Portraiture in Motion: How to take Striking Portraits in 15 minutes or less

Portraiture in Motion: How to take Striking Portraits in 15 minutes or less


Let’s face it. We don’t always have all the time in the world to do a portrait session. Clients run late. The light fades. Opportunity is not always on our side. What happens when you are in a crunch, and the time you have for a session is less than ideal?


Have no fear. With a few techniques and considerations, you can complete a series of Striking portraits in 15 minutes or less. These “mini-sesssions” will not leave you with hundreds of options and variety, but they will give you shots to be proud of.

1. Area Locations:

Find an area that will offer you 3 different locations within 20 feet of each other. For each location, focus on the unique elements that make that area stand out.

[In this area, all my locations were 20 feet away from one another. I choose a small stone bench seat with nature-istic elements in the background; across the street, I choose a small church with a beautiful red door and stone steps; my last location was a pink wall. ]


2. Vary the Light

In theory, you should choose locations that involve different kinds of light. Does the building provide diffused shade? Is the location in contrasty sunlight? Varying light will provide you with dynamically varied images.

[My first location offered me with harsh sunlight, which I used to create a contrasty portrait. The second location shaded my subject from the harsh sun, but provided evenly diffused light from the bright street. My third location was also in the sun, but my subject was turned to the side, shielding her face from the direct sun but providing a hair light from the back.]


3. Shot Types

Go for 3 types of shots: Wide, mid, and detail. Remember, even though your conducting a mini-session, you still need to produce images that feel complete, artistic, and varied. Using these three kind of shots will yield this result.

A wide shot will set the scene, showing where your subject – full bodied in the frame. A mid shot is typically cropped in a bit more – with torso, head, and shoulders featured. And a detail shot is the “up close” face shot.

Capture all three types of shots in each location. By the time you are finished, you will have at least 9 shots you can count on to be amongst your “finals”.

Challenge yourself to a weekly “Mini-Shoot” with the tips above, and your portrait creativity under time constraints and pressures will explode!

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Christina N Dickson is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography www.BrideInspired.com and leadership with www.RevMediaBlog.com.

Some Older Comments

  • sportsmadre April 17, 2010 03:25 pm

    Great advice! I am going to try it this weekend. Thank you!

  • Jennifer Moore April 9, 2010 06:24 am

    This is really great info. Thank you!

    ...and I agree with some of the others: Your location and subject are both stunning! :)

    Jennifer Moore
    JenniferLynn Productions, LLC

  • Rina Minca March 23, 2010 06:47 am

    I'm one of those new photographers and right now I'm amazed at all the amazing pictures people take of other people, I hope to get there one day. I'm scared of taking those pictures, though, maybe these techniques will help me break through and go beyond my comfort zone.

  • William March 20, 2010 08:31 pm

    Great tips ! I got to try it next time.

  • Rob March 20, 2010 03:36 am

    Wow Christina, amazing. As usual your tips and advice are great and inspiring. Your latest offering has come in the nic of time. I have a portrait assignment to do and hand in by Tuesday morning. Its for the photographic course I am doing. So you can well guess what am I doing with your advice this weekend, thanks Christina.

  • Graham Warsap March 19, 2010 09:30 pm

    Thanks again,

    Used the tips to get this do this shoot, felt more focused this time.


  • Andre March 19, 2010 07:58 pm

    Christina I'm SORRY that I named you Sarah in my previous comment, and you Sarah sorry too ))) For sure it was posted for Christina! )))

  • Andre March 19, 2010 07:54 pm

    Thank you Sarah for your amazing tips. They have strengthen my confidence about inspiration! We should always take a look around ourselves before starting to photograph! Funny but sometimes we forget completely about that ))

  • valentine March 19, 2010 03:12 pm

    Very nice tips these help a lot thanks.

  • Diana March 19, 2010 02:31 pm

    Thank you. I gotta try this!

  • Sarah Kuhner March 19, 2010 02:04 pm

    I really liked this article. It has basic and good information that I can take with me.

    Now I just need to find a really good site to go. I have a place at a nearby sheep farm. All the photos are outside and interesting and beautiful-but I love the idea of getting beautiful architecture and stuff in there as well.

  • azizi sabu March 19, 2010 12:57 pm

    that's very use full tips..if you don't mind, can u please tell me how u get that beautiful color of your pictures....

  • Naomi Figueroa March 19, 2010 11:33 am

    Wow! Very simple but OH SO helpful! I really love this article...thank you so much for sharing, and for the challenge of weekly mini-shoots! Sounds awesome.

  • Mike Giovinazzo March 19, 2010 11:01 am

    Some excellent advise- many thanks

  • Stephen Chin March 19, 2010 10:29 am

    That's really a helpful tip and inspiring.

  • Lynne Saywell - photographer March 19, 2010 08:18 am

    I live in a small country town in NSW Australia and have a small band of dedicated followers in a local camera club. I send them your link each week and we all love your newsletter and challenges. Thank you so much for making photography so enjoyable for us all.
    I recently had the good luck and flexiblity to do a gorgeous maternity shoot.
    This weekend we have our local Country Show in Gloucester and the next day we are doing a Hollywood style head and shoulders studion shoot of a friend of mine.
    Looking forward to it.

  • Dianne K. Nelson March 19, 2010 06:45 am

    Good Tips! Thanks for putting them out there!

  • Nathaniel Kidd March 19, 2010 06:05 am

    cool tips thanks

  • Lindsay March 19, 2010 05:42 am

    I love these tips!!! Thank you!

