Essential Portrait Photography Equipment List (x5)(What I Use)
Qu. Are you a beginner portrait photographer who just bought their first camera or someone looking to move into portraiture?
> Here I list my 5 portrait photography equipment essentials (and go into more detail on the various light stand options I use)
- MEMORY CARDS
- LIGHT STANDS
- Professional C-Stands
- Lightweight Light Stand
- Compact Light Stand
- Carbon Tripod
- Mini Tabletop Tripod
- Carbon Monopod
- LIGHT MODIFIERS
- CAMERA BAGS
- Small Camera Bag
- Large Camera Bag
- Part 1: Recommended Portrait Photography Lighting kit (Beginner or Pro)
- Part 2: My Recommended / Essential Portrait Photography Equipment list
WHAT I USE
Following on from my Part 1: Recommended Portrait Photography Lighting kit blog post where I talk about my favourite 3 speedlights and 3 wireless flash trigger options, in Part 2 I list more of my essential portrait photography gear that I recommend to others.
As written in part 1, when you buy a new camera the first thing you need to get is a decent memory card (and as a portrait / wedding photographer the next thing is a speedlight!). Once you have a flash you then need to mount it on something, then you will want to modify/ shape the light and as your photography equipment expands you will need a new camera bag. Talking 100% from experience!
So as summarised above, here is my top 5 portrait photography equipment essentials once you have bought a flash / wireless flash triggers (part 1).
1. BEST SD MEMORY CARDS – SANDISK EXTREME
SD Cards – SanDisk Extreme 32GB
For all my digital cameras I now use the same memory cards. When I started my photography I used lots of different memory card brands but the only ones that didn’t fail me were the SanDisk Extreme SD cards. From my experience the best SD memory cards are the SanDisk Extreme range, whatever the capacity you chose. I used to use the cheaper SanDisk cards also but after one corrupted I now only use the gold label “SanDisk Extreme SD cards”. All the SD memory cards I buy are 32GB SD cards as I think it is a good balance between not to low capacity yet not to big that you have a 10 photoshoots on one card (a lot to lose if you misplace the SD card!). Also in recent years the price of SD cards has come down so much. I remember paying nearly £100 for just one 32GB SanDisk Extreme memory card some years ago! Ouch!
I have used the SanDisk Extreme 32 GB SDHC cards in my Leica M8/M9/M240/CL cameras (for photos), Nikon D800 (photos and video), Lumix LX100 (photos and video). I generally buy the SD card size version as that is the size accepted by most digital cameras. I also have some SanDisk Micro-SD card versions that I used to transfer between my cameras and a tablet (Using a Micro-SD – SD card adapter in the camera).
If you need a new memory card I recommend these –
> SanDisk Extreme 32 GB SDHC (90 MB/s, Class 10, U3, V30)
2. BEST LIGHT STANDS FOR PHOTOGRAPHY (x7)
In this section I talk about the best light stands for photography and 7 different stands I use. They include Manfrotto light stands (full height and small), cheap lightweight light stands, best portable light stand for easy use out of the studio, best travel light stand for overseas trips, ultra compact light stands when you only have limited space in your camera bag
2.1 Professional Heavy Duty C-Stands
If money is no object or if you use heavy weight light modifiers professional C-stands are the way to go. If you will use a light stand every day and want durability and reliability then this is the best option. The disadvantage of C stands is they cost more than the cheaper lightweight stands (see 2.2) and are relatively big and heavy if want to transport, say for location shoots. I think C stands are best suited to the studio. I don’t own any but have used them and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend. If I was starting out fresh today I would have purchased a couple rather than trying to do everything on the cheap.
> Professional Heavy Duty C-Stand
2.2 Lightweight Light Stand
Lightweight light stands are the more common design with 3 diagonal black legs and a pole in the middle. They come in different sizes, load capacities and as a result costs. Perhaps like many people I started out with the cheap smaller ones from Amazon for about £15 and then as they broke I replaced them with larger higher capacity versions. These cheap lightweight light stands are more than adequate to mount a bare speedlight or with a small light modifier attached but they tend to bow and eventually break if using large light modifiers or heavier studio lights. If you don’t overload them they are probably the best portable light stand option without spending lots of money. I guess as with everything, you get what you pay for. There are so many light stands available that all do a similar job. Here is the most popular £15 style light stand which is perfect for beginners and pros alike. Just check the height and load capacity before buying baring in mind what you plan to use it for. (I think I have maybe 5 of these cheap lightweight stands then more heavy-duty ones too).
