Portrait photography can be a truly rewarding experience for any photography enthusiast. We’re not talking “rewarding” from a financial perspective (although certainly portrait photographers are always in demand, if that’s the route you want to go down!), but portraiture is a great way for you to experiment with lighting, with colors, with different equipment — and it’s a great way to engage and connect with your subjects as well.
As always, though, the type of equipment you choose to shoot with matters greatly.
Portraiture has evolved over the years, and the best cameras for portrait photography aren’t just those that sit on a tripod in a studio with an 85mm lens; the best portrait photography cameras today are flexible and versatile, and there’s no one-size-fits-all camera lens for portraits.
With that in mind, we think the following three things should be top of mind if you’re thinking about getting into portrait photography:
- Excellent color rendering
- Great glass
Let’s look at each of the three in detail and how they relate to portrait photography — and why Canon cameras and lenses are an ideal choice for your portrait photography needs.
Great portrait photography cameras produce require vibrant, lifelike color
Let’s imagine an ideal scenario: You’re ready to take a portrait. You’ve lit the scene perfectly, and set your colors, both subject and background, up in a complementary way. Everything looks perfect, vibrant and natural.
Your camera should be able to capture that color precisely, and the resulting photograph should bring the scene to life the same way — without extensive post-processing touch-ups. Just as important as the colors, your subject’s skin tone should appear life-like and natural, not artificially smooth or waxy.
Perhaps most important of all, you want a camera that produces accurate colors when the lighting isn’t perfect — in other words, your camera should be able to help you compensate for harsh fluorescent lighting or a cloudy sky.
Unfortunately not every camera is equal when it comes to color reproduction.
To ensure you’re capturing colors and skin tones accurately, look for cameras that are highly rated for color performance, and offer exceptional white balance control — both manual and automatic.
Canon has long had a reputation for capturing pleasing, flattering skin tones and rendering vibrant colors, and are a favorite of wedding photographers for this reason. Their EOS 6D Mark II full frame DSLR uses the DIGIC 7 image processor to produce high quality photos, and features +/- three stops of exposure compensation on autofocus and +/- five stops on manual.
Make sure you use the best camera lens for portraits
When it comes to portraiture, photographers have traditionally preferred 85mm lenses, for their ability to tightly focus in on your subject without distortion. Their shallow focal length keeps the background out of focus, putting your subject front and centre.
Many portrait photographers have begun using 50mm lenses, to help capture more of the scene around the subject. While you never want a background to overpower your subject, capturing a wider scene can help set the tone and mood of a photo, and bring more of your subject’s personality to life — especially for outdoor portraits.
Canon offers both 85mm and 50mm lenses f/1.2, including the EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM, ensuring excellent speed and performance in low-light situations and shallow depth-of-field to isolate your subject and put them front-and-center.
Of course, there’s no need to limit yourself only to 85mm and 50mm lenses — especially if you plan to shoot outdoor portraits.
The best cameras for portraits are flexible and versatile
As noted, many photographers (and subjects!) are moving towards outdoor portraiture. There’s no better light source than the sun, of course, and although the unpredictability of the weather can sometimes put a damper on your efforts, the ability to choose a different backgrounds (especially in locations that have meaning to your subjects), and to “capture the moment” in a way a studio just can’t offer, can provide a fun and creative experience for both amateur and experienced shooters.
Being outdoors means you’ll want some portability and flexibility in your equipment, though. Mirrorless cameras are typically smaller and more lightweight than traditional DSLR models, making them easier to handle over a long shoot. The Canon EOS R full-frame mirrorless camera is a great example, coming in at 105g lighter than the EOS 6D Mark II; it also features a Magnesium Alloy Body, making it rugged and durable.
When it comes to glass for shooting portraits outdoors, a zoom lens can come in handy as you and your subject experiment with how much background you want to capture. Although you may compromise some on overall image quality compared to a prime lens, a zoom lens such as a 70-200mm gives you more flexibility than a prime lens with a fixed focal length.
The Canon 70-200mm f/2.8L IS III captures exceptional shots with subjects standing out against backgrounds of variable distance. If you want something more portable, consider the Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II; while you won’t get quite the range of the 70-200mm, you may appreciate the lighter weight during a long day of shooting.
Both lenses are compatible with the EOS 6D Mark II and the EOS R (with lens adaptor); the mirrorless range includes a 28–70mm zoom (the RF 28–70mm f/2), as well as a 50mm prime lens (the RF 50mm f/1.2 L).
When it comes to portraiture, there’s no wrong way to capture your subjects. Whether you’re going for an in-studio approach or want to explore the great outdoors with your subjects, Canon cameras and lenses will ensure you capture your colors and skin tones accurately, while giving you the flexibility to vary your shooting location.