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Best photography equipment that enables you to take better portraits

In order to get great portraits, you’ll need to have the right photography equipment to hand. This can include things like a reflector to bounce light back at your model or a decent light modifier such as an umbrella that will soften and diffuse the otherwise harsh light from your flash.

In addition to this, you’ll also need a decent prime lens – ideally one that provides a fixed focal length close to 85mm along with a fast aperture that enables you to throw the background behind your model out of focus so that they stand out as the centrepiece of your final image.

With all that in mind, then, here are five excellent portrait accessories and six fantastic portrait prime lens  in best photography equipment that we recommend. Give some of them a try.

Lastolite Standard TriGrip Reflector 

Reflectors are an essential item in any serious portrait photographer’s kit bag and are primarily used to bounce light (ambient or flash) back towards the subject in order to reduce unflattering shadows. With its ergonomic handle, the TriGrip range is easy to use and folds down to around a third of its extended size for easy transportation. The range is available in three sizes: Mini (45cm), Standard (75cm) and Large (120cm).

Each reflector is double-sided, with the various colors each providing a slightly different effect. The colors are White for soft diffused light, Silver for added contrast and Soft Silver for something in between the two. Gold reflectors, meanwhile, add warmth, while Sunlite and Sunfire surfaces mix and match the virtues of silver and gold to slightly different degrees. The TriGrip range is available in these combinations: white/silver, white/gold, sunlite/soft silver and sunfire/silver.

PortraitPro 15 Software 

Lightroom and Photoshop are excellent image-editing applications that provide a multitude of tools you can use to bring out the best in your portraits. That said, if you’d prefer to work with something that has been built from the ground up specifically for portraiture then Portrait Pro 15 is worth a closer look. PortraitPro 15 provides fixes for things like skin blemishes, wrinkles and sweaty/shiny/greasy skin along with flexible tools to enhance skin tones with.

In addition you can use the software to enhance your subject’s eyes and mouth, or indeed to reshape any part of their face. The latest edition also adds distortion correction tool to the mix along with the ability to add makeup to your subject. There are currently three editions to choose from: Standard, Studio and Studio Max, with the latter two offering built-in Raw support as well as the ability to be used as a Photoshop plug-in.

Tiffen Variable ND 

If you want to shoot outdoors on bright sunny days at f/1.8 or thereabouts then you may find your camera’s maximum shutter speed isn’t actually fast enough and the image comes out overexposed. This is especially true of cameras with a top shutter speed of 1/4,000sec. This is where a variable ND filter can help you out. Like their standard ND counterparts variable ND filters work by essentially blocking out light, thereby reducing your shutter speed and allowing you to use faster apertures in bright light.

The big difference is that a variable filter allows you to alter the strength of the filter usually by rotating the outer ring. The Tiffen Variable ND offers between one and eight stops all in a single filter. This means there’s no need to swap from a ND2 to a ND8, or stack multiple filters together. The Tiffen Variable ND filter is available in the following sizes: 52mm, 58mm, 62mm, 67mm, 72mm and 77mm.

Lastolite 8-in-1 Umbrella & 4-section Stand 

Shoot-through umbrellas have long been popular with portrait photographers as they dramatically soften the otherwise harsh, directional light of an unmodified flashgun. The key selling point of the Lastolite 8-in-1 umbrella kit is its versatility; supplied with a range of accessories, it can be adapted in a number of ways to make it much more than just a standard shoot-through.

The white umbrella at the heart of the system comes with three detachable linings: a black outer lining with a detachable square door (that allows it to be used as a square shoot-through); a silver inner lining that provides added contrast to give your images a more commercial look; and, lastly, a white cover that effectively turns the umbrella into a softbox. Combined with a regular speedlight the 8-in-1 can be used in all sorts of ways to provide soft, even light that makes it invaluable when shooting portraits.

Nikon AF-S 85mm f/1.8G 

nikon-af-fx-nikkor-85mm-f-1-8g

Specs

  • CONSTRUCTION:  9 elements in 9 groups
  • APERTURE BLADES: 7
  • FILTER SIZE:  67mm
  • DIMENSIONS:  80 x 73mm
  • WEIGHT:  350g

Buy now

Released in 2013 Nikon’s AF-S 85mm f/1.8G prime is offered as a cheaper alternative to the pro-grade Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/1.4G (£1,200). It’s also a stunning portrait lens that in DxO testing was found to be one of the sharpest lenses on the market when paired with a Nikon D810. It is primarily designed for Nikon FX full-frame DSLRs but it can be used with APS-C DSLRs too, to provide the 35mm equivalent of 127.5mm. It produces soft, rounded bokeh in out-of-focus areas, and has Nikon’s Silent Wave Motor  technology for fast and quiet autofocus operation. Build quality is pretty good overall, although the plastic shell doesn’t fully do the high-grade internal optics justice.

Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM 

canon-85mm

Specs

  • CONSTRUCTION:  9 elements in 7 groups
  • APERTURE BLADES: 8
  • FILTER SIZE:  58mm
  • DIMENSIONS:  75 x 71.5mm
  • WEIGHT:  425g

Buy now

While Canon does make a fantastic 85mm f/1.2L II USM prime, the EF 85mm f/1.8 USM is a smaller and cheaper alternative that’s just as capable of excellent results. Used at its maximum aperture, the lens produces a very shallow depth of field, while eight diaphragm blades produce a pleasing round bokeh. It’s primarily designed for full-frame Canon DSLRs, but can also be used on APS-C models, where it is 127mm in 35mm terms. It may not have the tank-like build of Canon’s premium ‘L’ series lenses, but build quality is still pretty good. In terms of operation the focus ring is well-positioned and allows you to override your camera’s autofocus system at any time.

Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM 

sigma-85mm

Specs

  • CONSTRUCTION:  11 elements in 8 groups
  • APERTURE BLADES: 9
  • FILTER SIZE:  77mm
  • DIMENSIONS:  87.6 x 86.4mm
  • WEIGHT:  725g

Buy now

Available for Nikon, Canon, Sony and Pentax DSLRs the Sigma 85mm f/1.4 EX DG HSM is considerably cheaper than the Nikkor AF-S 85mm f/1.4G (£1,200), the Canon 85mm f/1.2L II USM (£1,500) and the Sony 85mm f/1.4 ZA Planar T* (£1,100). Yet it’s one of the sharpest 85mm f/1.4 primes around and produces virtually no distortion. It has 11 elements in eight groups, including one Special Low Dispersion glass element to minimise chromatic aberrations. Build quality is perhaps a bit plasticky for a £600 lens and the focus ring can be quite stiff to rotate, but it’s a solid, if slightly bulky and heavy lens. More important, it can produce lush bokeh in out-of-focus areas of the frame.

Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2R 

fujinon-xf56mmf1-2-r

Specs

  • CONSTRUCTION:  11 elements in 8 groups
  • APERTURE BLADES: 7
  • FILTER SIZE:  62mm
  • DIMENSIONS:  73.2 x 69.7mm
  • WEIGHT:  405g

Buy now

The Fujifilm XF 56mm f/1.2R is built specifically to work with Fujifilm’s X system, which in turn is built exclusively around APS-C sensors. Indeed, the very reason it’s manufactured with a fixed focal length of 56mm is because in full-frame terms this equates to 85mm, making it a perfect portrait lens for any of Fujifilm’s X-system range of Compact System Cameras. The XF 56mm is actually available in two models: a basic version that, in addition to being a fantastic portrait lens, is also one of the fastest autofocus primes for any CSC; and an APD version (£1,070) that has an apodisation filter that smoothes out bokeh at large apertures to add real depth to your images.

Panasonic Lumix 42.5mm f/1.7 

panasonic-lumix-g-lens-42-5mm

Specs

  • CONSTRUCTION:  10 elements in 8 groups
  • APERTURE BLADES: 7
  • FILTER SIZE:  37mm
  • DIMENSIONS:  50 x 55mm
  • WEIGHT:  130g

Buy now

Panasonic has built up a sizeable collection of Micro Four Thirds lenses (28 at the last count). The Lumix 42.5mm f/1.7 is a relatively recent (2015) addition and is positioned as a slightly slower but much more affordable alternative to Panasonic’s pro-grade 42.5mm f/1.2 ASPH Leica DG Nocticron (£1,100). Both lenses provide a focal length equivalent to 85mm in full-frame terms. The lens has 10 elements in 8 groups, which includes one aspherical lens, and it also built-in image stabilization too. Image stabilization is unlikely to be of much benefit when shooting portraits at fast apertures, but it could well come in handy in other situations and gives the lens extra flexibility.

Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD 

tamron-aff016

Specs

  • CONSTRUCTION:  13 elements in 9 groups
  • APERTURE BLADES: 9
  • FILTER SIZE:  67mm
  • DIMENSIONS:  84.8 x 91.3mm
  • WEIGHT:  700g

Buy now

Winner of the 2016 EISA Award for ‘Best DSLR Lens’ the Tamron SP 85mm f/1.8 Di VC USD has 13 elements in 9 groups and employs low dispersion and ultra-low dispersion glass elements to reduce chromatic aberrations, along with eBAND and BBAR lens coatings to reduce fl are and ghosting. The shutter employs nine rounded blades that form a near-circular diaphragm for soft beautiful bokeh in defocused areas of the frame. The Tamron is also the first full-frame DSLR portrait lens to have built-in stabilization, or Vibration Compensation as Tamron calls it, which adds flexibility to the lens when not being used for portraits. While the lens is large and heavy, build quality is very good.

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