library of high-resolution Photoshop templates for staging design work in seconds. It includes images for common objects such as books, CDs, boxes, and shopping bags. The library also has well-photographed outdoor shots of bus shelters, billboards, taxis, and storefronts.

All templates come pre-masked, with shadow and highlight layers, ready for you to place your design work.

Each template also impressively uses Photoshop’s vanishing point feature to automagically transform and adjust your flat design to the right perspective of the photograph. Check out the video demo.

Here’s an image of the vanishing point grid:

LiveSurface vanishing point

Now, that’s a time saver.


  • Jason

    gravatarMay 18, 2007
    7:26 am

    This is a great idea and really makes my work seem more impressive, but I have my concerns about doing this. Portfolios obviously must be honest; this wouldn’t be seen as deceptive, would it?

  • Rico

    gravatarMay 18, 2007
    8:10 am

    @ Jason

    I would file this under “better to beg forgiveness than ask for permission”. If a client asked about the work I would inform them it was staged and then talk about the work.

  • Michael

    gravatarMay 18, 2007
    3:21 pm

    I did something similar for a book I made of some of my student work. This project I made was all about being stark white and calm in a sea of chaos (the design school). That idea wasn’t really conveyed by putting the image on a white page, so I photoshopped it into a photo of the busiest part of the design school.


  • darryl ohrt

    gravatarMay 18, 2007
    6:37 pm

    I just completed a round of interviews for a position at our firm, and one candidate had done this with some of her student work.

    It stood out. She didn’t mis-represent the pieces – and talked about it as a student project – but the presentation lifted the work, made it feel more professional, and her portfolio was stronger as a result of it.

    If you think about it, presenting portfolio work like this is no different than building the comps we do for clients everyday – helping them visualize what the piece might ultimately look like.

    Excellent tip – especially for student work.

  • Tara

    gravatarMay 21, 2007
    5:04 am

    Good post. Staging is a great way to show off what a design will really look like, and looks so much slicker than just showing a flat visual. The Live Surface images link is a good idea – but I just checked the images and they are quite pricey considering you can buy photos from other sources much cheaper.

  • Jill Smith

    gravatarSep 3, 2007
    11:21 am

    Its a great idea but what do you do with this, l have photoshop but have lost the number so l cannot download it, also elments were under the same number. Any ideas ??????

  • Bryan J Zimmerman

    gravatarNov 19, 2007
    5:23 am

    Excellent post!!

    I am a photographer as well as a designer, and have plenty of spots to shoot billboards and what not. Thanks for the cool idea!

    Bryan Z

  • Camila

    gravatarFeb 10, 2008
    11:17 am

    This is a good idea for students or spec work, but not for real work. If you really did a job for a client, you should have the printed piece to take the picture or go to the street and take the picture of the Ad.

  • K

    gravatarJun 14, 2009
    11:56 am

    I think you’ve got to be prepared for both situations. A design professional will differ to some degree than a client b/c they are able to visualize ideas. Perhaps not all of them want their minds-eye to be tainted with the context you’ve chosen for them. Perhaps they want the chance to see it and only it. Then maybe mention that you also have slides showing the work in a context. Feel them out. Do they seem interested? Etc. People in the same industry never agree on everything and until you are the boss, you have to be ready to please both sides. Designers and artists in general can be very fickle. I like that Jason is actually trying to work out his ethical concern. More designers should. Most designers don’t even have them. P.S. There is also the chance that if you don’t have the right amount of time to think through the perfect context that will make your work totally killer, you could end up shooting yourself in the foot b/c perhaps you’re portfolio piece rocks more on its own.