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What equipment do i need to start out taking portrait shots.

9 Dec 2013 11:37AM
Hi there, i hope you can help. I originally learned photography back in 1994 when i did 2 years at college learning on 35mm B&W. i then didnt really do much with it until now.

Ive recently purchased a Nikon D3100 with kit lens and have just got a 50mm 1.8 lens. I want to start offering free portrait shoots to friends and family to start building up my portfolio.

With this in mind, and being on a tight budget to start with, what are the essentials that i need? can i get away with not having a massive lighting set up and is there a way i can improvise on backgrounds? any ideas and tips are greatly recieved.



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puertouk 6 1.1k 17 United Kingdom
9 Dec 2013 12:29PM
First of all, you need a lens to do the job, which togs tend to use 70-200mm. You can also use a nifty fifty (50mm) but be careful not to get too close. You can get away with a flash, light stand and some firing triggers. Go to Sekonic , pocketwizard and watch some of the videos with Joe Brady. He goes through a lot with this type of work and you should hopefully learn quite a lot.
mikehit 8 8.0k 13 United Kingdom
9 Dec 2013 12:53PM
On a APS-C camera, the 50mm f1.8 is just about in the standard focal range for portrature. Yes, a zoom offers flexibility but a cheaper option would be to supplement it with something like an 85mm f1.8. From what you say, it sounds as if you will have time to 'zoom with your feet' so primes would be OK for that.

You can do an awful lot of good stuff with available light (i.e. no flash) coming through a window etc, but whether you have flash or not, a good reflector or two is almost essential to fill in shadows and control the lighting. Beyond that, I would start with a single flash to learn the basics of flash technique then expand your kit to refine the lighting otherwise you risk confusing yourself with too many options: one of the gurus of Nikon speedlighting is Joe McNally and you can do worse than buy his book showing different set-ups. Ninon flash (like Canon flash) are expensive so I would suggest getting a Yonguo flash for a fraction of the cost and if you expand your kit it will make a good second (slave) unit.
You can get things like light stands to mount the flash away from the line of the camera, and also flash modifiers that are useful to adapt the strength and direction of light. But I would build your kit slowly when you know what you really want to do otherwise you could waste a heap of money. IMO pocket wizards are unnecessarily expensive (again and alternative is Yongnuo triggers) and Sekonic lightmeter is a luxury item for someone in your position

For a tight budget my suggestion would be to use the 50mm f1.8 then prioritise something in the order of reflectors, single flash, flash modifiers, longer portrait lens, other flash gear as needed.
lemmy 11 2.7k United Kingdom
9 Dec 2013 7:51PM
For portraits on your camera a lens around 70mm would be good. Sheets or plain walls can make a good backdrop.

You don't have to go the conventional artificial lighting route. Window light is some of the most beautiful lighting you can imagine and can be used in many ways. If you have a window facing north, you will be astonished at the beauty of the light for portraits. Take people outside, whatever. If you have a flash, mix it with daylight.

But the main things aren't technical - people always veer to technical advice - they are the picture itself. Practise, practise, practise. get to know your location and the light it offers. Have the camera set up and ready to go on a tripod before you start your portraits. That will avoid your sitter getting bored, vexed and doubting your ability.

Your sitter will not be interested in the lighting or any technicalities, they will look at themselves. Do they look relaxed? Do the clothes suit the subject? Is there anything distracting in the picture? What is it about this person that you want to show? If you don't know what you want to show, you cannot know how to photograph it.

Take a look at the great portrait photographer's work. Why are they great? It will not be because their pictures are technically good. Monkeys can be trained to do that, especially with modern digital cameras. It is what they bring to their portraits, their interpretation of the subject. Without that, it is just a snap, a sharp and well exposed one perhaps but still a snap.
letooms 10 37 United Kingdom
9 Dec 2013 7:57PM
I ditched my 50mm in favour of an 85mm (1.8) a couple of months back as I read somewhere that the manufacturing process takes into account its preferred use (for the portraitist) in mind and is therefor a more flattering lens to employ. I'm assuming that the glass is slightly less convex or something like that.

