My Essentials: Camera Bag for Portraits
Depending on what I’m shooting will determine the camera gear I bring. “What’s in my camera bag for portraits?” is something I get asked all the time. If I’m working with babies or families, I bring specific lenses and cameras to set me up for success. (I also included some pointers if you’re thinking of shooting weddings.) Below is all my favorite portrait lenses and camera bodies to must-have lip gloss and headbands (of course!). If you’re a beginner looking for a great starter camera, check out this post! It’s just for you!
- CAMERA BAG: EPIPHANIE “FLORENCE” BAG
I LOVE this pink camera bag! I mean it’s PINK!!! What else is there to say? Epiphanie makes the most wonderful, stylish, roomy, fine leather camera bags. Straps are a big thing for me because the wrong strap can kill your shoulder, and Epiphanie straps are wonderful. (But no camera straps for me. Just my thing. 🙂 The inside of the bag has padded sections to protect all your gear. If you love the camera bag, I asked Epiphanie to give you a discount! Get $20 off your Epiphanie Bag by clicking here. Not bad, right?!
2. LENS: SONY FE 24-70mm f/2.8 GM
My “work horse” lens. People often ask me “If you could only have one lens for portraits, what would it be?” Without question, the 24-70mm f/2.8 lens. The 24-70mm zoom range gives you a ton of versatility for shooting portraits or group shots. Whether you’re zoomed in or out, you can always stay at the f/2.8 aperture for what I call a “buttery, blurry background”.
Take the time to save the money for a G Master version of this lens. It’s a chunk of change but the quality of glass plays a HUGE role in your colors, light, and sharpness. This lens is worth every penny! Below is one of my favorite portraits called “Bookworm Sisters” from a family portrait shoot in Italy.
3. BACKUP CAMERA BODY: SONY A7r FULL-FRAME, MIRRORLESS DIGITAL
Every camera bag for portraits needs a backup camera body. If you’re starting to shoot more paid portrait sessions, and the a7rii (see below) is out of your price range, this is an AWE-some camera body to consider! I LOVE the mirrorless Sony camera, full-frame bodies. I especially LOVE the a7r and a7rii models. With the mirrorless system, you’re able to see exactly what your photo will look like from the Live View display on the back. No more guessing on whether or not you have enough light.
Why do I love the two r models in the a7 lineup? Dynamic Range. I love capturing photos with both shadows and bright light. But I want to make sure I retain as much detail as possible. That’s what Dynamic Range gives you. Its sole purpose is to make sure that highlights aren’t blown out and shadows are inviting with all the detail and depth. I often have parents in the shadows to accentuate their emotion for the portrait. The Sony a7r and a7rii are all about it!
The ISO goes up to 25,600. For those of you who are sick of grainy photos when you’re at ISO 800, you’ll pretty much be in heaven with this camera body. Just a word about the video component. When we were filming our family travel show, the a7rii model wasn’t released so we used this camera for a lot of our filming. The quality is broadcasted TV quality. Just ask the networks! Pretty AWE-mazing!
If you don’t have the money for the above lens, 24-70mm f/2.8 GM, and you don’t want to wait to save up your pennies, this is a cheaper version. But keep in mind that the aperture only goes down to f/4. I still think it’s better to save up for the big enchilada!
5. EXTRA BATTERIES: 2-PACK BATTERIES FOR SONY a7, a7r, a7rii
Even if I charge my batteries the night before, I always bring extra batteries in my camera bag for portraits. I’m kind of Type A that way, and I can’t tell you how many times I was glad I did.
6. CAMERA BODY: SONY A7rii FULL-FRAME, MIRRORLESS DIGITAL
This camera body is my baby. This is Sony’s flagship camera, and its performance is unbelievable. The Dynamic Range is off the charts with this camera. AWE-mazing ability to capture detail in both shadows and highlights. It reminds me of the old days when I used to shoot with film–all the incredible depth I’m able to capture.
The a7rii is also 42.4 Megapixels with 5-axis in-body image stabilization (say goodbye to motion blur and hello to low light!) and 4K movie recording. This camera body is phenomenal! Both of these camera bodies have a tiltable Live View screen. I rarely ever look through the View Finder anymore because I want kids to be able to see my eyes, my smile and overall energy. I’m often holding the camera at hip height so they can stay engaged with my facial expressions.
Look at how deep the shadows are in this portrait of mom and baby. One of my recent favorites from the baby model shoot we do during our 2-Day Confidence Workshop for Women.
People often ask me what my favorite lens is. That’s a different question than what is your portrait “workhorse” lens. A workhorse lens needs to be as versatile as possible. But the 55mm f/1.8 ZA is one of my favorite lenses! I’ll always choose a fixed prime lens over a zoom lens. The fixed prime lenses allow me to go down to f/1.8 in aperture. This makes all the difference with capturing buttery, blurry backgrounds! I also love how small and lightweight it is too!
