Organizing Creativity: Mood Boards for Photography Productions

Organizing Creativity: Mood Boards for Photography Productions
Note: the screenshots are for illustrative purposes only. Copyrights of art work, brands, trademarks and photos belong to the respective artists/companies.

What Is a Mood Board in General

A “mood board” is a tool that helps me to outline/capture my initial production ideas in the creative phase. The board grows organically with every flash of inspiration during the shooting preparations and it is mainly used for communication purposes with the team later on, ergo the makeup & hair artist, stylist and the model.

The board is my general collection of inspiration. But in the further advanced pre-production phase it turns into a “collection of/for decisions”.

What does a Mood Board for Me?

Mood Boards for 5 Looks in 1 Day - Anatomy of a Photo Production by Dan Hostettler

I am using mood boards in an enhanced mode. Actually, I don’t use the mood board just for my ideas of makeup, hair, type of model, styling and accessories. No! Most of the time, I am also merging my location thoughts and light setting drafts into it.
In my opinion, this all belongs together: a set has to be coherent, transport a theme/message, a style era or atmosphere.

This includes the proper model type, choice of colors, certain accessories and props, outfit ideas that are already linked to the right type of location and ideas regarding light characertistics (hard, soft, big volume, limited, natural, mixed, etc.).

Especially for this production that left us with a very small amount of shooting time and with a budget that was more than limited, everything had to be prepared very carefully before the first critical steps could be approached at all.

Old Fashioned Approach - Mood Boards - The Anatomy of a Photo Production Day - 2 - 4

My Old Fashioned Tech Approach

I’m an old fashioned mood board creator 🙂

I have to keep my eyes on all things and if possible at all of them at the same time. I have to be able to let my view wander about, jump back and forth in my thoughts or sometimes simply pause and take in the current overall picture.

Therefore, I am using the good old technique of pinning/sticking all ideas, emotions and the like onto a huge wall (or paper).

Of course this is not very practical when we are getting together in our team meeting; and it is not digital at all. If necessary, I then go ahead and take photos of the various sections to be sent via mail. Needless to say, that this is also not very practical for cataloging purposes.
In those cases I am making use of the photos that I have taken of every concept and board.

Well, I am a person who thinks visually. I guess this is the reason why I became a photographer after all 😉

Granted, nowadays there are apps for all sorts of electronic devices. Evernote is supposed to be pretty good, so is Adobe Collage. The technical implementation of your ideas is fully up to you. Most important is what you put on the board to fill it.

What Do I Generally Collect On My Mood Boards?

Models, Styling & Make up - Mood Boards - The Anatomy of a Photo Production Day - 2 - 3

Not only the collected variety but also the clear decisions resulting from it in the end are the alpha and omega of every good mood board, a requirement for a flawless production.

My work on mood boards always starts once the decision about the basic production parameters has been made.
The cornerstones of each production determine, for example, the shooting style (Glam, Nude, Sensual, Boudoir/Lingerie etc.), studio or ‘on location’, amount of sets to be realized and – last but not least – the available budget (!).

Where Do I Get My Dose Of Inspiration From?

Pinterest - Mood Boards - The Anatomy of a Photo Production Day

The fastest and most convenient way for me is to research topics and moods on Pinterest.

Being an infinite “mood board” in and of itself, the platform is filled with an incredible amount of visual appetizers for my type of photography.

Here the mood boards I follow on Pinterest. List is in no particular order. Board name & link:

Pantone Color Inspiration - Mood Boards - The Anatomy of a Photo Production Day3

Another one of my favorites in the digital world is the website of Pantone (“Celebrate the Color”) that I visit twice a year.

They have set up a great marketing instrument (“Pantone Color Forecasts”) for themselves but also provide true value with reports called “Fashion Color Report Spring/Autumn”.
And they even announce a “Color of the Year”.

Their reports show and recommend the colors in fashion for a certain period.

It’s not that I directly convert the things suggested there but it is always nice to be inspired and let yourself be guided by color combinations.

As a third medium, I am using the offline world – since I am old fashioned after all. Most of the time, this means magazines like Vogue, Playboy, Harper’s Bazaar, GQ, FHM, architectural journals etc.

Magazines - Mood Boards - The Anatomy of a Photo Production Day - Magazines

It is not only about the photographs but rather the incorporation of design, cropping etc. I can usually find a ton of single images online. But the complete emotion of a great “story” is always connected to a layout.

On a side note: I am not only interested in current issues but I also browse up to 30 years back in time!

Everything repeats after all 🙂

Last But Not Least: The Team’s Involvement

Team Involvement - Mood Boards - The Anatomy of a Photo Production Day

Do not forget about the team!

