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I'm looking into starting a small at home portrait photography business mostly as a hobby for now, and I'm wondering if the camera I have now (Nikon D3000) is good enough for portrait photography.

I've heard from a few friends who do portraits, weddings, etc. that most of the "photo magic" is really just handled in Photoshop, and how the camera is actually used, and the camera is not the only thing to think about.

Is there a flash or some other add-on I should purchase that will help the camera? I just have the onboard one now. I've signed up for a few classes at our local college, however they won't start for a month, so I want to get a head start on what I should look for in equipment.

Is this camera simply sub-par for this sort of work? Is there a better entry level camera I should look into?

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  • Bob, would you object to editing this question to generalize it to entry-level DSLRs overall, with the D3000 as just an example? With a few model-specific caveats, I think the answers here will apply pretty well to any entry-level SLR (either future Nikon models or other brands). – Please Read My Profile Oct 24 '11 at 17:12
  • No I think that's fine, I wasn't sure about the verbiage actually – Jane Panda Oct 24 '11 at 18:16
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    Check out lighting-basics for a lot of practical information which will not answer this question directly but be very, very helpful for what you. – Please Read My Profile Oct 24 '11 at 18:21
  • Whoops got cut off there. Should be "what you are interested in doing". – Please Read My Profile Oct 24 '11 at 18:51
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Yes, it's "good enough" for someone getting started in portrait photography. Almost everything you'll need to learn is camera-agnostic. The one technical limitation that comes to mind with the D3000 is that the body doesn't have an autofocus motor, so you'll need to be using lenses that have AF motors in order to get autofocus.

From a lighting perspective, most folks doing portrait photography use an external lighting source of some sort such as a speedlight. You'll want to use this off-camera, which means either a flash sync cord or a radio trigger of some sort. That said, it's also possible to create good portraits using only natural light, it's just harder since you have less control.

There are cameras that would offer slightly easier controls, or flash triggering built into the camera, but they're a couple steps above entry level which is what you specify in your question. You'll be able to learn the basics of portraiture with the D3000.

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  • Cool, thanks! This has given me some things to research. – Jane Panda Oct 24 '11 at 18:38
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I agree with the other answers, an entry-level camera is certainly capable or portrait photography, but I find it surprising nobody has mentioned yet that you'll need a portrait lens - a kit lens does not offer depth of field shallow enough for portraiture. As a bare minimum, for a Nikon the AF-S 50mm f/1.8G should do.

Another thing you might need is a backdrop, unless you already have a suitable spot in your home without any visual clutter. Cleaning background in post-processing is very tedious, it's much easier to achieve it before shooting. Actually, most things are easier and more fun to to do in camera; post processing is only a tool to add final touch to the pictures.

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  • That's a good point, I hadn't thought about that... I'm iffy about picking a lens just because of their price but it's a good investment – Jane Panda Oct 25 '11 at 12:50
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Yes, an entry level DSLR is good enough. However you need to learn & master lighting before you can sell your pictures.

Weddings and studio shoots are completely different beasts. Wedding shoots are much more demanding and you might need a camera that which is better at AF and low light photography than most entry level camera are these days. Studio shoots are more controlled as you can setup the lights and practice before getting the subject/model in.

Oncamera flash is barely used by professional and used as a last resort when you have nothing at hand (which is why higher end cameras don't even have those). You need to learn how to use off camera lighting and what effect various light modifiers have on the resulting pictures. Lighting 101 is a must for any budding photographer..

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Entry-level DSLRs will do the job quality-wise, especially as with indoor portrait photography you should have very few low-light situations. However, image quality is not the only consideration when choosing a camera for professional use.

One of the major reasons higher-level equipment is more expensive is because it is better built - in other words built to last, day in, day out intensive use.

If you just want to test the waters in professional photography and you can only afford an entry-level DSLR for now, then by all means go for it, but if you can afford (or don't mind saving up for) a higher-level camera it will be well worth it.

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I've heard from a few friends who do portraits, weddings, etc. that most of the "photo magic" is really just handled in Photoshop, and how the camera is actually used, and the camera is not the only thing to think about.

While slight processing of an image is needed to correct white balance, colours, exposure, etc. I would slightly disagree that most of the "photo magic" is in Photoshop.

But I do agree that the camera is not the only thing to think about. Far more important than the camera are the lens and lighting.

Nikon D3000 has about 10 megapixels. Plenty for portraits if you frame the picture to take advantage of all of those pixels, although as of 2019 even entry-level cameras offer more. It has 11 focus points, which might limit you more than its 10 megapixels. As a DSLR, it lacks eye autofocus. Its flash sync speed is 1/200 s.

If looking for a entry-level portrait camera today (2019), I would recommend some entry-level mirrorless camera because they have a high number of AF points + eye AF, and because they do focusing using the main imaging sensor so they pratically guarantee accurate and consistent focus even with third party lenses.

To take good portrait pictures with a crop sensor camera, I would recommend adding at least 50mm f/1.8 lens (they are good value for money), perhaps a 85mm f/1.8 lens, at least a flash or two with suitable flash stands and light modifiers like umbrellas, and some means to remotely trigger those flashes. If taking photographs in sunlight using a flash, add a 4-stop ND filter because of the 1/200 s flash sync speed (sunlight + flash + wide-open aperture requires either an ND filter or a higher shutter speed; the latter means high-speed sync which "wastes" part of the power output of the flash).

If using a full frame camera, select the 85mm lens but consider replacing the 50mm lens with a 135mm lens if you can afford it. Of course this is not to say that 50mm is particularly bad for portraits on full frame; it just requires short working distance to fill the frame, and at a short distance it slightly distorts the face. However, if you instead of emphasizing the subject want to put the subject into context with the environment, 50mm could be a good option with full frame.

Is there a flash or some other add-on I should purchase that will help the camera? I just have the onboard one now.

Yes, an external flash is very useful (and two external flashes is better than one). Don't use the onboard flash! It is so close to the lens that reflections from the blood vessels in eye result in red eyes. With an external flash, even mounted on-camera, you won't get red eyes (at least at short distance; I haven't tested with max power + long distance mounted on the camera). Also, the built-in flash does not work with large diameter physically long lenses, because the lens casts a shadow. It's intended mainly for the kit lens.

If the room where portraits are taken has a low and white ceiling, an option to make the flash less harsh is to bounce it from the ceiling. It requires a flash with a tilting head. But, a far better option is to use it off-camera, trigger it remotely, and use umbrella light modifiers.

When selecting a flash, consider its compatibility with your camera's through-the-lens metering, its ability to be triggered remotely, and prefer flashes that have a fully tilting head that can be tilted to all directions. Even when used off-camera, if shooting outdoors, you may need the ability to tilt the remote trigger sensor towards the camera. Radio triggers of course don't have this restriction. In sunlight, you might want to consider the power of the flash too, but in any other circumstances the power probably won't be limiting you.

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