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Impromptu portraits opportunities such as street scenes, party pics, or just everyday pictures of people and friends that are a step or two above snapshot level can come up at any time, which is why they’re called impromptu portraits.
These impromptu portraits don’t have to be entirely unplanned, though, you can prepare ahead of time to maximize any outing you’re on with your camera in hand, even if that camera is your high quality smartphone.
Portrait Photography Tips
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When giving portrait photography tips for beginners, I like to show how you can make use of simple portrait photography gear, including items you probably already have. Other items, like portable portrait lighting, can be simple, easy to use, and relatively inexpensive.
We’ll cover some basic principles for impromptu portraits and impromptu shooting in general, portable portrait lighting ideas, and some useful portrait photography gear choices.
Take Your Camera!
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If your standard walk about camera is a smartphone, that’s fine. I really like the newest Galaxy phones and iPhones with their camera upgrades. I like to keep an upgrade camera with me most of the time instead of relying on my smartphone.
A great option for many photographers are the point and shoot (P&S) style cameras and bridge cameras. The newest versions of these have large sensors and lots of features to work with.
Personally, I tend to bring along my mirrorless camera and a versatile lens whenever I’m going anywhere that might have photo opportunities. Sure, it’s a little more trouble, but being ready for high quality photography requires a tiny bit of sacrifice.
If nothing else, at least I have my smartphone with me 98% of the time. I downloaded a better camera app for mine, check what is available for yours.
Standard Lenses Work Best
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A standard lens is a good choice for impromptu portraits or any type of impromptu photography. So, what am I defining as a standard lens for portrait tips? When I go out with a camera but with no real plan of what to shoot, I will put one of two lenses on my camera.
One option is the trusty Nifty Fifty fast 50mm normal lens (full frame format, adjust for crop factor with other formats). The 50mm focal length normal lens, with an f-stop of f/1.8 to f/2.0 is a fantastic choice for impromptu portraits. They are extremely sharp, have a wide maximum aperture for selective focus, and are compact for easy transport.
A second option, which is actually what I usually use for photo walkabouts, is a fast normal range zoom such as a 24-70mm f/2.8 zoom lens. Without losing too much in maximum aperture, I gain the versatility of having wide angle and short telephoto focal lengths. These are large, heavy, and somewhat pricey, but the worth of their capabilities can’t really be measured in dollars.
The kit lens for many DSPRs and mirrorless cameras also make good choices for impromptu portraits. These are very sharp, but usually have very slow maximum apertures, especially at the telephoto end of the lens. If you haven’t added any other lenses to your impromptu portrait photography gear yet, your kit lens will work just fine.
Portable Portrait Lighting
Since you’re out with your camera and not in a studio, maybe even not inside a building, any portrait lighting you choose to use will have to be portable. Battery power is preferred, as is small size so you can easily carry it.
The smartphone sized Hakutatz LED Light is a good choice for impromptu portrait lighting due to its small size, bright light output, and long battery life. The continuous light output of the Hakutatz makes it simple to see what your light arrangement will produce, speeding up your light placement chores for those quick impromptu portraits.
Since these lights are hardly larger than a smartphone, you can keep on you while you go out to your event or place that just might have some unplanned photographic opportunities for you and your camera.
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We’re not all boy scouts, but being prepared for impromptu portraits is a good idea for us as photographers. Impromptu may be unplanned, but we can always be ready for whatever picture taking opportunities come up.