Portrait Photography Advice

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by AndyClarke, Dec 5, 2007.

  1. AndyClarke macrumors regular

    AndyClarke

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    Location:
    Fernhurst, Hampshire
    #1
    At present I have a Canon 300D and a 580EX II flash with a standard lens, it came with the kit for portrait photography.

    I would like to get some advice on the best lens to use for taking pictures (portrait) of my two girls. With some advice on what sort of background to use (indoors) and lighting for indoor use. there are so many items for ale that its hard to know what is best to get.

    Some of my friends have new babies and we would also be using the set up to take pictures of them. I am sure that with the right equipemnt and help from you guys we can save the hassle of a trip to boots for the photos to be done!

    Many thanks in advance.
     
  2. Cave Man macrumors 604

    Cave Man

  3. Grimace macrumors 68040

    Grimace

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    #3
    Starting with a 50mm f/1.8 would be a cheap $75 start. Tack sharp.
     
  4. pprior macrumors 65816

    Joined:
    Aug 1, 2007
    #4

    Well the best is either the 85/1.2L or the 135/2.0L depending on which focal length you prefer. I shoot the 135 for portraits and it's absolutely stunning.

    Given your level of expertise, however, I have a sneaking feeling you're not looking to spend quite that amount of cash. The 50mm lens as mentioned will give you a bit of nose prominence on a portrait if you're going full frame face, not a great thing, but not as bad as a wide angle.

    Portraits are largely about lighting, not glass. You don't mention what type of portrait work you're interested in. Also what kit lens do you have?

    I can tell you you're walking down a road with many pitfalls. Studio lighting, background, post processing. It's incredible fun, but the learning is eternal. I do studio work with babies and young families - I love it.

    Not to knock these forums, but if you're serious about portrait work, I find the forums at www.dpreview.com to have many more serious amateurs and professionals than you find here. Check out the lighting forum especially as well as retouching and be prepared to be overwhelmed.

    Cheers and good luck - love to hear more about your project.
     
  5. SLC Flyfishing macrumors 65816

    SLC Flyfishing

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    Portland, OR
    #5
    50 mm F/1.8 is nice I heard, (I shoot Pentax and use the 50 mm F/1.4 from them for almost all my portraiture) as well as an 85 mm large aperture prime lens (Again I'm not sure what Canon offers in this focal length). You could go with a 100 mm F/2.8 or even a 135 mm lens, but I find that the best for me are the 50 mm F/1.4 and Sigma's 35 mm F/1.8. You need at least a F/2.8 for nice bokeh most of the time.

    Also, there is a difference between one large aperture 50 mm lens and another that goes beyond sharpness and lens construction. If I were shooting Canon lenses, and was serious about portraits, I'd get the 50 mm F/1.4 L rather than the F/1.8. The reason why has nothing to do with how sharp the L is compared to the regular 50 mm (which is probably not that much). It also has nothing to do with build quality (though that is a plus of the L lenses). It has everything to do with the aperture blades. The L lens is going to have 9 aperture blades, this will make the tiny defocused circles that will blur out the background of your portraits more circular. The regular 50 mm F/1.8 is probably going to have 7 or 8 aperture blades and because of this, the background will be made up of octagons or I guess heptagons, this will show up in your images at times when the shapes are larger than others. You want those areas to be as circular as possible.

    SLC
     
  6. ChrisA macrumors G4

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    Jan 5, 2006
    Location:
    Redondo Beach, California
    #6
    The very first thing you need, before you buy anything is a vision in your mind of what the final print is to look like.

    Next get a book or two. Some coffee table books with portraits inside. As an amateur is is "ok" to copy the work of the masters. Gets some books and set up copies of the ones you like. You also will want some technical books that describe how to control light. Key skills to learn are how to control lighting "ratio" and "softness". Light is used to either hide or call atention to skin texture or the shape of the face.

    Once you have this you can usually scrounge up whatever you might need, reflectors made of aluminum foil or white cardboard, defusers made with plastic milk jugs. Lights from Home Depot quartz work lamps. Home depot also sells 2 x 4 fot defuser pannels intended for use under florecent office lights.

