It seems like you’re always under pressure to make pictures quickly. If it’s newborns, it’s hurry up before she wakes up. At weddings, it’s hurry up because the bride was three hours late. With families, it’s hurry up because Dad is losing patience (I’m a dad, I know how it is). In offices, it’s hurry up because even though the boss was late we only have 4.37 minutes left to make this portrait.

But you don’t have to give in to the pressure of the hurry.

You don’t need lots of pictures

The thing to remember is that you don’t need lots of pictures. You just need a few good pictures. When you plan to make good pictures instead of lots of pictures, then everyone will be more chill and have a better experience. It’ll help you put the hurry away and get to work.

Slow down

Usually, you simply need to slow down. You need to remember what the objective is. What’s the point of this picture? Where will it be used? Who is the subject?

Do your best to answer those questions before your shoot. I like to have a shot list and mark off the required pictures as we go. That process helps me budget time for the rest of the pictures. That shot list should also be prioritized.

For this shoot in the greenhouse, I had time to shoot in several spots with each subject. Knowing the schedule let me plan the pictures I could envision.

Set up

Since you have your priorities in order, you can take the time to do some setup. You can tell new portraitists from those with more experience because the new shooters start shooting a bunch, then review and making changes. Experienced shooters take a moment to set up first.

Once you understand that you only get a few excellent expressions, you’ll take the time to set up first and not waste the good stuff on the frames when the lighting wasn’t quite right.

In the greenhouse, I took a tour and looked for the interesting angles I wanted and experimented without subjects to see how the light looked. This way, I wasn’t wasting opportunities with the subjects before I was ready to make a good shot, and I was excited about the plan.


Being a portraitist means making pictures. But if you take the time to plan and set up, then you’ll be ready to shoot high-quality pictures from the start. Not only does this make your editing process take less time, but it makes a much more enjoyable experience for your subjects — especially when something unexpected happens.

When the boss is late, or when the kids are misbehaving you need to work quickly. It’s not your fault that things are going poorly, but it’s an opportunity to make them end up great. Slowing down happened before your subjects arrived so that when they’re on the scene you can move quickly and get exactly the needed pictures.

Since I had a plan and was ready, the greenhouse shoot ended after half the allotted time. Time is the only thing that’s really ours in this life, so when you give some back it’s a huge gift. Use these methods to think and plan through your shoots and I’m sure you’ll have richer (and more profitable) experiences.

Portrait Tips come out each week, and you can see them all right here.