I am sure that if you are reading this blog, you see portraiture in the same way that I do. The fact that people are actually interesting and have their own agenda and story within that needs to be captured and shared through a photograph. The bottom line is that if you are passionate about photography and have a psychological approach to the way you interpret life and the people around you, portraiture is the way forward as a visual communicator.

Should you wish to perfect and learn more on lighting, consider attending a short workshop or a practical course. This will also add confidence as well as assist you in make the correct choices in the buying process of your camera gear and lighting.

To achieve the best results, you firstly need the following gear:

The correct lens

It is necessary that you opt for a portrait lens, as the name suggests. Depending on your budget, go for something with really good glass, as it’s the glass that will make the end result most impressive. The lens is the first on the list to consider.

Fixed lenses, often referred to as prime lenses are your first choice and offer different effects and results. These lenses can be costly but worth every cent. I suggest considering one of the following:

  • 35mm lens if you wish to extend the range and incorporate some background to your shot.
  • 50mm lens which great and commonly used by most photographers as they can be very affordable, known as the “nifty 50”. Then you can go large and buy the pro option if you feeling flush or intending to provide this service as a form of income to clients.
  • 85mm lens for close ups, this is a tricky lens to use, however, it is referred to as the flagship of portrait lenses. Generally known for their bokeh effect. Bit on the steep side as they are pro lenses with pro glass and aperture range throughout
  • 135mm lens is a more affordable option and great for shooting more from a distance than close up.

Other great lenses to consider are more versatile as they have more range, i.e. not fixed. The best two options I can suggest:

  • 24 -70mm f2.8 lens generally is my choice and a great bread and butter lens for most genres including portraiture. Not cheap, as this is a pro lens, but at the end of the day, it will save you having to purchase other lenses.
  • 70 – 200mm f2.8 lens is again a favorite due to the range and bokeh that if offers.

Regards to choosing a camera body, I recommend one that has a high-speed continuous setting as well as many focal points to choose from when composing the shot.

Create a Storyboard

Planning is always key to a smooth result. There are many factors to take into account in the planning process:


Either controlled indoor studio lighting, or natural outdoor light plays a major role in the end result. Photography is about lighting as it’s the lighting that creates the mood and the tone for the shot.

For the indoor studio option:

Make sure that you have a reference in mind as to what you wish to accomplish. Understand that there are various lighting setups that you can use to achieve the desired effect. It is important you know how to operate the lights either in manual or ETTL using the transmitters to coordinate the sequence and the flash power. Knowing how to bounce light with the aid of flags or reflectors is just as important.

The outdoor lighting option:

Unless you have assistants to carry tons of gear, avoid shooting in bright sunlight or at mid-day in open places where the light is strong and often to bright. This will affect accurate settings and compensation when taking the shot. You are also limited at this time, should you want to avoid shadows and dappled light. Try plan your shoot during the golden hour, or take advantage of a cloudy overcast day. Diffused natural light is simple to control and will save you a lot of hassles. Choose you location carefully at the right time of day for your shoot. 


Again, depending on the lighting and the nature of the portrait, different color backgrounds draw different attention to the look and feel of the shot. Generally, a simple dark or gray background is a good safe choice to work on. White backgrounds, I find bland and cold, however, again it will depend on the look and feel you wish to achieve. When shooting outdoor, make sure the background does not overpower the subject.

Framing and composition

Taking the lighting and the location, as well as the mood and reference into consideration, composition and framing plays a big role in the story telling process behind the shot. Decide if you are after a busy or a clean look, or even just a classic candid shot. A pose can also influence the framing of the shot, either a tight close up, or a wider option.

Black and white or Color

This is a personal choice based on your taste and signature. I generally find black and white more appealing when lite low key, and color when lit high key. You be the judge of what works best for the client.

The Test

Once all is set up and you are ready, it is essential to do a light lest to ensure you are getting the result. Ensure the light is balanced as required and is at the correct power and angle and that the white balance meets your approval.

Then the money shot…