How to Make a Portrait in Under Two Minutes

A black and white photo of my niece Rachel and her little boy, Ashton, in Frankston, Australia.

Here’s a photo of my niece Rachel and her first child Ashton. It’s a straightforward image utilizing probably my favorite light source, window light. The whole process of making the photo took less than two minutes. Here’s how I made it.

The Story

The subject or scene depicted will be so much stronger when there’s a story involved. Now that story can be quite literal, like a day at the races. Alternatively it may, via suggestion, explore a theme or metaphor.

In this case the photo explores a tender moment between mother and son. While it is a record of the two of them, at a particular stage in their lives, it has a more iconic nature as it explores the relationship between mother and child.


The word photography comes to us from Ancient Greek and translates as light painting, drawing or writing. Light illuminates and shapes the subject or scene depicted.

Light has the potential to imbue the image with a sense of other worldliness providing the viewer with a glimpse into realities that may exist, somehow, beyond our normal, everyday experience.

Without a sense of light an otherwise sharp, well exposed image can look flat and uninteresting.


Check out the environment for an appropriate background. In this example I was looking for a simple and uncomplicated background, so as not to draw attention away from Rachel and Ashton.

Depth of Field  

Select the Aperture for a shallow Depth of Field. In this case, to ensure both mother and child were sharp, I choose an aperture of f4.

Focus, Composition and Sharpness

It’s important to critically focus on the photo’s main focal point. In this case that’s Ashton’s right eye, the one closest to the camera.

Compose the image and check that the resulting shutter speed will be fast enough to avoid camera shake or subject movement.

Assess the Result

Check the histogram (objective) or the image (subjective) for an indication as to correct exposure and, if appropriate, adjust the exposure for subsequent images.

Make a Keeper

Make a few more exposures concentrating on the moment being explored and then move on, ideally to other opportunities for great photos. Being quick helps keep the moment candid and real, and the subject/s relaxed. 


This sort of photography is so easy, once you know how. The method I’ve outlined above is easy to follow and will become relatively automatic after you’ve done it a few times.

Speed is important. A basic understanding of light and how to use your camera will enable you to quickly conquer technical concerns and allow you to make more creative images, more often.

By the way, for an extra sense of reality I decided not to retouch the dribble marks on Rachel’s arm.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru