Skip to main content


Lesson 2 from: Portrait Photography Bootcamp

Lindsay Adler

buy this class


Sale Ends Soon!

starting under


Unlock this classplus 2200+ more >

Lesson Info

2. Cameras

Summary (Generated from Transcript)

The topic of this lesson is portrait photography cameras.


  1. What are some considerations when choosing a camera for portrait photography?

    • Budget (both in the near term and in the future)
    • Photographic goals (hobbyist, enthusiast, professional)
    • Subjects that will be photographed (portraits, sports, architecture, etc.)
  2. What are some different types of cameras that can be used for portrait photography?

    • Point and shoot cameras
    • Advanced point and shoot or mirrorless cameras
    • Consumer/prosumer cameras
    • Pro end cameras
    • Medium format digital cameras
  3. What are the advantages and disadvantages of shooting with a full frame camera vs a crop sensor camera?

    • Full frame cameras offer better image quality and low light capabilities, but are more expensive.
    • Crop sensor cameras are less expensive, but may struggle with wide angle shots and low light performance.
  4. How many megapixels do you need in a camera for portrait photography?

    The number of megapixels needed depends on the size of prints you plan to make. Most cameras on the market today (12-20 megapixels) are sufficient for prints up to 16x20 inches.

  5. What are some important settings to set up in your camera for portrait photography?

    • Shooting in RAW file format
    • Choosing an appropriate picture style (such as Standard or Portrait)
    • Setting the white balance correctly for the lighting conditions
    • Exploring custom white balance options for more accurate color reproduction. The topic of this lesson is setting up your camera for success in portrait photography.
  6. What is the expo disc and how does it affect white balance?

    The expo disc is a tool used to adjust white balance by taking into consideration factors like the color temperature of lighting equipment.

  7. How can you set a custom white balance on a Nikon camera?

    On a Nikon camera, you can set a custom white balance by holding down the white balance button and taking a picture while the camera is flashing to "Preset White Balance".

  8. Why is it recommended to turn off the pop-up flash?

    The pop-up flash is generally not recommended because it can produce unflattering lighting and affect the overall quality of the photograph.

  9. What are the different metering systems available on a camera?

    The different metering systems include Evaluative, Matrix, Partial, Spot, and Center-Weighted. Evaluative and Matrix metering are generally recommended for most situations.

  10. Which shooting modes are recommended for portrait photography?

    The recommended shooting modes for portrait photography are Manual and Aperture Priority. Manual mode gives full control over all settings, while Aperture Priority allows the camera to determine the appropriate shutter speed based on the selected aperture.

Next Lesson: Lens & Focus

Lesson Info


Hello everybody and welcome to my Portraits Bootcamp. Now something that I know was extremely overwhelming to me when I first started in building my photo business and trying to get into portrait photography was, well what the heck gear do I really need? Because usually you don't start off with a huge budget, and you don't start off with a lot of gear, but you want to do a good job. You want your images to look professional, and so that's what I want to start you with. At this point today, we want to talk about cameras, we want to talk about how to get your camera setup for success. What about that key fundamental part of portrait photography? So that is what I am going to jump into. I am going to talk about the type of camera that's going to be great for the type of photography that you use. All those different types of cameras. What are the considerations that you have? So let's get started with that and talking about the right camera. And of course, this is one of those things where...

