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Tips for Taking Great Portraits in 10 Minutes or Less

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Yes, you read that right. 10 minutes tops (not counting editing time), and you could have a set of photos worthy to hang on the wall. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling you that every session should be that speedy, but sometimes that’s all the time you have.

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Maybe you’re dealing with some kids that aren’t too happy about being there, and 10 minutes is all they’re going to give you before the meltdown. Maybe you’ve got awful weather, and you’ve got 10 minutes before the tornado hits. Maybe you decide 10 minutes before the sun goes down that it’s the perfect day for some photos, and you must do them right then (or your model shows up an hour late and you’re losing light fast). Maybe you want photos of your favorite pet, and you know that you’ll be lucky to get 10 minutes of attention.

Maybe, like me, you like to do little mini-sessions sometimes, and you stack them in 10 minute increments. Maybe, just maybe, you like a challenge. So, here’s your challenge: see if you can follow these tips and get great portraits you’ll love in 10 minutes or less. Ready, set, go!

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Pick one location

For a portrait session in a time crunch, you must choose ONE location. Just one. Find a spot that has good light, a nice background, and stick with it. Moving around is great if you have lots of time, but our goal right now is speed and quality. Use a tried and tested spot, or scout out a good spot ahead of time. This would also be a good time to use a great indoor studio spot, but stick with just one backdrop.

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Make a plan

Go into your 10 minute session with a plan. For example: Let’s say you have a family who wants to hang a family photo collage on their wall. You know you’ll need a family photo, one of each kid, one of the kids together, and one of the parents together. You might want to give an option of portrait orientation (vertical), or landscape orientation (horizontal), especially for the family photo. So, take one of each of those. You may want to do one of family photo standing, and one seated. Maybe plan for one close-up and one full-body portrait of each kid. Whatever your scenario is, plan out ahead of time what you’re going to need, then stick to the plan. This isn’t the time to experiment.

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Put your subjects at ease quickly

Normally, you’d get to know your subjects a little bit, and put them at ease. You still need them to feel comfortable, so don’t skip this, just put it on fast-forward. The second you greet them, be happy, be enthusiastic, be fun! Every minute counts, so let them know right away that for this 10 minutes, your only focus is them. Let them feel your confidence in them, and in yourself. You don’t have time for awkward photos, so they have to be on board and comfortable right from the start. You could say something like, “Are you ready for the most painless photo session you’ve ever had? Let’s do this!”. It might get a laugh, and put them at ease right away. Who doesn’t want a painless photo session?

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Know your camera well

Finally, know your camera. When you’re in a time crunch, you don’t want to be fiddling with the settings, and panicking if things aren’t going how you expect. The more time you practice with your camera when you’re not under pressure, the better you’ll perform when it really counts. Know what settings you like, and when to use different apertures, shutter speeds, and ISO settings. If you are comfortable with these, you’ll be able to change them on the spot, in between photos, without wasting time.

If you aren’t comfortable with your camera yet, this would be a good time to use aperture priority, or even the auto setting. This isn’t the time to learn; this is the time to apply what you have already learned.

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So, are you ready? I’m sure we’ve all got 10 minutes to spare. Give it a try, see if you can shoot at least eight portraits you love in 10 minutes or less using these tips. Let me know how it goes. The photos I shared here are an example of a real life less-than-10-minute session.

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Melinda Smith
Melinda Smith

was born to be a teacher. She teaches violin lessons and fitness classes, as well as photography classes and mentoring. She lives on a mini farm in Eastern Utah with her camera, husband, kids, chickens, horses, bunnies, dogs, and cats. Visit her at Melinda Smith Photography.

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