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Equipment for professional portrait photography

4 Aug 2011 8:47AM
What equipment do I need to become a portrait photographer? If any one would like to help I need an idea of what type of lens I would need for my Nikon D3000, type of lighting equipment and accessories ie filters etc, software for editing, computer, printer and external hard drive that would be best for this. Thanks. Cath

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monkeygrip 9 574 6 England
4 Aug 2011 9:17AM
Apart from your camera what equipment do you currently own? There is a good chance you have all you need, you have some portraits in your pf job doneWink

So the next answer is all based on your budget and although I use the canon system I will tell you what I have and I am sure you will be able to match it.

2 x full frame camera bodies
1 x APC camera body
2 x 70-200mm f2.8 lenses
1x 24-70mm f2.8
1x 24-105mm f4
1x 50mm f1.4
1x 90mm f2.8
1x 17-40mm f4
Ok im bored now lol, I also have a 27" imac use both CS5 and capture one, lighting kit and set up from elemental amongst many other things.

Total cost = £loads

My best portraits IMO are taken in natural light with my 5D2 and 50mm lens and a big reflector so all the above is a waste of money Wink

Hope that helps

Nigeyboy 9 834 United Kingdom
4 Aug 2011 9:51AM
Stu - what did you start out with though? I imagine you didn't decide to suddenly become a portrait photographer over night and purchase all that equipment in one go?
User_Removed 14 3.3k 4 United Kingdom
4 Aug 2011 10:26AM
If you're aiming to ape the kind of thing Venture knock out and you want to do it semi-professionally I would recommend starting with:

A lighting kit (one with two lights, stands and some softboxes) such as a D-Lite 2 kit.

Something which you can utilise as a plain white and plain black background. The more skilled you become with your lights the more you can get away with (I've got away with using white vertical blinds and a black rollerblind which came out as pure white and pure black backgrounds).

A volunteer to practice on.

A very good quality 24-70 zoom lens. I've had/got portrait lenses (105 and 50) and much prefer the flexibility of a quality zoom.

Speccing computer, printer and external hard drive is something you'd be better off starting separate threads for, there's a lot to go into there, plus if you get the camera stuff first you'll gain a better idea of where your existing PC equipment is lacking.
whipspeed 13 4.2k 22 United Kingdom
4 Aug 2011 10:42AM
Not forgetting being able to sell your self, having a talent for getting the right shot (something I think I lack), being good with people to get the best out of them. Then being an accountant and doing your tax returns etc, keeping a web site up to date, advertising.... etc, etc, etc.
mikehit 8 8.0k 13 United Kingdom
4 Aug 2011 10:42AM
'Potrait' photography is not a simple category. it covers so many things: for shooting head/shoulders you may need a different set-up than for half/whole body especially if studio space is limiting. Similarly shooting candid portraits in the street will probably need longer lenses. Do you prefer natural light or artifical lights? Flash?

If you were concentrating on the classic head/shoulders then for a lens on an APS-C body the classic range would be 60mm to 90mm focal lengths. Shorte focal lengths risk the 'bulging nose' effect and longer focal lengths will lead to the facial features 'flattening out'.
For aperture, it is good to have the option of f2.8 or maybe as low as f1.8. This can give a nice feel to the out-of-focus areas and also enables you to shoot in lower light. Nikon (like Canon) make a very good and relatively cheap 50mm f1.8 to start you off.

You can get some very good portraits with minimal kit - have a look at the 'one flash' gallery on this website. But I think you should get a reflectors to fill in shadows (Lastolite ones twist down to a really convenient small package) and you should seriously consider flash for the same reason . This book seems well-like by Nikon-users: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Hot-Shoe-Diaries-Creative-Applications/dp/0321580141/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1312450638&sr=8-5

As for everything else a lot comes down to personal preference. And absically you get what you pay for.
For computers, Mac owners seem to be very passionate about their choice but I use PC only because it is more widely compatible with other programmes. But I would suggegst a minimum of 4GB RAM, store all pirctures on an externals hard drive and have at least 2 back-ups.
Choice of editing programmes will depend on whether you like the inteface but the Nik software is a very good place to start - you can then find out what parts you like or don't like when looking at a more specialised programme.

