How to Come up With Unique Shoot Ideas

How to Come up With Unique Shoot Ideas

It’s a common belief to think that creativity is a skill that you either have or don’t. While in reality, all creativity truly is a process through which you perceive things and situations differently than others around you. Coming up with an alternative way of seeing requires hard work but it becomes easier with time. Sometimes, we get lost in our thoughts or simply don’t know how to find any new ideas. So in this article, I have laid out for you a straightforward process to come up with unique concepts for your shoots and turn them into great pictures.

I have heard countless times big names in the industry declaring that being a photographer is all about finding solutions and thinking on your feet. This can be summarized by saying a photographer must be creative. Some people can come up with original concepts easily, others need to work harder. But it’s like anything in life. Each one of us is predisposed to be better at something. However, gifted or not, everyone still has to work to perfect his craft. When it comes to creativity, if you know the process you must go through to make it easier and more powerful, then it can become second nature with time. So with that said, how do we find crazy ideas for epic shoots?

Switch Off Your Screen

It almost makes me laugh having to write this as I’m typing on my laptop. But yes, turn off your screen. You most likely won’t find the next genius idea looking at HBO, going through your Facebook newsfeed, or playing Candy Crush on your iPad.

While TV, computers, phones, and other electronic devices have their place in our lives, they tend to fill our heads with empty thoughts. Instead of staring blankly at a screen, take a few minutes and meditate. Learn to free your mind, to center yourself, to become aware of your environment and your feelings. If meditating is too difficult for you at first, try to go out for a 20-minute walk and concentrate on nothing but your breathing. You could also try an app to learn meditation.

Copyright 2016 | Image by Quentin Décaillet - Model Sarah Pecherski |

If you are used to being busy all the time, running from meeting to meeting, this will be very difficult in the beginning. But trust me, if you are able to take just 20 minutes once or twice a day to empty your head, you’ll be much more efficient then and your ideas will become crystal clear. When your mind is busy it is hard to be creative, because you cannot really think coherently.

Open Your Mind and Your Heart

Don’t worry, I won’t tell you to start doing yoga here — even though it could be a great idea. Once your mind is empty, the stress is released, and concepts will emerge to you much more easily. But you must learn to see them.

Again, finding inspiration for a really creative shoot will not come from a picture another photographer has already done. Even if you take just one element of it, you’ll be unconsciously inclined to copy more than just that.

Good ideas come from your mind, from your feelings, from your emotions, from your heart. Right now, some of you surely wonder if I smoked something I shouldn’t have… Trust me, I didn’t. This is all true. It’s only hard to understand at first, and even more to put it in practice.

Just thinking about your feelings and emotions is oftentimes not enough, it doesn’t go deep enough. So take a pen, a piece of paper, and start to write how you are feeling. Write a short story with what you have in mind, draw your feelings... just get that pen moving and see what you come up with.

Find One Idea and Nurture It

Your piece of paper isn’t blank anymore, right? Well, then your idea is there. It might look like nothing now, but re-read what you just wrote in a few minutes, tomorrow, or in a few days and try to imagine how you could put that in front of your lens. How could you express this?

You could perhaps attempt to work with a makeup artist and come up with a makeup that is out of this world, or even aim to do it yourself.

Copyright 2016 | Image by Quentin Décaillet - Model Sarah Pecherski |

You could create a scenery that shows what is in your head, how you feel, or that represents something that runs through your mind.

Copyright 2016 | Image by Quentin Décaillet - Model Eva Sarraute |

Don’t forget, people don’t need to understand what you express through your images. You can make it as obvious or as abstract as you wish. The idea, the emotion, the feeling, or the story you want to communicate is the initial idea, but from then it can grow into something totally different.

How to Be Sure My Idea Is Good?

But not so fast! Before going into production, you have to put a bit more thought into it. It is very easy to mix up a good idea and good sense.