Here’s another favorite portrait I took of my daughter Pascaline with the awesome 55mm lens. See the post The Most Important Photo Shoot I’ve Ever Done to see more imagery.
8. HEADBAND: ME RA KOH SIGNATURE HEADBANDS
Why the headbands? It all started in Thailand. It was during one of our trips with the kids, and the weather was so dang hot that I needed to get my hair off my face. I loved how their headbands sparkled (I tend to like things that are pink and sparkle.) But I also LOVED how it kept my hair out of my eyes when shooting. When we got home, I wore one to a portrait shoot…and something magical happened. By having my hair off my face, kids could see my facial expressions, my eyes, and feel my energy that much more. I LOVED it! One little girl loved my sparkly headband so much, she was convinced I was Ms. America. Somehow sparkly headbands and big smiles meant Ms. America. I didn’t have the heart to tell her otherwise.
Years later, she still calls me Ms. America. When I started doing TV segments for The Nate Berkus Show, I decided to wear my signature headbands to help people remember me that much more. And the best part, it doesn’t matter if you’re having a bad hair day…no one can tell! It’s the BEST! In November, we do a special holiday campaign and sell my signature Thailand headbands. Keep an eye out through our newsletter to get your own in November!
Battery chargers are a girl’s best friend! There must be some mystical dynamic of energy being depleted when you do a portrait shoot. Anyone ever notice this? Whenever I finish a portrait shoot it always seems like my smartphone is almost dead! I LOVE this gold brushed, lightweight battery charger for smartphones and tablets. It comes with me everywhere!
10. LENS: SONY 70-200mm f/2.8
When you’re taking portraits of kids, you want to start by staying close to them. But at some point, after you have all the shots you know you need, it’s fun to photograph them from a distance. I love this telephoto, zoom lens for taking photos at the beach, in a city/alley area, or in a field. I get to stand farther back and let the kids engage more with each other, not being so “camera aware”.
If you’re shooting weddings, your first two lenses should be the 24-70mm f/2.8 and this lens. That way you have 24-200mm covered at f/2.8. The 70-20mm f/2.8 was Brian’s FAVORITE lens when we photographed weddings. But he wouldn’t use this lens as a telephoto. Instead, he’d get super close shots that tell a story of connection.
Prime, fixed lenses are my love language. I LOVE the bokeh of the prime lenses, whether it’s the 55mm f/1.8 lens above or the amazing 85mm f/1.4 lens. Before the 55mm f/1.8 lens came out, this 85mm lens was definitely my favorite. I’ve shot whole weddings with just this one lens. You can’t go wrong.
12. LIP GLOSS: C.O. BIGELOW MENTHA LIP TINT
I don’t wear a ton of makeup unless I’m doing TV or speaking. But I always have this brand of lip gloss with me. It’s the BEST! Enough said. 🙂
13. MINIATURE WOOD FRAME
Okay, I had to share this because I still carry this in my camera bag after years and years. When I first started taking photos, with no real goal of becoming a professional photographer, I was overwhelmed with the idea of trying to see the world through a frame. I wondered if I could condition my mind to develop a photographer’s eye. So I went to IKEA and bought this miniature wood frame. I took out the backing so I could see through it and always had it in my car. Whenever I came to a red light, I’d hold up that wood frame and try to frame a scene of the old woman at the bus stop or the kids walking home from school. I thought about where they should go in the frame, should I off-center them and why, and would a landscape or vertical image be better? And through all these little mental exercises, I started to see the world in frames.
I still carry the same frame with me wherever I go, as a reminder that the simplest creative exercise can lead to dreams we never imagined possible.
14. MEMORY CARDS: SONY 128GB CLASS 10 UHS-1/U3 SDXC (94MB/s)
Last item in my camera bag for portraits is extra memory cards. They’re important, but FAST memory cards are even more vital. Have you ever sat down to move your images from the card to the computer and felt like it took forever? Or even worse, have you ever been shooting and had the camera stall on you? You thought you bought a fast camera, but it can’t keep up?! Sometimes this is because your memory card is too slow. A lot of people don’t even know about the speed factor when buying memory cards. They’re often price shopping instead. Next time you purchase a memory card, make sure the speed is 94MB/s. It will often say on the front of the card and packaging.
What’s in My Camera Bag for Travel? And What about Beginners?
For those of you who love travel photography and wonder what type of camera gear you need, check out my next post on What’s in My Camera Bag for Travel!
For all my beginners out there, I did a post just for you because I LOVE YOU!!!! There is nothing more inspiring than a beginner’s passion! Check it out; What’s in a Camera Bag for Beginners!
Be sure to also check out my bestselling series of instructional photography books for parents; Your Baby in Pictures, Your Child in Pictures and Your Family in Pictures!