What do you think it takes to create a set of breathtaking, emotive and eye-catching photographs of a single subject, all completely different from one another?

How much time do you need?

What kind of location?

What about wardrobe and props?

If you start thinking too deeply about everything you might need, you may get overwhelmed and put aside your dreams of a magical session. What if you live in an uninspiring location? You have no budget for wardrobe and props? You have a child subject who might only last ten minutes, if you are lucky?

I’m here to tell you that you don’t need any of those things (except maybe a child who can last ten minutes). To put myself to the test, I set out with my son to a single spot to see how many unique images I could get of him there.

pullback photo by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

I had been driving back and forth past this tree for months, while driving my kids to and from school. The tree was CALLING to me. Yes, it was by a wall, and behind that wall was construction, and on the other side of the tree was a sidewalk and a road. No opportunity for variety? I disagree. You don’t need a glamorous location, a perfect summer day, a kid wearing some very expensive designer outfit, or a truckload of props. What you need is: a subject, a spot that inspires you, and a lot of imagination. Below, I’ve listed 20 different ways you can spend thirty minutes, with one subject, in one sub-par location, and still come home with a variety-filled gallery of images you love.

1. Shoot some portraits.

If you are shooting horizontally (landscape), the rule of thirds composition is usually good and safe. If you are shooting vertically (portrait), aim to keep the eyes in the top third of the frame. While you are in the same spot, this is a good time to change up your subject’s position, gaze (closed eyes vs. open, etc), or expression. It’s also a good idea to vary the distance between you and your subject.

portrait of boy in a blue shirt by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Canon 135mm, f/2, 1/400, ISO 500


close up portrait of boy in a blue shirt by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Canon 135, f/2, 1/400, ISO 500


boy holding a stick by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Tokina 16-28mm, f/2.8, 1/200, ISO 500

2. Shoot from below your subject.

This might mean that your subject is on something that is higher than you (like a tree or jungle gym, for example). Or, it might mean that you are lying down on the ground and shooting up at your subject from a lower vantage point.

picture of boy behind a tree by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Sigma 35mm, f/2.8, 1/500, ISO 500


picture of kids legs by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Sigma 35mm, f/2.8, 1/500, ISO 500

3. Shoot from above your subject.

I find that open shade works best for this, both because it is more flattering light, and because it doesn’t blind the subject.

picture of boy laying on the green grass by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Tokina 16-28mm, f/2.8, 1/400, ISO 500

4. Back it on up.

Shoot from a vantage point lower and farther away from your subject. How far you go depends on what you have available in your location and what lens(es) you own. But shooting from a lower perspective can eliminate environmental elements you’d rather not show (in this case, street and cars, sidewalk, and little sister). What you have instead is a feeling that he is out in the open in this grand tree, when in reality, it’s a dinky half-dead tree on the side of the road.

picture of boy laying in a tree by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Canon 50mm, f/2, 1/1600, ISO 500

Back up but shoot level with your subject. Let the environment frame your subject and help tell your story, however unexciting it is. Add a sky overlay or a texture or sunflare if you want to have some fun.

boy climbing a wall by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Lensbaby Edge 80, f/2.8, 1/500, ISO 500

5. Shoot a profile.

Shoot them while they are occupied with whatever their hearts desire.

black and white picture of kid in a tree by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Canon 50mm, f/2.8, 1/4000, ISO 500


backlit photo of boy in a tree by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Canon 50mm, f/2.8, 1/4000, ISO 500

6. Take a close up from down below.

Close-ups are fun, absence of many distracting elements which don’t add to the story can instead add an element of surprise or intrigue.

close up portrait by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

7. Take a close-up from a level perspective.

Again, telling just parts of a story in a storytelling series can tantalize the viewer to want to see what is next, or what else there could be. Consider what just the hands, or an object, or even the clothes they are wearing, could communicate.

picture of boy hands by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

8. Focus in on the details.

Think ultra-close up. Even better if you have a macro lens. This doesn’t even have to be your subject. It could be something he is holding. Or a strand of her hair. Or the ladybug that landed next to his feet. Something that strengthens your story.