Either way that would be my recommendation, that and a good reflector should see you straight for the short term, I go out everyday with a car full - my Bowens kit with beauty dish, honey combs, softbox as well as a ring flash and I rarely ever use any of it in favour of natural light. If you can stretch to it (and can find some) then some good quality SPUN will transform even the harshest natural light into something useable and uniform with minimal light loss.
9 Dec 2013 8:20PM
I've given many talks at camera clubs on this and other subjects and always emphasize just how much you can do for free or very cheap.

One thing that is needed is a reflector, which can be a sheet of paper, foil, plastic wrapping or a 5-in-1 from eBay. Unfortunately you also need someone/thing to hold it in position.
People are great for holding and adjusting reflectors, but are prone to distractions, moods, needs, etc., so a stand with an arm is handy to have.

Remembering back to your college days, you will need a lens of about 100mm (in 35mm film terms) to flatten the perspective a bit on the subject. Go with a lens that's too long and you will have your back against the far wall and the subject hard against the opposite wall, which is a disaster as you need good separation of subject & background.

Backgrounds are a very personal choice, but a mid grey one can be made to look both black and white with the right light and exposure. Whatever background you go for the lens needs an aperture big enough to throw the BG out of focus, so something bigger that f/2.8 is advised.

As for flash: This is where it all comes down to developing a technique that matches the style of image you want to create. If you follow a recipe, you get the cake the recipe was for... Better to deconstruct the images that you like the look of and recreate them with your own ideas added.

Manual settings for everything and remember the inverse square law. Use net, voile, tissue, anything to modify the light and don't forget that a black surface can stop reflections.

If you can get an old hairdressers "Block" it will sit for you for hours, while you play and learn.

Have fun. Wink
10 Dec 2013 10:39AM
excellent ideas everyone, all of the above is such a help, i thank you all so so much. ive managed to get quite a few different friends to pose for me, im going to go with outdoors this weekend to start with and see how it goes, its my friends little boy so should be fun. ill post the results on here for you to see. thanks again.l
scootphoto 4 27 United Kingdom
31 Jan 2014 4:58AM
Sorry to jump on here too but I'm also thinking of getting into portrait photography, I've turned down various jobs over the years from being too nervous when it come to portrait photography. However a recent upgrade in camera has really given me a photography buzz again, it feels great and I'm never off the internet watching workshops etc.

I've also looked at the Yongnuo YN-565 EX Flash, can It be used for off camera flash work, for instance hooked up to a soft box/umbrella away from the camera? Obviously with the wireless transmitters but would I have to get a sync cable to fire the flash, as I don't want to use a flash on the camera as a master as I've heard too many cons regarding harsh light from direct camera flash. I'll mostly be using it for fill in flash and to resemble window light etc.

Thanks in advance and if it depends on camera model regarding my questions I'm using a Nikon D7100.
hobbo Plus
7 1.2k 2 England
31 Jan 2014 5:23AM
All good stuff so far, my advice would be to take advantage of all the photography/ Portraiture tutorials freely available on YouTube.......the ones offered by B&H are usually excellent.

mikehit 8 8.0k 13 United Kingdom
31 Jan 2014 12:39PM

Quote:Obviously with the wireless transmitters but would I have to get a sync cable to fire the flash

I don't understand that comment - with a wireless transmitter you don't need any cables.
You can also use the camera flash as a trigger where the ambient light is not very strong as long as you set the output low it will not often affect the image very much - but I don't think the 565 can be set up as a slave flash so that is out anyway. The next model up (568?) I think does offer slave facility and it is not much more expensive.
Paul Morgan 17 19.1k 6 England
31 Jan 2014 10:39PM
You already have the most important items, add a light meter, a flash unit and some imagination and you will be well on your way.
scootphoto 4 27 United Kingdom
31 Jan 2014 11:38PM

Quote:I don't understand that comment - with a wireless transmitter you don't need any cables.