> Lightweight Light Stands (Aluminium)
(I can’t find a photo of me using my GorillaPod but it is mentioned in the details of how I took this photo! Flash lit bird photography – 2011!)
One of my earlier light stands / camera tripods was a Gorillapod when they were first released. At the time I used it for everything, both holding my Panasonic Lumix G1 and to mount a speedlight on. The Gorillapod is good as it can wrap around things so you can suspend your light from a tree branch or curtain rail. I moved away from the Gorillapod when I started using my Nikon cameras and huge 200mm lenses but I should probably start to use it again now I use mostly Leica cameras. I tried cheap Chinese copies of the Gorillapod brand but they break quite quickly. (The balls pull out of the sockets under load and or they just flop under any weight). If you buy a branded Joby Gorillapod tripod and ensure the load capacity is sufficient for your largest camera plus lens combination it should function without problems.
> JOBY GorillaPod SLR Zoom with Ballhead
2.4 Best Light Stand For Travel – Manfrotto Nano
As you can see in my photo below, light stands come in various shapes and sizes. A light stand is what I use to hold my off camera flash units. The £15 light stands (2.2) are great to use if you don’t need to travel by air. These stands are too long to fit in a permitted carry-on bag which is how I travel. If you are travelling with checked in luggage you might be ok if have a bigger case (I used to carry these light stands diagonally in a large suitcase if was flying with checked luggage). I searched for the best light stand for travel and after much research bought the Manfrotto Nano light stand which was the smallest full height light stand I could find. The Manfrotto Nano stand is probably the best light stand for speedlights as it only has a load capacity of 1.5kg. This Manfroto light stand is not suited to use with a large softbox but a mini softbox or umbrella is fine (if using inside). I think an umbrella on the Manfrotto Nano light stand outside would only result in a bent or broken Manfrotto Nano! Good quality light stand as I would expect from Manfrotto.
> Manfrotto Nano Stand Black
2.5 Best Travel Tripod – Zomei Carbon Tripod
If you are looking for the best travel light stand then the Manfrotto Nano stand is great to use when travelling with a large camera backpack but it can still be too long for smaller camera bags. To fit this requirement I bought a Zomei carbon tripod which was the result of reading lots of reviews and it seems to be the best travel tripod for my needs. Full height, lightweight and very compact and portable when packed down. There are lots of very similar Zomei tripods available, both carbon tripods and aluminium ones; the Z666, Z669, Z699 and many more. I have two Zomei carbon fibre tripods but the more compact version is my Zomei Z699C. I have heavy-duty Manfrotto tripods and a few other brands but my go to tripod for travel is the Zomei Z699C as it packs the smallest and is the lightest. The Zomei Z699C tripod comes with a ball head and has a clever design where one of the tripod legs unscrew to use it as a monopod. I use the Zomei tripod as a light stand by screwing a speedlight “foot” onto the ball head quick release plate. I also attach umbrella mounts and other studio accessories. I find the Zomei Z699C good to use with an umbrella as the wide legs gives more stability in a breeze. There is a hook below the Zomei tripod where you can hang your camera bag for extra stability too. When I was using my cameras on the tripod during my San Francisco trip this summer I found hanging the bag on the tripod helped keep it steady in the wind. For San Francisco I was hiking and cycling with my photography equipment so having a compact carbon lightweight tripod was a real help. I used this tripod with a Hasselblad XPan, Fuji GF670 and Nikon F4 + 180mm lens. I find Zomei tripods off great value for money but if you pay more you will find higher quality. That didn’t stop me buying two Zomei tripods (both still working*). They do all I ask of them.
