Fujifilm X-T1 W/XF56mm F1.2 R lens with a large circular Lastolite reflector
How To Question...
I get asked this a lot in general, both on and off the Blog. It's worth addressing because the answer has little to do with camera or lighting gear. Sure those things are necessary to create a picture but the specific "types or brands" don't matter so much.
For me a good portrait depends on connection.
Everyone says the same things to me...I hate taking pictures, I never look good, can you make me look thinner...yada yada yada. Even people who like having their portraits made, go thru the same kind of angst. If you empty your bank account and buy the absolute best gear available the images might still suck without that connection.
How do I solve that...well to be honest I use my personality.
I know it sounds self-serving but that's not really how I mean it. Fortune 500 CEO's, Realtors, Lawyers...right down to fun family portraits. Done it all. The best results happen when you engage your subject(s). You have a mutual goal of making a captivating portrait, the kind that stands up to repeated viewing over a long period of time. So I have to use my personality to get my subjects to open up and drop their guard so that I can direct them into the best picture I can make right then and there. It's ok for the subject(s) to be in a bad mood or nervous but when I'm behind the camera I don't have that same luxury. I have to be happy, focused and ready to work. Fortunately, that's my personality anyway. No matter what's going on in my personal or business life it get's checked at the door while I'm shooting. My only concern is figuring out why someone won't position their body in a certain way, why they won't smile, why they keep doing that stupid duck-lips thing with their mouth...
With that connection I can intrigue my subject(s) enough to help them forget which is their best side, or yellow teeth or crooked smile. Maybe even get them to open up in a similar way to the instagram and Facebook pictures they sometimes post.
Some people will doubt you right up to the final shot.
I talk my way through, explaining what I want and how I need them to respond along with healthy doses of laughter. As we go along I'll show them some of the shots (usually the better ones) on the camera LCD. It's both a teachable and a "see, it's going ok" moment. I guarantee doing it this way makes a huge difference. I've literally had to kick clients out because they want to keep shooting once getting the hang of it.
So if there is a "secret" to portraiture it's really for you to be a mirror of what you want from the subject. Use your personality, be open, understanding and focused.
I favour 50-85mm lenses because they allow me to maintain an intimate distance to the subject. Yes, I do regularly shoot with shorter or longer focal lengths depending on the situation. Sometimes I do that within the same shoot just for variety.
As for the camera I only have a few requirements...the REAR LCD has to be beautiful. If you are using an older camera where the LCD isn't as sharp or colourful it's gonna hurt you when the subject looks at it. Of course I know that the LCD has nothing to do with the final picture after processing...but how do you impart that to the subject "During" the shoot? It's 2016 and people are spoiled by instant gratification. Being able to view that last shot on a high quality LCD is what people expect these days. Also, the ability of the camera to display a true to life image based on how you have configured the preview (Color, Contrast, Sharpness) is important to me. If the client asks, I want to be able to give them a JPEG right away for their social media and be confident that it looks great without further processing.
Lighting is an easy one...I prefer natural light because it's illumination our eyes are most used to. When manipulated with a reflector(s) you can pull off some amazing shots. I also shoot with a variety of Speedlites, Studio Strobes and LED's. My modifiers are Beauty Dishes, Softboxes and Umbrellas. Use what's appropriate for the situation.