A Beginner's Guide to Studio Portraits
- How to Take Studio Portraits: Setup and Gear
- Taking the Portraits: Camera Settings and Lighting
- Keep Taking Pics, But Make Them Better
- POSE!: 1,000 Poses for Photographers and Models
- Mastering Portrait Photography
- The Dramatic Portrait: The Art of Crafting Light and Shadow
- Basic Portrait Lighting Principles
- Essential Portrait Lighting Tips
- 2019 Best Lights For Photography
- How to Use Rembrandt Lighting For Portraits
- Short Vs Broad Lighting For Portraits
- How to Create a Low Key Portrait
Photo by Jimmy Fermin on Unsplash
At some point in our photographic careers, we toyed with the idea of setting up for studio portraits. By careers, I’m not specifying making money, but how we approach photography. We have all gone from a person who takes pictures to a craftsperson creating art.
That’s us, that’s you, we are Photographers, capital P. This is true regardless of experience level, in my opinion. Beginner photographers are definitely a photographer, having grown from merely liking to take pictures to wanting to improve.
So, we thought about setting up our own studio, maybe for portraits, possibly for small product advertising. Well, let’s move beyond the thinking stage and actually start something. We’ll focus for now on getting geared up for studio portraits.
Table of Contents:
How to Take Studio Portraits: Setup and Gear
Photo by curtis powell on Unsplash
First we start looking at the basics of getting a portrait studio going with what we may already have or with gear we can pick up for lower cost. Here are some beginner studio portrait tips.
Where To Set Up
photo by sdominick via iStock
The first thing to consider is a spot for our portrait studio.
Many have started in what we could call a home studio. Some ideas are a spare bedroom in our home or apartment, rearranging our living room or dining room to use a corner or wall, space in our garage, a porch, a backyard shed, a wall of our workplace office, or an unused room in that office.
Truly, you don’t need a huge space to set up a makeshift portrait studio - just room enough for the model, your gear, and you!
Recommended Portrait Reading:
What Gear to Use
photo by AleksandarNakic via iStock
Many studio items can be found in the home or office already, other items are specific photographic and lighting gear that’s needed.
Some of the more basic items I use in my home studio include barstools and chairs, tables and nightstands, potted plants, and other things that can either be a prop or part of making the subject comfortable while posing.
Cameras and lenses are probably already covered by what we already have. An entry-level DSLR or mirrorless camera with the kit lens can take a fantastic portrait image when used properly. More on that in a bit.
Other gear that is really helpful include tripods or other mounts, and lighting equipment. Some of the most useful lighting equipment are the wonderful LED compact lights that can be mounted on camera or on stands or mounts.
A fantastic couple of items I’ve found extremely useful in a home or office studio are the Hakutatz portable LED light and the Octopad camera and accessory mount.
Using the Hakutatz LED light shown above, we can make use of various studio lighting techniques such as the Rembrandt lighting, low key portrait lighting, and other configurations.
What’s more, these lights offer a high-degree of customization, including an adjustable color temperature, brightness, and saturation.
Best of all, the light can be controlled via a smartphone app. In fact, you can operate multiple lights at the same time to create more complex lighting effects.
If using two or more lights for our studio lighting techniques, the Octopad mount comes in handy to place the light wherever we need it in our possibly tight home studio.
What’s nice about the Octopad is that it’s so small and portable. Whether you’re in your home, your backyard, or the local park, it’s easy to bring with you to support a light.
Depending on the camera you use, you can utilize the Octopad to stabilize it. Compact cameras, smartphones, and some mirrorless systems are ideal for use with this mount.
I also like that the Octopad has a non-slip surface on the bottom. I’ve put this thing on my dashboard and used it with my GoPro Hero 8 Black as a dashcam setup.
Even when I took my Volvo off-road, the Octopad held firmly in place. Just imagine how stable it’ll be for your studio lights!
Taking the Portrait: Camera Settings and Lighting
photo by CoffeeAndMilk via iStock
To actually make the images, Here are some beginner studio portrait tips and beginner portrait techniques.
Photo by ShareGrid on Unsplash
One of the most important camera settings for portraits is to capture your images in RAW format instead of JPEG. The reasons for using RAW when you can is that RAW files contain a lot more exposure information than a partially compressed file such as a JPEG.
This extra information allows for a whole lot of leeway in post processing the portraits for the best look possible. I like to use a program such as Adobe Photoshop Lightroom to take care of all the adjustments necessary for a showable or saleable portrait image.
We talked earlier about using the kit lens on our entry-level DSLRs and mirrorless cameras for portraits. Yes, you can use a kit lens for portraits. You could even sell a portrait made with a kit lens and entry level camera.
A different lens such as prime - like this Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L shown above - or a fast zoom - like the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L - may give you more options for changing exposure settings to make use of selective focus techniques or bokeh. But if you haven’t picked up your next lens yet, your kit lens is likely to be very sharp and relatively distortion free.
The trick will be making use of the capabilities you actually have. A kit lens zoomed to short telephoto and with the aperture as wide as possible will still give you good options for selective focus and their bokeh is often quite nice. And if you record in RAW, you can really maximize your post processing program features.
Studio Lighting Techniques
photo by alvarez via iStock
Outside of all other options you have in front of you, your use of studio lighting techniques will be where you show the difference from merely snapping a pic to creating a portrait as a photographer.
Some lighting configurations can be made with one light, one light and a reflector, or two lights. Check the learn more links in this article for details on lighting setups.
In addition to the lighting, you can improve the portraits you’re creating by encouraging good, relaxed posing.
A big part of making the portrait subject comfortable enough to fall into natural looking poses is to have a good rapport with the subject. Especially when shooting in the smaller space of a home portrait studio do you need to be sure to have your portrait subject at ease with you and the photographic process.
As a beginner, you make the subject comfortable by being in charge of the session. Not over controlling, but giving the subject confidence in you and your art. You can do this! For practice, work on taking portraits of a friend or a family member.
Keep Taking Pics, But Make Them Better
We often speak about the difference between merely taking pictures and creating photographic images. Truth be told, there is nothing wrong with taking pictures, it’s fun! As photographers, we never really stop.
What happens is that we want to improve and then we make the improvements. Your studio portraits show off your growing talent and give your subjects images they can enjoy.
In the video above, get a thorough tour of studio portraiture by Academy of Photography.