  • Bill Merritt March 19, 2010 05:18 am

    Good stuff. Maybe better to include description of light (sunny, partial cloudy etc.) time of day, and lens length with exposure settings? These are terrific photos in any case. My compliments. Thank you for sharing and for the tips.

  • PJ Houck March 19, 2010 04:40 am

    Thanks for the great tips Christina...what type of fill lighting did you use?
    Best regards,

  • Holly March 19, 2010 03:54 am

    Great article, agree that I would like to see the images from the other two locations, especially since they are mentioned in the article.

  • Chris March 18, 2010 12:26 pm

    Fantastic article: concise, practical, applicable. Really great and exactly whey I read here. Thanks so much!

  • Karen Stuebing March 17, 2010 08:30 pm

    Great article. These tips make it possible for photographers who do not have lighting equipment to do portraiture work provided they can find some interesting locations. Which shouldn't be too difficult no matter where you live.

    I think the author used the same location in all three shots to illustration the wide, mid and detail focal lengths.

  • Adolfo Trinca March 17, 2010 08:28 pm

    Thanks for the tips ^_^

  • christy March 17, 2010 01:59 pm

    i agree with jim, this article would have been better if you included images from the other locations that you mentioned, considering that was one of your main points of the whole article. while the 3 images you posted are nice, they are somewhat redundant.

  • Mei Teng March 17, 2010 10:57 am

    I like the idea of getting the wide, mid and detail shots. Thanks for sharing.

  • Carrie Owens March 17, 2010 08:49 am

    thanks for such a helpful article!

  • David March 16, 2010 11:01 pm

    Is it just me or is that third photo (the closeup) not that flattering compared to the first two? Not a long enough lens maybe? Just seems to make her nose too big. If this is what the photographer was going for, OK. As it was shot it looks like a different model.

  • Maria Sabala March 16, 2010 10:44 pm

    Beautiful pictures!

  • Graham Warsap March 16, 2010 08:43 pm

    I had a shoot with a model had about 30 minutes. Found it a little bit rushed. But following your advice think I can get more out of a short shoot next time.

    Here are the top 5.

  • hfng March 16, 2010 08:23 pm

    Very, very nice. Good tips.

  • Jason March 16, 2010 01:39 pm

    Without a doubt one of the most useful articles on DPS - this is some genuinely good advice. Seemingly simple, but by starting to put these into practice you'll start to evolve your portraiture expertise. Good work.

  • Deirdre March 16, 2010 11:24 am

    Wonderful article! My photography has improved over the year or so I've had a dslr, and I get requests from friends to do their or their children's portraits, but portrait shoots scare me. This method seems like it would be a great way for someone new to portrait shoots to get used to them. I am sure I can get a friend or two (or even a family member) to volunteer for me to practice on them if I tell them I won't need them any lnger than 20 minutes.

  • pokies March 16, 2010 10:02 am

    Nice article ;-)

    Thanks for sharing

  • Ariane March 16, 2010 08:27 am

    Thank you for this tutorial. I just bought a semi-professional digital camera and I am looking at all sorts of tutorials to make good pictures. Yours is one of my favorite so far. Great great tips!

  • Jim March 16, 2010 05:29 am

    I like the idea of this article, but all three shots seem to be at the same location. It'd be great to illustrate the point if we could see the shots at the other two locations (the bench and the pink wall).

    If I ever build up the confidence to do portrait sessions articles like this will prove to be inspirational.

  • Glyn Dewis March 16, 2010 04:51 am

    Really liking the Church's red door; makes for a great series of shots.

    Thanks for sharing,

  • Elli March 16, 2010 03:05 am

    Great post!! Thanks!

  • Susie March 16, 2010 12:50 am

    Great Tips. These are going to come in handy.. Thanks so much

  • Alex Gac March 16, 2010 12:39 am

    Thanks for the helpful article!

    Finding good locations can't be under-stressed. It does take time, though. I have sometimes taken a day just to find those good spots: to go exploring in the local community, looking for that perfect confluence of scenic opportunity.

    I combine a poetic adventure with a strict discipline by not only enjoying the exploration but also by recording everything I find. After making notes about where good spots are, what they offer, maybe (I should be better at this one) noting some lighting conditions or times of day that would be especially good there, I typically go back into Google Earth and input locations with a bunch of keywords. Then I can search for the keywords later and find locations that have those features. Example, I could search for "waterfall" and Google Earth would return a list of locations that I've tagged with "waterfall". Saves time later, especially when you're on deadline.

    Again, thanks for the good article, Christina!

  • Jason Collin Photography March 16, 2010 12:26 am

    I like the idea of this post, only a 15 minute portrait session. I think this is assuming you know a good location already, and are totally competent with your gear of course. I also liked the tip of getting a wide, mid and detail shot.

    For me, I recently only had 5 minutes with a model. These are the portraits I produced in those 5 minutes:


    I think another big factor is your portrait client, if she/he is totally into being photographed and in a good mood. That greatly speeds things up.

  • Mario March 16, 2010 12:23 am

    This is inspiring, thanks! I love the wide and mid shots you did, your subject is gorgeous!

  • Greg Taylor March 16, 2010 12:23 am

    Nice tips. Also by choosing locations that are so close together you can keep your model focused and in the "zone" so they won't have to change their mindset and get back into it again. (Not to mention how much easier it will be if you are using lighting sets and equipment. 200 feet is way better than 2 miles apart.

    By taking shots at various ranges in various locations with varied light you will ensure that you get a great portrait that is considered a keeper.

  • Ciprian March 16, 2010 12:19 am


    I have a mini photo session too, here is the link, I hope you will like it