- Portrait Photography Gear: The Camera
- Portrait Photography Gear: Lenses
- Straps and Bags for Workflow Solutions
- Useful Accessories for Portrait Photography
- Lighting Options for Portrait Photography
- A Great Partner for Printing Portraits
- Recommended Photography Gear
- How to Wow a Photography Client
- The Perfect Camera Bag for Mirrorless Cameras
- What To Look for in a Good Camera Strap
- Peak Design Travel Tripod
- Canon EOS R5
- Acratech GP-SS Ball Head
- Canon RF 100mm f/2.8L USM
- Canon RF 85mm F1.2 L USM
- 5-in-1 Reflector Pack
- Wireless Camera Remote
- Strobe Light
- Be Prepared for Every Shot with this Photography Gear
- How to Comfortably Carry Multiple Cameras
- Which Camera Strap Is Right for You?
photo by AleksandarNakic via iStock
My thoughts on what is essential portrait photography gear lean towards the “less is more” theory…
The idea is that true value is decided by what the gear does for you in the long run. This usually means reserving your money for gear when you need it, not when you simply want it. This can be hard to do, though - camera gear is awesome!
Let’s have a look at the essential gear you need to take smashing portraits.
Table of Contents
Portrait Photography Gear: The Camera
Canon EOS R6
One of our most basic needs for portrait photography gear is having the right kind of camera. While we technically can make portraits with any camera on the market, including smartphones, some types of cameras are better suited as portrait photography gear.
What makes one camera a better choice as portrait photography gear pretty much boils down to format size. Pixel count of the sensor doesn’t need to be super high, in fact, some lower pixel count sensors are better for portraits because of their enhanced low light performance.
Two digital camera formats I like to recommend for portrait photography are 35mm Full Frame like the Canon EOS R6 shown above and APS-C format (like the Sony a6400 shown below). Smaller sensor formats may be incredibly sharp, but these two formats are large enough to allow for us to have a wide range of selective focus options (shallow depth of field) for creating portraits that stand out, both from the background and as a work of art.
APS-C format is going to be the more affordable format for cameras and lenses, even professional-caliber equipment, but if you have the budget for pro-level or prosumer Full Frame format gear, you’ll be happy you opted for them as portrait photography gear.
Since the “normal” lenses for smaller formats are shorter focal lengths, smaller format users will need to adjust techniques and use even faster lenses to gain a similar shallow depth of field for the classic portrait that pops out from the background.
Fujifilm GFX 50S II
Medium format digital cameras like the Fujifilm GFX 50S II shown above are super expensive. This makes them out of reach for a large percentage of serious portrait photographers, so Full Frame is the format of choice outside of needing smaller money budgets.
New mirrorless cameras and all sorts of used DSLRs and mirrorless Full Frame can be very reasonably priced. Since you can use almost any lens ever made on a mirrorless Full Frame camera with the right adapter, this has become a very popular option for serious portrait photography gear.
Portrait Photography Gear: Lenses
Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM
I’ll be listing Full Frame format lens focal lengths, so use the appropriate crop factor to adjust for APS-C or Micro 4/3rds format cameras.
Short telephoto lenses are great for portraits since their narrower field of view and apparent perspective result in a very natural appearance and virtually distortion-free facial features. All things being equal, a longer focal length lens also has less depth of field at any focusing distance, which works well for portraits in a large number of situations.
Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8
Since I’m preaching “less is more” today, a telephoto zoom lens is often a good choice as portrait photography gear. I like the faster zoom lenses, such as the f/2.8 versions of the 70-200mm zoom lens. A plus for opting for that type of lens is they are also usually pro-style lenses with added ruggedness and sometimes weather resistant sealing.
Telephoto perspectives and shallow depth of field isn’t all there is for a portrait photographer to use for creating a great portrait, other focal lengths are also quite useful. Deeper depth of field can be leveraged to great advantage for group portraits or environmental portraits, too.
Canon RF 35mm f/1.8
The normal focal length lens is a wonderful all-around lens for any type of photography and they are awesome for use as portrait photography gear. You can get a very compact and very fast lens in the normal focal length in all of the formats.
Rounding out my options, I also like to carry a moderate wide-angle lens in my bag for portrait sessions. The faster, the better.
So, that’s three lenses. I could whittle it down to two lenses (less is more) if I use a fast zoom in the wide to short telephoto range, which will also include the normal focal length for that format. The f/2.8 versions are my preference for the same reasons as liking the 70-200mm f/2.8 zooms
Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8
So, if I were shopping right now for a camera and some lenses to use as portrait photography gear, I would look closely at the new Full Frame mirrorless cameras such as the Canon EOS R6, which has great low-light performance.
