Steven Brokaw Photography

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The Mood Board


I use a “mood board” on all but the most casual portrait / beauty photoshoots. A mood board is an excellent tool used by everyone on your creative team.  Even if the creative team consists of only yourself and the person you’re photographing.

What is a mood board?

A mood board is “an arrangement of images, materials, pieces of text, etc., intended to evoke or project a particular style or concept.” Essentially, for your model, makeup artist, hair stylist, stylist it’s a pictorial guide on the theme / vibe of your photoshoot.  You are sharing the concept & vision of the desired outcome so everyone is on the same page.

Is a mood board absolutely required or needed for every photoshoot?  Of course not.  If you just want to shoot-around, let people do their own thing, or simply want to shoot based on the vibe at the time, then it’s not needed.  However, even in these situations I will create a mood board as a fallback if someone on the team needs inspiration.

Here are several uses of a mood board in my opinion and experience:

  • Let’s your makeup artist know your shoot theme so he / she can achieve the correct style; commercial, editorial, theatric, beauty, highly contemporary, moody, etc. (i.e., you don’t want the makeup artist to apply a commercial styled look when you are going for an edgy editorial).

  • Your hair stylist will know how he / she is to style hair, how much time to plan and what equipment / products to bring.

  • Your model will know the clothing requirements, how to emote, how much skin will be shown, posing needs, etc.

  • If you are using a fashion stylist, what style of clothing to bring or pull.

  • It lets the agency or booker know what type of model to present on any castings.

There is no one-way to put together a mood board.  The actual format of the mood board isn’t as important as long as you use some form of mood board to convey your shoot theme.  There are several apps / online or downloadable to simply drag & drop photos into a form or template.  You can put together a composition photo with Photoshop.  You can create one in MS-Word / Excel or equivalent and embed images. You can physically tear photos out of magazines and bring them to the shoot.

Right now, I’m using 2 methods.  They are:

  1. Create a Board on Pinterest and Save photos I’m using for inspiration in the Board. I then send a link to the board to my creative team via email. You can also add Collaborators to the Board. I create a specific Board for each shoot. I have also created several “generic” Boards, i.e. “Test Shoot”, I can use on multiple shoots.

  2. Create a folder in Dropbox & save or drag/drop inspiration photos into the specific folder. I then Share the Folder to each person or send a link.

However, on either method I often (mainly larger shoots or magazine submissions) create separate sub-folders for “Model”, “Makeup”, “Hair Styling”, “Fashion”, “Location”.  This way each member of the creative team receives specific information.

On the day of the photoshoot, but before we get going I review the mood board with everyone on the creative team. I want to make sure everyone a) looked at it, and b) understands the vibe.

That’s about it.  It’s simple, but in my opinion very important as an editorial / commercial fashion photographer.

A few additional tips / experiences:

  • Send the moodboard to the team several days before the shoot. This is especially important if a stylist or designer is pulling specific fashion, accessories or props.

  • Make sure the team looks at the mood board, and encourage them to ask questions if needed. Trust me, I’ve had situations where it’s not been reviewed.

  • Bring a printed or electronic copy of the moodboard to the shoot

  • Talk through the moodboard before everyone gets started.

  • If a model is uncomfortable with a specific look or clothing style represented on the mood board make sure they tell you well before the shoot. You may need to change the model or the inspiration.

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