You may already have a lot of the gear you’ll need. Here are the components for a basic setup.
One of the most important investments for your new portrait studio is a backdrop, but you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get started. Westcott’s X-Drop is a complete kit, including a stand and a 5×7-foot backdrop for $99. Additional backdrop colors are available for around $49, including standard black and white, a few traditional patterns and a greenscreen backdrop if you want to add digital backgrounds to your portraits. The X-Drop sets up in about a minute and collapses down to fit into the included travel case that’s less than three feet long, so it’s easy to bring on location, too.
Most professional portrait photographers use a moderate telephoto lens because that focal range allows them to crop out background distractions while working a comfortable distance from the subject. Telephoto lenses also compress perspective, which is generally flattering for portraits as this reduces the prominence of the nose. Tamron’s SP 24-70mm F/2.8 Di VC USD is a great zoom lens for APS-C cameras, with a 35mm equivalent of about 36-105mm, plus Vibration Compensation when you want to handhold. Sigma’s prime 85mm F/1.4 EX DG HSM is another great portrait lens, ideal for full-frame shooters. Both lenses have fast apertures to create pleasing bokeh and soft backgrounds.
To ensure your ability to create good light, we recommend having at least three lights on hand: one for the background, one as your main light and one for fill. If you already have a flash, you could consider adding additional flash units to your system. Pair them with an accessory softbox like Interfit’s Strobies for soft, diffused light. Or, you could opt for monolights like Paul C. Buff’s affordable AlienBees.
Whichever light sources you choose, you’ll want them to be the same color temperature so that the color of the light is consistent. This isn’t a concern if you’re using three identical lights, but is something to consider if you’re mixing light sources, say, using a flash along with monolights.
Check out the flash and lighting sections of our 2013 Buyer’s Guide online for a variety of flash modifiers, monolights and more: dpmag.com/buyers-guide.
You probably already have a photo organizer and processor such as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom or Apple Aperture. Your next best investment is in a specialized portrait app like Anthropics Portrait Professional or ArcSoft Perfect365. Software like this can really speed up your retouching work, removing blemishes, smoothing skin tone and even tweaking facial geometry for flattering results with just a few clicks.
Here’s another piece of equipment you may already own, but if not, you’re going to need a tripod. Look for one that’s lightweight and easy to adjust like the Davis & Sanford Carbonlite Transporter. Another key consideration is that the tripod’s head have a quick-release plate in case you want to take the camera off the tripod to try interesting angles on your subject. Learn more about the newest tripods and camera supports at dpmag.com/supports.
Davis & Sanford (Tiffen)
Paul C. Buff