Basic portrait lighting


The other vital ingredient is a good reflector. The best ones to get are from Lastolite’s range of collapsible double-sided reflectors.

They are relatively inexpensive, made in Britain and come in a range of sizes and styles. Again, for a basic portrait setup you don’t need anything too huge. A 95cm Lastolite reflector in silver and gold will cost you around £50, and is well worth the money. I’ve had one for several years and can vouch for their quality and durability.

If you’re on a really tight budget however, you can always make your own reflector. A large sheet of cardboard either spray-painted gold or covered in gold “space blanket” Mylar foil, aluminium kitchen foil or even white polystyrene ceiling tiles will do the job at a push.

Another thing you’ll need to think about is the background you are going to use. Professional photographers use large rolls of thick paper held up by special stands, but these are very expensive and take up a lot of room. The simplest option is to use a bed sheet, curtain or tablecloth, held up with drawing pins or suspended from a curtain rail. If you have a choice of colours then choose one that compliments the clothing that your model is wearing, however white or pale blue seems to work with almost anything.

A word on focal lengths

For most conventional portrait photography you usually want to capture a flattering image of your subject. For this reason you should try to avoid using wide-angle lenses because they cause strange perspective effects and distort the facial features. It’s a much better idea to use a longer focal length, in other words move further away from your subject and zoom in. This produces a much more natural perspective and looks a lot more natural. See my tutorial on focal length for more information.

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