Coming Up With Shoot Ideas

Coming up with your own ideas for shooting can be quite a challenge, whether you’re a photographer or a model (or anyone else for that matter).  Some of the answers to the questions below will largely depend on the photographer’s style and capabilities.  They may also depend on the model’s capabilities and willingness to do certain styles.  It’s important to keep that in mind once you have an idea and are looking for someone to shoot with, but also if you’ve got someone to work with and are now figuring out what to shoot.  It’s also important to make sure the location will suit the style of images you’re looking for.  Also, make sure you discuss any ideas you have with the rest of your team (photographer, model, stylists) prior to the shoot.   Communication is definitely key!

Where to start?  Here’s how I do things.

Create a folder on your computer called “ideas – [photographer name] – [date]”.  This is where you will save the images you find that inspire you for that particular shoot.  Create sub-folders as-needed.  I generally dump all the images that inspire me for a particular shoot into one folder and then organize them later as I best see fit.  I don’t bother renaming files I save… that’s just too much work LOL.  Plus, a shot that inspires me for wardrobe for one shoot may inspire a pose for another.

I do keep a folder of images I’ve saved over the years.  Sometimes, I find ideas in there that work for shoots, and I copy those into my specific folder.  Other times, I start from scratch entirely.  But having that library of ideas certainly helps!

From there, start by figuring out the kind of images you’re looking to get.
Do you want bright, happy, commercial-inspired images?  Or would you rather have dark, moody images?  Do you want the images to tell the viewers a story, make the viewers think of a storyline of their own, or do you just want them to be nice to look at?

Find examples of shots that illustrate the kind of shot you’re looking for and save them in your folder.  If it helps, save them in a folder called “kind of shot” or something similar.

Next, think about the styling you want.  It helps if this ties into the kind of image, and is realisitc with what you have to work with (especially if there’s not going to be MUA or HS on set).
Do you want clean, simple hair and makeup, or do you want more dramatic makeup with very styled hair?  Do you want your wardrobe to be more every-day styled, or dressier, or more dramatic and fantasy-inspired?  Do you want to both match, have looks that don’t match but coordinate, or look completely different?

Find shots that have wardrobe, hair, and makeup you’d like to imitate (again, keep in mind what you have and what your resources on the shoot will be), and save them.  Separate “wardobe” and “hair and makeup” folders might help.

Find poses you like and expressions you think will work.
Generally, this will come almost naturally from the style and styling, but it might be helpful to find pose ideas or example shots, especially if you’re working with multiple models or looking for a very specific style.

Again, save the shots that have poses and expressions you like in them.

Once you have your ideas, communicate them & start working on prep work.
If you have a team set that you’re working with, talk with everyone and make sure you’re all on the same page.  If you don’t have anyone set yet, start looking for the best folks who can deliver what you’re looking for.

For models:
If you’re going to be doing your own wardrobe styling, hair, and makeup, it’s often helpful to try clothes on in advance and make sure they look good together, are clean, and fit well.  For hair and makeup, if you’re planning on doing something crazy and different, practice is ahead of time so you can make sure you can pull it off, and so it takes less time the day of.  If you’ve saved poses and expressions that are new to you, spend time in the mirror practicing them so you’re not stuck the day of the shoot.

For photographers:
If you can test out your lighting and/or location ahead of time, it might help things go more smoothly the day of.  If some of the ideas you’d like to shoot include wardrobe, make sure you send your model (or stylist) your ideas ahead of time so they can make sure they have appropriate items.  In some cases, if you have a specific item in mind, you might be best off purchasing it yourself (this applies to both props and wardrobe).

Bring your ideas to the shoot.
Print out your example shots to bring with you, so you have references that day.   This way, you can make sure you get all your ideas shot.

I personally find it helpful to go thru the images I’ve put into a folder and organize them by look.  I then open a new Word document and dump each folder of images onto a page, and resize them all so each image is about 2″ tall.  I then organize them by lighting ideas, pose ideas, hair/makeup, and styling, labeling each batch of images approproately.  This is what I then print out (in color) and bring with me.

So there you have it.  Some ideas for coming up with shoot ideas.

But wait!  Where do I find images and stuff for all these ideas?!  I don’t know where to start!
Spend some time browsing modeling sites, as well as sites like iStockPhoto, Victoria’s Secret, JCrew, or pretty much any other websites.  If you’re looking for a specific look, you can even try Googling it to see what you find.

For wardrobe, you can play around on sites like that allow you to create sets using wardrobe pieces.  You can also look at blogs like that mimic celebrity styles and give ideas for specific events.

You can also use music, art (paintings, sketches, etc.), archetecture, sculpture, and everyday life as inspiration.  Take some time to look at (and listen to) those elements as well.   You might not be able to save them all to your folder, but you can make notes in your Word doc, write down specific words, etc.

Watch the way others dress, move, and communicate.  Watch for wardrobe ideas and poses/expressions to emulate.  Pay attention to your surroundings–-you never know when a location will suddenly be the perfect place to shoot.  Ask for critique of what you’re doing from others outside the industry-–sometimes someone’s “if I were doing it, I’d have…” might actually be a good idea ;)

What if I see something that inspires me, but I don’t have a specific shoot planned yet?
If you see an image that grabs your attention, save it to your computer, drop it into a Word document, and make notes about what in that image inspires you.  Save the document.  Do that for everything that you like, and from there, you’ll start to see some ideas form.

Where do you get your ideas from?
I’ve gotten ideas from modeling sites, stock photo sites, while shopping online, deviantart, etsy, and even random blogs online.  I’ve had ideas come from an image I’ve seen, words I’ve read, music I’ve listened to, or a single pair of shoes I find at DSW.

I’ve gotten ideas while driving to work, while walking around the mall, while at the dog park, while sitting on my ass watching TV, while reading a book, and even while going thru my closet looking for something to wear in the morning.  Music and song lyrics have inspired me as well.

So there you go, some tips on coming up with shoot ideas, as well as where to find some inspiration, from yours truly 😉

3 Comments to “Coming Up With Shoot Ideas”

  1. Rachel, these are awesome tips! You post are always so informative. Thanks for providing some great insights on both sides of the lens.

  2. Great guide, thanks a lot, it was very helpful!!!