Photography Shooting

8 Things that will Inspire Your Next Portrait Shoot

Krystal Vee portrait by Aloha Lavina. All rights reserved.

If you make portraits all the time, where do you get inspiration for a varied, exciting portfolio?

Many might say it’s one thing—their favorite face, a specific lighting type, or concepts. But if you really want to keep inspired and keep making beautiful pictures of people, it’s important to take inspiration from the photo shoot itself. If your favorite thing is missing from a shoot, you can still get inspiration from other factors that go into an awesome photo session.

Here are eight sources of inspiration for your next photo shoot.

1. Motion

portrait by Aloha Lavina. All rights reserved.
Add motion into a portrait and make it pop. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

We take still photos, but there is no reason why the results can’t be dynamic. One of the easiest ways to evoke this dynamism in your photograph is to ask the model to move. A slow series of motions can help you create fluidity in the image, especially in situations where your background or clothing may not be that colorful. The flavor of a movement can spice up a photo, giving it more impact.

2. Emotion

Krystal Vee portrait by Aloha Lavina. All rights reserved.
Evoke emotion from your subject. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Not all models are great actors, but there are techniques to bring out emotion in your subject. Playing music during a photo shoot, or talking about memories, can trigger emotion in the model. This is sort of delicate; you don’t want to have a model turning despondent on you during the shoot, so it’s important to be sensitive while directing a model’s emotional response. But you can evoke emotion that translates into a facial gesture that makes a portrait stand out.

3. Shapes and Lines

Krystal Vee portrait by Aloha Lavina. All rights reserved.
Shapes and lines can help you compose a portrait, even close up.

Sometimes, something as simple as circles and arrows or lines can make a portrait pop. Using these shapes to add contrast or texture, or using lines to lead to the face can help you get a good portrait.

4. Poses

Krystal Vee portrait by Aloha Lavina. All rights reserved.
Change up the poses and find some inspiration in your model's flexibility. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Changing it up during the shoot, directing the model to contort or show the extent of their flexibility can help you create unusual portraits. Constantly trying new directions for poses helps you learn versatility in your own direction skills, too, plus trains your model to visualize what their body is doing for an image.

5. Lighting and contrast

Krystal Vee portrait by Aloha Lavina. All rights reserved.
Contrasty lighting can help you make unusual portraits. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

If you are practicing making portraits with natural light, you can create situations that utilize the high contrast, harsh light that streams in even at midday. Because the light is so contrasty, your portrait will pop with the hard light and shadows. The trick here is to use exposure compensation well, as well as metering. Metering on the middle values (grays) can help you make sure both the shadows and light are delineated well, and underexposing a bit can help, too.

6. Location

portrait with foreground texture copyright Aloha Lavina.
I've never met vines that didn't inspire a portrait. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

Some locations are better than others. Even if you have never been to the location before, spending a few minutes scouting around for things you can use to add texture, depth, or interest to the portrait can help inspire your portraiture.

7. A prop

Krystal Vee portrait by Aloha Lavina. All rights reserved.
A prop can help create frames, leading lines, and depth in a portrait. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

In case the location and lighting are not that amazing, you can always bring a prop. When using a prop, it’s often inspiring to challenge yourself—how will it enhance the photo? Is it the positioning, the texture? Can you use it to contrast the skin? To add a frame to the image? Using a prop can inspire creativity during a photoshoot.

8. Simplicity

Krystal Vee portrait by Aloha Lavina. All rights reserved.
Simple compositions can be inspiring. Copyright Aloha Lavina.

No matter what the situation, at times going back to basics can be a way to inspired portraiture. Simplicity often gives you a clean composition, a graphic quality to the photo, and an uncluttered result. If your background and clothing for instance are both gray, you can still create a pleasing portrait using lines, curves, and a fierce pose.

The next time you schedule a photo shoot, pay attention to these eight things. One of these might just be the inspiration you need to make stunning portraits.


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You might also like:
Using the Background Effectively in Your Portraits
When You have to Wing it
From Idea to Image Part I: Planning
From Idea to Image Part 2: Lighting Clothing

How Different Lenses Help You See Creatively


  1. You are so very good Aloha. I wonder if I will ever get there.

    The top one is just jaw dropping awesome.

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