> ZOMEI Z699C Carbon Fiber Portable Tripod with Ball Head
2.6 Ultra Compact Light Stand / Tripod – PIXI EVO
I discovered the Manfrotto Pixi EVO mini tripod when planning my cycling photography trips to Fuerteventura. I wanted an ultra compact light stand / tripod to use with my Hasselblad 500cm for landscape photography. As I was looking to do mostly cycling and some photography I needed just a small portable lightweight tripod to support the camera. The Manfrotto PIXI EVO is very solid and since buying it I use it as a table top tripod even on model shoots. The ultra compact design packs so small you can carry it with you all the time. Being a Manfrotto tripod it is super high quality and looks like it will last forever. I also use the Manfrotto PIXI EVO as a light stand as it has a ball head that I can use to angle a speedlight in a particular direction. The PIXI EVO version has extendable legs so I prefer it to the slightly cheaper model, the PIXI-B that doesn’t have this feature.
> Manfrotto PIXI EVO 2-Section Mini Tripod – Black
2.7 Best Carbon Fibre Monopod – Sirui P-326
When first buying my Hasselblad 501C I wanted the best carbon fibre monopod I could find (for a reasonable price) to use as a camera support. I found the Sirui P-326 carbon monopod does the job perfectly. Super lightweight and sturdy too. I almost always use a monopod with my larger film cameras (Hasselblads and Mamiya RZ67 especially). The Sirui P-326 carbon monopod replaces my metal Heavy Manfrotto monopod which I used to use all the time for weddings when using my huge Nikkor 200mm f2 prime on the Nikon D800. The Sirui P-326 monopod also works great as a voice activated light stand. By this I mean have a flash mounted on the Sirui monopod and ask someone to hold the light for you. I tend to prefer to work alone for my photography but for occasions like this an assistant is handy. Some locations don’t permit tripods or light stands so having a friend hold the Sirui P-326 with a light on it is a great solution for off camera flash. I would say the Sirui P-326 is easily as good as products from Manfrotto and should last a long time. I have also used the Sirui monopod with a light attached when working alone and I just lean it against a wall or tree or even wrap my arm round it while holding the camera in my hands. For this reason I’ve included it within light stands though most people probably don’t use it for this purpose.
> SIRUI P-326 Carbon Fibre Monopod Height 155 cm
3. BEST LIGHT MODIFIERS
There are so many light modifiers available it is probably possible to start an entire blog just reviewing the latest light modifier releases! The best light modifiers for speedlights or even studio lights are the most common ones. I would say if just starting out the best light modifier to start off with is a simple and very affordable photography umbrella. Once you have mastered speedlight photography with an umbrella you might next want to look at getting softbox so I have reviewed those two products.
3.1 Photography Umbrellas
Photography umbrellas are commonly silver, gold or white colour on the inside and all produce a different quality of light. Silver, gold and white (“translucent”) umbrellas are used to bounce light off (flash is pointed at the inside of the umbrella surface and the light bounced back onto the subject. White or translucent umbrellas are multi-purpose as they can also be used as a “shoot through” umbrella where the flash is pointed into the umbrella but the subject this time stands on the opposite site of the umbrella. Umbrellas are so inexpensive on Amazon and eBay you can find umbrellas in every size and quality to suit your budget. Larger photography umbrellas create a softer light but are less manageable and cost more when they break! I find white translucent umbrellas are the most useful. Something like this –
> Neewer Professional 33″/84cm White Translucent Umbrella
3.2 Photography Softboxes
(Old photo of me teaching portrait photography with the 60×60 softbox)
Once a photographer has mastered the umbrella the second most common light modifier is a photography softbox. Softboxes are good as they help control the spread of light whereas with an umbrella it just sprays light everywhere. As with umbrellas, softboxes come in every shape, size, quality, and cost. I find a Godox softbox offers good value and adequate quality for my needs. I’ve bought Godox softboxes in various sizes, 20×20, 40×40, 60×60. The mini version is good for overseas travel but the 60×60 offers the nicest quality of light (as the bigger the light modifier the softer the light). Godox softboxes come with 2 white diffusion panels and fold down for easy transportation. The Godox softbox also comes with a Bowen S-mount adapter meaning the softbox can be used with most studio lights as well as on a speedlight. I try to buy all Bowen S-mount light modifiers so that my light system is fully compatible with each other. If you need a softbox that does what it is designed for at a low-cost I recommend Godox but I’m sure other brands are similar (Neewer for example). I buy Godox modifiers mainly as I love the brackets. Well made and I use them all the time without concern. In the past I used to buy cheap umbrella mounts but I broke so many of them. The Godox softbox brackets can be used with studio umbrellas or other light modifiers (any Bowen S-mount modifier will fit). Great system.