I get asked all the time, I mean all of the time. Lindsay, I have this type of budget, what type of camera do I buy? And there isn't really a right answer. I wish I could tell you at the end of this segment, yep this is the one, two, or three camera you should get, but new technology is always coming out, and depending on the type of portraits you do, the type of work you do, there might be a different or better solution. So what I'm going to do is I'm going to give you as much information, and also I think even more importantly, I'm going to give you the right questions to ask yourself, and then if you go to a camera store, the right questions to ask them, or the right questions to look up online. So here are some of those basic, those fundamental questions, and the first one of course is, what is your budget? But it's a little bit more complicated than just how much money do you have to spend here and now. What you need to ask yourself as far as what is your budget is, there's a difference between budget in the near term, and budget in the future. Because let's say that you have $1,500 to spend today on a camera system. And that's all you ever want to spend. You're going to buy something very different than if you have $1,500 now, but over the next few years you might want to invest more money. Maybe you have two or three thousand dollars to invest in the future, so what's your budget is actually a little bit more complicated than that. And I'm going to advise you on how to spend that money as well. The next question that we have are, what are your photographic goals? Are you doing this for fun? Are you going to be a professional? Are you an aspiring professional? And then of course a very important question is, what subjects do you shoot? Because of course, many of us aren't going to just shoot portraits. Yes, this is a portrait bootcamp, but you might shoot portraits, then also do some sports work, or maybe you do some architectural photography, and that is going to change the type of camera that is right for you. So you need to start off by answering these three questions, really asking yourself these questions, and that will help you make a more informed decision. So let's continue on this. I was talking about these kind of key groups. The hobbyist, if you're just a hobbyist, you're going to be able to get away with spending less money, because you just want to make some good quality photographs. Maybe to have a little bit more control. But if you are an enthusiast, or you want to become a professional photographer, you're going to need some gear that can meet higher demands. Even more control, better picture quality. And then of course if you are a professional, you're going to demand a lot more out of your gear, and so I'm sure as you assumed, as you go down the line there, you're probably going to need to spend more money, but that doesn't need to be a lot of money. So I'll give you advice on that subject matter. So remember, it's not just the camera, it's also lenses, and accessories, and all of those things. So certain camera systems, you're going to be able to purchase lenses less expensively, and accessories less expensively, so it's all kind of lumped together in that. All right so let's talk about all of the different types of cameras that exist, and they come into all of these different categories. So let's really just start from least expensive or perhaps more basic to more advanced. So first and foremost, you have your point and shoot cameras. And there are a lot of good point and shoot cameras out there. I mean, your iPhone, your camera phone is really a point and shoot camera. And nowadays there are actually point and shoots that give you some pretty advanced capabilities. But in general, point and shoot is going to be smaller sensor sizes, not as good quality of images, maybe not as fast of auto focus. Typically you don't have interchangeable lenses. This would be for someone that just wants to take some nice photos of their friends and families. But if you're trying to get a little bit more advanced, maybe make some money, or take beautiful more professional looking portraits, you're probably gonna have to step up the line from this. So the next thing that you have up the line is going to be your advanced point and shoots, or your mirrorless cameras. And so for these, some of these point and shoots or these mirrorless cameras, also some of them are known as Micro Four Thirds, you're going to be able to have interchangeable lenses. There are some pros and cons of these as well. I'll talk about that a little bit later on in this segment. And then after that, you have your consumer/prosumer cameras. For Canon this would be something like a Canon 7D or maybe even the Canon 5D Mark III which goes into more of the pro range. So what these cameras are going to allow you to do is they're going to allow you to do professional quality images where you are able to take complete control over everything. Your aperture, your shutter speed, the image quality, it's going to work with a lot of accessories, a lot of interchangeable lenses, and so this is what probably is going to be appropriate for most of you. Now for the rest of the bootcamp, a lot of what I'll be talking about is going to be applied to these sorts of cameras. I'm going to talk about Micro Four Thirds in a second. This is not to say that those cameras aren't worthy, but I'll be addressing the mass market which really these prosumer cameras are going to be ideal for. Then next up the line you have more of the pro end cameras. So this would be in the Canon realm perhaps it would be a 1D X. These are made to stand intense weather conditions, dropping, a lot of use. They have really fast frame rates, they have bigger file sizes, there's so much that they have. But for many of us, if we're just trying to start a portrait business, that might not be necessary. Then all of the way up the line at the very far right there you have a Medium Format digital camera, which is going to give you massive files, tons of dynamic range. So looking from left to right, you can go from a couple hundred to many tens of thousands, so that's why you need to figure out what's appropriate for you. So right now all I've really done is just run through everything that existed, but I haven't really answered the question, well, what do I need? What would be appropriate for the type of photography that I'm going to do? So let's take a look a little bit closer at that. One of the questions I'm frequently asked is, what is the difference between a crop sensor and a full sensor camera? And you might have seen one of the big differences is price, but how does it actually affect image quality? Why would you care? So here's how it works out. A full frame camera, a full sensor camera, is going to give you a little bit better quality, a little bit better low light capabilities, but there are also some losses that you'll have. So let's take a look at this. Okay, so one of the differences as well is not just in the size of the sensor. Full frame is the size of a 35 millimeter frame that you would have typically if you had been shooting film. A crop sensor is a smaller sensor, so there are changes that actually happen in what the image looks like. All right so if I go ahead and I take a picture of the exact same frame, the exact same scene, but one is with full frame, and one is with crop sensor, basically it crops in on the image for the crop sensor. I'm not seeing as much field of view. So my 50 millimeter lens isn't seeing a 50 millimeter field of view, it's seeing significantly less. I would give you a specific crop amount but it depends on the camera you have, so we're just going generic here. And so what it's going to do is it's going to give you some problems if you shoot a crop sensor if you want to do architectural photography. Or if you want to do really wide angle shots, because now your previously wide angle lens won't function that way. It's cropped in because of the smaller sensor. I did want to dispel a little bit of a myth that exists out there. One of the things people talk about is that when you have a crop sensor, and this was way back in the beginning people would say, oh I like my crop sensor camera because now all my lenses seem longer. Because if you look, if both of these were shot with a 50, well the crop sensor is going to look closer, it'll look like you're shooting with a longer lens, but that's not really true. It's actually just cropping into the file size. It won't behave the same way as a longer lens. The compression won't look the same, the depth of field won't behave the same as a longer lens. It's just zoomed in more. So it's not really necessarily a benefit. It's just, it captures less information because it's going to be on a smaller sensor. So let's go through those advantages. If you were looking side by side at two cameras, one that is full frame and one that is crop sensor, which do you pick? So here are the benefits of your full frame. Well one of the things that's a benefit is that if you're used to shooting something that's full frame or a 35 millimeter film camera, the lenses all work the