Creating Mood boards for portrait shoots: Gathering your ideas

creating mood boards for portrait shoots

As a portrait photographer I know first hand it can be crazy to gather all your ideas and put them down on paper. You want to shoot all different styles but you don’t know where to start. This is where mood boards can come in handy. 

Mood boards for Portrait Shoots

Mood boards help take the ideas you have rolling around in your head and present them in easy to understand graphics. Let’s check out my process for creating mood boards and how this helps present ideas for my portrait shoots, model test shoots and more.

Crazy in black moodboard portraits
Sample mood board – Crazy In Black Style

What is a mood board?

According to Wikipedia, a mood board is “a type of visual presentation or a collage consisting of images, text and other objects in a composition.”

Mood boards help convey a topic or idea but can also help convey feelings or emotions. They can be simple or complex. You’re only bound by your imagination.

Along with your mood board you can provide detailed text about the portrait shoot so your teams can understand the goal you have in mind.

Some Make-up artists will ask for the mood boards up front so they can narrow down makeup looks on site. Also, modeling agencies may ask up front for a mood board so they can decide on what model is the best fit for the style of the shoot.

favorite jeans portraits moodboard
Sample Mood Board – Casual Jeans in Studio

Why use mood boards for portrait shoots?

Mood boards for portrait shoots have been a huge time saver for me. I create these small collages of graphics to help my models understand the looks I’m going for. They’re made for inspiration and are geared towards helping your team understand the goal of the collaboration.

I know many photographers who use mood boards to help potential clients get ideas and use them as a starting point for photo shoots.

Are you struggling with ideas

I see many beginners struggle to get their ideas across for portrait shoots. Sometimes they just have too many ideas and don’t concentrate on just one or two specific looks at a time. Try creating different mood boards and then grouping similar looks together. This will make the ideas easier to understand.

This can help decrease the burden of you having to explain a specific concept you have in mind. Give your models options and let them find something that works best. 

gel photography moodboard portraits
Gel Portraits Sample Mood Board

Should you create a mood board for your shoot?

If you have a specific idea or concept in mind and want to recruit others to help you realize this look for your shoot, then yes, I would make a small mood board. This can be especially helpful if you are not good describing your end theme or subject. It’s ok if that happens.

Mood boards are perfect for helping convey mood, tone, style and other details about your shoot. These can help make-up artists understand what you are looking for. Mood boards help models with gathering wardrobe and looks for your shoots.

Use for ideas, but not to copy

There is a fine line between getting inspired and blatantly ripping off another photographer’s work. If you’re putting together mood boards to copy poses or exact looks, then you are using these the wrong way.

Don’t use mood boards to replicate work from other creatives. Use them to inspire your own collaborations. Get ideas but don’t copy the exact photos from the mood boards.

How to create mood boards

I use 2 apps on my iPhone to create my mood boards. These are Pinterest and Layout by Instagram. This way I can create mood boards whenever I get inspired on the road or when I’m mobile and don’t have time to get back to my computer.

The best way to start is by having a specific genre or style in mind. Think about keywords and how someone would look this up on google. You can even do a few quick image searches on google to help you get even more ideas. 

Searching Pinterest

I swear this application is a dream for photographers. You can find new or old fashion style and pretty much everything in between. Once you start creating boards you keep getting more ideas and recommendations from Pinterest and this helps create even more concepts.

Do a quick search for a style you might have in mind. For example, do a search for “cowgirl western style outfits”. You will get results for your search and you can find examples that fit your criteria.

Once you find ones you like, simply download the images to your phone or screenshot them and save to your albums. I use an iPhone so the images save directly to my photos. I try to save at least 6-8 photos of a particular look, but you can save even more if your feeling lucky.

using Layout by Instagram for Mood Board Creation
Ssing Layout by Instagram for Mood Board Creation

Layout by Instagram

Once I have the photos, I use layout by Instagram to put them all together. This helps create a small collage of images that help explain my ideas.

You can do this by opening Layout and this will bring you to your photo album. Select the images you just downloaded and this will put them into an organized board. You can change the layout or move the images around until you get it just right. Once your finished, just select “done” from the top right corner and the composition will be saved to your albums.

Other places to find inspiration

If you have exhausted your Pinterest search, try a few other places as well. Here are a few places and ideas for you to check out that can help you find images for your mood board.

  • Instagram – Do a quick hashtag search for keywords matching your idea
  • Magazines – Flip thru a few magazines and take pics of some of the photos or clothing that you like.
  • Google Images – Do a quick google search for ideas
  • Your favorite shopping website – Get ideas from current fashion trends and popular looks
  • Movies – Movies are huge productions that started with a single idea. Watch some of your favorite movies and get inspired by the costumes or styles.

Explaining all the details

Now that you have a small mood board that fits your goals, next is sending this out with a few small details to potential models. I usually post these to Instagram for model calls and let people contact me if they like the theme or style of the shoot.

I have done this countless times in order to find new people to work with. Posting the location and times I have in mind for the shoot and any other small details helps others get an idea of what I have in mind. Here are a few details you want to send along with your mood board.

  • Day and time of shoot
  • Location or address
  • Make-up details
  • Accessories needed
  • Dressing rooms or bathroom availability
  • Portable changing station available or not
  • Assistants on site or not
  • How many looks the models should bring

Let people know if they’re your images or not

One important note that I also make stand out in my model calls is “These photos are not mine. Concept only”. I don’t want people to mistake the images for my own.

I always add this disclaimer to the post and I also make sure people know these are just mood boards and are meant to help with ideas.

Example mood boards for portrait shoots

white top portraits moodboard captains jacket portraits moodboard fuzzy jacket portraits moodboard pretty in plaid portraits moodboard colored jacket portraits moodboard studio high end portraits moodboard summer style portraits moodboard

wet hair portraits moodboard summer dress portraits moodboard using Layout by Instagram for Mood Board Creation

Who should use mood boards?

No matter what style of portraits you do, there are many reasons mood boards can come in handy. Let’s check out a few like the ones below.

  • Senior Portrait Photographers – You work with very inexperienced young seniors so mood boards can help with posing or giving parents a theme to shoot for.
  • Wedding Photographers – Create a mood board from your own images and let clients get a better idea of what you have in mind, or gather some creative shots you would like try out and share them via your creative mood board
  • Boudoir Photographers – Gather images for your clients and help them find different wardrobe. Mood boards can also give them an idea of the feelings or emotions you would like to convey on the shoot.
  • Headshot Photographers – Give your clients an idea of different styles you can replicate for their portraits. Mood boards can give them a better understanding of how different backgrounds will look and what you can do with the images.

These are just a few examples, but the ideas can be limitless for your mood boards and how you implement them in your photoshoots.

athletic fashion portraits moodboard
Athletic Fashion Mood Board concept

Mood boards for Model Test Shoots

My model test shoots are full collaborations between me and models in and around the DFW area. I work with models to help build portfolios and create content for my website. You can see more of my portfolio work at

Mood boards come in handy for me when I’m trying to do a specific style of shoot and I need models who fit that specific look.

I work with models of all experience levels and I find that mood boards help convey a sense of professionalism because I’m researching my ideas and creating assets to help make that idea a reality.

If you’re interested in how I used one of my mood boards for a shoot, check out this model test shoot with Madison from Dallas.


Overall creating mood boards for portrait shoots is a great idea for helping you get your ideas narrowed down. The better you can explain your ideas, the better final product you will get because others understand what you’re shooting for.

Use mood boards as a guide. They’re a perfect starting point for beginners who want to start shooting more stylized looks but don’t know where to begin. There are many different ways to make mood boards so find the way that best suits your style. 

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