Portrait photos with fast shutter speeds

Portrait photos with fast shutter speeds

Taking portrait photos with fast shutter speeds freezes motion.

Which is super clever to do when taking pictures of someone thats in movement.

Here I was going to tell you a little about how I created these portraits on a sunny summer day in Sweden.

Porträttbild på en tjej i vattnet med vatten sprayandes runt henne
Aperture F.4 Shutter speed 1/3200 sec. ISO 200

Catch water droplets!

To capture water droplets in an image, fast shutter speeds are required. Here the goal was for the water to swirl around the girl in the portrait. To be able to catch the water drops, I had to use a fast shutter speed. I put the camera in burst mode ie. that it takes several pictures sequentially one after the other just like when you would photograph rally cars that I have told about before here. Then I chose the picture where I thought the model (girl) and the water drops looked best together from the pictures taken from the same sequence.

In order for me to be really happy with the portrait image, I would like to have the whole model with only the sky as a background and not have the trees on the horizon go through her head. I tried to go as low with my camera, Canon 5D Mark 4 lens Canon 24-70mm F. 2.8 which I absolutely could to try to get that effect but it did not work from the angle I was at on the beach. (I did not want to get wet because I did not think it was swimming weather, it was only the model who thought so :) But I am a batch coward on the other hand.)

I tried to have the model go closer to me or further away to be able to create that effect but it did not get any better than what we have here.

Zoom with your legs

But keep in mind that either you or your model you are photographing may be able to move around to create the image you have in your head. It is often I see that the photographer just stands still and does not move so I always try to point out to my photography students that you can zoom with your legs :) You can read more about my private photography classes here if you are interested.

What is a fast shutter speed?

What is a fast shutter speed, you may wonder, yes well it depends a bit on the weather when you photograph what shutter speed is required. 

I used a regular UV filter on my lens it does not exclude any light so this sunny day required a fast shutter speed of 1/3200. To create the image above. Had I used a ND filter, I could have used a longer shutter speed and still achieved the same result, not too long of course because then I would not be able to catch the water droplets.. 


It can help you pre-focus your camera on a specific point in your image to make sure you get sharpness in the image. It is especially handy when what you are photographing is still, ie does not move forward or backward while you are photographing its movement. 


It is good to be patient when you shoot things that are movint because you will probably want the model to do the same thing several times so, both you and the model needs to be patient. You will also learn a little about what you think is the most beautiful in terms of composition in your portrait while you shoot. As in my case, me and the model discussed how she should have her arms while she waved her head because in some situations the arms covered her head. So test for yourself and see what you like. It's always the most fun anyway, when you come up with something super good together. Then everyone feels involved, which is also important.

tjej som blåser blå sand från sina händer
Aperture F.3.2 Shutter speed 1/640 sec. ISO 200

Depth of field in your portrait

Here I did not want a clear background but a relatively blurred background so I used an aperture on F3.2 to make the background blurred. However, I wanted to catch the blue sand that was whirling when the model blew on it from her hands, so I used a shutter speed of 1/640 sec. I tried to find a shady place for the model to stand so that I did not have direct sunlight on her face, it was a windy day so the leaves of the trees swayed a bit so the sun flared through the tree leaves quite frequently but we tried to find a place where we were in the shade most of the time.

Photo tips 

A good photo tip for portrait photos is to find a place that is in the shade, preferably high to the ceiling so that it is a relatively open place, but shade is what is important. When you take portraits, you should be aware that your model's skin color will be colored by the color that is around it, that reflects on her. In this case green because we are standing in a forest grove, In my case it does not matter because she is covered with blue sand in the face anyway but something I want you to be aware of when you take portraits outdoors. 

Canon 24-70mm Vs. Canon 70-200mm

When you compare two lenses with each other like a Canon 24-70mm F 2.8 and a Canon 70-200mm F.2.8, there are some differences not only that one is a telephoto zoom and the other a standard zoom lens. But when you use the same type of aperture with both lenses, your background will be differently blurred. What is behind the model also appears to be at a different distance from the model.

Compare lenses

Look for yourself and compare the background of the image above with the blue sand and the image below with the blue bells. The one below is taken with a telephoto zoom lens and hens the background becomes even more blurred compared to a standard zoom lens like the Canon 24-70mm, the background also feels like it is a little closer to the model.

It is good to keep in mind when choosing lenses for your portraits that your choice of lens affects how your portrait will look. There is no right or wrong lens for a portrait, (a common portrait lens is 80mm) but it is ultimately up to you and your creative eye which lens you want to use but different lenses create different results / character in your images.

Tjej som blåser blåcklockor från sina händer
Aperture F.3.2 Shutter speed 1/800 sec. ISO 200

White balance for portrait photos

What white balance should you use when taking outdoor portraits?

When you take portraits outdoors, you can test yourself a little between your camera's various pre-programmed white balances that it has. A tip is to test cloudy or shade both of them give people well the whole picture actually a warmer tone (yellower)

Everyone in the pictures gets a slightly warmer holiday look 'Glow' I think.

In the picture above I used my camera's AWB which means Auto White Balance ie. an automatic white balance so the camera uses what he thinks fits and sometimes it works but sometimes not. Outdoors, it usually works well indoors, not always or perhaps rarely. 

Gray card - simple when taking portrait photos

When I myself photograph portraits indoors for my corporate clients, I use a Lastolite gray card to ensure that I have the right white balance in the pictures. I can easily use the image with the gray card on in my editing and get the right white balance in all the images. Super simple!

Good luck with your own portraits, feel free to send me pictures of how it goes for you would be great fun to see.

Happy Snapping!

/ Helen Shippey

Västerås Photographer

två tjejer som hoppar och kastar färgad sand upp i luften
Aperture F.3.2 Shutter speed 1/800 sec. ISO 200 Camera, Canon 5D Mark 4 lens Canon 24-70mm F2.8

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Företagsfotograf Helen Shippey

About me

My name is Helen and I love to create and happily share what I create with my cameras / drones.

Join me on my photography assignments.

You can call me Shippey, my friends does!


Has; Apprentice Letter in Photography