same. It's going to feel the same, you'll know kind of how a 70- for example would behave. Also it has wide angle capabilities. So your 60 millimeter lens or your 24 millimeter lens are still going to be wide angle lenses. The next benefit down that list is usually full sensor cameras, full frame cameras, do better in low light. It's just because of that larger sensor size. It makes it a little bit better for capturing light in really dim lit situations. So if you know that you're going to be shooting weddings or low light portraits, a lot of times it might be better to go that direction. But the big disadvantage usually is as you're balancing and looking at these two cameras side by side, one crop and one full, the full frame is going to be more expensive, and in fact typically it's significantly more expensive. So you have to figure out, is that increased expense worth it to the type of photography that you shoot? So let's take a look at the crop sensor. The biggest advantage, real advantage truly is that it's less expensive. But unfortunately it comes with some downsides, and so the first downside is that it's harder to shoot wide angle, and then the other downside is less low light performance. So you could say to yourself, well I'm just shooting portraits, and I can buy lenses that are a little bit wider, and they do make lenses that are intended for crop sensor cameras that can go really, really wide. You could say that and say you know what? I like the cost savings, I'm probably not going to shoot super wide. I'm usually shooting in controlled situations. That crop sensor is going to be perfect for me. But I do have one little caution. My caution to you would be, is you don't necessarily want to buy a crop sensor planning to eventually switch over to full frame. Or if you do, be careful because there are a lot of lenses that are made specifically for a crop sensor that if you put on a full frame camera, it won't work anymore. So you have to make sure that you're purchasing lenses if you eventually plan on leveling up, if you plan on going ahead and getting a full frame camera, make sure you're making purchases that will allow you to do that. So now you have to ask yourself those questions. Really, what do you plan on shooting? And is that cost savings going to be something important? For a lot of us it definitely is and you're still going to get absolutely fantastic image quality from a crop sensor, just with those few downsides. So, those are really the things you're looking at. If you don't want to shoot landscapes and architecture or low light, you could probably go that direction. All right so the next thing. How about mirrorless cameras? Typically how our normal cameras work is when you're looking through the viewfinder, what you're seeing is you're actually seeing the image reflected on a mirror, and then when you take the picture the mirror flips up. Well, mirrorless doesn't have that mirror. It functions in a different way, and there are pros and cons to this. And in recent technology, there are some awesome mirrorless cameras, and they have their own benefits built in as well. So let's take a look at a couple of the pros and cons of those, and one of the things that I actually really like, well of course, often they're less expensive, but I really like how compact they are. They're very light, often. Often the lenses are lighter and the camera body itself. So if you're doing a lot of traveling or you want to be really mobile with the type of portrait work you do, this could be a good option for you. Then the other thing that is kind of cool, especially if you were just learning about the technique or the technicals behind portrait photography, is that as you're looking in the viewfinder of this Micro Four Thirds camera, or the mirrorless cameras. As you're looking in the viewfinder, if you make a change to your shutter speed, or to your aperture, to your white balance, you'll see it realtime in that viewfinder, in the back of the camera. So it's a good learning tool. Instead of having to take a picture and chimp as you would normally do with other cameras, or cameras that have the mirrors, the DSLRs. Okay so now let's talk about unfortunately some of the downsides of these cameras. One of the things that it struggles most with is focusing capabilities. A lot of times it won't focus as quickly. It won't react to changes quite as quickly as you would with a DSLR. So that's why most of the time if you're going to see someone who's shooting a lot of events, or they're shooting a lot of sports, they're probably still opting for a DSLR, particularly on the pro end, because of its fast focus capabilities. Next down the line is that there usually aren't as many lenses available for these cameras, but in my opinion, you don't really need a ton of lenses, so that's not a huge downside. Also, because a lot of it is a digital viewfinder, and also it's very small, the batteries sometimes have less battery life. So it ends up being that you have to carry more batteries to switch in out with you, but some cameras are going to have that problem anyway. And so that kind of runs through the gamut of that but again if you buy one of these mirrorless camera, or a Micro Four Thirds and you think later on you might switch to another camera, they're not going to be compatible. So a lot of times you have to kind of really look at what you're trying to do, and you're making a decision of what direction you're going to go. All right let's continue on from that. Okay here's another question. How many megapixels is enough? I recently started shooting with a 50 plus megapixel camera that Canon came out with, the Canon 5DS. And, I mean 50 megapixels. Who is that really necessary for? And the answer is, probably not most of us. Like most of us do not need that many megapixels. And so we have to figure out, well in the end, what are you using these photographs for? How large are you going to print them? Do you plan on doing a lot of cropping in on post? And in fact, if you have a camera with even like 12 megapixels, nowadays there are some fantastic programs, one in particular is OnOne PerfectResize, that can take a relatively small file and make it huge. So maybe that jump up in price to a camera with a ton of megapixels isn't going to be necessary for maybe the few times you might want to print huge. Most of us that are printing eight by 10s, 11 by 14s, 16 by 20s, most of the cameras that exist on the market today are going to be completely fine. So more megapixels doesn't mean you have a better camera, really. And so you have to figure out what you need. Now if you are going to be printing huge prints, 30 by 40s all of the time, massive for peoples' walls, or you're doing billboards or you're selling fine art, okay that might be an instance where you would want more megapixels. But chances are, something in the 12, 16 to 20 range, depending on how large you're going to want to print is going to be completely fine. Jumping up to the 38, the 50, isn't necessary for most of us. All right so so far we've talked a little bit about the different types of cameras, why you maybe wouldn't want a mirrorless, or why you would. The benefits of crop versus full. We've talked about megapixels. So let's look at some other considerations we have here. All right when you're looking at a camera and you're trying to figure out, well what makes it a better camera, and do I buy it? Well, you've got to ask yourself, okay what type of things, like how frames per second do you need to shoot? Do you also do sports? Or maybe it's going to be a camera where it's important that it's compact to you. And so also better image quality. Higher megapixels can give you better image quality. It really actually just comes to amount of detail. It doesn't necessarily give you a better photograph. A bigger sensor and bigger photo cells give you a bit better photographs, but most of the time our prosumer DSLRs are all going to give you pretty solid images. Especially for portraits that we're going to be taking. Better and sharper lenses, I am going to be talking about that in another segment. And so we'll talk about how to choose the lenses that are going to give you better image quality. That's going to make a difference, and then lastly, being stable. Working with a tripod and monopod. So there's a lot of these bells and whistles, and all of these extra things that really don't make that big of a difference to you getting a great portrait. So don't get too hung up on all of the different options that are out there. So, this is what you should come prepared with if you go to a camera store, or if you're doing your research online, or if you are talking with other photographers. Answer these questions for yourself, and it's going to make you more prepared to figure out what camera you need. So let's run through those. So how important is size and compactness? You're going to pick a different camera if you want to be lightweight, easy to move, and on the go, versus if you're going to be constantly working in a studio, or always working on a tripod. Two very different choices. The next one is, how important are your low light