Accessories For Portrait Photographers
Once you’ve got your camera and lens choice sorted, there are optional accessories to consider. In addition, if you are shooting professionally, you need to consider having spares of your entire kit. Although this may seem like an unreasonable additional outlay, cameras, lenses and supplementary kit can occasionally fail, and if you are photographing portraits that can’t easily be re-shot, then you could be risking your professional reputation if you don’t have back-ups. In addition, you can have different lenses on each camera body, enabling you to switch between lenses more quickly than if you had to turn your camera off, remove one lens and fit the other.
Camera bags are not just for transporting your kit around, they protect it too. When working outdoors you’ll need to be mindful of the risk of condensation and avoid exposing your camera’s body and lens to extreme changes in temperature, especially when leaving a warm building to go outside in winter. The simplest way to do this is to keep everything inside a good quality bag for long enough that the temperature inside gradually matches that outside.
Computer and editing software
Postproduction is an essential part of the portrait photography process. You’ll need a computer that can easily handle the large file sizes created by today’s DSLRs and editing software that will facilitate the final stage in the creation of your portraits.
Memory cards store the image files as you shoot, and can be taken out of the camera in order to move or copy their contents to a computer. The most common types are Secure Digital (SD) and CompactFlash (CF) – the type you need will depend on which camera body you are using.
The cards come in a variety of different capacities and transfer speeds, determining how many image files they can store and how quickly they can transfer the data to your computer, with larger capacities and faster speeds costing more.
If you are shooting Raw files, which contain unprocessed and uncompressed image data, smaller capacity cards will be used up very quickly, whereas JPEG files are compressed and require less space. Top-end camera bodies often have two memory card slots, enabling you to back-up your images as you shoot.
If you want to shoot in low light levels with a slower shutter speed while avoiding camera shake, you will benefit from using a tripod. However, your subject will need to stay completely motionless while the shutter is open, otherwise their movements will blur the shot.
Tripods take time to set to the right height and angle and are cumbersome to transport around. Instead, lean on the back of a chair or against a door-frame to support yourself while shooting, or switch to a steadier posture, with elbows close to your body to minimise camera shake. You can also increase your ISO, open your aperture or use external flash in order to enable a faster shutter speed – more on all of these later. Newer cameras and lenses often feature integrated image stabilisation technology, which can also help reduce your need for a tripod.
Cameras have in-built light meters which measure the amount of light reflected from your subject. They are easily fooled by high contrast or backlit scenes. External light meters are small gadgets which can measure the light falling on your subject, giving you suggested camera settings in order to achieve a good exposure. They are particularly useful when working with artificial light.
Rather than using a light meter to get accurate exposure settings, you can ask your subject to hold a card which is coloured at 18% grey, the exact average tone that digital cameras meter for. Then take a meter reading by pressing the AE-Lock button, ensuring the grey card fills the area that’s being metered (using spot metering is easiest for this). Finally, discard the grey card, recompose your shot and press the shutter release.
Reflectors are effective but low cost accessories that help to fill in shadow areas. They come in a variety of sizes, but 100cm would generally be considered the minimum useful size for varied portraiture situations.
There are circular, collapsible versions which are the most portable, but require an assistant to hold them; ones with hand-grips that photographers can hold on to if they can use their camera with just the other hand; or there are large ones with frames which can be used free-standing. For close-ups, it’s often possible to ask the subject to hold the reflector.
Different colour options include:
– White: Bounces back a subtle light and needs to be used closer to the subject or on brighter days.
– Silver: Bounces a stronger light than white, without colouring it. Good if light levels are lower or if the subject is further away from the reflector. Can be overpowering or make the subject squint if used too close to the subject on a very bright day.
– Gold: Bounces a stronger light than white, and adds a warm tint which replicates golden hour. Good for warming up skin tones on a cloudy day or in shade, but can look overpowering and fake if not used subtly.
– Hybrids: Stripes of white and gold or white and silver are combined across the face of the reflector for a more subtle effect than gold or silver alone.
– Black: Used to absorbs light and create shadows.
You can get double sided or 3-in-1 reflectors that offer you increased flexibility while still offering portability.
When using a reflector, remember that light travels in a straight line, so angle the reflector so it catches the light and bounces it back to your subject’s face. The closer to your subject it’s positioned, and the stronger the ambient light levels, the stronger an effect it will have.
Diffusers come in similar sizes and shapes to reflectors, but are made of a thinner material intended to soften the light, rather than block and reflect it. They are positioned between the subject and the light source, and are typically used on location shoots and for window-lit portraits where the sun is harsh and direct. A low cost alternative with a similar effect can be achieved by using thin white fabric, such as a bed-sheet.
What do you want to be visible behind your subject? If shooting on location, you may want to have the environment around you visible. For indoor shoots, you may want a cleaner background, such as a plain white, black or coloured backdrop. You can buy fabric or paper rolls which are made specifically for photography use; the size you’ll require depends on whether you want to be able to capture full length shots as well as close ups, and how many people you want to photograph at any one time.