Making people come to life in images can be tricky, but portrait photographers know how to get the best out of their models.
No matter how good we are with people, we can benefit from the help of accessories in our line of work. If you are an aspiring portrait photographer, your charm and wit will serve you well, but being prepared from an equipment standpoint will do you well too. You don’t need to break the bank to be ready, but there are some key items that will help make you a successful portrait photographer.
Portrait photographers can benefit so much by having quality accessories at their disposal. Everything from flashes to light modifiers, and bags to tripods can all make a difference when it comes to nailing the shot every single time. If you are an aspiring portrait photographer, check out the items listed below as they will all help you on your way to becoming the portrait photographer you know you can be.
50mm F1.8 Lens (for Any Camera System)
There is one lens that is absolutely loved by portrait photographers, and that is the 50mm f1.8. It doesn’t matter what brand of camera you shoot with, in terms of best bang for your buck, the nifty fifty reigns supreme. The 50mm f1.8 is usually very cheap, it has a small footprint which makes it lightweight and easy to use, and images are sharp from corner to corner.
In our review of the Canon 50mm f1.8 we said:
“Of all the cheap 50mm lenses made, Canon’s nifty 50 has always reigned supreme as the niftiest thanks to both image quality and affordability.”
In our review of the Nikon 50mm f1.8 G we said:
“This lens is for the elder states man photographer or the newbies. It can tackle pretty much every situation on any Nikon digital camera, especially the newer cameras.”
In our review of the Sony 50mm f1.8 we said:
“Generally speaking in terms of nifty 50 lenses, you can’t really get much better here. Sony’s 50mm f1.8 is right up there with the Canon 50mm f1.8 in terms of image quality. It’s got great color output, is very sharp, very little chromatic aberration (and even then you’ve really got to look for it) and bokeh that isn’t bad overall.”
The 50mm focal range is perfect for portrait work, and the maximum aperture of f1.8 means that not only can you shoot in low light situations, but it will also produce nice separation between your subject and the background. While the bokeh might not be the absolute best, the effects from these lenses are not to be sneezed at. The 50mm is a must have for portrait photographers.
Buy now Canon ($115.77): Amazon,
Buy now Nikon ($196.95): Amazon,
Buy now Sony ($248): Amazon,
Buy now Pentax ($169.99): Amazon
Pro Tip: Be sure to leave 15-20 feet of open space behind your subject to achieve beautiful bokeh. Subject separation is key to really making your model the center of attention.
Yongnuo 560 III Radio Flash
If you really want to up your portrait game and set yourself apart from other portrait photographers you need to add a speed light to your arsenal of gear. The Yongnuo 560 III is one of the best places to start. Adding flash into your work can open up so many doors when it comes to portrait photography. From filling shadows on your subject to adding catch lights to their eyes, flash can turn otherwise flat images into works of art.
In our review we said:
“The Yongnuo 560 III should dispel a lot of myths. Not only is it affordable and well built, but it also is a killer deal overall. For significantly less than what all the big players offer, you’re getting a flash with radio transmission built in.”
The Yonguo is a fully manual flash, meaning you will need to set the power output and the flash range to match your focal length. But don’t let that put you off. While automatic flash systems such as E-TTL are great, being able to fully control and manipulate light will elevate your work. The Yonguo 560 is easy to use, offers great light output, has fantastic build quality, a large easy to read digital display is on the back, and it has a built in radio transmitter. If you want to use this flash off camera in a soft box, just purchase the wireless flash controller to add a whole different level to your flash game. Flash and off camera flash are a game changer, and it really should be something all portrait photographers consider.
Buy Now ($55.47): Amazon.
Wireless Flash Controller Buy Now ($38.00): Amazon
Pro Tip: When shooting at your lenses maximum aperture, make sure your focus is on the eye closest to the camera. Many new cameras have face detection and eye tracking; use these features to your advantage.
