Portrait Photography Tips With Minimal Equipment

Jeff Cable shows us that great portraiture isn’t about what equipment you use during a seminar he hosted in New York City. Over the course of the hour long video of the seminar, Cable discusses the elements of what makes a portrait great and how even the non-photographers can take them without investing in thousands of dollars of equipment. Don’t be turned off by the length of the video, as Cable does a wonderful job keeping things interesting with funny stories, sample images, and handy bulleted lists of the key points:

In photography, it’s all about the light. Cable says that portraiture is no different. Start with the minimum amount of light necessary and add to accomplish the right level. Adding too much light blows out skin tones and will always look obvious. Sometimes using no flash is the best. Pay attention to the natural lighting around you and see what you can use an alternative means of light. In the photo below, Cable used no light other than the fire in the dancer’s hands.

“It’s like spices; if you put too much salt in something it can ruin it. But, if you put just enough in it, it complements it.”

portrait photo with minimal equipment

Precise Settings for Low Light Exposures

A few other key points from the seminar:

Focus on eyes! “If you don’t focus on the eyes, you probably don’t have a portrait,” says Cable, who also selectively sharpens eyes in the editing phase.

Pay attention to the background. The background of an image shouldn’t be distracting, and its colors should complement those of its subject. If you’re unhappy with the background, try to change it by removing/adding things or moving to a new location.

Look at the details. Pay attention to not only the obvious, but also the most minute details as they are often what makes a portrait stand out.

Don’t over-edit. It’s okay to clean up skin and remove blemishes, but don’t remove wrinkles.  Cloning out distractions can improve a photograph as well as adjusting the color and contrast.

Most importantly, break the rules!  Think about things differently and start experimenting with ideas. Don’t forget to have fun!

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3 responses to “Portrait Photography Tips With Minimal Equipment”

  1. Andy Keeble says:

    I have always found my attempts at portraiture ends up looking like a snapshot so this article is very helpful.


  2. Thomas Baker says:

    Was that really over an hour long?.
    A great lecture and one that passed so quickly that I watched it again just to make sure I took it all in.

  3. Hi Jeff. I really enjoyed your video. Fantastic tips. I learned so much. Thank you for making this video. :)

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