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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
5. Shoot a profile.
Shoot them while they are occupied with whatever their hearts desire.
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.
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.
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.
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.
10. Embrace the Space.
Use negative space for a nice addition to the variety. Give the mind more to imagine.
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!
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)
Narrow: capturing detail in sky on our walk home
13. Shoot as wide as you can go!
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.
15. Fill the frame.
Get in close. Close compositions communicate intimacy and connection (between subject and photographer/viewer).
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.