capabilities? If you do portraits and also plan on doing weddings, shooting receptions late at night, or maybe you're perhaps shooting a little bit more of events and sports in arenas, and things like that, maybe your low light capabilities are going to become important. So that is a question and a consideration that you'll have to think about when choosing a camera. The next one is, ask yourself really what type of budget you have, and consider near term versus long term. How much money do I have right now to buy my first setup? And is that it, is that all I ever want to spend? Or am I going to be able to invest in the future in more lenses, and more accessories? And if I'm going to be able to invest, if I have a small budget in the future, maybe I want lenses that are going to be a little less expensive. So ask yourself those questions as well. The next question is, how big are you going to need to print your files? What are you using them for? Is it mostly going to be social media and small prints? Or is it going to be huge? Is it going to be billboards? Large prints for the mantel place. Next one down the line is, do you already own other gear that you want to be compatible? If you shot with a DSLR in the past that maybe it's years old and it's time to upgrade to a new camera, well maybe all those lenses will work, and perhaps you should select a system that is going to work with the gear you already have. So definitely keep that in mind as something important for staying within a budget. Also, do you plan on shooting wide angle, landscapes, architecture, travel? That's going to change which camera system that you select. And then lastly, what are your other specialized needs? Like maybe you need a camera with really fast, extremely reactive autofocus system because you shoot equestrian events. You'll need a different camera than someone who is just shooting portraits in the studio. Or maybe there are other considerations that you have because you're shooting sports, and you need really fast frame rates. All of those questions, you need to sit down and answer, ask yourself, and then is it something where this is a starter kit that you want to grow? And so, I'll start with a less expensive camera, build up my high quality lenses, and later on upgrade the camera. Especially as technology changes. Or is this something that I just want a good camera system that'll last me a while so I can capture great photos of my friends and family? All right so those are the key questions to ask yourself about the right camera system. However, no matter what camera system you have, there are specific things that you should setup in your camera to set you up for success. Certain settings, and I'm going to break down each and every one of those, what they mean, and this is going to get you started so if you have these settings in the back of your camera, it's going to get you out of the gate with at least a good quality photograph. And as I said before, I'm not going to be talking about point and shoot. Instead we're talking more consumer prosumer DSLR with interchangeable lenses. That's what I'm going to assume for the rest of these lessons, because that is how you're going to be able to have the most flexibility with your photography. Granted, most of the things I'm teaching about lighting and posing, and all of that, works even if you just have your iPhone. All right so let's talk about setting up this camera for success. We're going to cover all of these things and I'm just gonna show you a couple things on the back of my camera as well for setting up, and I'm going to be shooting with a Canon 5D Mark III. Thank you very much, John. And what you want to keep in mind is something that I used to think was really annoying when people would tell me. They would say, make your camera manual your best friend. But it's true, like half of the answers, I mean half the questions you'll have will be answered right there. Well how do I set this and that up? What I want to do is I want to tell you the things that you should change, and then you can go to your specific camera and be able to make those changes. And also, CreativeLIVE has many courses that goes into the fundamentals of taking control of the digital camera that perhaps you have. So I'm going to talk about your file type, your picture style, your white balance, your pop up flash, your metering, and exposure. And you want to get those setup in your camera. So if you already have the camera system that you're using, if you already have that camera, feel free to bring it out and make sure that you're setup for success by changing these key elements. I'm going to go through them one by one and explain why and how. So the very first element of setting yourself up for success is making sure that you are shooting in RAW. Shooting in JPEG is really going to limit your ability to make mistakes. And learning and trying new things, and becoming a better photographer is all about making mistakes. When you shoot a RAW file, you have so much information to work with. Your camera captures and saves every information, every piece of light color information, all of that, it saves it in that RAW file. When you shoot with a JPEG, it captured information and then threw away most of it. And so you don't have much latitude to change exposure, to change white balance. You're kind of stuck with what you shot. And I mean if you're like me, I'm always trying new things, and I'm always making mistakes, so I want as much flexibility as possible. Now, probably the biggest downside of RAW is that it takes up a lot of space. But, it is definitely worth the security and quality of the images you're going to get. So your RAW gives you more flexibility. The JPEG kind of makes you stuck. So going through these, for RAW, the pro is more information, the cons, its larger file size, and probably you need some faster cards. Really old or inexpensive CF or SD cards won't cut it if you're shooting with a lot of RAW files. And JPEGs, I mean the pro side of it is that they're smaller and they can write more quickly, but you lose information, and so these are all of the things that if you shoot RAW, you can fix if you mess up. And of course, I'm not saying it's ideal to not get it right in camera, but you definitely would like to be able to fix your white balance if you were wrong, or the contrast, or the exposure, or blown out highlights. All of those things I can completely change if I have my RAW file. And so this is what I think of, is if you shoot RAW, it can help you save the day, and if you shoot JPEG, it kind of rubs it in your face when you messed up, because it's just not going to allow you the flexibility to fix things. So here's an example. I taught a course on conquering crappy light here on CreativeLIVE with my friend Eric. And so during this class, we went out and we shot in some crappy lighting conditions, and we actually shot right outside the studios here, in really low light from an overhead street lamp. And we shot in RAW plus JPEG, underexposed. So something like this might happen to you say if maybe you were shooting a wedding for example, and you're shooting in a low lit situation, the flash didn't quite recycle fast enough, or maybe you're shooting a portrait in someone's house, and it's just a little bit too dim lit. And you were just heavily underexposed. So what I did is I went into Photoshop and I did my absolute sincere best to color correct and correct the exposure on both the RAW file and the JPEG file, and I went in there and I did curves, and levels, and everything I could. And so when you zoom in, if you take a look at these two files side by side, that JPEG, that is the best that I could get it. And all of the blacks are blocked up with no detail. There is a ton of noise, there's this weird kind of greenish color cast. And that took me like 10, 15 minutes to try to get it that close. Whereas on the picture on the right, I dragged some exposure slider, I grabbed my white balance eyedropper, and it was fixed. So, save yourself the hassle, shoot RAW right out of the gate, and you can change that right in your camera. When you change that, there's also an option to shoot RAW plus JPEG. You can shoot the two together. I personally just shoot RAW. Everything that I do is shooting RAW but if you are new to portrait photography and this whole RAW thing seems a little overwhelming, you want to be able to just look at your files, start by shooting RAW plus JPEG, so you have those JPEG files available to you, what's comfortable. But then as you progress, as you learn more about post processing, learn more about Adobe Camera Raw, or Lightroom, or Photoshop, you'll be able to have all of that information at your fingertips. So that is something you might want to setup in your camera now. So make sure somehow you're capturing RAW for your file type. The next one, the next thing down the line for setting your camera up for success is something called picture styles. In Canon it's called picture styles. In Nikon it's called picture control. All right so if you shoot RAW, and especially if you've been shooting portraits for a long time, you might know