What do you need to shot portraits in any place, howto #1

Portraits is one of the most extensive fields in photography because it’s the direct interaction with a very difficult thing. The thing we want to shot is a living entity and it doesn’t follow a natural instinct pattern. That thing is also intelligent, or some of them pretend to be so improvisation is a must and hunting the right moment is an instant of spiritual inspiration. Well that thing are “we”, humans :)

To shot portraits do we need a studio? do we need a special high quality gear?
Of course if we have a studio, the knowledge, the time and the equipment we can do almost anything! But usually we lack of the necessary tools when we find the right person and the right moment to shot a good portrait.

This little Howto will explain how to do it with a DSRL, a small flash, an extension cable and a white sheet.
All this stuff can be easily carried in a bag.

Portrait tools

This is a reflector. A small and cheap one is more than enough.


Ok we are ready to shot portraits that looks like made in a studio.
Now the only thing we need to understand is the light.
Think about light as it was a high pressure water stream but without the damage that the water can produce. It’s easy to see the root source of a stream of water but it’s really hard to understand where the light comes from.
In a studio we can control light sources and direct it where we need. In case of an improvised portrait we have to minimize as much as we can non controlled light sources. That’s why we need a flash and a reflector, just to overcome environment lights.

Many other factors will come depending on the situation and the subject. For example, a cap, long hair, color of the skin and so forth. All of this can only be understood with practice and the practice is the funny part of this :)

How to make the background dark?

The darker the environment is the easier for this kind of portraits.
In case we have to take it in a well illuminated environment, we have to play with aperture and lights.
The flash light will be stronger than interior lights and this will help us.

For example, instead to bother a real model let’s take a drossel figma dool that will never complain to be tortured with the flash :)

figma drossel

This is the artificial illumination of a neon light at home. This is the illumination as perceived by a naked eye.

What we have to do is set the camera parameters so the background and the subject get totally dark without flash light. In this case I chose: aperture f/11 and speed 1/250.
Just increase the speed and reduce the aperture to minimize as much as possible the light that pass through the lens.

figma drossel

This picture still contain some information, if we increase exposure, brightness and fill light in Lightroom we can see that behind that dark square there is still something

figma drossel

So at this point we have to set our reflector as close as possible to the subject as well the flash. We don’t want that any light goes to the background, we want it dark.
This is the final result

figma drossel

Here you are, portraits everywhere and no need of studio or too expensive illumination equipment.

Finally this is the way to put the reflector and the flash.


In case the background don’t get totally dark, don’t worry, you can always use some post processing to make it dark :)

Check these pictures, they were made with the same technique in bars and streets:

The Gaze Kitten Anna Kubotera Tokyo Beers and Bloggers