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06-12-2011, 10:37 AM   #1
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portrait business initial expenses?

My goal is to try to open a small portrait business in about a year. I would like to do family, kid and senior portraits. (No studio) I need to practice a ton and build a portfolio still. I have a LOT to learn about the business side too. I'm just wondering what to spend my money on at this point. I have a Kx and plan to use that for the first while of my business until I make enough profit to get a better camera (probly a k-5) I have the kit lens and the FA50 f1.4. I've been given some money (300) from my parents to help me in my goal. Do you think I should spend it on a new lens, or would spending it on other things be more beneficial right now? I don't have any lights or reflectors or really anything but my tripod, 2 lenses, fast 8g card, camera bag, and camera. Suggestions?

Also, any suggestions on books or websites dedicated to starting this kind of business?

06-12-2011, 11:35 AM   #2
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Buy one strobe with a softbox and a large reflector to start with. With strobe lighting you can use lower ISO for better resolution. You can also get away with slower glass as you add to your inventory of gear. As long as you are shooting family and full length portraits, the 50MM would be OK. Next I would look into an 85 or 105 lens for head and trunk shots. You could get a 70-200 zoom, but that would be a more expensive route.
06-13-2011, 01:32 AM - 1 Like   #3
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Portraits and social is very much a people orientated business so personality and the ability to make subjects feel comfortable in a studio situation is essential and I am sure you are fine on that front and your youth will certainly help with the kids as they will not always relate to grumpy old sods like me.

I assume that if you have no studio then you are going into folks homes and here you are confronted with all sorts of difficulties such as background, mixture of light sources and space to mention just a few. I have found it a thankless task in the past due mainly to the lack of room (Irish houses tend to be long and thin with many small rooms which is the traditional pattern) but hopefully it's different for you. You will be tempted in such cases to use a wide angle lens but this can lead to all sorts of perspective problems especially if you have a group more than two people deep, and groups are going to be the main problem with this sort of enterprise for you really need to be at least 3x the group width away to avoid distortion.

You may also be better off investing in a portable screen or frame over which you can hang backcloths preferably dark ones that won't compete with the subject, I try to use plain black because a) it helps control the light, b) I like to make the subject the focus of attention, c) it hides the kitchen wallpaper and d) I like to think of it as my signature style although such niceties go over the heads of many.

When it comes to lighting I use three in the studio, a main and one or two fills, rarely a reflector because it requires somebody to hold it unless I lie it on the floor to provide some uplighting. If going into homes then try and use natural light (or at least bounce the flash) as much as possible for flash can so easily be overdone, think of it as fill only unless it's night time and then there are the house lights to worry about as well and you will definitely need to shoot in RAW and sort out the colour temp afterwards. I know that it is possible to do in camera but not everybody will be happy to wait whilst you fiddle with the camera menu.

To be honest my advice is to think about the whole process of taking the photo, get this right and the actual model of camera becomes less important although in the studio I will still go for the Mamiya with ZD back which in many ways is an awful camera to use but by heck when it does come right then it still knocks the K5 half way around the county and back again.

Good luck with it all anyway.
06-13-2011, 02:00 AM   #4
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300 won't be enough...you should start looking at studio lighting, try to find something reliable but affordable. You'll need radio trigger to set it off too...light tripods, and modifyers...
A good insight to the business and flash usage is the lighting in layers DVD and the resources on Strobist, the Zach Arias one light workshop DVD is a good starting point too. They share insight in the business model and market while they tech you lighting technique.

A small portable studio with 2-3 flash heads, light stands, a pair of umbrellas,big softbox for group shots,radio trigger to command the flashes, white, gray and black backgrounds, and other accesories, will cost you around 1000$,...you can skimp and get something decent for 500-600.
Once you got it you'll transmit part of the confidence the customers need, as they will see that at least you got pro-looking equipment. I would say start saving and devouring the lighting tutorials.
You could consider a fast constant aperture workhorse lens too...and try to get small jobs that will make you work with a deadline, deal with the small problems that arise, and before completing the portable studio deal with available light.


