The onset of a fashion photographer and portrait photographer’s career can be intimidating, especially when adding up the costs associated with buying the necessary gear. In the beginning, it isn’t always a prerequisite investing in the best gear that money can buy.
The exception is if the versatility of the gear warrants the accompanying price tag. With that mantra in mind, the following is a list of the best-recommended gear for aspiring portrait and fashion photographers.
Quality glass is where most money will be spent in fashion portrait photography gear. Both zoom and prime lenses are worthy contenders and I highly recommend considering one or two of the following focal lengths to add to your collection: 50mm, 85mm, 35mm, and 24-70mm.
These lenses are perfect for close-up crops, wide enough for full-body images with detail and environmental portraits where storytelling is of utmost importance for fashion portrait photography. To read more about why these focal lengths are my go-to, take a look at 4 Recommended Lenses For Fashion And Portraiture.
When it comes to choosing a camera body, full-frame is the industry standard. Whether you choose a full-frame DSLR camera body or a full-frame mirrorless camera body, the main priority is a quality sensor capable of delivering satisfactory images to get the job done and most modern camera bodies are more than capable of this.
I currently shoot with a discontinued Canon 5D Mark III body and it is more than adequate for 75% of the jobs I am hired for. For more demanding fashion photography work I will either rent a high-resolution mirrorless Sony camera body or medium format mirrorless camera body like the Hasselblad X1D II 50c.
If you are just starting out in photography, it isn’t necessary to invest in the most technologically advanced camera body. It is more important to choose the equipment that will satisfy the demands of the body of work that will be commenced in the next few years with special attention paid to how that work will be lit as some camera bodies like the Canon 5DS R were created with specifically studio shooting in mind.
Seamless paper rolls are a favorite among fashion photographers as they require minimal upkeep, unlike canvas backgrounds that often need to be steamed in order to be presentable. While canvas is known to create added dimension, I tend to prefer the simplicity of paper.
A seamless background paper is inexpensive and smaller rolls fit in any sized car which makes it easy to create a mobile studio at any shooting location. Plus they are available in an array of hues to satisfy any creative color palette.
My personal recommendations are Fashion Gray because it compliments almost every fashion scene and Super White because it can be made into any color courtesy of Photoshop as well as. Last but not least, if the paper gets damaged or dirty, it is as simple as cutting off the undesired piece and starting fresh.
As beautiful as natural light is, it will become necessary to be able to work with studio lighting at some part of your career as a fashion or portrait photographer. Investing in studio lighting equipment means investing in certainty as the weather is not a direct factor of availability. This translates into more availability and thus more guaranteed paid work.
Monolights, particularly battery-operated, are ideal because they can be transported anywhere and their simplistic design makes them easy to use.
Lighting modifiers are a worthy investment as they allow us to control the mood with how we choose to shape our subjects with light. From soft and diffused with great tonality created by a white shoot-through umbrella or softbox to punchy contrast courtesy of beauty dishes and parabolic reflectors, there are a plethora of modifiers to choose from.
I invested in the Broncolor Para 88 because its versatility allows me to use it for almost any look I’m wanting to achieve, and it always lights the scene beautifully.
Both black and white v-flats and foam cores are a staple among fashion photographers for their ability to easily add or take away light on a large scale. Their convenience and power of reflecting light can cut down on the number of lights needed to light the frame as intended. They can also act as flags to easily reduce the light and create a very controlled, moody light source.
Whether you need to attain some height to properly photograph your subject or simply a place for them to sit, an Apple Box is always a good idea to have as a fashion and portrait photographer.
Last but not least, a grip kit should be on hand to act as a means of preparing for and troubleshooting during the shoot. Essentially, think of everything that could possibly go wrong or be needed during a shoot and fill it with those items.
A grip kit should include clamps and tape to secure backgrounds, cords, clothing, and anything else that is potentially hazardous. Screwdrivers and pliers are always a good idea in case a piece of equipment needs attention. It is also never a bad idea to include cords for tethering, charging and connecting our electronic devices and batteries for any lighting triggers that use them.
Include items that are used normally such as Xacto knives for cutting seamless paper and any other miscellaneous equipment used under normal shooting scenarios. The more complete the kit, the more stress-free the environment.
In the beginning, invest in the most pressing equipment that is required to achieve overall satisfaction as a fashion portrait photographer. Only buy the gear that will be used for the majority of the work; everything else can be rented. As time progresses, continue to build or upgrade your gear list to meet clients’ demands as the budget allows.
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