Mastering the art of mood board creation

Tip 21 for Better Shoots by Heidi Rondak

“Concept is the key to success”

PART 2: Mastering the art of mood board creation

After reading the last article’s advice you might be eager to finally learn how to create a mood board by yourself, according to your own shooting idea. Ultimately, it’s the most creative part in a campaign shoot and it secretly makes you the true artist. Yet, for some, it might not be clear what a mood board is exactly, let alone what to consider a good versus a great mood board. By definition, mood boards can be different kinds of presentations that combine images, text, etc. on a topic to convey a feeling about it. Such a mood board can serve as a script that, at first, wins over a good photo team and then functions like a briefing that everybody draws on during the preparation and the production day. Therefore, mood boards are communication tools and a superior one clearly distinguishes which pictures are describing what elements of the photo shoot resp. which guidelines are who’s cup of tea. After all, you certainly want to avoid that the hair & make-up artist styles a model after a mood picture that was actually just there to characterise the light situation you wanted. 

Good vs. great mood boards

Bad mood boards don’t exist. The pure fact that someone designed a mood board already makes it a good one compared to situations when there’s no visualised concept at all. However, you might want to make sure that the above-mentioned scenario won’t happen on the spot and therefore, put a little more work into your mood board creation. Even if you already have an explicit notion of your campaign photos and perhaps you’ve also collected a couple of sample images there’s a range of questions that can help you to complete your vision and not leave too much to chance. 

mashups look cool but they can lead to confusion

A decisions-check-list

As always in life, there are no dumb questions. Asking yourself or being asked the following questions by your photographic team just gives you the possibility to figure out the details of your concept more precisely or to reveal the gaps in time if there are any. And by systematically analysing your own vision and searching for the lacking puzzle pieces, now and then, you might come face-to-face with the fact that you’ll have to “kill your darlings”, as I’ve already described it from my personal point of view in ‘the most powerful tool of a photographer’ two years ago. Sometimes in our imagination, things combine perfectly, however, in reality, they turn out overwhelming together. Therefore, when it comes to shooting, there are quite a few decisions to be made. Apart from the very obvious stylistic devices which you’ve probably found quite easily, the following details should get clarified and ideally represented by some of your mood pictures too:

  • What clothes may be combined with your styles (which colours, fabrics, cuts, shoes, other brands)
  • Which poses does the model take? (staged or random, feminine or masculine, dynamic or still, etc.)
  • Which attitude does the model have? (smiling/sexiness/sweetness/fierceness/etc.: yes or no)
  • How much space is left around the model in the photo?
  • What’s the light’s atmosphere?
  • Which kind of shadows are allowed? (on the model and product)
  • Colour or black and white photography?
  • What will be eye-catching?
  • Are we using props?
  • Are there any staged shots needed? (if yes, which scenes)
  •  etc.

Go about the mood board fussy, not fuzzy

After having removed any ambiguity, as opposed to composing the moods to a pretty-looking mashup right away, I recommend dividing them into different categories first. Depending on the project, the generic terms I mostly use would be:

moods – – displaying the general look and feel and containing a little bit of every element involved
styling – – referring to the clothes and accessories wanted, which you can even show separately
make-up – – characterising the type of make-up and any specialties
hairstyle – – defines the structure, motion, and style (e.g. up-dos, where the parting is, etc.)
light – – highlighting the way the light is interacting with the model, product, and set
photo look – – showing examples of the intended colour management and contrast
location – – either shows the scouted location or the planned type of location
props – – bringing in either the actual props (if already available) or the type of props planned for the shoot
model/model type – – featuring the chosen model, or (if not chosen yet) other model photos showing all characteristics that are important to the project (e.g. facial bone structure, body measurements, hair colour, haircut, etc.)
attitude – – serving the model’s inspiration with appropriate poses that can be implied on the shoot

Nevertheless, some projects are manageable with less and some require even more definitions. Basically, it’s up to your own consideration but in case of doubt, it can help to just start sorting the moods by some of the basic categories roughly. Once you’re about to put them in a layout you’ll probably detect the inconsistencies if there are any. This is giving you the chance to finally get rid of one or the other element (#killyourdarlings), add more categories, and overcome deficits by compensating specifically. And as soon as you’ve gotten familiar with this system of categorising your moods you can also turn the tables and start your next research within the terms you’ve chosen as standard from now on.

distinguish your moods by categories

“Whatever you’re thinking, is being thought or had already been thought somewhere else. What makes the difference is in your way of presenting it.” ― Junaid Raza, motivational writer & speaker

Fine-tune and facilitate your concept with a layout

When your mood collection is complete and ready split it’s time to finally make the whole idea accessible for everyone potentially involved in the production. Whether you still need to pitch the mood board in front of a supervisor (or the like), or it straightly goes to the executing team, it’s best to keep things well-structured and simple enough to ensure that your intentions get clear at a glance. The experience will show you how to dose typography in the presentation. From my point of view it’s advised to use it sparingly, yet providing essential information on the project and about who’s involved. When crediting the team members it’s important to add the links to the portfolios and social media as well as the contact information of the persons responsible. A short project description is optional but if you’re good with words it certainly helps the audience to understand the theme better and besides, it looks more sophisticated when your concept starts with that. Moving on to the pages where each category gets visualised with their moods you won’t get around labeling these unmistakably big because lastly, you’ve put much work in it hoping to avoid any confusion. If you’re very diligent you can additionally list a few words to complement the pictured key points in each category. This would guarantee a higher level of comprehensiveness due to the use of different communication channels. At this point, you can either do a last round of corrections – if necessary – or approve your work and declare it finished. Exciting!

adding structure to your mood boards will up your game


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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