where I'm going with this. Picture styles, if you're shooting RAW, don't actually change your picture. What they're doing is they're changing what the image looks like on the back of your camera. And what it's saying is, I've got this RAW file, there's so much information. I have to interpret it in some way to show you on the back of the camera, because that's just a JPEG interpretation that you're looking at. So you're telling your camera how to do this interpretation. But of course you have all that RAW information, you can change it later. If you shoot JPEG, this information, these little formulas, are baked in. It is going to be part of your files. And so you'll see things like some of the settings are neutral, and there's portrait, and there's monochromatic for shooting black and white for example. Now the reason I bring this up as well, if you already know if you're gonna be shooting RAW, you might think, oh well then who cares about my picture style? But I've seen so many times at so many workshops where I'm teaching and there will be two photographers side by side, and they're looking in the back of their camera, and one goes, well why does your picture look so much better than mine? And they think they did something wrong. And in fact it's not that at all. It's just the picture style that's telling the camera how to process all that RAW and show you something on the back of the camera. So I recommend some specific picture styles to help get you a little bit closer, and the two that I usually use for my Canon camera are Standard and Portrait. So what you control is you actually control the contrast, and the sharpness, as well as the saturation. All of that is adjusted by a picture style, but again it doesn't touch your RAW. So this is going to be something in the back of your camera. Look for picture style or picture controls, and set Standard or Portrait. And by the way there's something in there called Neutral, that like gets rid of the contrast, it's like a super flat image. And so if you have your image or your picture control, or your picture style set to Neutral, you're going to look at the back of your camera and think the photo looks terrible. Because it's going to be so flat and lifeless. But it's not at all. So just know this exists. Set yourself up for success by changing to Portrait or Standard. And, let's talk next about white balance. White balance is extremely important, especially for skin tones, and I taught a class here that was three days on CreativeLIVE all about skin. It was my skin 101 class, and we did a ton with white balance, because it is extremely important. I have a couple tips, but one of the first ones really is to be aware, or be a little afraid of Auto, because there are sometimes when it fails. There are also some times when it does great. I mean sometimes I'll walk into a space and it's just mixed lighting everywhere, and you can set it to Auto and it'll give you something decent, but unfortunately a lot of times it messes up, and so here's a great example. If I'm wearing this bright red dress in front of a gray background, and it's pure gray, it's just me and that gray background, what your white balance is doing is it's saying, okay what do I think the color balance should be in this photograph? What's the color temperature, the color balance? And it looks at it and it goes, whoa there's a big red cast to that photo, because it sees my dress. And so to counteract that, what it's going to do is it's going to cool the photo down. It thinks it's warm, it thinks there's red, it's gonna cool it down, add some blues. And then all of a sudden my skin tone goes deathly blue, and it just looks terrible. And so if I left it up to Auto, Auto is doing its best, but it just didn't quite know. And if you're shooting an event where you know what the lighting situation is, you're outside on a sunny day, or you're indoors in a tungsten lit room. If the person is moving around and one time you're shooting someone in blue and sometimes someone in red. Your white balance is gonna do this. Up and down, up and down, and up and down, and the color is going to change drastically, and you're going to have to go back in and fix all of these photos, and it takes you away from doing what you love. It takes you away from interacting with clients, or growing your business, or learning more about portrait photography. And instead you're going to spend time just trying to get the color right. So I recommend just being really aware of Auto white balance, and instead set the white balance as appropriate to the scene, and I'm gonna give you a couple recommendations. So, one thing that you can do is you can try the white balance, the presets that are actually set in your camera, and a lot of times they'll do a good job. Outside on a sunny day, setting the Sun preset works pretty well. However there are some better options to have even more control, so let me grab a couple of those real quick. So here are two options. The first thing that you might do is you might take a picture of a gray card, and you may have heard of this before. They actually have gray cards that are like lens cloths. They have gray cards that are on the back of reflectors. And what they are is, it's a neutral reference point. Basically this has zero color cast. This is gray. That's it, just gray. So what you'll do is when you're shooting in a scene, you take a picture in the light that your subject's in with a gray card in front of your subject. And then later on what you can do in post if you're in Adobe Camera Raw or in Lightroom, or in Photoshop, you can use a white balance eyedropper and say, hey Lightroom, hey Photoshop, hey Raw, this shouldn't have any color cast to it. This should be completely neutral. And you select it, and it sucks out all the bad color, neutralizes the scene, and gives you a correctly white balanced photo. This is the easiest and least expensive way to get good white balance. But of course you've kind of got to be good because if I walk over here, and then I walk outside, it would have to get another picture of a gray card if I change the different color temperatures, the different lighting that I'm in. So just know that, and that's why sometimes you're going to have to try a few more things. I also have, I'm gonna show you. I also have those, the presets to fall back on if I need to, and again this is a gray card. And something that's useful as well, some of the gray cards will have a white point and a black point, so I can actually try to manage my exposure on the gray card as well. Let's continue down to something a little bit more advanced, just so you know, because you might have seen one of these before. This is called a color checker. This particular one is by X-Rite Passport. It's a X-Rite Passport ColorChecker, and if you look at it, it has all of these different colors on it. Now you can actually use this as a gray card, and so if you look at these two rows, one has a face on it and one has a landscape, what you'll see is these are actually neutral swatches, but not really. If you look on the far right-hand side, this swatch is actually a little bit blue, and so if you go in post with a white balance eyedropper, and you click on each of those swatches, as you move over to the right, what you're going to do is it's going to say, oh wow, that's supposed to be neutral, I see a lot of blue in this, and it'll suck out the blue, and add more warmth. So basically as you move right, your picture will warm up. The further right you use as a neutral point, you're going to have a warmer portrait. So that's one thing that you can use for these. It also just has the neutral gray on the bottom, and it had the other gray that I showed you. But if you want to get a little bit fancier, if you've ever shot say this bright red dress outside on a bright sunny day, and I'm in direct sunlight, you may have seen that sometimes that red goes like, out of gamut, like it changes to like orange, or something that your camera doesn't even know what to do with. When you take a picture of one of these color checkers, X-Rite makes one, also Datacolor does as well, there's plugins in Lightroom, that what it'll do is it'll scan all of these colors, and it knows what the color swatches are supposed to look like. And so it'll see this red and it goes, oh, I know what that red is supposed to look like, and it'll put it back in place. So it would do the same thing with my dress that's hit by the direct sunlight that's the wrong color. It'll look at this reference point and put that red back in its place. Do the same thing with blue, anything that has gone out of the range of my camera. So that's one of the differences of why you might actually use a color checker. Probably a little bit advanced if you're more a beginner portrait photographer. Probably a gray card is going to be a great starting point for you, or at minimum changing the presets on your camera. All right. And I just wanted to show you the picture on the left was before, that was with my Auto white balance. I think that she looks pretty flat, and as you'll notice, she looks a little bit blue. She had warmer kind of more red