I was under the impression that with the cheaper Flashes you couldn't control the output manually from the camera itself, as I'd like to control the flash from my camera and the flash being set up with lightbox I don't want to have to open up the light box every time I want to change the settings. So all of this is do able with the Yongnuo YN-565 EX Flash with desired wireless receivers. If so thats pretty awesome Smile

I hope this makes sense as I'm often pretty rubbish at trying to explain thingsGrin

Thanks again
Sooty_1 7 1.5k 221 United Kingdom
1 Feb 2014 1:10AM
1. Use the kit you have first. You already have a couple of lens options, so don't spend money until you have identified a gap in your equipment that you can't fill by other means (by moving your feet or cropping in post production perhaps).

2. Natural light is a great place to start. A window (maybe with a net curtain) not lit with direct sun, gives great light. Reflectors can be used to bounce light around, as can mirrors, tinfoil, lots of other things and most importantly, imagination. Room lights and table lamps can be used as continuous light sources, and WB adjustment and shooting RAW will take care of colour casts.
Backdrops can be a wall, a sheet, large paper or card, curtains....again, learn to use what is there.

3. If you're going to fire it with remote triggers, a flashgun doesn't need to be dedicated. Get a cheap (even old) decent manual gun and use a flash meter or guesswork and chimping to set the power. You will learn much more about lighting if you have to set it manually, plus, I've found messing around with auto/ttl set ups just as hard. Power and adjustability is more important than dedication if it's not connected to the camera. Many newer cameras can be set for commander mode on the internal flash, which sets off slave cells on flash heads/guns without affecting the exposure, or you can buy a slave cell for very little.

4. You can make minor adjustments to exposure using the aperture to save breaking into your softbox, but tbh you should have it all set up beforehand anyway. A bit of practice and making a few notes should mean you quickly get close to what you want with little adjustment when you set up.

5. Practise on yourself first, so you are more comfortable with the set ups. Like driving a car...when you first start you are concentrating on so many things, especially inside the car, it's easy to make mistakes. After a while, driving itself becomes easier and you can concentrate on the outside world more. So with flash. Practising by yourself should make you comfortable with setting up so you can concentrate on your sitter and engage with them rather than fuss about with the lighting.

6. It should be an enjoyable experience for both shooter and sitter. Fretting about your kit reduces your and their confidence. Have music on, chat, be comfortable, make them feel at ease, don't keep them hanging around...all things just as important as what kit you use. Make a plan before you start of what shots you want to get, and be prepared to experiment.

7. Everybody asking these type of questions seems to get the same advice to buy flash, buy triggers, buy meters, buy lenses...why not buy a whole studio? Plus, you might decide portraiture really isn't for you, and the vast sums spent on redundant kit will be wasted.
Start small, learn to use what you have. You can buy a few small bits and take great portraits for under 10, but what works for all these other posters might not work for you. As above; don't buy something until you identify a real need for it.

Paul Morgan 17 19.1k 6 England
1 Feb 2014 1:26AM

Quote:Everybody asking these type of questions seems to get the same advice to buy flash, buy triggers, buy meters

A light meter and a flash unit are extras that are extremely useful if not essential items if you really want to learn about lighting and they need not cost a packet.
Sooty_1 7 1.5k 221 United Kingdom
1 Feb 2014 2:05AM
I agree to some extent, but a meter is not essential - now with the benefit of instant feedback, you can use trial exposures to determine even complex lighting set ups, and a non-dedicated adjustable manual flash is way cheaper than a fully dedicated, ttl, all singing, all dancing gun plus a set of triggers dedicated to your camera.
You can use angle poise lamps, table lamps, even torches you may have in your home. Tracing paper stapled to a junk picture frame for a diffuser/softbox, sheets of card or foil for reflectors. The point I'm trying to make is that there is no need to spend loads of cash to try the water, when a little creativity will allow you to do it for next to nothing.

Perhaps I'm old fashioned, even a Luddite, but IMHO it is better to be able to understand lighting ratios whatever the circumstances, than to just be able to master selecting ttl and hoping for the best. Most will still take test shots in any case, like we did with Polaroids, so no real time or effort is saved.

And if you don't use a flash, you don't need a flash meter!


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