June 10, 2020
How hard is it to pick a portrait idea? Is it all crossed arms in front of a brick wall? Or is it super involved and detailed? Where do you find inspiration?! In this post, I’ll walk through five sources of inspiration for your portrait session.
A portrait concept is a way of saying, “I want pictures of this.” Sometimes “this” is pretty straightforward – you and your family dressed in your Sunday best for this year’s Christmas Cards. Other times, the idea is much more involved – an editorial piece showing off a rock climber scaling a cliff face without safety equipment with a view of the hundreds of feet of air below them. Both are easy to describe, but one requires way more work and planning than the other.
Regardless of the complexity of your portrait idea, you’ll need to communicate it to your photographer. Otherwise, they’ll have no idea what kinds of portraits to take. The concept doesn’t have to be super detailed at first. Your photographer will help you develop it more before the actual session. But, it helps to come to your photographer with a portrait concept in mind.
So let’s figure out where to get inspiration for your portraits.
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We all have a movie that we can quote in our sleep and watch over and over again. Mine are Road to Perdition, Cinderella Man, and Inception. Not as common, but the same applies to a great book (White Fang by Jack London or anything Harry Potter for me). These cover all kinds of genres: classic 1930’s, modern 2010’s, and fantastical science fiction. The possibilities are endless! It’s easy to find inspiration for a portrait idea in existing stories. The fun part is collecting the clothing, props, and locations to recreate them. Plus, these are super unique and will absolutely stand out.
No kidding, one of my favorite shots I’ve ever taken was for a musical performance of Guys & Dolls. It’s stylized and moody and everything I love about creating a creative portrait.
Not a musical theater fan? Well, let’s look at your other hobbies! Do you like to read, paint, write, build furniture, scrapbook, sing, dance, sleep, swim, cook, build models, race RC cars, or do anything with your free time that makes you happy? Seriously, these are all great sources of inspiration.
Do you enjoy any sports? Baseball, football, hockey, basketball, or lacrosse? How about an activity like fly fishing, horseback riding, ballet, gymnastics, hiking, or lifting weights? One of my all-time favorite portrait concepts was of a mom lifting weights in the gym. She wanted to celebrate getting back into shape in time for her son’s first birthday. How freaking cool is that?!
Sometimes, we want to look awesome. If you’re a fashionista or enjoy dressing up, then you’ve got a concept. Recreate a series from a magazine, whether the clothing or the story inspiring it. Honestly, this is a great excuse to get some candid portraits of yourself or a loved one because you want some badass pictures.
Here’s an easy one. Did you graduate high school or college recently? Get engaged? Are you having the first family reunion in 20 years? These are all tremendous life achievements and are the best reasons to get some portraits taken. Heck, a portrait session can be a gift for someone else with a big win. Spread the love.
So you’ve got your portrait concepts – excellent! Now what? This is when many clients ask what they should do or what’s next. Simple, let me (your photographer) handle it. Once you have your concept selected, your photographer will ask a series of questions to help the planning process.
With my clients, I ask questions about desired location types, time of day, props, what clothing to wear & how to change outfits on location, and other relevant details. Once we know what we’re shooting, I’ll take on the responsibilities of location scouting, prop planning, parking, and all the other logistical details to make your portrait concept happen. The only homework assigned to my clients is the acquisition of the outfits necessary for their portrait session, and maybe some props. That’s it. Pretty easy, yeah?
So there you have it – five sources of inspiration for your next portrait session. Whether big or small, simple or complex, I hope these excite you with possibilities. Ultimately, portraits are a celebration of life and a way to tell stories. They can be your story or one you love. Either way, these portrait concepts are sure to make you smile when you see the finished product, especially when they’re yours.
One note I’ll add – getting amazing portraits taken is a huge achievement. But it’s nothing if you don’t do anything with your images. Sure, you can post them on Instagram and Facebook, but after a few months, your portraits will be lost in the scroll. And if you ever want to see them again, you’ll have to dig through tons of more recent images to find them. Consider printing your photos. It doesn’t matter if they’re all 5×7’s or a giant canvas hanging in your living room. I promise, portraits mean more when you print them, place them in your home, and share the stories with your friends and families.