From sketches to magazine clippings, a mood board can take on various forms. Here are our top tips for creating your own mood board.
Mood-boarding has always been popular in the advertising and fashion industries. But, in the last decade it’s come into its own, with photographers of all genres using online tools like Pinterest to gather inspiration and generate new ideas. Also called “inspiration boards,” mood boards are simple collages or assemblages of images. They often come into play during the brainstorming process, and they can also foster collaboration and the exchange of ideas, even virtually.
Mood boards are used as an inspirational tool in the creative process. Image by Darina Kopcok.
“Mood boards are about inspiration rather than copying,” Vancouver-based photographer Darina Kopcok tells us. “They usually contain elements that won’t even appear in the final images. The photos are supposed to represent the qualities of the brand or the desired aesthetic.”
A mood board can take any form you’d like, from a poster to a notebook. Traditional mood boards might feature magazine clippings and other printed material mounted on foam, while others are stored online in various formats. These days, apps like Mood Board make it easy to lay out your ideas and share them with others, with an array of templates to try.
Physical vs. Digital Mood Boards
When creating a mood board, experiment with various methods to find one suitable to your own work ethics. Image by Anna Lukenda.
There’s no wrong way to make a mood board, so experiment with different formats and media to see what works for you and your team. “In most cases, I make a mood board for my shoots,” Sarajevo-based fashion photographer Anna Lukenda explains. “Sometimes, it’s just a bunch of inspirational photos in a folder.’
“Sometimes, I just sketch in a diary, on a piece of paper, or write in my cell phone notes. And, sometimes, I make a real collage of photos, hand-drawn sketches, and descriptions. If you remember those school collages with magazine clippings, a mood board is very similar to those.”
Read on for our top tips for creating a mood board of your own upcoming photo shoot.
Tip #1: Set Your Goals
Prior to creating your mood board, decide what you’d like to achieve. Image by LightField Studios.
“Before you even start looking for inspiration, the first thing you need to have is a clear idea of what you want to achieve,” Anna Lukenda tells us. “Usually, the first thing I decide is the concept and color palette of the shoot.’
“Think about the mood you want—dark, light, romantic, serious, etc.—and draw up a color palette. These choices help you with everything from wardrobe to location scouting, and they’ll ultimately help to guide your aesthetic choices during retouching.”
Of course, the type of shoot and the client will also determine your style choices, so start with concrete goals.
Tip #2: Start Early
Prepare your mood boards in advance. Image by Olha Afanasieva.
“I try to make my mood boards a few months before a shoot, so I have more time to think about the stories and look for inspiration,” Kiev-based photographer Olha Afanasieva says. “I keep mood board folders on my desktop, and there is a mini version on my phone, so I can add new ideas at any time. I also do freehand sketches when I know exactly what I want. Sketching helps me stay on track on the day of the shoot.” The earlier you start, the more time you’ll have to find and refine your materials.
Tip #3: Do Your Research
Begin collecting and organizing assets and images. Image by Leslee Mitchell.
The next step to creating a mood board is collecting assets and images, which you can source anywhere from magazines and blogs to stock photo websites and advertisements. “Private Pinterest boards are how I organize the images I pull for shoot inspiration,” Nashville-based photographer Leslee Mitchell explains.
“These boards are filled with photos from fashion magazines, designer lookbooks, interior design magazines, Instagram posts, blogs, and even movie scenes. I also have private Pinterest boards with poses for when I photograph people. Consistently filling these private Pinterest boards with images ensures that I am never lacking in inspiration.”
Tip #4: Think Outside the Box
Find inspiration in various art forms. Image by Kaleen Enke.
Try not to limit yourself to photography only. “I would suggest emerging photographers gather inspiration from outside of other photographers,” Atlanta-based photographer Kaleen Enke says. “For example, I like to use music, fine art, and films to inspire the way I want my photographs to look and feel. You can print these inspirational images and hang them in your office or collect them in a special folder where you can look at them often.”
Explore online resources for inspiration. Image by Laura Battiato.
