These days I have been shooting with very small lighting set ups. Either one main light though a 170cm Softbox or a Single speed light. A few months ago or maybe longer, Digital Photographer magazine got in touch and we did a short interview about what the kit and stuff. This blog is an updated version of that interview.
What do you consider to be the best bits of kit to invest in if you want to take good quality, professional-looking portraits on a limited budget? (lenses, accessories etc) –
A great quality lens is always going to be key. People say that you should be shooting around the 50mm to 135mm area for portraits, but the reality is that I find my self shooting all sorts of focal lengths. In my bag I carry three lenses when shooting the Nikon
When shooting with the Fuji kit I carry these lenses:
The thing with all these lenses is that they are super for isolating subjects from backgrounds while staying tack sharp for the crisp portrait look. They all open up to let loads of light in reducing the need to add lights or lighting into your images. I would say to put your money in good glass over anything else. When I am shooting with the Fuji X-System I love using the 35mm & 60mm lenses, they were the among the first lenses I got and style far and away my favorite lenses, these
What are your favorite, simple techniques/set-ups/settings etc for taking great quality portrait with minimal kit?
The thing with portraits is that the technical elements are totally secondary to the subject. Some of the best portraits ever made have the worst technical aspects about them. People are not perfect and nor does your photograph. Portraits are all about people, story drama and life. Personally I try to not make any preset plans these days, I turn up with an open mind and shoot the story in front of me. I carry a Fuji X-Pro and a Nikon D800 in my case with a Lee Filter kit for both systems. An Ice Light is always great for adding in highlights or helping with ambient light. I guess the question is though.. A camera and a lens is all you need, the rest you can create.
- Icelight– Higher cost but very effective constant lighting that will get you though a tricky lighting set up, much cheaper than HDMI constant lighting if you need very well balanced constant light.
- Round Flash – Very low cost, very low weight and super portable for travel. My current favorite bit of kit.
- Attaching your speedlighting to a tripod or lighting stand is made super easy with a Frio.
This image was shot using a Fuji X-T1 with a single speedlight modified with a roundflash speedlight modifier. Shading and light control was aided using a set of Lee Filters – Check out more about using Filters here.
What do you think the key mistakes are that photographers make with portraits and how can these be avoided?
Portraits are about capturing your subject. Some photographers create images and some take images, decide which you are and then this will let you know how to approach your shot. Are you showing the world who you think the personal is or are you just photographing what they want to show ? I think understanding the difference is a key mistake that can be solved by understanding why you are taking the images. In the set of images with Dink, we shot two styles in two locations as we had two objectives. For me, great portrait photographers like Gregory Heisler & Sebastião Salgado always try and tell the story, I am trying to do the same. Spending some time to research the people or subject you are working with is key and more important than any technical aspect.
These images where caught on a Fuji X-Pro using a Single Speedlight with an Orbis Ringflash adapter.
What are your favorite lighting set-ups for shooting without too much kit/few lenses etc?
The Ice Light is becoming a favorite tool of mine, however I do understand it might be not be the cheapest lighting tool around. I have had one for a while, but as styles change I find my self using it more and more.
Another favorite tool has to be my set of Lee Filters and the matte box. I use a 0.9 Soft ND and a 0.9 Hard ND filters, they are great ways to quickly shape and control lights removing the need for complex lighting set ups that can intimidate your subject.
If I have to use flash, I prefer to go for single light set ups and cause as little fuss as I can. At the moment I am using a 170cm softbox with a grid for pretty much most things. The advantage of using such a large light is that you can let your subject move around a fair bit and still have nice wrap around soft lighting. You can set them up and then not worry too much.
I would rather take one light knowing it can do the job and anything expected than smaller kit and worry that it might not work. Traveling with small about of kit mean you have to trust the kit you take will work. As I said before though, I think it is best to keep a total open mind with portraiture when it comes to lighting and camera settings, however, there are a few setups that I do prefer over others.
Using the 170cm from elemental is £89 from here.
I pretty much always like to keep the lighting source above the subjects eyes while trying to not directly light the subjects. Shooting around f2.2 is a nice place to start if you are trying to isolate your subject(‘s)
The image below was shot using a Fuji X-T1 with a single speedlight modified with a roundflash speedlight modifier. Shading and light control was aided using a set of Lee Filters – Check out more about using Filters here.
The Roundflash is very very low cost from here
What five tips would you give to aspiring photographers for capturing the best possible portraits with a limited range of kit?
- Firstly – the technical aspect is the is the least important element, so a limited range of kit is actually going to help you look at the subject and let you think about the best ways to capture it.
- Spend time shooting, playing and experimenting, get to know your current kit and how it works.
- Confidence is your best tool to take with you to a shoot. This goes two ways also, you need to be confident and your subject needs to also feel confident. Sometimes getting a really nice location or a location where your subject feels at home. In a shoot with a guy from a Motorcycle club, we shot in the club house where he was very much at home. We shot some great stuff then I was able to build up trust for some other things later that day.
- Feedback is great, but bad critique can be very harmful and damaging. As long as you and your subject are happy with the shots, that is all you need.
- Worrying about gear you don’t have will take away your attention from the kit you do have. If you know how to work the kit you do have you will be confident and be able to pretty fun shoot anything anywhere.
Overall, know your camera, know your subject and be confident. Your camera brand does not matter, your focal length does not matter, how grainy your images is does not matter, what does matter is you are creating the image you want to create to tell the story you intend to create. No amount of kit will help you unless you know why you are shooting in the first place.
M: Joanna Mazur – MUA : Dorota Wójcik Sułkowska
About The Author
Dave Kai Piper is a UK based Fashion & Portrait Photographer. As well as being a Pentax Ambassador, Fuji X-Photographer, 3 legged thing & Lexar Ambassador, DKP works as a consultant though Ideas & Images for such companies as Future Publishing. DKP is also an Adobe Community Professional. You can follow Dave on his Blog, Facebook and Twitter. This article was originally written for for Digital Photographer Magazine, published here and shared with permission.