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Next Lens/Accessory for Better Portraits with a Canon Rebel XS with 18-55 IS lens

Tom Collins , Aug 04, 2009; 09:20 a.m.

Hey there. Just got my Canon Rebel XS with 18-55 IS lens last weekend. I'm completely new to DSLR photography (still learning how ISO, Shutter, Aperture work together, etc) but I'm very interested in portrait photography (anything from kids to engagement portraits). What additional lens or accessory would give me the biggest bang for my buck to create better indoor and outdoor portraits (without breaking the bank)? A faster lens like the 50mm 1.8 (around $100) or an external flash like the 430EX (around $240), or something else I'm not thinking of? Thanks.

Responses

Paul Aylett , Aug 04, 2009; 10:06 a.m.

Bang for the buck? I'd suggest a good reflector and some lessons - plus lots of practice.

Tom Collins , Aug 04, 2009; 10:30 a.m.

Thanks Paul. Yes "Bang for the buck" meaning I don't have $1,000 to drop on my hobby. What reflector do you recommend?

Tracy King , Aug 04, 2009; 10:41 a.m.

get practice and learn before you start buying stuff that way you know what you like and what would work best for you.

Nathan Meador , Aug 04, 2009; 11:01 a.m.

Practice with what you have first, do research into the 'styles' of photography you'd like to improve (primarily natural light vs using strobes). Look at the strobist.com blog, lots of good info and many don't even use the expensive name-brand flash. Check your local area and see if there is a photography club that you might be able to join and learn from. The 50mm 1.8 isn't a bad idea, I still have mine, it would be a good learning tool; especially at it's price. There are better portrait lenses, the 85mm 1.8 gets high marks (around $380). There are also some real good how-to videos on youtube you can check out.

Paul Aylett , Aug 04, 2009; 11:10 a.m.

Reflectors: here's a thread: http://photo.net/photography-lighting-equipment-techniques-forum/00GQ3M

The Lastolite Tri Grip, tho expensive, allows you to hold both camera and reflector at the same time. Also note that home made reflectors can be made at very little / zero cost - white poly foam board makes a good reflector (add aluminum foil for an alternative look). Some of the best portraits I've taken have been window light and a reflector. Once you've mastered that, you can start looking at off camera flash.

Bob Bill , Aug 04, 2009; 10:18 p.m.

Light will get you the most bang for your buck. It will make the most dramatic difference in your photos. A 42" 5 way reflector- about $50 on ebay used. You get a diffuser to hold between subject and direct sun or to shoot through when you get a flash, a white , gold, silver and gold/silver cover. If you doubt what they can do, I had a subject outdoors complaining about the heat off the silver 3 feet away. Find a window, move the reflector back and forth from the shadow side to find the light being reflected. Even less expensive, white cardboard or cardboard covered with first crumpled aluminum foil. Try blocking light from the shadow side to increase contrast as well. Use a piece of black cloth or clothing. Remember, north window light is what a $300 strobe, $150 soft box and $50 stand try to emulate. Windows are free and dont have to be set up or torn down. Move subject closer to increase contrast. I believe Tom Meyer on this site suggested finding a room with windows on either side. Now you have 2 lights, just move subject nearer or further to one or the other and watch the contrast. It will start making you sensitive to light's intensity and hardness. South window, direct light harder, north softer. Through diffusion, eg the reflector in diffuser mode, a bed sheet, rip stop nylon. I like a bed sheet, gaffer or painters masking tape it over a window that doesnt have sheers, instant soft box. Soft, ie gradual transition from shadow to highlight as opposed to hard from direct sunlight. Play with contrast and hardness for a while. Then consider a dedicated canon flash that can be fired off camera from the on camera flash. Have someone hold it ( McNally's VAL or voice activated light stand) with and without the diffuser between it and subject. Then consider an umbrella holder to attach to your flash. Get one with a bottom hole that accepts your tripod screw. Place light on tripod, have someone hold diffuser and shoot through diffuser. You are probably going to gradually build your lighting gear. Its a good thing, practice and master each before adding another while you prepare financially for the next purchase.

Chris Cross , Aug 04, 2009; 10:55 p.m.

I agree with some statements here. I think you should play with what you've got, learn the settings, learn some composition. In terms of next lens? I'm having a blast with my Canon EF 50 f1.4 lens. Under 400 bucks and you've got a super fast prime lens that is good for portraits. The canon ef 85mm 1.8 is also excellent, but will require a bit more room to work with, or just head shots. These are cheap, but excellent quality lenses that will get you some excellent pictures, and you'll have a great low aperture to work with all that light you are learning about to boot ;). Will give you a chance to play with depth of field as well.

John Kelly , Aug 05, 2009; 06:52 p.m.

Lightroom.

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