This weekend, I am doing a Valentine's Day shoot! It isn't exactly my favorite holiday, but a good friend (and much more experienced photographer) encouraged me to partake – so here we are!
It gave me the idea to take some time and walk through how I plan each shoot; from the very basic first steps of coming up with the idea, to scouting locations and reaching out to other creatives to work with.
So let's break this down.
STEP ONE: FORMULATE AN IDEA
The first step can be the easiest, or most difficult, depending on how inspired you are at the time. There have been times when ideas were coming to me left-and-right, and other times that I really had to force myself to be creative and think of new ideas. In this case, I already knew I would be doing a "Valentine's" themed shoot - so the general idea was taken care of. Then comes the more difficult part of making the shoot your own.. especially when it's a holiday theme that thousands of photographers and companies will be photographing that same week.
Ideas for shoots can come to you at anytime and place. I find most of my creativity when driving, even when I'm just in my own city. When I'm not feeling very inspired, I like to sit quietly and visualize my ideal shoot. I ask myself several questions such as, do I see this shoot taking place indoors or outdoors? Do I want multiple models or just one? What is the lighting style? What does my model look like? Do I want professional hair and makeup or is this a more natural shoot? Just let the ideas come to you and understand that inspiration may not come immediately. I have meditated on shoots for weeks before finally putting them into action.
Don't rush the process.
Trust your gut.
STEP TWO: CREATE A MOOD BOARD
This is one of my favorite steps! It's a simple and fun way to visualize your dream shoot. Creating a mood board is the perfect way to ensure your team and model understand your vision before the shoot. You may want your model to be happy and energetic during your shoot, or you may ask your model to be serious and more stoic; these are things that you should absolutely communicate beforehand so the model is prepared and understands the overall mood. A mood board can also give the model an opportunity to practice the posing, facial expressions, etc. before they arrive.
I use Pixieset to create all my mood boards. It's a beautiful way to showcase your ideas and it's incredibly easy to use and share with your team. To begin, I open Pinterest, type some keywords into the search bar, and scroll (literally for hours). My Valentine's Shoot is going to be very feminine, dainty, and inside a home - so I would type something like "model, indoor, pink" and scroll through the images. Even with that vague of a search, I can immediately get some inspiration for my shoot. I pull the photos that resonate with me to my desktop, upload them to Pixieset, and then look at them together as a whole. I delete any photos that I no longer think match the vibe of the shoot, search for more, and repeat until I feel my vision is well-translated.
Here's a portion of my v-day mood board:
Remember that mood boards can be anything you want them to be. I included portraits, hair styles, up close photos of flowers, greenery, mugs, etc. because I believe they give life to the board. They help tell the story – and that is really important.
STEP THREE: IMAGINE YOUR PERFECT MODEL(S)
I love this step. This is where you get to think of the absolutely perfect model, envision them in your mood board, and make all your dreams come to life! For my Valentine's shoot, I knew I wanted it to be cute and flirty, without being overtly sexy or raunchy. I knew I wanted one female model, and I knew I wanted to capture more of a "Galentine's" vibe than a romantic feel (which is why i'm emphasizing pink and white colors as opposed to red). My model would need to be cute, youthful, and not curvy since that can easily feed into the sexy vibe. I envisioned someone with good teeth (yes this is literally what I think of), and long hair. So from here, I can immediately start thinking of people I know who fit this style and narrow it down. I texted the model who I inspired me most and low-and-behold she was interested! I sent her the mood board and we officially booked after that.
While this step is super fun, it can also be difficult if you don't have a network of girl friends / models who you know and can easily reach out to. If you're in this spot, don't give up. Post a model call on Facebook and ask your friends to share it. Search hashtags on Instagram and (politely) DM people. Post flyers around your college campus. Email modeling agencies and ask to test for free with one of their models. There are dozens of ways to find your ideal model, just keep working hard and don't get discouraged.
STEP FOUR: BRAINSTORM HAIR, MAKEUP, AND WARDROBE STYLES
This step comes into play earlier on when you're creating your mood board, but can only officially be decided on after you know who your model is. Things like hair styles, color palettes, and wardrobe differ greatly depending on what your model looks like - so don't get too attached to any one thing in the early stages. For example, if you originally wanted really dark and moody eye makeup, but the model you've booked is fair skinned, you will need to rethink your ideas to fit her specific skin tone. AND THAT IS OKAY! Mood boards are just inspirational tools – don't get bogged down trying to make everything exactly like your board. Remember that all the photos you're looking at have already been taken. You don't want to steal ideas, poses, and exact location set ups; you want to make it your own!