    All that studio gear is just "nice to have" and makes the job go faster and saves you from having to scrounge and improvise. Many pros have more money invested in lighting than in cameras. If you are a professional then "time is money" and you need to get so much done in an 8 hour day.

    That said, If you want to buy stuff. You already have a decent lens, Mext one might be the 50mm f/1.4 or a fast 85mm. the 85 is best if you want head and shoulders shots. You will want a tripod too, for light indoor use any tripod will work. You have a strobe. Next get some kids of "light modifiers". A big white reflector works well. And old projection screen is ideal. But if you have to work held held and portable those ones that clip onto the flash are OK.

    If you are working hand held a flash bracket is nice. Get one that keeps the flash above the lens even for vertical shots.

    But remember to whole point of this equipment is so you can create the image that you have in your head. Without that mental image you are just a "snapshooter" and are only reacting to what you see. Studio equipment is of no use to a snapshooter
     
  7. jlcharles macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Mar 30, 2006
    Location:
    Wenonah, NJ
    #7
    for lighting, take a visit to strobist.blogspot.com
     
  8. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

    Joined:
    Oct 5, 2006
    Location:
    Northern/Central VA
    #8
    You can use almost any lens that's got the right focal length for portrait photography, as you generally will want to soften the shots afterwards anyway. The lens you have will probably work just fine.

    Off-camera lighting is best for portraits, at least two, and as many as four light sources (which can be flashes, windows, reflectors, lights...) The main issue is the "colour temperature" of the lights- if the 580 has a mode to control multiple lights, then I'd probably advise getting a couple more with some light stands and umberellas and maybe a softbox for the key light.

    Generally, you want at least two "main" lights, your "key" which is the one set to the brightest and coming in at a 45 degree angle and up high like the sun is. Then from the other side of the camera, closer to the lens axis, you "fill" light which will help fill in the shadows. I normally have my fill lower than my key to catch the shadows under the nose. Depending on the ratio you want, the fill light should be set to put out less light than the key, how much less depends on the look you want shadow-wise. You can also vary the distance to reduce the light's power by moving it back twice as far to get half as much light, or a combination of these.

    The third/fourth options are background and hair lights to light the background and hair- generally with some sort of light modifier to stop the hair light from spilling its light out past the hair (with flashes, you can use index cards, with strobes you'll want barn doors and/or grids.)

    The further the subject is from the background the better- high key portraits use a white background and the background light helps to blast out the texture of the background. You can use sheets or muslins on background stands if you wish.

    If you can't use some sort of internal flash trigger, you'll have to buy one for each flash that isn't the key, and you'll want a cord or one for the key with some sort of trigger (IR or radio) for the key light as you'll want all your lights off camera.

    The strobist site mentioned by jlcharles is *great* for information on using flashes. If you think you want to get more "serious" then getting a stobe kit will give you more options on modifiers like softboxes, snoots, umbrellas, and the like. I'm not sure what good low-priced kits there are in the UK. "Hot" lights, like work lights used for video or construction aren't a good choice unless you have no other option. It's easier to see the results immediately versus even studio strobes with a modeling light, but they get hot (fire/injury hazard) and they'll dilate the pupils of your subjects pretty harshly over modeling lamps on studio strobes. With flashes, modeling is more difficult. A flash meter will help, but I find with digital it's not that difficult to just shoot a few test frames, especially if you're shooting tethered to a computer where you can view the results and measure the levels quickly.

    Once you get a good setup, experiment with short side and broad side lighting to see what works best for your subjects, and then start working on poses. It's not that difficult to get started, and it can be a lot of fun.

    White foam core that's sold in art stores for art projects makes a great reflector if you want to use it instead of an additional light, or to put it on the floor to reflect up to fill in some shadows and it's very inexpensive. Stands to hold reflectors are expensive, but useful if you find yourself using them often. I'd say though that two more lights and you'd have a very good base for portraiture. Three would give more options, but I tend to use my flash gun in the studio in flash trigger mode when I need a fourth light.

    Hopefully some of this is helpful.
     
  9. Grimace macrumors 68040

    Grimace

    Joined:
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    with Hamburglar.
    #9
    It's tough for some of us to gauge pricing because you are using Canon's most expensive flash on a 300D and an ambiguous lens. A pricing estimate would be helpful along with the environment you plan on shooting in.
     