Canon EOS RF lenses in my discussion would be the Canon RF 70-200mm f/2.8 telephoto zoom, Canon RF 50mm f/1.8 STM lens, Canon RF 35mm f/1.8 macro wide-angle lens, and the less is more option for the Canon RF 24-70mm f/2.8 L zoom lens. If you’re shooting Sony Alpha a7-IV, Nikon Z6ii, or Panasonic Lumix S5 cameras, adjust this list as appropriate. Use the 1.5X crop factor to find similar use lenses if your cameras are APS-C format, such as the Fujifilm X-T4, or any other brand.
Straps and Bags for Workflow Solutions
As we get more serious in our photography, the bags and straps we first used start to show their limitations, making us want a better solution for comfort, security, and better workflow while shooting.
My favorite strap to use for photoshoots, from landscape treks and street photography to weddings and portrait sessions, is the HoldFast Money Maker Dual Camera Strap. It’s beautifully made from fine leather and is a harness-style strap that offers superb comfort and gear safety.
It’s a dual-camera strap, which is why I’m listing it as a workflow solution for portrait photography. Being able to have two cameras at the ready with different lenses means I can instantly switch back and forth as needed during a portrait session. Another option is to attach their Explorer Lens Quiver Messenger Bag to the Money Maker for keeping an entire small system at the ready while you’re working.
Useful Accessories for Portrait Photography
Two of the most useful accessories for our portrait photography gear are a tripod and a wireless release. You could also include filters such as a soft-focus filter or some fun props, but the tripod and wireless release combination are more important for my shooting. Here’s why:
There are two basic methods for taking portraits, holding the camera freehand and moving around as the picture taker, or keeping the camera in one place and directing the subject’s poses. Both are valid professional techniques and I use both of them as needed.
Holding the camera freehand and moving around the scene and subject is pretty self-explanatory, but let me tell you my reasons for also liking keeping the camera on a tripod. It’s about the lighting. When I am either in the field with portable gear or in my studio, I can set up a lighting configuration and keep it as is while I stand to the side of my camera and direct the subject.
I find this style of shooting often puts the subject at ease resulting in more natural poses and facial expressions. A medium-duty tripod such as the Neewer 79” Multifunction tripod is great for use as portrait photography gear and is super versatile for several different genres of photography. Paired with the Pixel TW-283 DC2 wireless remote, you have a good portrait setup.
Lighting Options for Portrait Photography
Whether inside or outdoors, a portable reflector is one of the primary essential pieces of portrait photography gear for my photo sessions. It allows for redirecting light into exactly where needed for a great portrait, such as when shooting with the Sun behind our subject and using one to reflect catch light or fill light back to their face.
I like using bigger reflectors such as these oval 24” X 35” 5-in-1 reflectors from Konseen. The multiple color choices make this even more versatile.
If you don’t yet have a studio lighting kit, Neewer has a nice low cost complete kit that even includes a background system. Other accessories can be added as you grow into your portrait lighting skills, such as portable LED panel lights for adding fill light outdoors.
Using this essential portrait photography gear will equip you to be ready to capture great portraits in your home studio or in any remote location, outdoors or inside. Combine this gear with your ever-expanding skills as a photographer, and your portrait images will please you, your subjects, and anyone viewing them.
A Great Partner for Printing Portraits
Having all the right gear to help you take great portraits is just part of the equation. You need to bring it home by partnering with the best printing company to bring your hard work to life in a gorgeous print.
There are plenty of printing companies out there that promise high-quality products, but only fraction of them actually deliver prints that live up to the hype. Artbeat Studios is one such company. After all, they won our 2020 metal print shootout and repeated as champs in 2021 as well.
So, what makes Artbeat Studios the ideal choice for printing your portraits?
For starters, you get a great selection of products from which to choose. You can go the traditional route and get a paper print, or you can go more modern with a metallic or acrylic print. Canvas prints are an additional option, as shown above.
Likewise, Artbeat Studios offers tons of traditional sizing options as well as custom sizing so you're sure to get a print that fits your specific needs. Add in various frame and mounting options, plus substrate-specific customizations (e.g., different surface options for metal prints) that can truly make your portraits shine.
Apart from the array of products, it's worth noting that Artbeat Studios uses the finest materials, offers free shipping, and gives you a happiness guarantee - if you aren't totally satisfied with your print, just return it and get full store credit.
In other words, Artbeat Studios puts their money where their mouth is!
But, I can tell you from experience that the chances of you not liking your print are slim to none. I've ordered many prints from Artbeat over the years, and have been blown away by the quality each time.
So, head over to Artbeat Studios to see for yourself what they can do to help you create the ideal portrait print. Take it from me, it'll be worth it!