kid toes by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Canon 135mm, f/2, 1/1250, ISO 500

9. Shoot through things.

Shoot through things to create depth in your images, and add mystery. This can be something hand-held, like a piece of lace, a bottle, a prism, a napkin, a curtain, etc., or it can be something in your location, like trees.

photo of boy through a tree by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Canon 135mm, f/2.8, 1/500, ISO 500


picture of boy through tree branches by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Canon 50mm, f/1.2, 1/1250, ISO 500

10. Embrace the Space.

Use negative space for a nice addition to the variety. Give the mind more to imagine.

boy walking on a brick

Sigma 35mm, f/2.8, 1/500, ISO 500


11. Change where your focus lands.

Shoot something in the foreground in focus while letting your subject blur. Or, shoot the entire picture out of focus!

photo of leaf by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Canon 50mm, f/1.2, 1/1600, ISO 500


leaf picture by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Canon 50mm, f/1.2, 1/1600, ISO 500

12. Vary your depth of field.

Shoot wide open for some images, but don’t be afraid to close down for others. I love a narrow depth of field for sky images, especially when I want to capture the individual rays of the sun. Smaller apertures (like f/8 and smaller) are ideal in full sun as well, when the range of lights and darks is much more broad. Extremely shallow apertures can be fun, but must be used with caution. Great attention should be paid to the focal plane where you want to achieve your focus!

Shallow: focus on eye (toggled my focus point)

young boy looking through an eye piece by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Sigma 35mm, f/1.8, 1/2000, ISO 500

Narrow: capturing detail in sky on our walk home

sunset photo by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Tokina 16-28mm, f/10, 1/500, ISO 500

13. Shoot as wide as you can go!

fisheye pic of boy climbing a brick wall by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Canon 15mm fisheye, f/2.8, 1/250, ISO 500

14. Try a new technique.

New techniques could be freelensing, or stacking focus, or panning. I chose, for variety, a Lensbaby Edge 80 in this image below.

black and white portrait by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Lensbaby Edge 80, f/2.8, 1/500, ISO 500

15. Fill the frame.

Get in close. Close compositions communicate intimacy and connection (between subject and photographer/viewer).

headshot of tween boy by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Canon 135mm, f/2, 1/400, ISO 500


close up photo of boy by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Canon 135mm, f/2, 1/400, ISO 500

16. Focus on textures, colors, and interesting visual elements.

In this image, I exacerbated the texture intentionally, adding an additional texture overlay in Photoshop. You might find beauty in a clump of moss, or the bark of a tree. So include it!

boy sitting on a brick fence by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Sigma 35mm, f/1.8, 1/500, ISO 500

17. Focus on the light.

Put aside the rules, just for a minute, and let the light help you compose your image. Let yourself get carried away in the lens flare, the haze, the dappled light, or the interesting shadows.

boy in a tree by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Canon 50mm, f/1.2, 1/4000, ISO 500

18. Try a silhouette or partial silhouette.

Change your settings to expose for the background, instead of the foreground. It’s amazing how the mood can change with this simple adjustment to your settings.

kid climbing a tree by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

Canon 135mm, f/5.6, 1/320, ISO 500

19. Change your angles!

For a portrait session, YOU should be the one moving around the most. Move up, move down, move sideways, tilt your camera, change orientation, get farther away, get closer. You can get ten different pictures of your subject without the subject moving one inch.

photos of boy playing in a tree by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

20. Capture the unscripted moments.

I’m always advising my peers: never put away that camera until you’re in your car, driving home. Capture moments while you’re walking. While you’re talking to the clients afterwards. While you’re waiting for them to write the check. While they think they are “done” with pictures. So many times, those images have been the most treasured of the bunch. Whatever you do, make it fun, and be flexible. Your subjects will thank you, and your heart will, too.

collage of photos by by Sally Molhoek of Sallykate Photography

What if you live in an uninspiring location? You have no budget for wardrobe and props? You have a child subject who might only last ten minutes, if you are lucky? I’m here to tell you that you don’t need any of those things (except maybe a child who can last ten minutes). To put myself to the test, I set out with my son to a single spot to see how many unique images I could get of him there.

Save