How to get inspired for a campaign shoot

Tip 20 for Better Shoots by Heidi Rondak

“Concept is the key to success”

PART 1: How to get inspired for a campaign shoot


The last three tip articles have revealed to us who is needed to execute a photo shoot successfully. Now, as we know that we’re dealing with a team of at least 4 people (a photographer, a model, a hair & make-up artist and a fashion stylist) we want to make sure that everyone shares the same vision of what is going to be produced so that they can do their best in their fields. Therefore, this article and the following two are going to treat the most important puzzle piece of any photo shoot: the concept and its making.

“There is nothing worse than a brilliant image of a fuzzy concept.” – Ansel Adams

Why you can’t just go with the flow at a commercial photo production

By all means, photography is a form of creation but the truth is: when you’re on set with a number of people, there’s no space for everyone’s spontaneity. Time is limited and we want to make sure that it’s used for the right purpose: capturing good results that serve your marketing. Like fashion designers sketch their styles before tailors make them, photo teams need a draft of your vision telling them what to implement photographically. Therefore, the safest way to approach a photo production is by first creating a concept that contains the right idea of your brand’s product and how it needs to be visualised. Such a concept defines the photos’ atmosphere, the imagery elements, and the specific styling of the model and set before they are taken. Elaborating this information and providing it to the team makes you the true sender of a creative message who’s eventually reaching out and being heard by the receiver, your target group – without any disturbing noise. Creativity, therefore, happens before the commercial photo shoot, not when it’s ongoing.

“Creativity happens before the commercial photo shoot”

How to come up with a concept

Brainstorm on the basis of your project’s foundations

With or without any fresh ideas in mind, before we start to go deeper and precisely define every aspect of the wanted imagery, we need a reality check. Recollecting what was discussed in the first four tip articles  – the fundamentals (target group, medium of publication, formats, budget) – we can narrow down the myriads of possibilities a little bit when we think of which demands we want to meet. Having in mind your target group, the season you are shooting for, and where your advertisement is going to be placed can be leading to the topics you can consider appropriate or not. On top of that, the level of your budget functions as a gatekeeper telling you what’s within the bounds of possibilities and what’s, unfortunately, out of reach. After the team hiring, the budget is especially significant when it comes to the location of your shoot because different ranges of fees can become due or traveling may be involved. This isn’t only true for rented studios but also for indoor and sometimes outdoor locations. These factors form your framework and are powerful enough to bring you back to earth every time your mind (or your art director) hatches something beyond that. You might now understand why it is so dangerous to let creativity take its course on the spot: the result might look cool but eventually miss to address your real target group or the like. Therefore, it’s best to prepare and meanwhile compare any new idea with the foundations of your brand.

For inspiration, feed your imagination with images

Whether the first spark of your inspiration came from a location, a colour, a movie, a song, a word, another picture, or your very fundamentals, this is where you can start researching for more content that’s relating to your intuition. If you start with no idea at all, just browse the internet or social media and notice whatever appeals to you even if it’s just a detail of a photo and not the whole thing. At some point, you’ll be fascinated by one aspect so much that nothing else can overcome it. This is your starting point from where you can work towards the formation of an overall idea. As our brains process images much easier than words, etc. collecting pictures of what crosses your mind will help you to substantiate, eliminate, or transform your initial and follow-up ideas. Although searching and collecting images that appeal to you in one way or another (so-called moods) can be pretty time-consuming work, it also helps you to generally stay inspired and even come up with other original ideas for the future. I, therefore, totally recommend starting a great quest and treasuring a selection of moods (digital, analogue, or e.g. on Pinterest which is a great platform for this purpose) to which you can default to anytime. 

Here are, for instance, an idea and its development: If you like the thought of glitter plus the colour yellow, researching by reference to these terms can randomly result in a selection of these types of images (among others):

As you can see they have very different vibes and messages. Now, assuming that we identify with image no. 2 most because we like it funny and the background colour is speaking to us, we can continue looking for more humorous references, and possibly find these pictures:

Image B, again, may remind us of our former game boys and we might like the idea of those old school vibes better than glitter in the first place. In the end, we’ll be looking for this kind of result for our fashion campaign or at least we can use it as a key visual:

Photo combining the keywords “yellow” and “fun” in a fashion context


Finding a key visual is not always as easy and especially if you prefer some details to be different from the sample, it starts to get confusing to third parties. “I want it just like this but different” might sound like a funny phrase to say, but it has been said a lot by clients leading to great misunderstandings in the photo team who doesn’t know which aspect to keep and which to replace. Especially when you’re not drawing on very simple or classic imagery as distinct references (which are more likely to be found as existing moods) you might be re-inventing the wheel with a kind of image that hasn’t been photographed yet (congratulations!) In this case, it’s of even greater importance to manage to plant your vision into the brains of those who are going to realise it. But how can you show a picture that hasn’t been created yet? How would you explain something like a new vocabulary to someone who doesn’t know the word yet? – Right, by using a couple of other words that are similar in their meanings and by describing aspects of it separately, with lots of other words. In the same way, we can use a number of other pictures to hint at different details that we want to see in our future images. Even if we can’t find a mood image uniting the hairstyle, location, and posing that we’re looking for, there certainly are three pictures out there showing those things separately. Collecting them is the first step to creating a mood board that visualises your concept for the team. In other words: we don’t only need mood pictures to get inspired ourselves, but also to share our idea with others. Therefore, the next article is going to guide you through the art of making mood boards that really stand out. 

Pinterest is an excellent tool for collecting and structuring moods



If you enjoyed reading this article, or you found it helpful in one way or the other, I would love to know (reach out)! You are also welcome to support my work and writing by donating whichever amount this is worth to you. I will thank you with lots of telepathic love and more interesting journal entries. Cheers!


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