Themed Photography: Tips for Developing Creative Ideas

Theme photography is a trend gracing the pages of magazines and websites. Using a theme while shooting can really help get the creative juices flowing.

What exactly is themed photography?

It’s basically creating a story of your own or going with a predetermined template such as a “princess,” “superhero,”  or “boho” as your theme. You can even base your themes around seasons. Many photographers will offer various types of sessions throughout the year such as “spring/Easter,” “back to school,” “Christmas,” and “birthday.”

Sticking to a theme can really help take the guesswork out of what to shoot. By deciding what topic you want to work with, you can bring not only inspiring images to light, but make a more intriguing and enlightening piece of art. If selecting a topic is not your idea of fun, you can also use something as simple as a color to create your theme.

Here are some theme ideas and tips to help boost your creativity.

Themed Portrait Color White

The above image was created using a color as my theme.  I shot this on a white wall and had her wear a white dress. She looks like she is upset, but this was actually a capture of her laughing and hiding her face. It goes to show how creating an environment within your theme can make an impression. The post processing involved removing most of the color to wash out the image, but not enough to make it black and white.

Here are a few ideas of themes for inspiration:

  • Colors: white, red, green, blue etc.
  • Children’s fairy tales
  • Superheros
  • Favorite childhood characters
  • Style: boho, hipster etc.
  • Environment: garden, forest, sea, dirt.
  • Tea party
  • Transportation: airplanes, trains, hot air balloon, motorcycles, bicycles.
  • Circus

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Little Red Riding Hood Themed Portrait

1. Theme: Little Red Cap

Getting creative with your theme is the fun part. Above is an image from a themed session  inspired by the Grimm Brother’s fairy tale “Little Red-Cap.” All that was needed was a cute red cape and a happy six-month-old. If you look closely you can see the big bad wolf lingering in the shadows.  Babies don’t take direction very well so patience is always a plus. It also helps to have a small bottle of bubbles and a rattle or squeaky toy nearby.

Tip: When working with babies, make sure they are propped up somehow if they cannot sit on their own.

Here we dug a little “pit” in the ground and sat her inside it. Dad was always close by in case she tipped backward. Safety is the first and most fundamental rule. Another technique I use is I cover my camera bag with a blanket, set it behind the baby and ask mom or dad to stand close by. You can never be too careful.

Woodland Fairy Themed Portrait

2. Theme: Woodland Fairy

For this image, I looked for a place in the woods near my home. I live in the suburbs, so I had to use what little space I had. There happens to be a small wooded lot near my home which was perfect for this shot. I waited until the sun was low in the trees and used that as backlighting. I instructed her to close her eyes and focus on the sounds around her.

Tip: Don’t have the props you are looking for? That’s ok! You can make them yourself!

These “fairy wings” were made by cutting pieces of vine-covered wire and tying them off into the winged parts. I then attached these to a small metal hoop and created the webbing with string. The webbing part was done much like that of a dream catcher. The butterflies are from an overlay. These can be found all over the Internet for a small fee or free. The hairpiece came from the woods! I found a few sticks and stuffed them into her hair. Don’t be afraid to utilize your surroundings.

Pinocchio Themed Portrait

3. Theme: Pinnochio

When you pick a theme, it doesn’t have to be taken too literally. There is no need to buy expensive costumes or spend a ton of money on props. For this themed image, Pinocchio was the inspiration. Instead of using costumes, I decided to keep him as natural as possible. I had him sit very still and I took several shots. One shot was of him holding the stick up to, but not on, his nose. I later combined the images in Photoshop and added the bird and butterflies later on. While holding the stick, I instructed him to imagine a bird sitting in front of him on the stick so that his expression would be believable.

Tip: Take several shots.

Now that we live in a digital age, we can get away with shooting more. You never know when you might be able to use a sky from one image or perhaps a background from another. Try different angles when shooting. Stand up, kneel down or even lay on the ground to get various points of view on your shots. In this image, I was kneeling low to the ground to get the right perspective. Here, it is as though we are spying in on a moment with the subject.

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