skin tones against a gray background, and so what it did is it read that and goes, oh the Auto white balance thinks it should cool it down, so it doesn't look like a good skin tone. Whereas on the right-hand side, I used one of those neutral gray points and my white balance eyedropper in order to give her those warmer skin tones. I think it looks much, much better in the photo on the right. And there's one more thing that you might want to try, and it's something called custom white balance. You can custom set your white balance to be perfect for any situation that you're in, but you just have to set it. It's something you have to do manually, and so let me show you one of the tools to do this. All right so this is one tool that is called an expo disc. What this expo disc does is you can put it on the front of your camera, and you point it at the light source on your subject. So in this instance, it would be up here. I would point it at this light source that's on me. And I can take a photo, and when I take a photo what this little thing does is it basically gets rid of all the detail in the scene, and the little diodes or little prisms in there collects all of the light, all the different color temperatures, that one's a little cooler, that one's a little bit warmer, and it evens it out, and when you take the photo it actually looks like you did it completely wrong. Because it's going to look like that. It's just going to look like a gray photograph. Let's see, I'm gonna take one. You've got to switch your camera to manual. So I'm gonna take a photo, and so I will have a gray but not actually gray photo. So what I'm going to do then is in my camera I set this as my custom white balance. So I'm telling the camera this is supposed to be gray. What I want you to do is look around at all of these colors that just mixed together here, suck out any color cast, and use that as my white balance going forward. If you have a Canon or if you have a Nikon, this is going to work a little bit differently in both. So let's just real quick take a look at how I would set it up here. And this is where your manual becomes your best friend because everybody is going to have something different. But what you're going to do is you're going to set your white balance, and you can do it in your camera. Oh, can I do it here? And so I'm going to set my white balance, make sure it's not on Auto. I'm going to set it on Custom, so you'll see the little triangles, this little symbol here, and I'm gonna hit OK. Then I need to pick what my custom white balance is. So with my Canon camera, I just took the photo with the expo disc, and that is my neutral point. So I'm actually going to select that photograph, and it says this is the compatible image. I hit Set, it says use this as your custom white balance, and then I hit OK. So I've said that this is going to be the neutral point for the scene, I've set it as my custom white balance. And now I can go around and have perfect skin tones, beautiful white balance. Until, I move in another lighting situation. Perhaps I step outside, the light is completely different and I would have to do a different custom white balance. So you can't forget and leave it on custom white balance when you're moving around. And if you are a little bit more advanced with custom functions, or have a higher end camera, you can set a whole bunch of presets. So if you know you're often working in certain lighting situations, you can create custom white balances that you can keep programming in. It's like a little advanced. I don't really even do that, but if you want to set a custom white balance, that's how you would do it with Canon. So I'm gonna go back to the presentation real quick, and I'm gonna show you what it looks like in the studio, and then also really quick for those of you who are Nikon shooters how you can set it there. If you shoot another camera brand, your camera manual is going to tell you how to do this as well. So that is my Auto white balance. I went ahead and I set the flash white balance preset on my camera, and this is an improved white balance for sure. But I think it still could have a little bit, a little bit more glow to it. So what I did is I took a picture with the expo disc, and it just warms it up a little bit, and it's taking into consideration things that a preset can't take into consideration. Let's say that you have a soft box that's really, really old and it's kind of yellowing, so it's going to give you a warmer photograph. And so by creating a custom white balance it'll take things like that into consideration as well. So that's what the photo looks like when it's captured, and then I set it and there's my custom white balance on the right. So it looks drastically different. And you can do this for studio lighting or you can do it for natural lighting. It'll work great for both, so again that one is called the expo disc. And for those of you who shoot Nikon, when you hold down your white balance button on your camera, it'll flash to Pre, and then you take a picture, when it's flashing to Preset, or to Preset White Balance. Then you take your picture and it'll say, is this what you'd like to set as your white balance? And you hit OK, so it's just a little bit different. You kind of can do it on the fly there as well, and it also depends on the type of Nikon camera you have. So that's why your manual becomes your best friend. All right so that was everything for your setting up your white balance correctly. Basically just be a little wary of Auto. Pick something that is accurate to the scene. Get a gray card or set a custom white balance. Pick which one works for the type of photography that you do. All right so the next thing on the line for setting your camera up for success is to go ahead and turn off your pop up flash. If you notice I have my Canon 5D Mark III right here. I don't even have a pop up flash on it, they don't even make it, and most prosumer or professional cameras don't have that option. Because pop up flash looks bad. However, other camera brands use it because you can actually fire your flash off camera. You might have an off camera flash that is triggered or controlled by your pop up flash. So this is why you get into more advanced classes which they also have here on CreativeLIVE as well. But just make sure that you're not using it as your flash. If you have it set to Auto that it'll pop up in low light situations, don't do it, find another solution. Turn off your pop up flash for those purposes. Okay so the next thing on our list, we went through all the different things like your white balance and your picture style, and then also shooting in RAW, and the next thing on the list is your metering system. When you setup your camera for metering, it's basically saying, okay camera, I want you to look at a scene and help me decide what the correct exposure is. And there are a bunch of different ways your camera can do this. There isn't just one way and there isn't one right answer for how it looks at the scene. In general, the ones that work best most of the time are called Evaluative and Matrix Metering. So what your cameras have is they've been programmed with millions of different settings, that it'll look at a scene and based on where you're focused, it'll take an educated guess of what it thinks the correct exposure is. Is it always right? No, but if you were going to go with something that is the easiest, it's going to give you the quickest and best result, it's going to be those two. Now other ones of these settings, like Partial is going to read parts of the frame. Spot metering, it's going to pick a specific section of the frame, often the center focus point becomes what it's metering on. There's another one that's center weighted so it looks at the entire scene, but it puts more importance on the center of the frame. Well, a lot of these things are going to be restrictive, because that spot point, if you're just a little off of what you're supposed to be metering on, it messes up the entire exposure, and that center weighted, well that means you're going to have to have the most important thing of your frame pretty much always centered, which is a killer for compositions. So overall those two, the Evaluative and the Matrix are going to be the way to go. That being said, as a photographer, you have to know when to outsmart your camera, and that's kind of what gets you to be more advanced. I use Matrix and Evaluative all the time. That's going to be my go to, but I also know when it's appropriate to switch over to Spot Metering. And so if I'm shooting in a heavily, heavily back lit situation, okay I'm shooting into the sun, my camera looks at it and sometimes it's like, well it looks really bright and then there's this dark thing, but you know what? Let's expose for the brightness in the background, and it just underexposes my portrait. I'm sure you've had a situation like that in the past. Shooting into a beautiful sunset, or shooting into the sun, and all of a sudden your subject just has no light on them at all. This is an instance where you could use spot metering, and you're telling your camera the spot where I