STEP FIVE: REACH OUT TO SAID CREATIVES ^^
I find my team the same way I find models, through social media. Now that I have the opportunity to work with other creatives on a regular basis, it's easier to reach out because I already have a relationship with them. I know who I enjoyed working with in the past, and know who's styles would work well with the vibe I'm wanting. I will send a email that says something along the lines of, "Hey -- I am planning a shoot for (date) and wanted to see if you would be available and interested." This would be a good time to mention if this would be a paid opportunity or not (people like to know that before committing). I go on to say something like, "I have included the mood board for you to look over, please let me know if you have any questions. The model's Instagram is (@blahblahblah) for your consideration". Thank them sincerely, and wait to hear back. I send the model's Instagram (or a photo of them) so the person I'm reaching out to can see if they vibe well with their look. It's important to have complete transparency when reaching out, so I make sure to include as many details as possible in my first email.
Sometimes you can ask the model to do their own hair or makeup and that is totally fine (as long as they feel comfortable). For larger productions, however, you will want to ensure that there is a professional on set to help with those things. I especially feel this way when it comes to wardrobe styling. If you have a specific look that you are going for, don't rely on the model to bring that exact style of clothing. You can certainly ask if they own any pieces that match the vibe of the mood board, and it's fine for them to bring those, but you don't want to arrive on set and realize none of the clothes available fit your vision. Book a stylist - it will change the entire value of your shoot.
Once you've connected with your team, go ahead and send them some examples of what you have in mind. Be clear though, that they are able to have creative freedom and make the work their own! Just like how as photographers we shouldn't copy exact portraits we admire, a hair and makeup artist doesn't want to copy exact styles either.
Here are the Valentine's hair and makeup example photos I sent to my hair / makeup artist:
These example photos are a great way to explain my vision for a more feminine, light-and-airy vibe. From there my hair / makeup artist can make the final decision on styles.
STEP SIX: DECIDE ON YOUR LOCATION
For me, picking a location really comes down to two key factors: Do I want a natural location or a city / industrial location. After I have chosen that overarching setting, I am able to open my mind to brainstorming and scouting. Like the majority of my inspiration, I typically find my locations as I'm driving – I will see a place that looks interesting, drop a pin in maps, and come back later to fully scout it out.
For my Valentine's shoot, I knew I wanted an indoor location, specifically one with white walls and a cute bedroom. I posted on Facebook asking for location suggestions and within minutes had a friend recommending another friend, who I contacted, and immediately got the green light to use her house (that's what I mean when I say post on Facebook asking for models, it really is a great way to connect with people)!
STEP SEVEN: CLEAR YOUR MIND OF POSES, LIGHTING, AND PREFORMED IDEAS
We're to the best part – the actual day of your shoot! Before I arrive at any shoot, I spend a few minutes focusing on my breathing and clearing my head of any and all inspiration. I do this to ensure that when I walk on set, I am creating MY vision - not someone else's. We want to use photos and Instagram and Pinterest as a guide, but in the end, we don't want to let that control our creativity.
So take some deep breaths, speak some encouraging words (out loud! and yes, it really works), and walk into that shoot with a positive attitude and complete confidence that you're going to kill it. Your mood as the photographer can completely make or break the shoot - it effects every single person in that room. If you are feeling negative or insecure about your ideas, your entire team will be able to feel that. So smile, hug everyone, talk about how wonderful the shoot will be, express how excited you are to be there, tell your model she looks beautiful, skip around laughing. It doesn't matter how you do it, just bring that positive energy to your shoot and everyone will have a magical time.. and you'll probably create some gorgeous images along the way ;)
STEP EIGHT: MAKE MAGIC
JUST DO IT.
LET YOUR CREATIVITY TAKE OVER.
DON'T BE AFRAID TO TRY NEW THINGS.
Everyone creates differently. Don't feel that you're doing things wrong if this isn't the way you process shoots. Go at it from your own perspective. I'm just giving my advice on what works well for me. I hope it sheds some light for those who need it.