7 Things You Need to Get Started in Portrait Photography

Each week, we are assaulted with an endless barrage of new photography-related products promising to make us better photographers. For a beginning shooter, this must be overwhelming. If someone asked you for a short list of essential items necessary for the specific genre of photography that you partake in, what would those items be?

In the video above, photographer Simone Ferretti details the seven items he feels would be of most use to a portrait photographer. His list is well-thought-out and includes basic items such as a prime lens and a portable light. He also includes a dedicated remote control to fire the camera for those times when you are working alone, although most modern cameras can be paired to a smartphone via a fully featured app, I have found a basic remote to be easier to use when I just want to fire the camera’s shutter from a distance.

Although Simone’s list includes only seven items, I struggled to think of what I could add to make the list more complete. I decided my addition to the list would not be in the form of a physical product, but rather a mindset. To be a good portrait photographer, you must be able to make a connection with someone no matter their gender, age, politics, religion, health, or interests. The more interesting life you lead and the more diverse ways in which you spend your free time, the easier this will be for you. I’m not into sports, so if my subject says, “did you see the game last night,” I would not be able to engage in a conversation about that game. But I recall a time a few years back when I had been sent to Madison Square Garden to photograph an artist performing at halftime during an NBA game and I was killing time by photographing the game. Security approached me and escorted me out of the shooting area. They took me to one of the nicest press rooms I’ve ever been in and told me to stay there until half-time started. Their tone and attitude implied this was punishment for shooting the game without proper credentials, but it didn’t feel that way since I had the area to myself and I was free to eat and drink to my heart’s content. At half-time, they escorted me back to the court to shoot the half-time show. When my subject brings up last night’s game, I will steer the conversation in a direction that allows me to tell that story. I will tell it in a way that makes her laugh, which will help build a connection between us.

The hobbies I engage in, the books I read, the places I visit, and the people I spend time with are potential connection points between myself and the person I am photographing. Once I find our common ground, I can use this to help put the person at ease. If I can then convey something about my subject to the people looking at the photograph, then I have created a strong portrait. Check the video for more insight into portrait photography.

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7 Comments
Marius Pettersen's picture

Hmm I wouldn't call those recommendations particularly great. I would simplify it with three product categories: (1) Camera with manual options, (2) lens with focal length between 50-100mm, and (3) light source. The light source could either be a multifunctional reflector for modifying natural light, an affordable flash, or a continuous video light. Sure, the LED lights will help a beginner with observing the changes in light real-time, but I'd say a flash is much more versatile.

Tripod or remote is absolutely not something portrait photographers 'NEED' - especially not in the beginning. Light stand with a boom would be a much better recommendation.

John Ricard's picture

Yeah, the remote isn't really necessary, but I do feel it's very useful if you are doing studio photography. I don't currently have a remote and I've been doing the self timer thing to do light checks on myself and it's a real pain. Life was better when I did have a dedicated remote to trigger the camera. For my headshot photography, I actually log into a zoom chat associated with Peter Hurley's Headshot Crew where someone in the zoom chat will fire my camera remotely using Capture One software.

Marius Pettersen's picture

Yeah, I agree that a dedicated remote is much more convenient than using your phone for everything. And if one plans to do some self-portraits to learn lighting, then it may become handy - as shown in the video.

John Ricard's picture

I used to know a photographer years ago who learned makeup. And I've definitely seen a lot of makeup artists learn how to be photographers, but for myself I can't imagine doing makeup on a model or client. Glad its working for you though.