Last edited by Coeurdechene; 06-13-2011 at 02:07 AM.
06-13-2011, 07:38 AM   #5
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Bobbi Lane's DVD's are also something I'd suggest a viewing of. Not having a light kit, box et all isn't something you want to do professionally for long, but you can still get some nice portraits using available light and a few well placed reflectors too. Timing and improvisation are everything when it comes to using what light you have well.

Last edited by magkelly; 06-13-2011 at 09:30 AM.
06-13-2011, 07:58 AM   #6
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This is a person starting out on a budget. Three strobe heads is unnecessary at the beginning and there are free standing reflectors and reflector holders. If the room has enough ambient light to kick in a little fill at say a 3:1 ratio and a reflector is used one can end up with some brilliant images. I've done quite a bit with that lighting myself over the past 35 years. He will be working with only a 50MM lens, so 1/2 , full body and group portraits are pretty much what one would be restricted to. One light, set about 30 degrees off the cameras axis will do quite well. I feel there is no sense in making this complicated for a beginner.

The attached images, as you can see by the catchlights, were all shot with one light - usually a softbox, sometimes an umbrella and a reflector in small studio settings and on location.

Last edited by Aboudd; 09-06-2014 at 06:41 PM.
06-13-2011, 08:19 AM   #7
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Welcome!

Welcome to the forum mhaws. Where in Utah are you? I'm in St. George myself.

For starting off on a budget, with $300 and the k-x in hand, I'd suggest a flash first. I have a sigma ef-530 super that is fantastic. Then you can buy a simple, cheep umbrella kit with one reflective umbrella and one shoot through umbrella. Then you can build your own backdrops. I built one with PVC pipe, muslin fabric from JoAnn's bought on sale with a 50% off coupon makes the fabric very cheap. Be sure to wash it to get the hard creases out; I also crumple mine up for storage, not fold it, in order to eliminate regular, patterned crease marks. I believe you can stain the muslin any color you want.

See the included photos.



Again, this is professional by any means, so if you're looking to grow a business you might consider going in a different direction. If you're looking for cheap, here it is. If you get a flash, a reflector, and a helper, you can experiment using the reflector outside and "specialize" in outdoor portraits until you build a bankroll. So flash, reflector, outdoor portraits for awhile. Take pics either just after daybreak or just before/around sunset, not midday.

As for growing the business, I'd say you should roll that $300 into ~$1,000 to get a better start. Get a 85mm or 105mm lens so you're not in your client's face; that will be your biggest problem with a 50mm lens, being right in someone's face to take the pic. If you're going into people's homes, invest in a nice-looking umbrella and back-drop set, something portable that pops right open, you know, something that looks professional. At least 2 flashes plus a hairlight. They don't have to be $500 flashes, but a nice one like the sigma and even another one that costs only $50 is better than only one or none.

I think you could get a great start with $1,000. I think $300 will make you look like you spent only $300. You don't need a 100% pro set-up at first, but you do need something that looks pro, not hacked together.
06-13-2011, 08:32 AM   #8
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Aboudd, the old man with the flowery shirt...sublime. That is a fantastic exposure.

