Q - Do you know a simple, inexpensive setup for taking outdoor portraits?
A - Yes. You can take pleasing outdoor portraits simply with the "original" light - the sun and some reflectors.
The reflectors can be any material from pieces of white cardboard or cloth, like a tablecloth or a sheet, to white umbrellas or professional reflectors. More important than what you use for reflection is the direction of the sun on your subject and the angle and closeness of the reflectors.
For the most pleasing portraits use two basic sun positions: For a young person, or where you want the wrinkles of age to show, use a sidelight; fro the flattering, wrinkle-erasing likeness, use a backlight .
If you choose the sidelight, ask your model to turn away from the direct sun until half the face is in shadow but there is still a patch of sun illuminating the cheek. Then place a reflector on the shadow side facing the sun so the reflected light illuminates the shadows. Your eye is the best judge of how close to place the reflector.
Backlighting needs two reflectors. Have your model face completely away from the sun, so the face is in shadow with only the hair highlighted. Put one reflector on either side of the face so they reflect back on thesubject. Again, place the reflectors by eye. You can move them in quite close, since all you need is an opening for your lens.
Q - What's a simple system for taking indoor portraits with a 35mm? I have a flash and an 85mm lens.
A - The 85mm lens sounds just for portraits - in fact, that's my favourite lens for this. The flash, on the other hand, sounds dangerous. I say this because the worst possible lighting for portrait is direct flash. It casts hard shadows, accentuates blemishes and may lose you afriend.
The best lighting is daylight. Pose your model close to a window on the shaded side of the room. Use a sheet or a piece of white cardboard to reflect the light onto the shaded side to the face.
This setup should give you a soft, natural lighting. You can observe the play of light, which you cannot do with flash, and ask your model to turn until you get just the lighting you want.
This is exactly what those Dutch old masters, did by the way - posed their models inside a room and used the walls as reflectors and window or door as the light source.
Your 85mm lens will give you good perspective on facial features and by opening up you'll be able to throw the front of the nose and the ears and farther back slightly out focus. This will give your portrait a professional look.