5 Things Every Portrait Photographer Needs To Know

Portrait Photographers – Come Clean!

The first time I ever took a portrait it was pretty awful – horrible confession there! How about yours?

Actually, the first time I met a piano, I made a terrible din. I’ve got better at both I’m glad to say, and it’s all about practice.

Natural Light

If you want to be a great Portrait Photographer – here are 5 essentials

1 – Get Rid Of Excuses

The first thing to do it get rid of your excuses, you don’t “need” expensive lights, a makeup artist, costume designer, expensive model and fantastic location to start learning. You just need a camera and a person to shoot.


When I was first practising, it would tend to be a fellow photographer I’d shoot. Taking turns to be model. This is free and helps you learn the technical side of things – you can work out which lenses work best, which apertures give the right effect, all  that kind of thing. If you can make another photographer look good, you’re well on the way :-).

2 – Learn About Light – From All Sources

Then there’s lighting the person, how do you do that?

Well, we’ve got the sun – that’s free and usually pretty bright.

When shooting indoors, put the person near the window – and use the light from that. You’d be amazed at the wonderful shots you can get.

It’s all about how the light “falls” on them, so try moving them around the window, get them facing out of the window and at different angles, you’ll see how it all works with experimentation.

Natural Light

Ok – so you’re bored of shooting your photographer buddies and want someone pretty to shoot. Models are expensive right?

3 – Use “Time For Photos” models

Well no, there’s a website full of models wanting decent photos called “Model Mayhem”. Look for models prepared to work for pictures – called TF*, TFP or TFCD – get in touch with these and see if you can come up with some ideas for a shoot. They like it if you have some good ideas for your shoot – if you’re too vague they may think you’re a time waster and ignore your request. So get a location and idea ready, then message a few and see what happens.

45-apogee industrial images

So you’ve got natural light off to a tee now – you may have had a reflector too – they’re like flexible mirrors which bounce the sunlight on to the model and help iron out any unwanted shadows on their faces.

4 – Invest in “Flash Lighting”

Lighting kit’s really expensive isn’t it ?

Well not really – you can use the camera’s own flash for some effects. Learn how to use that, maybe “underexpose” the background and use the flash to light the model.  It’s free to flash and to learn, so just experiment away.

The next step is a “speedlite” flash. These are the ones that fix on top of the camera – you see the paparazzi using them all the time.

They’re a bit more pricey, from around £50 to £600. But you can do so much more with them than your on-camera flash.

Flash heads spin around, point the flash beam anywhere you like. Try bounching light off ceiling and see how that works. There’s so much you can do with the flash on your camera, but there’s so much more to be had with your flash “off camera”.

There’s so much you can do with the flash on your camera, but there’s so much more to be had with your flash “off camera”.

2 Speedlites off camera, one with red coloured “gel”

To do this you need a light stand (£10 off amazon for a cheap one) and a light trigger (£40 for a cheap one) – the trigger sits on your camera, the flash on the stand. When you take your photo, the trigger fires the flash on the stand.

I’ll not go into more detail than that with off camera flash as it’s a full day’s workshop to explore it fully – not a blog post 🙂

2 Speedlites off camera, one on each person

5 – Need More Power? Get Studio Lights

I guess after you’ve mastered Off Camera Flash with speedlites, you can upgrade to studio lights or even the mega-powerful battery pack lights like “Elinchrome Rangers” which allow even more flexibility.

2 studio lights, one softbox and one brolly

Mastering Natural Light Is Always A Winner

The truth is, for most people, using natural light is the best solution – the same principals apply for your I-Phone as does for your £5000 SLR camera. If you really want to make a difference to the light in a scene, then “off camera” flash is the most creative, but it’s a hell of a learning curve to get your head around.

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