When creating her mood boards, Spanish-based photographer Laura Battiato relies on the usual places—Instagram and Pinterest. But, she also scours museum archives for intriguing works of art. You can even head to your local library for unconventional materials and inspiration. Make some photocopies to bring home.
Tip #5: Use Your Archive
Pull from your own archived material. Image by Fluid Frame.
You can even pull from your own previous shoots when building a mood board for a future project. “We always have images of most of our props and surfaces, so when we build out treatment decks for clients, we can pull from our own image library,” David and LJ, who together form the duo Fluid Frame, tell us. “We use Pages for simple mood boards and InDesign when creating treatment decks for clients.”
You can also take new pictures of things that inspire you when you’re out and about to add to your mood boards later, even if it’s just on your phone.
Tip #6: Add Words
Complement your images by adding text. Image by Slavica Stajic.
Mood boards are mostly visual, but including text and keywords can help complement your images. “A mood board is a perfect tool for collaborating with my clients, and it’s actually the most motivating and exciting part of the photography process for me,” food and lifestyle photographer Slavica Stajic tells us. “I use a combination of images and words to help refine my ideas, organize my thoughts, and better present my vision to clients.”
Tip #7: Limit Yourself
With mood boards, remember, less is more. Image by Efetova Anna.
During the research phase, you’ll pull as many images as you want, but eventually, you’ll have to cull and refine your selections. “When agencies send photographers mood boards, they usually contain five to fifteen images,” Darina Kopcok explains. “Try to stick to this range for the number of photos in your mood board. When it comes to mood boards, less is more. Too many images can dilute the essence of the feeling and atmosphere you are trying to get across.”
Everything in your final board should help communicate your idea and vision. If it distracts or clashes, leave it out.
Tip #8: Create Multiple Versions
Create multiple mood boards with different brand concepts for each. Image by Darina Kopcok.
“You may also want to make more than one mood board for the client to select,” Darina Kopcok adds. “Each board should reflect a different brand concept, but it should still align with your understanding of how the images should look in the end, based on the information that has been provided by the client.”
Tip #9: Invite Collaboration
Share your mood boards with other collaborators on the project. Image by Eugenia Porechenskaya.
Mood boards aren’t just for personal use. They can also help translate and convey your ideas to your colleagues, clients, and collaborators, including makeup artists and stylists. Share your mood board early in the process to show everyone the “look” you have in mind for the project, and invite them to weigh in with their thoughts. Most mood board apps make it easy to share and modify boards with a team, helping you to get on the same page and avoid confusion down the road.
“Always keep in mind that the mood board is something you create to help clarify your ideas, so add any and all information you consider relevant,” Anna Lukenda advises. “Take it with you to the studio, or on location, and show it to all your team members so they can picture your vision in their heads. If possible, share it with the rest of the team a couple of days before the shoot. This way, everyone will have time to familiarize themselves with the session.”
Tip #10: Make It Simple
Stay organized by creating an online file folder. Image by Court Whelan.
Mood boards can seem daunting at first, but they can be as complex or simple as you want them to be. The Boulder-based adventure photographer Court Whelan keeps it quick and easy by using Google Images and Adobe Bridge to make contact sheet-style mood boards. “Basically, you just save about twenty images (or however many you need) from an easy, online resource, then put them in a single file folder, and drag that folder into Adobe bridge,” he explains.
“Select them all and process them into a single contact sheet, making sure you set it as five rows by four columns if you do twenty shots. So quick, so easy, so inspirational! Also, it makes you look like a pro to clients when you show them the shots that you’re using to inspire yourself.”
Find more creative inspiration and learn how pro stock photographers turn their ideas into images:
Outsourcing Editing for Photographers: What You Need to KnowSubmitting Lifestyle Imagery with Shutterstock’s Digital Model ReleasesFrom Natural to Homemade: Choose the Right Background for Your ShootFrom Moody to Retro: Modern Flower Patterns and BackgroundsDiscover the 2021 Color Trends: Tidewater Green
Cover image by Slavica Stajic.
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