Portrait phtography is an art. And while the most important component for expressing that art lies between the photographer’s ears, there are a few accessories that can help elevate one’s portraiture to higher levels.
1. Reflector & Holder
A great portrait starts with great/inspiring/creative light. While great portraiture can be created using only ambient light, being able to redirect that light is a liberating asset. That’s where the simple, collapsible reflector comes in handy.
Reflectors come in wide variety of shapes and sizes and are typically gold, silver or white. A white reflector will provide the softest results while the gold and silver versions will be able to reflect a higher intensity light onto your subjects (although your surface choice will affect the color of light being reflected). Thankfully, the fact that collapsible reflectors have two sides means that you usually get at least two different reflective surfaces with a single investment. When comes to collapsible reflectors, my personal favorite is the Sunbounce Sun-Mover. Although relatively small, the Sun-Mover’s spring steel frame keeps the reflector very taut and the built-in handles make it very easy for a person to hold and direct. For larger reflectors, I’ve owned an Impact 41×74" Collapsible Reflector for years and it has also worked well for me.
If you do not have an assistant to hold your reflector, as the photographer you can hold the reflector yourself. However, this technique will limit your ability to position the reflector and the amount of hands available to hold and control the camera. The solution to this problem is the collapsible reflector mounting arm. The mounting arm attaches to a light stand (that link is preloaded with my favorite stand) and allows you to freely position the reflector while leaving both of your hands free for manipulating/supporting the camera.
If using the stand and reflector outside, I highly suggest weighing down the ring to prevent wind from tipping it over (risking damage to gear and injury to your subjects). Sandbags are a convenient option and purpose built for such needs.
2. Off-Camera Flash
While on-camera flash can certainly produce eye catching portraits especially when bounce flash is employed, getting the flash off-camera allows for greater flexibility for creative portraiture. And considering that all recently released, non-full frame Canon DSLRs feature a master optical pop-up flash, it’s easier than ever to get an Speedlite flash off-camera. That said, Canon’s radio communication enabled flashes – the 600EX-RT, 600EX II-RT and 430EX III-RT – offer even more creative freedom by allowing flashes to be spaced farther apart without line-of-sight requirements.
If you don’t mind going fully manual, there are a ton of relatively low-cost radio triggering options to help you get your flash off-camera. And by spending a little more, you can even get radio triggers that allow you to control a TTL flash’s power manually from the camera. And with a little more trigger investment, full radio controlled, high range TTL-enabled flashes are well in within reach. Traditional studio flashes are another option if portability is less of a priority.
3. Light Modifier
Light modifiers play a key role in getting the most out of your off-camera flash, especially when it comes to portraiture. Types of light modifiers include:
- umbrellas (white/silver, normal/parabolic, etc.)
- soft boxes (including octa and strip boxes)
- beauty dishes
- colored gels
- …and more!
Each modifier will affect the flash’s output in different way and may only fit specific types of lights (or else may have a mount that can be customized for one’s specific gear). My suggestion is to start out with an inexpensive, medium-sized collapsible white umbrella, an umbrella swivel, a light stand, a sandbag or two and a radio trigger (if needed) and then move on to the next modifier that intrigues you.
4. Color Calibration Target
There are some people who are very particular about color; I’m not necessarily one of them. However, few people will complain if the color of your images is spot on. For that, a color calibration target is essential. My personal favorite is the X-Rite ColorChecker Passport Photo. Here’s how it works:
- Take a properly exposed RAW image of the color calibration target in the same lighting used for your portrait (most of the time I just have the subject hold the calibration target for a test capture).
- Open the calibration target image in Lightroom or Photoshop. Save the image as a *.DNG file. Close the post processing application.
- Open the calibration target *.DNG in X-Rite’s ColorChecker Passport software. The software will automatically detect the calibration target.
- Save the Camera Profile with a unique name.
- Open your post processing software and import the original color calibration target and portrait session RAW files. Apply the unique Camera Profile and use the target for setting white balance.
It’s surprising how a small amount of movement in long hair can take a portrait to the next level. As such, a fan is a good thing to have on hand. However, this is one item you likely already have lying around the house (in one form or another). If going the mechanical route, it’s important that your fan can be set not to oscillate and that it can be dialed down very low. If you want to use a fan on location where no power outlet is available, you have a couple of options.
The first option is to use a voice-activated reflector holder (in other words, an assistant who wafts a reflector at your subect on cue). This is the easiest and least expensive option if you happen to have a photo assistant available for your session.
The second option is to get a battery-powered fan for location use. Some battery-powered fans even have clips that you can use to attach to a spare light stand for optimal positioning (expect needing to position the fan relatively close to your subject because of these fans’ relatively lower power). Otherwise, if you own rechargeable Ryobi hand tools, this portable hybrid fan should provide plenty of power from a ground level position.
Note: The Ryobi fan does not come with a battery or charger which must be purchased separately if not already owned.
So that’s our top 5 portrait photography accessories. Did we miss an item that you think should have been included? Let us know in the comments.