5 tips for a photo shoot when your subject only has 5 minutes

I often have photo shoots where my subjects only have 5-10 minutes for a photo shoot.  Photo shoots like this are challenging and take more forethought and planning than a typical shoot.  Here are some tips on how to successfully handle photo shoots like this, whether you are a publicist, marketing staff, or a photographer.  These tips are useful for both photographers and for marketing staff and others who schedule shoots.


  1. Communication is key- Communicate with the publicist, marketer, and photographer ahead of time.  Knowing details like the layout of how the image is to be used and the target audience for the final published work is really important.  Publicists and marketing staff should let the photographer know any details that are relevant, like political considerations, things to avoid, and the like. Creatives, if you have some ideas to share with the photographer, share them beforehand so your concept can be realized.
  2. Plan, plan plan!– It’s a good idea to plan one’s approach to a photo shoot beforehand.  Having a clear plan for the shoot will help the shoot run quickly and efficiently.  Come up with a couple of concepts for the shoot. Present them to the team and discuss them prior to the photo shoot.  Work out the details of the chosen plan and figure out if any props, extras, or a stylist is necessary.  Winging it usually leads to longer shoots.  Be open to new ideas.  If a great opportunity presents itself the day of the shoot, go with it.
  3. Scout the location– It’s not always possible, but being able to scout a location helps the photographer figure out good locations for the shoot, and also address any possible pitfalls that could delay the shoot.  Sometimes scouting isn’t an option, so I will often use Google to research a location.  Sending the photographer some snapshots of the space beforehand is also useful to determining the best approach to the shoot.
  4. Get buy-in from your subject– People being photographed often feel like a photo shoot is a chore and would rather not be there.  Occasionally, subjects have no idea what the photo is for, or think it’s “only” going to be a headshot.  It’s important to communicate with the subject and staff facilitating the shoot.  Let them know what the shoot is for.  Mention some of the ideas that the photographer and creative staff have come up with.  This will help get them interested in the shoot.  They may also have some feedback that will help make the shoot better.  Getting your subject involved will let them know what to expect from the shoot and what to bring to make it a success. On occasion, subjects who only had 5 minutes for a shoot end up having 30 minutes once they learned more about the shoot and what it was for.
  5. Get friendly with your subject– It’s important to build rapport quickly when the shoot time is limited.  Get some background on who you are shooting.  Learning what they are like and what they are interested in will help during the shoot.  If the subject is fairly well known, Google them and find out some background info on them.  Finally, being direct and connecting with the subject right away will help get great photos during the shoot.  Those photos of a historic car or trip to Italy can lead to good conversation.

Lastly, keeping the shoot simple is important.  There are times where I wish I had time for more production, but keeping the concept and setup simple will help you focus on taking great photos of your subject, rather than worrying about too many details.