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Lesson 1: Must-have Gear Essentials

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Welcome to the first lesson in the Five Keys to Rockin’ Your Portrait Sessions! Over the next few weeks, we are going to cover must-have gear, finding the light that any client can look great in, how to get the best moments and expressions from your client, how to get free help which allows you to focus on your clients, and how to make more money on your sessions! So, get ready because here we go with week 1!

Portrait Session Goals

When we are out shooting a portrait session, we have one goal in mind – To make our clients look their absolute best! In order to do that it’s important to have the right tools. Today’s lesson is about the two most important things you can bring out with you to your portrait shoots – the right lens and the right reflector.


You have the power to make your subject look their best or their worst simply by the type of lens you choose to shoot with. This is why, unless we are trying to go for a certain look, we are usually shooting with a portrait lens.

What makes a portrait lens a portrait lens?

Any lens that is approximately 80mm or longer (depending on what expert you ask) is considered a “portrait lens.” Likewise, any lens that is shorter than approximately 80mm is not a “portrait lens.”

The reason for that, is because once you go beyond 50mm (on a full-frame camera body like the 5D Mark 3 that we use), what you’re shooting starts getting compressed and reality starts to get altered. The result is that backgrounds get closer to you, and people look closer together and more compressed. This is VERY flattering and looks great on every single person you shoot, and therefore it creates the “portrait” look. Shorter lenses like the 50mm look “normal” or close to what the human eye sees, and anything wider than 50mm starts to do the reverse of what the 85mm and longer lenses do. At 24mm, for example, backgrounds start to get very tiny in the center of the frame, and the edges begin to warp and pull things into the sides of the frame. Not so great if you want to shoot a beautiful, close-up head shot.

Take for example, the below images we took of ourselves a few years ago as we were goofing off with one of our wide lenses. It’s definitely a funny look and great for entertainment purposes, but NOT when you’re trying to de-emphasize certain features of your clients.

Any lens 80mm or longer, makes good features look great and it is the most flattering way to photograph anyone from a length of lens point of view.

When it comes to lens choice for our images, and if we only had one lens to choose from for shooting the best portrait shots possible, it would be the Canon 85L 1.2. This lens gives an amazing perspective, amazing color and razor sharp focus that is worth every cent of its way-too-pricey cost!

To show you the real difference between the 85L and a much wider lens, the below two images were taken at all the exact same camera settings, from very similar perspectives, and the only real difference is that the lens was changed. On the left you see the Canon 85L 1.2 lens, and on the right, the Canon 16-35L 2.8 lens shot at 22mm.

As you can see, the 85mm shot on the left has compressed everything in the image. The background looks larger and closer to our subject and has great shallow-depth of field.

In the image on the right, you can see the contents are not as compressed, the background is in relative focus, you can now see the tree line, and even the sky because the lens “shrunk” the background and grew the edges of the frame.

Another difference is even though our subject is the same size in both images, he appears to be larger in the shot to the right because the perspective is slightly off (even though it does look cool in this case). Technically, the more flattering shot is the 85mm shot on the left and that is why we use that lens for most of our portrait work.


We do not go to any shoot without a reflector in our hands. The reason we use a reflector on all of our shoots is because as soon as we started using one, it changed our lives. We use a reflector to add light in our subject’s eyes (which saves tons of time dodging and burning each image) AND makes them look amazing. The extra light makes your client’s skin look even more soft and beautiful. Don’t take our word for it – test it out yourself. (You can also use a reflector to soften harsh shadows).

Our reflector of choice is the 42″ inch 6-in-1 Westcott Silver/Sunlight reflector.

The easiest thing to remember when it comes to how to use a reflector, is to simply put it in the opposite direction that the natural light is coming in from.

In the below example images, taken at one of our IN-CAMERA Workshops last year, we had a cloudy sky the entire day. The nice thing about cloudy days is that all the light is soft and diffuse, but the problem is that all the light is coming straight down on top of our clients heads. That ends up giving them dark shadows under their eyes which is not flattering at all! There are a few things we do to fix this, with one of them being the use of a reflector.

All we do is grab the silver side of the reflector, put it in the opposite direction of the natural light, and bounce that light back up into the eyes. For this shot, we used two reflectors because we wanted reduced contrast on the shot for effect.

You may be thinking to yourself “Holding two reflectors requires at least one assistant, but I don’t have any!” Our response to you is to get one, and stay tuned for week 4 in this course on how you can get free help, so hang in there :)
Take a look at the below behind-the-scenes (iphone) image that gives you a glimpse into the natural light that day.
Notice the shadows and ugly light on everyone’s face except our model!

Here are some other images from our portfolio that were all shot using reflectors to add that extra kiss of light to our clients face and eyes. No dodging and burning in post – all done right IN-CAMERA!

With a great portrait lens and a reflector, we can begin to rock some amazing shots! So, if your 85 has been sitting in your camera bag, or you have never thought to use your 70-200mm as a portrait lens, pull it out and get busy! If you usually leave behind your reflector, grab it and take it with you everywhere you go and you will be amazed at what it can do!


Gear Links:
Canon 85L 1.2 ($1,999)


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When you sign up, be sure to stay tuned to your email next week for Lesson 2 Five Keys of Rockin’ your Portrait Sessions, where we cover the one element that can make or break any shoot!