As a photographer, it is a good and helpful thing to follow your own thoughts, collect ideas and pursue certain styles.
But at all times, the last (logical) step is to discuss this input with the team.

With bigger productions the final mood board and the decisions taken are definitely based on a team effort!

Photo Production Planning & Implementation

Get a comprehensive and sexy insight in a complete photo production planning!

Tutorial: “Glamour Nudes: Shooting Blueprint. Concept, Planning, Shoot, Legal.”

Tutorial: ‘Playboy Glam & Artistic Nudes Photo Production’

7 Films. 133 Min Runtime. FullHD
Follow A Complete Production Process: Prep & Shoot. 5 Sets! Starring Czech Playmate Coxy Dominika.
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Content value?


A traveler at heart, inspired by women, working along Swiss precision. Dan is a mediapreneur, photographer, author of several books and founder + Editor in Chief of a successful photographer for more than 15 years Dan got internationally published and featured on/in GQ Online, The India Times, FashionONE TV, FotoTV, GoodLight Mag, amongst many others. Dan is currently residing and working in Prague, CZ.Dan will talk about his projects, provide insights in shootings & concepts, produce webinars, create Academy content, explain styles, emphasize the importance of working with models and any other exciting topic he discovers along the way.


  1. Hello Dan!,

    Well done again for coming up with another fabulous piece of content. I must say, I do all those things as you do when preparing for a shoot, and also observing women out there of how they play with their hair, makeup, what’s being worn. Just pure femininity.

    Thanks for producing another hit!!

    • Hello Roy,
      thanks for your feedback! Preparing is – at least for me – a crucial part as soon more people than just the model and me are involved. It’s probably also the commercial pressure. And the Swiss habit. 1st I need to create the imagery I strategically planned for the results (client, blog, edu-product etc.). But 2ndly it really helps me to give space and freedom during the shoot to loose the path and getting creative (enhanced production value) when I know I can rely on a schedule and plan somewhere deposited with my MUHA and/or production assistant :-))

      “Pure femininity”: ! that’s it! Keeping eyes and sense open to that. And – by coincidence – I just prepare such a shoot! Will have a gig in Berlin on Nov 27th to implement “Sense of Soul: Femininity” with a Canadian model. Excited and nervous 🙂

  2. I need to move to Prague or at least have a long week of shooting there . Having downloaded digested and read the e-book a few times this weekend and watched the video it was full of inspirational ideas and has added so much to my to do list
    The mood board to shows just how much we can use as inspiration
    As always Dan thanks for sharing


    • Hi Will, thanks for commenting! And thanks for purchasing my latest tut.
      Prague: you are very welcome here – send a note and we can create something wonderful here 🙂

      Cheers, Dan

  3. There is a real problem with Pinterest:

    I used Pinterest for the first time for coordinating a shoot with the model. I created a “secret” board and created some pins there – some by uploading images copied from a copyrighted source. Of course I expected that nobody else can see these pins because I uploaded them to a secret board.

    Today I got a notification that someone repinned one of the copyrighted images.

    After some research it seems there is a feature that Pinterest doesn’t warn about when uploading: All uploaded images end up on a global board “Uploaded by user”. Of course I tried to delete all the uploaded images as fast as I could but I don’t think this has any effect.

    I didn’t find any option that makes the pins themselves “secret” or private. Also making the pins private afterwards is not possible. Pinterest help says:
    “You can’t edit a public board to make it secret. You can only create new secret boards.
    Similarly, you can’t edit an existing Pin to move it to a secret board—since public boards or Pins may already have Pins or likes, you can’t make them secret.”

    So don’t upload any images which are copyrighted to Pinterest – they may end up in the wild.

    Regards, Frank

    • Hey Frank,
      thanks a lot for your insights!

      As I understand you were using Pinterest as a kind of “collaboration” tool. I’ve never used Pinterest in a way like that. I really just snoop & hoover imagery posted by others for my inspiration. I must admit I have no clue what could be done with this “tool” otherwise.
      If I need to show the selected imagery to the team I simply download them and either create a PDF (email) or put them via Google Docs into a collaboration mode. It’s internal, stays only available for team discussion and is not used in any other way.

      With one thing you are absolutely correct: once one has posted a photo there… – it’s “gone”.
      But this also can be a good marketing strategy: posting every now and then one of your shots with a BIG watermark on it 🙂


      • Hi Dan,

        thanks for your reply. You are right, I used Pinterest boards as a collaboration tool which was obviously a bad idea. Google Docs would be a possibility because of it’s builtin collaboration features and access restriction mechanisms.
        Your idea about “leaking” on Pinterest is a good one, I think 😉



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