> Godox 60x60cm Foldable Universal Softbox with S Style Speedlite Bracket for Flash Bowens
4. CAMERA BAGS
4.1 Small Camera Bag
As a Leica photographer the camera bag I use the most is a Billingham Hadley Digital bag. It is designed really for 3 small camera lenses (Leica size) and a Leica size camera body. In reality I have fitted 3 Leica M bodies and 3 Leica M lenses or perhaps, 1 Leica camera, 3 lenses and a folding medium format camera like the Fuji GF670 which just fits nicely on top. Very well made and functions well. The Hadley Digital is my most used camera bag even though it is only small. This Billingham camera bag would work well for any small mirrorless camera brand or small 35mm film camera but they also make bags in many shapes and sizes if the Hadley Digital is not quite right for your setup. The Billingham Hadley Small is very popular but I have not tried it. The tan colour Billingham bag I have looks nice but the black version will probably stay looking clean for longer!
> Billingham Hadley Digital Canvas Camera Bag
4.2 Best Carry-On Backpack (For Photography)
I wore out quite a few camera backpack bags before deciding it was time to pay more for something of higher quality. I wanted to find the best carry on backpack I could get for photography. That being a large camera bag that was within the maximum dimensions allowed for UK low-cost airlines carry on luggage. I fly mostly with WizzAir and Ryanair and the Lowepro Pro Runner BP 350 AW II bag lets me carry both my camera gear and clothes for a long weekend overseas of model photography. The Lowepro Pro Runner BP 350 backpack dimensions are 31.5cm x 14cm x 46cm and I carry a Zomei carbon tripod, speedlights, film, cameras and clothes in it. This large carry on backpack has heavy-duty comfortable straps so for wedding photography when I load the Lowepro BP 350 to the max with cameras it can still function well under load. If I want to carry additional cameras when working overseas I travel with priority boarding and take the Billingham Hadley Digital bag and this larger Lowepro Pro Runner backpack. I put all the heavy items in the Billingham camera bad as this is not weight restricted. The Lowepro BP 350 is made of very high quality materials like the Billingham bag and it should last me quite a while. A great all-purpose camera bag / backpack where the inside layout can be customised to fit you specific camera system. One trip I might be carrying a large high power light such as the Godox AD-360 together with say a Hasselblad camera then for the next shoot I might carry 2 small Godox TT350 speedlights and smaller Leica film cameras.
> Lowepro Pro Runner BP 350 AW II Bag Carry on Backpack
5. BEST REFLECTORS FOR PHOTOGRAPHY – 5IN1
(Old photo from a magazine article I wrote but evidence of my reflector!)
When it comes to the question of the best reflectors for photography I would always reply a 5in1 reflector. Although I list the common 5-in-1 reflector 5th I would say this is the most important item here after a memory card. A photography reflector is a low-cost essential that has so many useful applications for portrait photography. I will have to do a post just on how many ways I use a 5-in-1 reflector when I get chance! I use quite a few different light reflectors of different shapes, sizes and cost but the 43-inch one recommended here offers by far the best bang for the buck, as they say. My original 5-in-1 reflector looks quite beat up these days but I still use it on shoots from time to time. (Some of my large light reflectors are often to big to take to a shoot if I am travelling light).
> Neewer 43-inch / 110cm 5-in-1 Collapsible Reflector with Bag – Translucent, Silver, Gold, White and Black
I hope this was of some use to you. Feel free to comment below if you think I forgot something!? I was struggling with what to call this article but thought as 99% of my work with this equipment is portrait photography that would be the most suitable title. I do the occasional landscape too I guess!
THE BLOG IS CHANGING
I realised that this blog has always been all about me. For many of the diary style articles (especially my overseas trips) I just ramble on about what I get up to. It probably comes from years of writing a daily diary in my earlier years. I enjoy documenting things but it might not be a great read!
As I love to teach photography I thought I would try to write a few more general photography articles in addition to the very niche Leica lens / Leica camera / film camera specific posts so that the MrLeica site can be of more use to more people. It is very much work in progress and there is a lot of old low value “reviews” or articles I need to update or delete. I start with over 400 blog posts (that I have written since starting MrLeica.com in 2013) and I hope to cull them down to maybe 200-300 by Christmas. I will do my best anyway! Watch this space!