Narrative concepts, lighting design and posing/acting are the most obvious components that make all your ideas in a photo series (or an epic single photograph) come to life.
However, messages and moods can be strongly influenced by conceptual aspects which are developed in a stage way before picking up the camera for the actual photoshoot.
Creating Imagination First (Does Cost You Nothing!)
In the very early stage of any shooting endeavor (the pre-project phase so to say), you can spin around your ideas in order to awaken your dormant creativity and produce unique outcomes.
Intensive and serious concept preparation not only makes a lot of sense but also pushes your creative thinking towards new boundaries. While it is easy to dream big, budget constraints will quickly bring you back to earth and let you search for unconventional solutions. And here is where the beauty of creative conceptioning starts: It is all about how to achieve thoughtful imagery the well-executed way, meaning in a low production cost framework.
In short: It is “creating imagination first” and then on to fighting for low costs. It basically all comes down to juggling your mindset. And as you will quickly figure out when following the imagery in this article: Creating alluring, meaningful and top-notch imagery and yet sticking to your original ideas is definitely possible even if there is only very little money involved.
I just love this very early preparation phase!
Introducing My “Keyword Toolbox”
The strategy “Keywords First” can be applied to any of your existing inspirational sources that you derive your ideas from.
Think about it: A campaign you love is based on a message which is based on a feeling/message the campaign aims to convey. This message/feel can be broken down and deconstructed into a few isolated, simple keywords.
- Example 1: Agent Provocateur. This is “Allure & Seduction”. At least the men are interpreting those attributes. I have no idea how that campaign works for women. But I guess (know?) that the guys are the ones buying the stuff most of the time anyway?! Or at least a gift voucher…
- Example 2: Window Lighting. We love! Natural light plays around the model and lets her appear vulnerable and sexy at the same time. Keywords? “Soft”, probably “Romantic”, “Natural”.
Now the logical progression of keywords finally yields to a foundation of a story. Of course only if they are applied in a meaningful dramaturgy and narrative way. In reverse, this means that a story is built from a set of keywords (explained in a very simplified manner).
Breaking Down Shakespeare. Or Star Wars.
Take a good old Shakespeare play: Order, Disorder, Change, Love, Drama, Tragedy, Conflict, Magic, Guilt, Youth, Life, Illusion, Dreams, and of course – Death.
Or let us look at more contemporary media; “Star Wars” for example. Just apply all the keywords from Shakespeare 🙂
RomComs: Romantic, Dreams, Innocence, Drama, Retrieval, Hope, Meg, Billy and so forth 🙂
I just referred to plays and movies here but of course we can look at books and other sources. Yet as a photographer, it is the more obvious choice to recite from movies. Anyhow…
Freezing Your Little Stories In A Single Frame
The thing is that “stories” need “space” and “time”. Movies, even short ones, are stringing sequences (= statements) together that form the plot and finally reveal (= telling us) the complete story. Well, most of the time…
The same goes for books: Between front cover and back cover, there are more or less pages that tell us a story.
Now, and this is nothing new here, an image transports a part of a made-up story in a single frame (or at least should). Of course, an editorial format shoot helps to spread and tell a story over a few images (= pages) but we are basically limited to create a very “informative” shot by means of just one frame.
One image is (should be) able to lay out a comprehensive story/message in a very powerful way.
In my general working approach, all starts with a single keyword (or with a maximum combination of 4 of them).
Use Very Different Keywords For Your First Portfolio
I am a pragmatic. When working with a limited budget, the “Keywords First” approach is an excellent strategy for outlining different concepts the foolproof way.
Because there is one more aspect you need to take into consideration: If you are just starting-out with building a fresh portfolio from the scratch, you will most likely be happy to have quite different images to present. Actually you are in need of them!
By different imagery I do not mean greatly different in photographic styles so that nobody would recognize that they are from the same photographer. No, I rather mean different in stories and messages.
I doubt that you are going to implement a concept of “romanticism” 27 times first (nor are you keen to do so). Of course, you can take such an approach but then you will miss out “drama”, “alluring glam”, “artsy art” and so forth for your very first, basic book.
Now a last clarification in order to (hopefully) avoid confusions:
If you are aiming for shooting “Boudoir” then we declare this as a style, and not as a keyword. But certainly you can shoot the style of “Boudoir” with different “story/message”-keywords applied to them, such as “romantic”, “erotic”, “diva-like”, and “dreamy” – and if you can’t get a meaningful description, you can just use “beyond…” 🙂
The same principle naturally goes with every other style like Glamour, Portraiture etc.
Keywords Applied In My Live Photo Shoots
Some of you have participated in my latest 2 webinars (= Live Photo Shoots) where all of my sets’ concepts where strongly tied to my keyword approach, too. As you can see in the imagery in this article, every series got a distinct purpose and image look which was necessary in order to create some meaningful and representative educational material.
Each of the webinars is classified and set up as a specific standalone shoot, following a single genre. We explored Portraiture in “Contemporary Allure” and Artistic Nudes in “2 Girls’ Glory”.
For communicating the differences of those two separate shoots, the most effective way I had was to boil down the sales aspect to being very straightforward. So I threw in obvious components. I did not work in a filigree way but rather rubbed the genres in your face, making you curious and wanting to sign up.
You do not understand what I mean?
Well, I worked with clichés and some stereotypical approach for the genres, but not for the series itself. Nobody reads on the internet anymore and people’s attention span is more than ultra-short. If we/you can’t explain a concept/idea in a single hashtag, it gets hard to cut through the noise.
So I applied effective buzzwords that spark interest and at the same time describe the basic feel of the photo shoot.
BOUDOIR LIVE Will Be The Same!
As written in my former article “Why I Add Boudoir Photography To My Service Portfolio“, I am excited about shooting Boudoir for private clients in my boutique studio in the near future.
I am a firm believer that this style (have I already mentioned that it is not a genre?) will be commercially successful for me.
In order to make you curious and create the desire to join my Boudoir Live Photo Shoot, I once more applied the same keyword strategy, which is totally convergent with the series that I am going to shoot.
- “Charming Femininity” is the overall claim; an adjectivized/descriptive keyword combo that supports the feel.
- “Classic Boudoir”, “Boudoir Portraiture” and “Beyond Boudoir” are the series’ concept titles; nothing more than style/keyword combinations; not adjectives in this case but descriptive claims.