have that center focus point, or wherever you set your spot meter, that is what is most important for this exposure. I want to meter off of that person's face instead of taking into account the entire scene, because their face is what's most important. So if you know when to outsmart your camera, that is going to be a benefit to you. So in general I would say, Evaluative or Matrix metering. The next thing is figuring out on your camera what exposure or shooting setting you want to be at. And you have things like your TV or shutter priority. So that is where you would be, basically you would be setting your ISO as well as your shutter speed, and then you let your camera decide the rest. And then there's Manual, and there's program mode, and, let me just tell you the two that I recommend. Typically as a portrait photographer you'll either be shooting in Manual or Aperture Priority. Those are the two that are going to be most beneficial to you. Manual is where you take control of everything. You are setting your ISO, you are setting your shutter speed, and you are setting your aperture, and that is going to be the exposure, and nothing in your camera is going to affect it. That is what your exposure is going to be. You take full control. And, I mean that's great especially if you're in a situation where for some reason your meter is giving you trouble. You are selecting what it's going to be. Aperture priority, what you do is you select your ISO, you select the aperture that you want to be at, and then using your camera's meter, it makes an educated guess what it thinks your shutter should be to give you the right exposure. So you're always going to have the same ISO, you're always going to have that same aperture that you set, and then your shutter speed is going to change in order to give you the correct exposure in your scene. So it gives one variable off to the camera, and it gives you slightly less control. And I have for ages heard many professional photographers say manual or M is for master, and Aperture Priority don't even look at it. They would say, all you want to do is worry about Manual mode because it's where you have all the control. But in all honesty, I know so many photographers that are professionals that create absolutely incredible images, have amazing control in their camera, and they shoot Aperture Priority. So this is going to come down to a little bit of level of comfort. Most of the time what I do is I shoot with Aperture Priority, and here's why. Let's say that I'm shooting a scene in the woods and the sun is coming in and out of the trees, and coming in and out of the clouds. And if I'm shooting on Manual, what ends up happening is I'm clicking away, I'm taking photos, and I wasn't paying attention to that change in light. And I look and I'm like, oh crap, the last 10 photos that I took are completely underexposed, and that was my favorite one. However if I shoot Aperture Priority, as I'm shooting and the sun comes in and out, it'll say, oh it got brighter, I need to give you a faster shutter speed. Or oh it got darker, let's go for a little bit longer shutter speed, so my camera is kind of helping me out with these changes. Or if I'm running in and outdoors. I was indoors, and I run outdoors and I forgot to change in Manual, well then I won't even be close with my exposure. But the Aperture Priority gets me closer. And I'm not leaving it totally up to my camera. What I do is I shoot Aperture Priority, with something called Exposure Compensation. And so Exposure Compensation in your camera will look something like that. And when you're looking through your viewfinder, you're basically saying, okay you gave me a meter reading, and you're telling me what you think the scene should be exposed like, but I think you're wrong, camera. I think you're a little bright, or I think you're a little dark. And I can dial this compensation to say, camera, whatever you're reading in this scene is, in this case I would say, camera whatever you're reading in this scene, you are going overexposed. I need you to darken down by two thirds of a stop. Whatever you're reading, make it darker. In fact when I take portraits, most of the time when I'm out on location with natural light, I am shooting Aperture Priority, I'm shooting with Exposure Compensation, and often I shoot about two thirds of a stop to a stop overexposed from what my camera reads. Because I like when the skin tones are a little brighter. I like when things are a little bit higher key, so I'm still taking control of what I want it to look like, but I have the security of my camera helping me out with that variable. So as I'm moving in and out and conditions are changing, my camera has my back. So Manual is going to give you complete control, Aperture Priority takes away one control but you can still use the Exposure Compensation to adapt for things in the environment, and to kind of overpower what your camera thinks. So which one is right for you? Kind of depends on what you're more comfortable with. I know people that take brilliant images, either direction. So we have gone through a lot of different ways to set your camera up for success. First, we talk about shooting in RAW because it's going to give you the most flexibility, and if you mess up it's going to allow you to save the images, but it's going to give you higher quality and more information to work with, and it's going to give you bigger files. The next one is going to be your picture style. How that JPEG preview is looking in the back of your camera, or the interpretation of your RAW file and how you're going to see it. I recommend either using Portrait or Standard. Next one down the line is your white balance, and basically don't leave it up to Auto. Change it appropriately for the scene, whether you're using a preset, whether you're using a gray card, an expo disc, or a color checker. And next on down the line there is your pop up flash. Just make sure that it's not popping up all the time and killing your photographs. For your metering, most of the time you'll want either Evaluative or Matrix. In some situations when your camera is being outsmarted and it doesn't know what to do, switch over to Spot so that you can pick exactly what your camera should be looking at when metering. And then your exposure, either Manual or Aperture Priority. So if you go through your camera and you set these things up, it's going to be setting you up for success. So really, my recommendation is that you grab your camera, you get to know your camera, and you get to know your manual, and you've got to ask yourself a couple questions, and some of those questions are going to be, if you notice I didn't really talk about ISO, and you might be like, well okay Lindsay, what's the best ISO for my portrait work that I'm doing? It depends on a lot of things. Maybe you're photographing children that are running around everywhere, and you need faster shutter speeds, and you're shooting in low light, and you might need to bump up your ISO a little bit. Or maybe you're shooting in completely controlled situations in a studio. Well I recommend a lower ISO. Or maybe you have a camera that just doesn't do well in low light, and a higher ISO, the image kind of falls apart, so you need to do your research based on the camera system that you invest in, and figure out what ISO it best performs at. Then figure out what range you shoot in. Most of the time for portraits I shoot between ISO 100 up to ISO 2500. I know with my Canon 5D Mark III, I personally feel comfortable in that range. Anywhere above that, I start to lose the quality, I start to get a little bit more noise and I'm not as happy with the pictures. But that's a pretty big range, and I'm not often shooting in such dark or dimly lit situations where I need to go above 2500. So that is for me personally. You have to figure it out with your camera, and the next one, we are going to talk about setting back button focus, but I am going to talk about that in the lesson for talking about focus, your depth of field, and your lens choice. But you want to look that up in your camera manual. You're also going to want to look up how to change your focus points in your camera manual, and you're also going to want to know how to change your metering modes. And so, in other words, if you lost the box and you don't know where it is, go find it, bring it out, and make sure you have that manual right in your camera bag. So what we have talked about in this lesson is figuring out the camera that is right for you. So ask yourself all of those questions. Figure out what system fits for your budget, for your needs, for where you plan on being with photography and the type of subjects you shoot. And once you've figured out that system and your initial investment, then what you're going to do is you're going to take this little section that I just did, and set your camera up for success. In our next section I am going to talk about your lens choice, your depth of field, and focus. Things that become extremely important to having successful portraits.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Lighting on Location
Gear Guide

