Portrait photography requires a plethora of knowledge, ranging from good interpersonal skills to solid camera know-how and an understanding of how lighting works.
It only gets more complicated when you start integrating studio lights, radio triggers, flashes and modifiers into the image.
It can seem like a minefield and it can be hard to know where to start, which is why this month we teamed up reader of PhotoPlus: Canon magazineMichael Brown, for a masterclass in studio portrait photography with portrait pro Phil Barker.
• These are the best lenses for portrait photography
Phil, originally from Yorkshire, England, is a professional photographer based in Bath who started out as an assistant photographer when he was just 13! Phil studied photography at the University of Derby and has worked at Future as a studio and film photographer for four years.
He specializes in portrait and product photography. To see his superb portfolio, visit his websiteand check out his top 10 tips for studio portraits…
01 manual mode
“Although Michael is used to shooting in manual mode for landscape shots, when using lights in a studio for portraits there is no ambient light to consider, so you are in control aperture, shutter speed and ISO, then adjust your lights for exposure brightness,” says Phil.
“We started shooting at f/5.6, 1/200s and ISO100 on our cameras, and adjusted our lighting power to about half (4.8) to start our first setup.”
02 Pro studio lights and wireless triggers
Phil favors the excellent quality, reliability and robustness of the Profoto D4 studio flash heads. “As well as being powerful, they also allow you to reduce the power to very low settings for wider aperture shots, and with AC power supplies the recycle time is also very fast for wide open shots. smoother shots.
“I use PocketWizard Plus X triggers to fire flash heads remotely, but if I’m shooting on location, I use my affordable battery-powered Godox light heads and triggers.”
• These are the best flash triggers for your camera
03 Film online
“Whenever I take photos in the studio, I always take photos with a cable connecting my Canon camera to the computer. It’s so much easier to see your shots on the big screen, you can see the shadows fall and if there are any blown out highlights quickly, and it’s so much faster to just move or adjust your lights, or change the your camera settings.
“Also, the model can see what he looks like on the screen without having to move from his place, and therefore it is easier to offer him to move his head or his hands, or to turn his shoulders for a better pose. .”
04 Canon’s full-frame studio workhorse
“I still like the image quality of my old Canon EOS 5D Mark III bodies. Both still work well, and I’m not using them yet just because I’m a tight Yorkshireman and don’t want to upgrade!
“Their full frame sensors still deliver great tones and in the studio I don’t worry about needing to shoot at higher ISOs or needing huge 50MP images, or AF based on AI for action, as I mainly shoot for magazine editorial needs.”
05 Lighting Modifiers
“To get the most out of your lights, I suggest using softboxes to create beautiful, softer, more flattering, and directional lighting. The larger the light source, so the larger the softbox, the more light is soft – and soft light is softer for photos of people!
“I’ll be using a variety of softboxes from rectangles, squares, strips, and octoboxes. Umbrellas are cheaper, fold up quickly, and are useful if you’re constantly packing and unpacking house gear in the studio, but they tend to shed more light.
06 Use a reflector
Phil was keen to show Michael that using a reflector, on the other side of a one-light setup, is a quick and easy way to fill in shadows for a brighter, less dark, and less moody look. Our main light was large enough for Tyla’s face to be well lit, so the use of a large polyboard reflector here only shows a subtle difference between these two portraits and the shadows on her left.
07 White balance settings
“To simplify things for Micheal, I asked him to keep the automatic white balance (AWB) setting on his camera. Most of the time, and when using quality studio lights, the ‘AWB captures images with accurate tempered colors.
When using hot or cold gels, however, the camera can get confused in AWB, so it sets it to Neutral WB Flash. Either way, you can change the color temperature in your favorite Raw editing software. If you want to fine-tune your WB like the pros behind closed doors, you can, however, use a gray card.
08 Cost-effective prime lens
“The advantage of using lights is that you have control over exposures and often use lenses at their optimal apertures. I love using my classic, compact and affordable Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens. I don’t need to shoot wide open in the studio, and shooting around f/2.5 with this lens is sharp and still has a nice depth of field.
Avoid using a wide angle close-up lens for portraits (16mm full-frame or 10mm on APS-C cameras, for example) as this focal length distorts things and can make faces look bigger!
09 Use colored gels
Adding gels (which are effectively thin, translucent colored plastics) is a really cheap but really effective way to transform your lights and portraits. “You can buy suitable gel holders and pre-cut gels, but we just used large sheets and stuck them in front of the light heads, inside all the diffusers.
Using gels is also a quick way to turn your white background into any color without having to buy lots of new rolls of colored paper,” says Phil.
10 pilot lamps
“An often overlooked benefit of using studio lights is that you can exploit the modeling light feature to let you see how each light is falling on your subject. Plus, shooting in a dark studio – with the main lights off to avoid any unwanted fluorescence light – modeling lamps will help your AF lock on before firing the flash and taking the pictures.”
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