  10. MattG macrumors 68040

    MattG

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    Location:
    Fletcher, NC
    #10
    I've got the Canon 50mm 1.4, and it's a killer lens.
     
  11. AndyClarke thread starter macrumors regular

    AndyClarke

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    Mar 6, 2007
    Location:
    Fernhurst, Hampshire
    #11
    Wow so much information to take in. Thank you for all the time you have spent posting replies.

    I am planning on buying a 5D in the near future and to be honest I have no problem spending a lot of money on a lens that is up to the task and will work with future cameras I might buy. The reason I spent a fair amount on the flash is because I have learnt from 'snapshooting' that light is the most important factor in most photography. Especially if I am trying to take photos at one of my daughters school plays. The lighting they use on the stage can seriously effect the outcome of the final photo so I invested in a good flash and try various setting with it and take the photos in short bursts. That way I can chose the photo that looks best to me and keep it, then learn what might have gone wrong from the other photos.

    I do have a EF70-200mm f/2.8 L IS USM Zoom Lens on the way to me but would also like an equivalent lens for the portrait photos. I am looking to recreate soft natural lighting with a neutral background for prints. So I am guessing that the flash with one or two lighting rigs and a backdrop of some sort. I am in the UK so I am really looking for a Lens, Light (x2?) and a screen that would enable me to change backgrounds from a UK seller. Any ideas?
     
  12. gavd macrumors 6502a

    Joined:
    Jan 30, 2006
    #12
    warehouseexpress is a good site in the UK. They've won awards for best online retailer over the last few years as well.
     
  13. SLC Flyfishing macrumors 65816

    SLC Flyfishing

    Joined:
    Nov 19, 2007
    Location:
    Portland, OR
    #13
    For soft, natural lighting you should have a look at the Gary Fong Lightsphere. It's a diffuser that you can put on your flash that really makes a huge difference.

    I'm not sure how available in the UK they are, but I'd have a look and see about them. They are only about $50.00 in the States.

    SLC
     
  14. AndyClarke thread starter macrumors regular

    AndyClarke

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    Mar 6, 2007
    Location:
    Fernhurst, Hampshire
    #14

    Are you suggesting the following lens:

    Canon EF 85mm f1.2 L is £1349.99
    Canon EF 135mm f2.0 L U is £719.99

    Prices are all over the place for these lens and that where the confusion comes in for me.

    If anyone can suggest the lights and stands for my flash or for the lights and a background that would be great!
     
  15. Cave Man macrumors 604

    Cave Man

    #15
    You still need to provide a budget. Lighting costs are all over the place.
     
  16. AndyClarke thread starter macrumors regular

    AndyClarke

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    #16
    I do not really have a budget. But having said that I do not want to waste money. Sorry to be so vague but I have no idea what lighting and background set up costs are. Maybe middle of the range would be a good start?

    Thanks for all your help CaveMan.
     
  17. AndyClarke thread starter macrumors regular

    AndyClarke

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    #17
    It's looking like the EF 135 mm f/2.0L USM is the lens I will get but I am still lost on a background and lights.
     
  18. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    Northern/Central VA
    #18
    Your best bet is to find a UK site, as all the recommendations I have would be US-centric. In the US, backgrounds, softboxes, and stands are easy to find on eBay, but eBay.co.uk doesn't have nearly the same selection. Amvona's eBay prices are great, and they knock-off Photoflex products which are a little better built. Light-wise, Alien Bees are a great US option, but I'm pretty sure they only do 120V lights. Their modifiers aren't bad either, but really you'll want a UK-centric site where folks have experience with the gear and can tell you how well it works. I know Calumet has a UK store, they may be your best option though they'll be more expensive than hunting around. They may also offer workshops or other opportunities to play with the equipment.
     
  19. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    Northern/Central VA
    #19
    A round plastic diffuser is not a substitute for a studio lighting setup. While diffusing a portable flash on the move is a good thing, it's not the same as setting up studio lighting. The light coming off a large flat surface like a softbox is very different in quality than that coming off a small round piece of plastic.

