Pro portrait photographer Russ Tierney reveals his essential photo kit

Russ Tierney's portrait photography kit
(Image credit: Russ Tierney)

Shooting for more than a decade as a professional portrait photographer, Russ shoots in his cool Splash Point Photo studio on the north coast of Wales. He’s won and is regularly commended on competition sites like Viewbug, PhotoCrowd and Gurushots, which has lead to his work being displayed and exhibited all around the world, in Spain, Greece and India to name but a few. 

We recently sat down with Russ to find out how he got into photography, the types of portraits he likes to take and the essential camera kit that he couldn't live without. To see more of his awesome portrait pictures check out his Instagram.

• Read more: Best cameras for portrait photography

"I moved to North Wales four years ago, which has led to a change in my kit bag somewhat. I used to shoot a lot of corporate photography, so it used to be full of Speedlites and batteries, whereas these days it’s all about the studio space.

"Part of the space at my studio, Splash Point Photo, is a pool – how I wished I had my mirrorless EOS R5 back then! I dragged the shutter using strobes, but allowed in light from under the water, and some window light, too. My head was pushed against the ceiling while I tried to focus with my Canon EOS 5D Mark III; whereas with eye detect and the flip screen of the EOS R5, it gives me much more freedom."

Russ Tierney in his studio (Image credit: Russ Tierney)

"I used to look at photographers using screens and mumble to myself, and now I realized that I’ve been missing out! I was hesitant to jump ship early on, but now that Canon has ironed out the kinks in its full-frame mirrorless with the EOS R5 and R6, the new models really show a fantastic advancement.

"I also shoot models against my neon wall. It’s another custom part of my studio. It can be tricky to work with, as all of the neon signs have a different light output, so shooting Raw is essential – you can then balance the lighting levels in post. The wall also provides some unique photo ops that people travel far and wide to make the most of. I use Luxceo light wands, which are waterproof too, so they can be dunked in the pool as well."

Russ Tierney's essential portrait photography kit (Image credit: Russ Tierney)

01. Canon EOS R5

"The step up from Canon EOS DSLR to mirrorless takes a small adjustment period, but I started to lose faith in my 5D Mark III DSLR when I found it back focusing a little too much, which would result in soft focus. Even in simple conditions, I felt I was often fighting with it to focus more, but then again it is a decade-old piece of tech. I find the hit rate on my EOS R5 to easily be 10x what I was getting with my old kit, so it was definitely worth the investment."

02. Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM

(Image credit: Canon)

"I love committing the sin of a wide-angle portrait! I’d go as far as to say that the 17-40mm is my favourite lens for creativity. If your image is lacking that certain something and doesn’t have enough drama, even with good lighting, then slap a wide-angle lens on and get some creative angles. Lenses are merely tools, and rules are made to be broken!"

03. Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

(Image credit: Canon)

"This lens is a workhorse, and should be an essential part of anyone’s kit in my opinion. I’ve used it a lot photographing live music, so that fast f/2.8 aperture is massive, but it’s such a versatile piece of kit that can only be overlooked if you’re a stickler for primes. The only thing it lacks is that true telephoto range that I want sometimes."

04. Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

(Image credit: Canon)

"This replaced my Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM lens as the aperture range wasn’t quite right – I needed something faster. The EF 70-200mm f/2.8L is also fantastic in the studio! You can’t underestimate how using different lenses as tools, rather than solely for the necessity of space, can help change your image."

05. Canon EF 85mm f/1.8 USM

(Image credit: Canon)

"85mm is generally perceived as the ideal focal length for portraits by many photographers. No surprise then that it’s my go-to lens when I’m aiming for amazing bokeh. It gives a bit of fringing, but it’s workable and you can’t complain for its budget price. I have a habit of breaking it out when using the neon wall in my studio to blur the neon signs beautifully."

06. Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II

(Image credit: Canon)

"This 50mm is tiny, it’s light, it’s cheap… There’s no reason not to get one. There’s been a few occasions when my workhorse has been in for repair, and I’ve been able to use my nifty fifty to get the job done. One day you may have a malfunction, and it’ll be there to save the day! As Canon shooters, we’re really lucky to have that kind of speed in our pocket for so little money."


(Image credit: Russ Tierney)


(Image credit: Russ Tierney)
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