06-13-2011, 08:38 AM   #9
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QuoteOriginally posted by Aboudd Quote
Three strobe heads is unnecessary at the beginning and there are free standing reflectors and reflector holders
You are right..to a certain point...if he wants to start a business and make it his primary activity he'll be soon wanting more lights. He can do fine portraits with good ambient light (if available), and/or just one strobe but soon all the portraits will look similar and he'll be looking for a distinctive look and thus more light sources to be able to do more things.
He could get a flash and start with ambient and one light but sometimes it's better to get a studio power pack with two lights...that way the client will trust him more than if he just went with a couple reflectors and the kx. Business is not only about results, but also about the perception of the client that he is hiring someone qualified and equiped (and unless you got a name, fame, and previous work that gives you that prestige, it's gonna be partly the gear and then how you know it and handle it that will transmit that trust).
06-13-2011, 09:13 AM   #10
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Thank you guys SO SO so much for your advice. Just a few replies to clear up my intentions and situation:
QuoteOriginally posted by Coeurdechene Quote
300 won't be enough
Yes I know. That's just how much I've been given right now, and wondered what I should be looking into getting very first while I build a portfolio.
QuoteOriginally posted by Aboudd Quote
He will be working with only a 50MM lens
I'm a "she" hehe....and I also have the kit lens DA 18-55.
QuoteOriginally posted by tele_pathic Quote
If you get a flash, a reflector, and a helper, you can experiment using the reflector outside and "specialize" in outdoor portraits until you build a bankroll.
Not only becuase it's cheap but because I love the look of outdoor portrait I did intend to start this way, doing outdoor photos. Of course baby pictures would needs be indoors a lot though, and I prefer to use wide apertures and shallow DOF having a more "natural" background. And I also think more natural looking "lifesyle" or "environmental" photo's are a bit my style (like kids playing in their bedroom...family in front of their house...see Amy Wenzel's portfolio for examples) Although I do realize I don't have enough experience to know my for sure "style" this is my intention.
QuoteOriginally posted by tele_pathic Quote
Where in Utah are you?
I'm in North Salt Lake! My grandparnet's-in-law live down in St George, it's lovely. Hope I get a chance to visit there soon, I'm sure it's getting pretty HOT.

Thank you guys so much for your advice. I think I definately need to get one of those DVD's and learn more about lighting.
06-13-2011, 09:30 AM   #11
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I guess I'm wondering now with my inended style of portraits if a studio light pack would do me well? Do many of you use them outdoors, or do you usually use your reflectors and flash outdoors?
06-13-2011, 09:39 AM   #12
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Outdoor portrait work can be fun and rewarding. It has become a large part of my work.
My first investment was a lens. A camera today is really limited by the lens on it.
I started with a Sigma 28-105 f2.8-4, which brand new was less than $300. (My second lens was the 77 limited.)
Then I would recommend a good flash, (the 540FGZ is what I use) along with a Gary Fong light sphere. It can really open up a photo.

The photo included is from a recent college graduating class, which included indoor and outdoor shots. But it was done with the set up above.
Attached Images
 
06-13-2011, 10:18 AM   #13
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QuoteOriginally posted by tele_pathic Quote
Aboudd, the old man with the flowery shirt...sublime. That is a fantastic exposure.
Looks like Stephan Grapelli to me...
06-13-2011, 01:46 PM   #14
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Here's my thoughts on options: (mind you I really need to do some major research on lighting)

-sell my FA50 1.4, get a tamron 28-75 f2.8, spend about $200-300 on lighting
-sell my FA50 1.4, get the tamron and an old A 50mm to mostly use on babies indoors, and spend about 100-200 on lighting
-keep my FA 50 1.4, also get the Tamron, spend around 50-75 on lighting
-don't get the tamron, stick with my 50 and kit lens for all work, and spend about $300 on lighting
-keep my 50, get a longer telephoto prime (maybe the FA100 2.8? or 135 2.8) , and a reflector
-don't buy anything (except maybe a reflector)...save up and get a DA* 50-235 2.8
06-13-2011, 03:11 PM   #15
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The tammy is a great workhorse...it's the lens i've used for my paid gigs..and it seats on the camera most of the time...28-75 is a usefull focal range and f2,8 is quite fast.

If you are thinking about business lighting is a key factor and an unavoidable one, so really the lighting in layers DVD, strobist seminars and Zach's one light workshop DVD are a good starting point (borrow them, buy them, rent them...do whatever you have to do but get your hands on them).
I'm on the same vibe..triying to assemble a good kit...you can try the way i had it..get small events and try to handle available light, the kx + 28-75 is a good combination but you, as i , will realize soon enough that you need lighting...and probably another pro-looking less fidly body too.
I would really try to shoot shoot shoot and hold the money...a flash is the best bang for the buck out there because it'll let you control the most important factor in fotography: light AND it'll let you use your lenses at their sweet spot too (and the kit one is a very capable one that around f8 will produce good results).

Good luck!
(and post some images).
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