Rogue Photographic Design FlashBender 2 XL
Adding flash into your game is one thing, but being able to control the light to do what you want it to do is another. Fortunately there are accessories on the market that will help you get the results you want and need. The Rogue Photographic Flashbender 2XL is an easy to use light modifier that simply attaches to your speedlight with velcro. Light from your flash will be hard unless you can modify it in some way, and this is where soft boxes and accessories like the Flashbender come in to play.
In our review we said:
“The XL Pro Soft Silver can deliver lots of soft light right where you need it while also maintaining some sort of specularity due to its silver areas. It’s very effective and is now probably one of my favorite quick portrait light modifiers.”
By offering more surface area to bounce your light off of, the Flashbender will produce much softer light than if you just shot with a unmodified flash. The Flashbender 2XL is also bendable which means you have lots of control over where your light will fall on your subject. If you want a flash modifier, but don’t like the idea of carrying around soft boxes and light stands, then the Rogue Photographic Flashbender is for you. It’s affordable, small, lightweight, it packs flat, and can be ready to use in just a few seconds. This is another essential item for portrait photographers.
Buy now ($59.95): Amazon
Pro Tip: A quick, easy way to get your flash off camera is to use a flash L bracket. Use a flash L bracket for results that will surpass those where the flash is mounted to the cameras hot shoe.
Manfrotto BeFree Compact Tripod
Tripods don’t get a whole lot of love. I mean lets face it: they aren’t the most glamorous items that we can buy. But they can be an essential tool for portrait photographers. If you plan on shooting your portraits, or headshots in a studio setting, a tripod is a must have. When your subject is static and remains a constant distance from the camera you are free to mount the body to the tripod and move around the studio to help direct your model, you can then fire the camera with a remote shutter release.
In our review we said:
“There’s a whole lot of praise to be given to the Manfrotto BeFree Compact Travel Aluminum Alloy Tripod. It’s sturdy, well built, nice to the touch, lightweight for travel, and gives photographers a whole lot of what they need at a fair price.”
The Manfrotto BeFree Compact is a lightweight tripod suited for both the traveling photographer, and for portrait photographers who practice in studio. Manfrotto’s build quality is excellent; there is no need to worry about how secure your gear will be. The BeFree compact can hold up to 8.8lbs of equipment, and it offers all the control any photographer could wish for. For portrait photographers who don’t want to break the bank, but still want quality equipment, this is one tripod you cannot overlook.
Buy now ($142.93): Amazon
Pro Tip: Using a remote shutter release will allow you to get the sharpest images possible, especially when paired with a tripod. This one is available for Canon, Fuji, and Nikon.
Tenba Cooper 13″ Slim Camera Bag
Getting all of your gear from point A to point B securely and comfortably is a high priority for all photographers. There are so many bags on the market now that it can be hard to choose one that both looks good and is secure and comfortable. The Tenba Cooper 13″ Slim Camera Bag might just be the perfect messenger style bag for portrait photographers.
In our review we said:
“When it comes to a messenger style camera bag designed for the working pro using mirrorless camera gear, this is the only camera bag that you’ll ever need.”
The Tenba Cooper is the perfect size for a DSLR body with a couple of lenses, or for a mirrorless camera with a few lenses. No matter what camera format you use, the Tenba Cooper will hold your gear securely, and you’ll look good doing it. Perhaps the biggest advantage of this bag is that it doesn’t scream, “I’m a photographer!” to passers by. The last thing we want to do is draw attention to ourselves when we are carrying valuable gear. The Tenba Cooper 13″ Slim camera bag is made from soft materials that are resistant to the elements, it’s incredibly comfortable, uses quiet velcro, and offers quick access to your gear. Perfect for when you need to do a quick lens change. The Tenba Cooper is definitely a great bag for portrait photographers and it deserves a closer look.
Buy now ($249.95): Amazon
Pro Tip: As portrait photographers we need to be behind the camera, not in front of a computer. Speed up your processing time by using awesome presets as part of your Lightroom workflow. You’ll be able to provide images with a consistent look and feel to your clients.
When you started out as a portrait photographer what accessories did you use to help you? Let us know in the comment section below.