Speed shooting for photographers



My employer has campuses all over the world. While on an extended trip to Sydney, I met up with a group of photographers there called the “Shutterbugs.” The Shutterbugs every so often explore the area around the office over lunch practicing their photography skills. When I came back to San Francisco, I wanted to start that activity in our office.

We aligned everyone’s calendars and found a Friday afternoon that worked for everyone. I didn’t want to haul in my SLR camera as I had a number of engagements using that camera. I was the sole member of the group using an iPhone. It was good for me though – I don’t use my phone camera near enough.

On our first event out into the city we struggled a bit finding a common vision taking pictures. In the Sydney office the group often goes to specific landmarks around the office. We weren’t that organized this time, so it was hard to focus everyone into one theme. We were each trying to find our own space.

I remember my first portrait shoot a couple of years ago where the leader of the group focused us on looking through the lens for a continuous interaction with the model. We had two minutes for each pose and were instructed to not pull the camera away from our face. We had to continually look through the camera during the entire two minute shoot. That taught me to make decisions quickly while remaining connected with the camera.

I wanted to bring some of those elements into our photo shoot to help bring some structure as there wasn’t a clear subject to photograph that day. The skies were overcast. The area was somewhat generic. And none of us were on the same page. Enter photographic speed shooting.

What is speed shooting?

The idea connects a few ideas from the photo shoot I had above with the rules of engagement for speed dating. The short interactions require the photographer to spot ideas, execute, and move onto the next thing quickly. Here’s how it works:

  1. The organizer of the group will choose a subject. Everyone in the group has a short interval of time (five minutes or so) to take a photograph capturing that subject in some way.
  2. At the end of the time, everyone in the group gathers and shares their photograph (5 minutes). To keep the event moving, the person who shares their photograph first then gets to choose the topic for the next speed round.
  3. The group can use as many speed rounds as time will allow. Using a 5 minute photo, 5 minute share makes on the hour scheduling easy.

I didn’t know how far the group would go having to work so quickly, but we all seem to get a lot out of it. What topics did we use from our session? Read on to learn more.

Round 1: Lines

I started the group off with the theme of lines.  I was drawn to this particular photo as it had a mixture of lines and curves. The intersection of two lines in the curvature of the structure reminded me of a hug. The curves in the vertical lines remind me of a person. The fact that the lines were read were a clear bonus. The junction appeared to be a beating heart (to me).


Round 2: Circles

The next member chose circles.  I tried another session at the jungle gym from round one but it wasn’t working for me. With only five minutes I had to quickly cut bait and find another subject. The cones on the street appeared to have great color and were the next stop.  The first photo is as taken.  The second has a bit of Lightroom love.

Round 3: Planes

We seemed to be on a geometry theme.  Planes (flat surfaces) was up next. The first thing that came to mind was capturing an image reflecting back from a window. Oftentimes in street photography I struggle with taking pictures of thing for fear that someone will stop me like I’m doing something wrong. I didn’t really care what’s behind the glass – I’m focused on what’s reflecting from the glass. I struggled a lot in this round trying to find the right image without being the conspicuous photographer.


Round 4: Decrepit

As we rounded the last corner, our next group member went with a feeling: decrepit. This one came much easier for me. There was a window across the way that had peeling paint and a failing sill. It spoke to me. I had plenty of time to spare in this round.

Round 5: You

Lastly, I wanted to challenge everyone.  As a photographer, it’s easy to always remain behind the camera. This round required some element of the photographer to be in the photo. It didn’t necessarily have to be a face or a full body shot, but you had to be in it. I think we all struggled with this one a bit, but I think it’s a great category to regularly add.


I got the sense we all enjoyed the format. It provided structure and creative exercise in an area where the subject wasn’t clear. It reminded us to remain quick on our feet and got perspective from everyone in the group.

ProTip: I had the advantage of using an iPhone with Adobe Lightroom. I was able to make quick edits with my photos that those with traditional cameras couldn’t. That being said, editing time cost me shooting time. It’s a compressed version of what photographers go through on a regular basis. Photographs correctly taken in camera require less editing time. I had to balance both of those in a tight format.

What are good topics?

The next question that naturally comes up are the topics for each round. Here’s some ideas to get started:

  • Colors: red, brown, purple, blue… Choose colors that are sparingly or broadly represented in the environment. Colors that are sparingly represented require the photographer to work harder to not copy another photographer’s image.
  • Monochromatic: While black-and-white is a natural candidate here, it doesn’t have to be. The photograph just has to focus on a single color.
  • Shapes: Lines, circles, vanishing points, corners, planes…
  • Feelings: Happy, sad, frustrated, depressing, joyful, fun…
  • Macro: Get up close and photograph something small
  • Letters:  find objects that represent the letters of the alphabet. Start at A and work your way to Z.
  • Wide: Find a way to capture as much of the scene into a single photograph.
  • Objects:  Choose a specific object in the area for everyone to photograph. There can be a single (TransAmerica Tower) or multiple objects (car tires) in the area.
  • You: I like this category as it challenges me the most. You can think beyond the selfie!

Are they my best photographs ever? No. Not even close. That’s not the purpose of this exercise. One of the big benefits I got out of it was practice of seeing something, executing, and delivering an image quickly back to the group.

Have any thoughts? I’d love to hear them in the comments!


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One response to “Speed shooting for photographers”

  1. Gary Barg Avatar
    Gary Barg

    It was a load of fun Dan and a good learning experience. Look forward to more of these walks with the group!

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