Step-by-step guide to planning a creative shoot

tips on getting creative photos
Learning to think creatively

Creativity is a complex concept.  It involves making something new and out-of-the-ordinary.  It means avoiding the expected and typical.  With this in mind, many photographers attempt to take creative photographs by creating absolutely insane and ridiculous scenes and then snapping a picture of it.  I'm always amazed when I look at the top-voted pictures on flickr each day.  Some of them are true creative masterpieces, but many of them aren't creative at all… they are just plain odd.  In my personal opinion, the photo featured on this page has gone off the deep-end.

I saw one off these odd photos last week.  I was taken aback when I saw a photo of a man with his pants down sitting on a toilet (knees covered his unmentionables).  The man had a box on his head, a television remote in his hand, and a sad face drawn on the box.  If this was creativity, I thought, then I'd rather not be creative.

So what is creativity, and how can we achieve it in our photography?  In Jim's English Dictionary (sounds more authoritative than just, “In my opinion”), creativity is “Structured freedom to play while creating something of value.”

Structure, you ask?  What do structure, rules, or self-control have to do with creativity?  Isn't creativity about thinking outside the box?  I learned the answer to that question a few years ago while watching old re-runs of I Love Lucy.”

In the old days, the U.S. government placed strict limitations on what could be shown on TV.  One of those restrictions was that a couple, even a married couple, could not be shown as being in the same bed.  On the show I Love Lucy, the directors had to have the husband and wife sitting in separate beds while talking at night.

I saw an interview with one of those directors, who said that limitations such as the law about the bed as well as many others, were the best thing to help them be creative and think of new things.

I think that photographers have something to learn from this example.  If you want to make your photography more creative, the answer is less likely the complete abandonment of the rules, but more likely thinking of rules as a springboard for new and unique images.  For example, when you're trying to think of something creative to shoot, don't abandon the rules of sanity completely and just shoot the most random and weird thing you can think of.  Instead, stay on planet earth and think of creative ways to photograph traditional subjects.  The following are five steps to get your right brain moving and thinking of interesting and unique concepts for your next shoot.

Creative photography tip #1: What interesting locations do you have access to?  For example, you might have a friend who owns a dentist office, or you might have a membership to a gym, or access to a racquetball court, or a grandpa with a farm.  Think of interesting locations that may be unique in that others might not have the type of access that you do.  This is generally the first thing I consider when conceiving a shoot.

Creative photography tip #2: What will be the subject?  This could actually be anything.  This is less important than the location, but it is a necessary step to plan a shoot.

Creative photography tip #3: What creative limitations can you artificially place on yourself?  Remember from I Love Lucy that it was the rules that spawned creativity?  Perhaps you could do an entire shoot with only an smart phone, or never show all of the model's face, or do the entire shoot from up on a small ladder, etc.  Not only is this fun and challenging, it will place you in new situations that may teach you things you never knew.

Creative photography tip #4: What emotion do I want to communicate?  Do you want the photo to be fun, pristine, beautiful, scary, cool, what?  Don't just shoot for the heck of shooting.  Think of an emotion and work with it.

Creative photography tip #5: What light will best highlight the mood?  For example, fun lighting might be colorful; beautiful lighting is probably warm and soft; cool lighting might be cold and hard.

What do you think?  Am I totally wrong?  Do you happen to LOVE the image featured on this page?  Do you have more tips on how to conceive creative concepts for a portrait photography shoot?  Comment below!


4 thoughts on “Step-by-step guide to planning a creative shoot”

  1. Agreed. It is extraordinary how many completely loony photographs are made in the pursuit of “creativity.”

    This is especially apparent in photographs of women for some reason (not sure what many are in pursuit of) as in the photo illustrating this article.

    If I see one more photo of a woman with a gun, sword, snake, or draped over a sports car, I’ll scream. Then again, if I made that pledge I’d be screaming myself hoarse.

    The best photographs are made simply by “being there.” As you say, a different perspective on the commonplace can be revelatory.

  2. Spot on, about implementing an unrestricted creative impulse. It is a great thing to allow your mind to free form think; to allow all creative ideas to come forth. But, rationale thought needs to eventually be in the driver’s seat to determine what aspect of those impulses have value.

  3. Great, thanks. I love your creative mind – this is how I want to express my creative instincts after I master the basics of photography. Love your website 🙂

  4. Great, thanks. I love your creative mind – this is how I want to express my creative instincts after I master the basics of photography. Love your website 🙂

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