Shooting Portraits with Minimum Equipment

Today’s Post by Joe Farace

Chiaroscuro is the treatment or distribution of light and shade in a picture—Wikipedia.

It should come as no surprise to learn that there are few, maybe no, real secrets in portrait photography. Instead, what you’ll find here and elsewhere on the Web are informed opinions based on the writer’s experience and stylistic preferences.

The recipe for creating available light portraits, for example, is well known and includes a few basic ingredients: High ISO, fast lenses, and slow shutter speeds. That’s it. You can sprinkle in some reflectors and add a dash of camera supports or even fill flash from a speedlight but the main components remain the same. It’s the creativity you use in blending all of these elements together that creates pleasant variations.

Some photographers prefer softly lit images that are diffused with filters during the shoot or later during processing but you may prefer sharper, more saturated images, like the portrait of Dusty at right. The choice is up to you.

If there’s any secret about creating available light portraits, it’s learning how to see the light falling on your subject, especially the range of shadows and highlights within the scene—its chiaroscuro.

The best way to improve your own portrait photography is to practice. Make sure to photograph something every week until you get to the point where you don’t have to think about how to operate your equipment: You just use it to create images. Don’t worry about producing masterpieces each time you go out; you can use your camera as a sketch pad to explore possibilities. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes. Sometimes these “sketches” will be successful, sometimes not, but don’t worry about it and learn from your analysis of the images. As Yoda once said “There is no try, just do.”

How I made this shot: I photographed Dusty using window light from the back door to my former home. It was supplemented by an inexpensive ($29.90) Westcott 30-inch 5-in-1 Reflector that was placed at camera left just out of camera range. Camera was a Canon EOS 50D with my go-to available light portrait DSLR lens, the Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM. Exposure was 1/250 sec at f/1.8 and ISO 400.


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If you’re interested in learning how I shoot  available light glamour portraits, please pick up a copy of Available Light Glamour Photography which is available new from Amazon.com for $17.43 or used for $12.79, as I write this. Kindle price is 16.49 for those preferring a digital format. If you would like some hands-on portrait photography training, check out my one-on-one workshops.