Professional Photography & Equipment

For Emerging Portrait Photographers

Portrait photography requires a number of tools. A camera, lenses, lighting sources, and a tripod are just a few of the essential must-haves. But deciding on which features or particular models you need can be a daunting task. If you’re ready to begin your portraiture career, consider this list of essential equipment to get you started.

Professional Photographer RequirementsCamera

For someone who wishes to make a living through his or her photography, a single lens reflex (SLR) camera is a must. SLR cameras come in all shapes, sizes, and prices. The good news is that even low-end to mid-range SLR cameras have plenty of features that will allow you to take nice portraits without breaking the bank. If you don’t already own a camera, do your due diligence and research several models. If possible, give them a try before making a purchase.

Tip: For the best portraits, purchase an entry level DSLR camera with at least 21.5 megapixels.  If your budget allows for it go for the full frame.


If you’re looking for the best lens for portraiture, prime lenses are an excellent choice. With a greater maximum aperture, prime lenses allow for a shallow depth of field, which is a common feature of portraits. Another bonus with prime lenses is that they don’t have as many parts as say, a zoom lens, so image quality is better and sharper.

That said, some portrait photographers actually prefer telephoto lenses. I contacted Gary, who is a Virginia Beach Professional Photographer and he said that he prefers using  telephoto lenses for portraits.  More specifically he loves using the 70-200 2.8 lens.

“The 70-200 is a wonderful lens for so many reasons.  For one it allows you to keep a great distance from your subjects and allow for natural interaction to occur.  Just as important, it compresses subjects in the frame which makes for a much more flattering portrait.”

The advantage with a telephoto lens is the ability to focus on the model without environmental distractions. The compressed perspective of a telephoto lens is also a big draw for some portrait photographers.

As with most things, you get what you pay for. Skimping on your lens is not a good idea if you want good quality photos. If you have a budget (who doesn’t?!), bear in mind that an inexpensive prime lens will give you better results than an inexpensive zoom lens.

Tip: Consider renting a few lenses to try before purchasing one of your own.


Lighting is what will make or break a portrait. The ability to create areas of light and shadow is what gives portraits a three-dimensional look. To get those crisp areas of shadow and light, portrait photographers typically rely on strobes. Here again, price is often indicative of quality, so opt for a more expensive strobe. It will give you better lighting and will last longer than something from the bargain bin.

Another lighting must-have is a diffuser. Diffusers reduce harsh shadowing and glare. They are particularly useful for outdoor photo shoots where lighting can be harsh, like at midday. Diffusers come in a variety of forms, from those that fit over your camera’s flash to the umbrella-style often seen in studios. Softboxes are an additional option used by many portrait photographers, although they are a more expensive choice.

Tip: In a bind, a sheet or sheer piece of fabric will work as a diffuser.


Getting the cleanest and crispest portraits often means having a tripod. The selection of tripods runs the gamut from those that will fit in your pocket to those that are five or six feet tall. Regardless of their size (or price), they all serve the same essential function of stabilizing your camera. The choice really comes down to your budget and what is best for your specific needs.

Studio Photography vs Outside PhotographyConclusion

There are many other pieces of equipment that you’ll need to acquire as you continue your path to becoming a portrait photographer. However, setting yourself up with the items on this list will get you started off on the right foot and prepared to take some excellent portraits!

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