    In any case, you can get the same effect (with more modifiability) for a lot less with a couple of pieces of craft foam, a bit of velcro, a pair of scissors and a stapler- even if you have to purchase the scissors and stapler. You won't be losing half your light in the direction you're not shooting either.

    Personally though, I'd rather put a softbox on the head (The Photflex Q39 XS is $45 before you get an adapter ($15 for Metz, $17 for Sunpack, $33 for hot shoe flashes,) but comes with a speed ring so you can use it with strobes later.)
     
  20. SLC Flyfishing macrumors 65816

    SLC Flyfishing

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    Location:
    Portland, OR
    #20
    Well I can only post about the things I actually have experience with. I never said or even implied that it was a substitute for a full studio setup. I simply saw that he mentioned having a Canon Speedlight and wanted to know how to get a more natural look with the lighting. I shoot weddings, it's not the same as shooting in a studio but I swear by these things for what I do.

    I'll bow out from here on, you seem to know what you are talking about.

    SLC
     
  21. AndyClarke thread starter macrumors regular

    AndyClarke

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  22. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #22
  23. pprior macrumors 65816

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    Aug 1, 2007
    #23
    Yes, those are the two. With a 5d they will blow you away!

    The only caveat to the 135 is that although it's a wonderful lens for head and shoulders shots and for babies/small children, for larger groups and adults you need a lot of space back for framing. I probably shoot 20 feet back for adult groups with it for full length shots. For close ups, of course much closer, maybe 10 feet. If your studio/shooting location is tight, the 85 will be more flexible for you. It is larger, heavier, and more costly however and it also doesn't focus as fast/well especially in low light. I use the 135 for indoor sports (gymnastics) as it's about as fast as you can go wit a telephoto lens, so that's why I bought it vs. the 85, but I think I'll probably end up with the 85 eventually.

    Having said all that, if you've got the 70-200 on the way, by all means start with that. While it won't be as sharp or have quite the image quality (I own that lens as well), it will still be a very nice upgrade and has a nice shallow DOF at 2.8 aperture. If you start doing more creative work, you may want the shallower DOF that the 2.0 or even 1.2 aperture allows.

    There are a lot of people making a living shooting portraits with lower quality glass than that zoom, so use it for awhile, get a feel for what range you like to shoot and then invest in more glass later on, that would be my advice.

    If you decide to get into strobes, I highly recommend alien bees - high quality and relatively low costs and excellent support.

    Cheers again.
     
  24. compuwar macrumors 601

    compuwar

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    #24
    They only come in 120V@60Hz. Not so good to a UK resident who's power is 240V@50Hz.
     
  25. Cave Man macrumors 604

    Cave Man

    #25
    While there's no doubt that the 135mm f/2 is a fab lens, it's really a bit too long for portraiture on a crop sensor camera like the 300D. You should be thinking in the 50mm (both girls together) to 85mm f/1.8 (individuals) for that camera. At most, the 100mm f/2 (or f/2.8 macro).

    You're also going to get into a lot of trouble with the set of strobes that you've linked us to with a 300D. Your camera has no PC sync socket, thus you'll have to get one, or devise another strategy for triggering them. You'll need a flash meter. You'll need to learn to control lighting with 3 strobes. This is not something for the uninitiated.

    You'd probably be better off going with your 580 on a stand with Canon's off-camera shoe cord. This will retain E-TTL exposure and give you enough distance off the camera to get reasonable lighting with a single umbrella. If you go the route of a soft box, then you may have issues with the sync cord because it's pretty short. No one knows what Canon was thinking when they designed this cable - probably a camera bracket.

    Have you done any reading about portraiture, such as camera position, lighting position and the many other things that go into it? Do your girls wear glasses? If so, you'll need to control reflections by light position and posture. It is not as easy as you might think.

    Here's one that I took with my old Sunpak 26-DX (equivalent to today's Sunpak 383) with my 85mm f/1.8 at f/2.5. The left eye is dead-on focused, while the right eye is out just a bit (nothing that USM can't take care of). The flash was connected by a PC cord to my 30D and shot at about 30 degrees left and up and through a 60" Softlighter II. The camera was about 20 degrees above the subject. It's a lot easier to learn this with a single light, then work your way up to 2 or 3. The background is just seamless paper (ultramarine). Cheap and does the job.
     

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