Sometimes, as photographers, we run out of ideas, and if we’ve planned a photo shoot for a portfolio promotion, it’s potentially costly, especially if we’re paying the model along with the hair, make-up and assistant. Even the great photographers that created masterpieces stumble into ruts and run out of ideas. Regardless, time is money, even on a personal photo shoot, so here are some photo idea tips to help unfreeze your brain in case you run out of ideas.

model photo idea tips

My model came up with the pose, I came up with the location and lens perspective. When a model and photographer work together you can create some great ideas for photos.

The first tip, and the most obvious, do some brainstorming.  Brainstorming comes in many forms, both individually and as a group. The ideal situation is to “pre-visualize” your shoot at least the day before, and even have some storyboard sketches. Don’t worry, you don’t have to create storyboard masterpieces, even stick figures with notes works. With everything life throws at us, if you can’t pre-visualize the day or days before, you’ll be stuck with on the spot brainstorming and hopefully you’ve got some “bullet statements” marked on a note card in your pocket—these make great starting points.

Brainstorming though is potentially worthless if you don’t observe your model and your set.  Is your model tall, thin, thick, or slender? If she’s tall, then you have more shooting options, especially if she’s slender. If she’s short and heavier than most models, consider shooting from low angles to give her a taller, slender appearance. Consult your team, ask your make-up artist or hair stylist if they have any ideas—sometimes even your assistant(s), if you have one, can help too. And don’t forget to ask your model too!

When I run out ideas or poses, or just to see what the model herself would like, I’ll ask the model, “Give me a pose, it’s your turn.”  Usually they’ll say, “Me?”  I’ll say, “Yes, you,” with a gentle smile. As the model tries to find a pose, I observe and then tweak the pose if necessary. Bottom line, try some brainstorming by observing everything and not fearing to ask everyone involved for their ideas too.

model ideas photo tips

Sometimes it’s best to just go for the headshot in the middle of the photo shoot.

Don’t mark a treasure map “X.”  Basically, I see too many photographers at my photography workshops that literally walk up to the model at a comfortable shooting distance with their zoom lenses and never move until their time is up—this is wrong and I’m always correcting this by encouraging the photographer to move, find new angles—without changing the pose or the lighting. You’ll be surprised how the photo will change thanks to the physics rule that applies to lighting, “The Angle of Incidence is Equal to The Angle of Reflection.”

Get specific with your ideas and focus to achieve an idea. One of two things will happen, you’ll capture what you want, or you’ll struggle.  If you find yourself in a struggle, move on to another idea, perhaps by merely changing the angle of the camera, the orientation from horizontal to vertical, or even the light modifiers. Don’t fight it though, if you can’t get it, move on to the next concept.

Stop your shoot, take a break, then head to the waiting area and find magazines and books, then thumb through them for ideas. In fact, take your team with you and get their ideas on anything that you select. You don’t have to necessarily copy someone else’s photo, just use it as a starting point.

Have your model put her hair up, this provides a different look for you to capture.  Try changing accruements such as different necklaces, earrings, add a scarf, perhaps some gloves, or even a complete wardrobe change. One thing I see many photographers and models make mistakes with is accruements. I’ve seen too many photos of models with different clothes but the same necklace and/or earrings. A good model carries an assortment and accruements are cheap, no need for expensive costume jewelry.

Add a chair, there are so many things you can do with a chair. Keep in mind, a chair doesn’t need four legs, it just needs a surface for your model to sit, lay or rest on. I often do this for my “One Light, One Chair” themed series. I rarely start a shoot with that theme but will observe as I’m shooting and if I see something interesting I will eventually evolve into that theme or another one of my themes.

Think themes. Yep, have at least three “working” or “perpetual” photography themes to focus on. I always have three back up themes that are basically working art gallery projects. Of the three, the first one is mentioned is the One Light, One Chair theme, the other two are “Wide Aperture,” where I shoot at wide-open F/stops and when I photograph fine-art nudes, my theme is “Editorial Nudes.” Editorial simply means to tell a story with your subject. Not into nudes, then just take the word editorial and focus on it to try and tell a story with your photos.

As an example, say you are photographing a model as she sits in a bathtub or even a dining chair. She’s all alone, no other model, but now you want to tell a story, so you add not one, but two wine glasses to indicate she’s not alone, she’s there waiting, someone is in the room with her—that’s editorial and all it took was an extra wine glass as a prop.

Pull out your smart phone, surf the web.  Google the genre of photography you’re working on and add “photoblog” to the end.  Photoblogs are just that, blogs that post photos often.  See what other photographers are doing today, not yesterday. Again, don’t copy, just use these photos as a starting point and adapt it to your photographic style. There are many photography tips on this website, just go through the tips you like and study those photos for starting points.

Call a colleague. I’ve had it happen to me where a photographer has called me and asked for some ideas. For the person being asked, this is challenging in that we’re not there on the scene, so the neat thing about this tactic, it forces us to imagine and with imagination comes creativity. Don’t abuse your friend though, call sparingly and your friend doesn’t need to know anything about photography, as you’re just looking for creative ideas and everyone has a creative side.

Crank it up! Yep, you’d be surprised if you add some beats and rhythm to a shoot it will get your subject going and even make your creative juices flow as often music “triggers” our memories of life in general. I know for a fact, music gets me in the mood to do many things and when I’m on a shoot, it helps my creative juices flow from my brain—so crank it up and don’t focus on just music you like, but the style of music your subject likes too. But be cognizant of the sound level, you don’t want to shout to your model to hear your directions as that will become a distraction.

So, there you have it, ten potential photo idea tips to get your brain sparked. Don’t worry, every photographer gets into a rut from time to time, this is normal. It’s how you get out of that rut that makes a difference, and if done right, you’ll be surprised on what you can create, perhaps your best masterpiece. Go create, you got this!

Rolando Gomez is a professional photographer and author of five photography books that has traveled to 45 countries for assignments. The former soldier and U.S. Army combat photographer has taught hundreds of photography workshops for almost two decades. A 2016, 2017 and 2018 Top Writer for Quora, his partial credits include Newsweek, Parade, Playboy, Rangefinder, Maxim, Rangefinder, New York Times, Stars & Stripes, and various other publications.
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