Good luck!
arhb Plus
10 3.3k 68 United Kingdom
4 Aug 2011 10:54AM
Whilst you may think some of the above comments seem flippant(sp), they are not - you need to consider all of them.
It would be worth while doing a studio lighting workshop - google Chris Burfoot/The Flash Centre, as I found that they do very informative courses. As well as learning about lighting, you will also see and use a lot of the other equipment needed for portrait photography.
Then it's practice practice practice - network network - see what happens...
monkeygrip 9 574 6 England
4 Aug 2011 11:12AM

Quote:Stu - what did you start out with though? I imagine you didn't decide to suddenly become a portrait photographer over night and purchase all that equipment in one go?

True Nige I started with a lot less but had the majority of that kit before going pro or calling myself a proWink

A good point made by Sarah it is a big shock when you find you are the accounts dept, IT dept, sales and marketing dept amongst others of your own business and no matter how you feel at times the client needs to see you full of beans and happy.
But all the advice in the world doesn't prepare you for that you have to use the old leap of faith method its both scary and exciting at the same time if my business went down in flames tomorrow I would still feel I have been lucky to have had a go.

In short though your equipment has to be up to the job but there are many other things to consider. Oh and sorry if my post seemed flippant it wasn't meant to be, to move from amateur to enthusiast and onto professional takes a large investment in equipment not only for the best quality output but for reliability and back up in the day to day beating it takes.
thewilliam 9 6.1k
4 Aug 2011 11:39AM
Professional photographers tend to have top-end kit for good reasons:-

When customers are paying high prices, they'll feel cheated if they see the photographer is using entry-level kit that's less expensive than the snap-shooter's kit they own themselves. We use a comprehensive outfit of Broncolor lighting with digital Hasselblad and Nikon cameras. We have to look the part! She-who-must-be-obeyed insisted that we update some of the lighting kit when she started using the studio. The old kit worked fine but looked a bit tired!

Professional kit is considerably more durable than enry-level. It's normally sealed against rain, it still works after it's been dropped (mostly) and it lasts a lot longer.

Professional lenses are usually a lot sharper than entry and they have a wider aperture which allows selective focussing.

Why else would we spend good money on our tools? Photography isn't a hobby for us!
monkeygrip 9 574 6 England
4 Aug 2011 1:05PM

Quote:Why else would we spend good money on our tools? Photography isn't a hobby for us!

I run a photography school and when I see a student sitting their with high end kit I always ask why they think they needed to spend such a large amount on equipment when they have no clue what they are doing and 99% of the time the answer is "I thought buying a top camera would help me take better pictures"
4 Aug 2011 1:07PM
Wow!! So much information! I only have a Nilkon D3000 with standard 18-55mm lens. I currently use photoshop cs5 to edit my shots. That's about it really. I will take note of all your comments and use your links for further info. Thanks very much to you all. :0)
thewilliam 9 6.1k
4 Aug 2011 1:42PM
Catherine, if you're going to do studio portraits, have you thought about a camera from a previous generation?

I have one good friend who's still using D2Xs bodies and has no intention of "upgrading" because, when she bought them, the D2Xs was the best camera that Nikon could make and they still do the job. At base ISO, it's as good as any and you can buy a mint example with a warranty for about GBP750.

Although I have a safe full of lenses, most of my studio work is done with a Zeiss 100mm Makro-Planar and the rest with a 24-70 zoom. It's rare that I take any other lenses into the studio.

You can work with very little kit, but always have backup.
scottishphototours 14 2.6k 2
4 Aug 2011 2:38PM
Ask yourself this question, even when you've got all this kit where are you gonna use it and how are you gonna attract customers??

The costs then double and the work really starts.

I personally think you'd be mad to want to try and setup a business like this in the current climate...
thewilliam 9 6.1k
4 Aug 2011 5:30PM
I set up as a professional photographer when I was made redundant. Prospective employers, or at least those that deigned to reply, all told me that I was too old to be of any use. The economic climate wasn't too good in those days either.

If we can't find a job, then we must make a job!
4 Aug 2011 6:17PM
I have a lot of people booking up with me for family portraits and I usually work outdoors with natural light. My Nikon D3000 lens doesn't really do the job. I'm also hoping to have a small studio built at home for indoor work but I wasn't really sure of what kit I'd need to support this. There's so much out there and it's all a bit confusing. I am quite new to this but business seems to have taken off quite quickly so I want to make sure I have the right equipment. :0)

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