Portrait photography Tips -Lenses and Backdrops

By Ralf Llanasas

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Portrait photography is an easy and sure-shot way of making an inroad into the world of professional photography. If you look at wedding photographers, people doing corporate head-shots, high-school senior photos or even taking images of newborn, they all have something in common.

They are basically all doing portrait photography. Their approach may be different, the tools that they use may be different too, but eventually they all do something that is identical across the board. They pose people in front of their cameras and take their picture. 

To start off in portrait photography you don’t need a very expensive camera or lens. However, your lens choice can have a dramatic affect on your pictures.

And another area that is often not thought about is the background. Custom backdrops can give your photography business an additional edge and help you make the most of your camera and lens.

Let's take a more detailed look at lenses and backgrounds for portrait photography.

The right lens

The right lens is critical. By the right lens I mean the right focal length. Why? Because focal length impacts your images in a number of ways. First, a lens will push back or pull-in your background depending on its focal length. Let’s say you use a wide angle lens for portraits.

 It’s OK if you place your subject towards the center of the frame and about 8-10 feet away from the camera. But if your subject is anywhere near to the corner of the frame (in case of off-center compositions) or standing very close to the camera, severe distortions will make the image look weird.

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Photo Credit: Cyril Lookin 

The answer is in not only in using the right focal length but also asking your subject to stand at the right distance from the camera. So, which is the right focal length for shooting portraits? 

 The 85mm is often considered as a go to lens for shooting portraits. The 85mm makes facial features appear almost the same as they look to the naked eye. But the only problem is the 85mm fills too much of the frame with your subject.

If you want more negative space around your subject shoot with a 50mm.

But isn’t the 50mm a better choice for street and everyday photography? Yes, but that’s just one way of looking at the 50mm.

The 50mm works as a portrait lens too, especially when you use it with a crop camera. This is because of the crop factor. But even without the crop-factor coming into play, the 50mm works as a good lens for portraits when you want more of the scene to be captured and it as little distortion as possible.

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A 50mm or an 85mm lens will work well when taking a portrait of a single person. As the number of people in your portrait increase you may need to use a wider lens to get everyone in the shot. If you have enough room to back up you can make a shot like the one above (taken with a Tamron 24-70mm f/2.8 lens) work with a 50mm or 85mm lens.

Custom Backdrops

In order to be successful in what you do, they have to rely on not only your skills but also on your tools. The right tool can give a significant edge to your work and therefore help you stand out from the competition. 

One tool you can add to your portrait arsenal is a custom backdrop. This involves printing a very high resolution, large format, image on to a high-quality printable and washable cloth. The quality of the print makes it realistic enough to be used as a backdrop for your photos. Plus, they are non-glare which means they provide a realistic look. 

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A custom backdrop can be created with any desired image. These images could be downloaded high resolution stock photos, images selected from the printer’s library or even your own portfolio images. 

Custom printed backdrops are just one more way to add a unique personal touch to your portrait photography business.

There is a lot that goes into portrait photography. From lights to lenses to backgrounds and everything in between. What tools do you go to most often when taking portraits? Share your thoughts and ideas below.

about the author

Ralf Llanasas is a Digital Entrepreneur and a Photography enthusiast. He works at PhotopieBackdrops which creates custom backdrops for Studios, Photographers & Events. You can connect with him on Twitter at @IamRalf12

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