A good idea should be a challenge, something you haven’t done before, even something you haven’t seen before. It must be some kind of experiment that requires you taking risk(s). Not the kind of risk where you might find yourself hanging from a helicopter. No, just go out and create something you don’t feel comfortable attempting. Perhaps you lack the technical knowledge, perhaps you will have to gather a large team that you don’t know how to manage, or perhaps it’s just requiring you to shoot in studio which you have never tried before.

The good sense, on the other hand, would be to make something you can understand that you can even observe and bring to life without any trouble. The good sense is what pushes you to stay in your boundaries of comfort and just create a project that you know you can accomplish.

If you just have to watch to make your idea come to life, it’s most likely not a good one. You must sweat to get it! Put your hands and brain at work, leave your eyes for later when framing will be crucial.

Draw, Analyze, Refine

Now that you have your idea in mind that you are sure it is a good one, let’s refine it further. After all, why stop with a good idea when we could make it great?

Take another piece of paper and now draw your picture, draw what you conceptualized. See it as a first draft of your image, not as drawing. It doesn’t have to be polished and refined, it’s just for you to better envision what you will have to face. Analyze your sketch, find three positive aspects and three negative ones.

Drawing I did before the shoot shown above

Keep the three positives, but reflect on the negatives. Why are they an issue or not working? Is it a lighting problem? Is it a composition matter? Would they require you to do something that is absolutely not possible? Try to come up with a solution or an alternative for them. Then redraw.

Do the same with your second draft: Three positives, three negatives and analyze. Create one more draft.

Never Be Content, Always Go Further

Usually, three drafts are enough. But never feel content or satisfied, always try to push it further. It’s easy to produce something anyone can do, to copy others’ pictures, or to do the same day-in and day-out. However, it takes courage, efforts, and reassessment to create unique images.

The process I have laid out for you is a starting point. So don’t be afraid to make it better, because it surely won’t suit everyone. Try it a few times, see what works, what doesn’t and change it. If you had to keep only one thing from these 1,300 words is to look for ideas in your heart and in your mind, not on a screen. Great ones come from inside and very rarely from a simple “cmd+c, cmd+v.”

Quentin Decaillet's picture

Quentin Décaillet is a photographer and retoucher based in Switzerland specializing in portrait and wedding photography.

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I don't usually have a difficult time coming up with ideas, it's the execution that is the problem. I just don't have the skill set to bring most of them to fruition. Maybe with more practice...

Enjoyed every paragraph of the article and had a feeling like if I wrote it, thanks!
all the same process neatly described in 1 page
I have one more tip: sometimes an idea can be born and built on a single capture taken on phone. I always take pictures of locations which make me stand and stare fora while, later on I might accidentally pass on the picture and a boom idea will be born and developed . a visual piece of the final piece might be a good place to start a sketch, which also is so helpful for the model/team to gather around one common idea

a very interesting topic and one that I'm constantly thinking about as well. Sometimes original ideas are seemingly born out of nothing, other times I have to pound at it with a rock hammer for weeks until something remotely satisfying evolves. And again other times, only after letting go of an idea somehow I'm finding the missing puzzle piece. My own conclusion of this is, there isn't a right way to come up with ideas, simply continue exploring, try out different workflows, exchange ideas with other artists and keep your eyes open for the symbols, the themes and the beauty that surrounds us.

-take snapshots of places you've seen
-allow your brain some room and time off
-draw/write every little bit of idea you have
-sometimes ideas need time to take your time

Great article and great feedback from everyone above. I dig it!

I sometimes find maryjane helps creative juices too flow aswell.

For me I draw inspiration from cinema and everyday life. I think also it is due to my obsession with details, in particular, form / lines and light. Thinking about lens types, angle of approach and composition techniques. I also write a blog about some of my ideas / approaches as a sort of record and if anyone else is interested. But sometimes I think there are only a select few who are interested in the process and more interested in the end result.

I'm happy to open up and discuss my techniques if anyone is interested.

There are of course times when I'm out and about with the camera, that inspiration comes to me.