Tools for Your Photography Business – Location Portrait Photographers

This is the fifth in our series looking at essential tools for your photography business. We’re going to be looking at some of the essential tools you’ll need to acquire in at least the first year (if not the first month) of your business.

Other articles in this series –

Part 1 – Software and Online Presence

Part 2 – Financials

Part 3 – Wedding Photographers

Part 4  – Studio Portrait Photographers

Part 5 – Location Portrait Photographers

Location portrait photography surprisingly isn’t about shooting on amazing locations…… it does help having them…..but if you’re a portrait photographer then your main emphasis should always be your subject.

In the same breath, location portraiture isn’t about having an abundance of gear. We’ve all heard the term ‘All the gear no idea’ , this really rings true for many photographers who think they need the latest gadget or lens to produce good work.

The best work is sometimes about simplicity. If you’re new to the business or are looking to expand into location portraiture then simplicity is a good place to start.

There was actually a wedding reception going on the background whilst we were shooting this picture.

So what does that mean in terms of equipment?

Lighting of course!

It doesn’t matter how cool that disused rail track looks or how vibrant the colours are on that cargo container if your light sucks.

The first step to good lighting is firstly utilising what’s available (that big thing in the sky). The next stage is to introduce you’re own light source…. and taking it to the next level by taking it off the top of your camera!

My basic equipment set-up would be:

  • Canon 5DMkII or similar
  • 24-70mm f2.8 zoom lens
  • 70-200mm f4 zoom or similar
  • 430EX Speedlight or similar (or better)
  • Tripod
  • Radio triggers
  • Reflector (and someone to hold it)

This is a nice and simple kit which is not only easy to take with you on location but is also moderately priced.

By combining natural light with the flash (off camera and fitted to the tripod) and the reflector we have countless possibilities of lighting.

Although you can’t see it there is a flashgun mounted on a tripod directly behind the subject

Taking it to the next level

You could go crazy and splash out on expensive lighting and portable power but to be honest if you’re shoot families and kids this might be a bridge too far.

Then again, shooting a 2 year old with a large portable ring flash would make for some pretty cool shots….. it all comes down to economics.

What I would suggest is adding more light i.e. another flash gun or five.


This is what will really take your location portrait photography to the next level and I’d sooner spend money on a good lens over a body upgrade.

Prime lenses are the way to go and here’s three you might want to invest in (for Canon)

  • Canon EF 85mm f1.2 L II USM Lens
  • Canon EF 50mm f1.2 L USM Lens
  • Canon EF 24mm f1.4L II USM Lens

Some people like to shoot with a larger zoom like a Canon EF 70-200mm f2.8 L USM Lens. Whilst they are certainly worth having I prefer to be closer to my subject so if I’m not using a prime lens then a 24-70mm f2.8 does the job for me.

Your way

After a while you’ll find a way of shooting certain subjects that you are most comfortable with. So before you go spending hundreds and thousands of pounds and dollars on what everyone else is using why not rent a few and try them out.

How the images were shot – (Just in case you were going to ask)

Top Image

Canon EOS 5D Mark II

Focal length 140 (70-200mm f4 lens)

f7.1 at 1/125

Natural light with off camera flash mounted at a 45 degree angle from the subject on a tripod using wireless triggers.

Bottom Image

Same equipment setup

Focal length 122

f5.6 at 1/125

I have actually written a post about this lighting set-up – Three point lighting

Michael has been working as a photographer for the last ten years. In that time he has shot over 100,000 peoples’ portraits and worked in four different continents. In 2001 Michael graduated with a degree in photography from Manchester Metropolitan University.

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  1. I think there is a more logical first step for one of your suggestions. When you say ‘Reflector – and someone to hold it’, I would offer it is more affordable and controllable if you say a reflector and a tripod and arm. That requires no assistant, and even more important for me, it generally stays aimed where I want. Unless the assistant is really focused, they tend to wander where it’s pointed. On breezy days I bold a counterweight to hold it down.

    Nice article!

    All my best,

    Paul Lara
    LARA images

  2. Hi

    This article has many very useful tips for location portraits! The lighting for this shot was achieved using an off camera flash (SB600) and a large shoot through reflector at about 45 degrees off subject. It was a cloudy day and this area of the shoot was in the shade to boot.

    Condemned, Trash the Dress:

    Piercing Blue, Trash the Dress:

    Regards, Erik
    Kerstenbeck Photographic Art

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