Ratings and Reviews


One of my favorite courses thus far on Creative Live, and definitely well worth the purchase price. Lindsay effectively demystifies many of the critical stumbling blocks to achieving a practical understanding of many critical elements of portrait photography. I would rate this course as being perfect for the advanced photographer - a couple of the concepts might be beyond that of a casual/intermediate photographer, but even they would probably gain a great deal from this course. Her discussion on equipment, in particular was superbly done, and allows one to move forward in beginning to make the right choices to achieve whatever effect one is after in terms of capturing the subject. Finally, the great thing about this course, and the thing which makes it such a great value, is the overall scope of what is being taught. Lindsay covers almost everything imaginable, and does it all in a manner which is enjoyable, and makes the time fly by. There were many, many times during the various days of this course during which Lindsay would share some particularly great tip or technique, and I would think "Insert bookmark here." I don't dole out praise easily (actually left a fairly scathing review on another course here recently) but this course has won me over. Highly, HIGHLY recommended. I'm definitely going to check out her other courses as well.

a Creativelive Student

This is Lindsay's best course to date and believe me, she has given us some good ones already on Creative Live. She hit this one out of the park! She was very well prepared and organized. I could tell that Lindsay put a lot of work into preparation for the class because she just kept giving us great information non stop. There was no down time or wasted moments. All future instructors on Creative Live should be encouraged to watch this course just to see what good instruction looks like. Lindsay has evolved over the past few years and just keeps getting better as time passes. Thank you Lindsay and thank you Creative Live for a job well done! Craig Banton


This class is one of the best investments I have made in my photography business. Lindsay is an excellent teacher. She is a seasoned, yet humble, professional. Unlike some other instructors I have seen on creative live, there isn’t a lot of fluff in her teaching. She sticks to the topics, gets all the information in, but still manages to engage and relate to the audience with real life examples of her own experiences in photography. I have been a professional photographer for several years, but have mostly stuck to natural light. This course gave me the confidence to tackle more advanced lighting setups and expand my capabilities as a photographer. I really appreciate that she doesn’t bash flat lighting, like other lighting videos I have tried to watch. Most portrait clients do not want photographs with dramatic lighting, they want to look their best, and I’m glad that she acknowledges this. This class gives you the information you need to create whatever photos you want to create.

Student Work