Explore studio portrait photography ideas, which are ideal for all levels. Get inspired, unleash creativity, and capture stunning moments in your studio.

The empty studio for a photographer is quite like the empty canvas for an artist; all that remains is to fill it. But how? Coming up with unique and high-quality ideas is challenging for photographers at any level of experience, especially when inspiration fails to strike. If you are wandering around your studio, straining for an idea to pop into your head, read our guide to help inspiration strike, and start creating art with your photography.

Classic Studio PortraitsMastering Studio Portraits: From Idea to Final Shot | Skylum Blog(2)

Let's begin with the simple yet brilliant setup of classic studio portraits. Sometimes, returning to minimal and basic setups can spark inspiration. It strips away all the extra effort a photographer might be attempting, adopting this simple yet effective approach.

Traditional Headshots

The power of the classic headshot lies in its ability to captivate through a visually striking glare, meticulously applied makeup, a thoughtfully chosen outfit, and harmonious colours. Source a model and focus on creating an effective colour balance for the base of your image. As we're taking a more simplistic approach here, concentrate on just one element as the focal point of your shot, whether it be the colour choice or the hair design.

… or Full Body

Continuing in the same vein, keep it basic with a full-body shot. Focus solely on the outfit. Concentrating on just this one aspect and blocking out all external noise will help get your creative gears turning.

Now, let's discuss lighting, and just like before, we're keeping it simple:

High-Key Lighting

Low-Key Lighting

Does the outfit or the model's look warrant a bright and airy aesthetic? If so, opt for a high-key lighting setup. If you want to keep things simple, use minimal but sufficient lighting for your setup.

Or perhaps a touch of drama? Minimise lighting to create a moody and emotional piece. As you progress through the shoot, your creativity may ignite as you experiment with the interplay between light and shadow.

Sometimes, artists struggle for inspiration because they may be overthinking everything. The whirl of thoughts diminishes clarity and stifles creativity. By taking a minimalistic approach to a shoot, focusing on just one aspect of the scene, and using basic lighting rigs, you can foster that creative spark.

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Creative Lighting Techniques to Experiment WithMastering Studio Portraits: From Idea to Final Shot | Skylum Blog(3)

To help elevate a classic studio portrait, you could introduce a creative lighting technique. There is so much equipment and different approaches that one could consider when it comes to the lighting for your shoot, but thankfully, we can create inspiring studio portraits with minimal gear.

1. Split Lighting

Create a dramatic and powerful look by shadowing one-half of the face of your model. You can make the shadows dense to create more of a contrast with the lit side. This would particularly look great when it comes to headshots. 

  • How to: Remove any softbox from the light and using a bare bulb, light your model. Then introduce a screen or board to block half of that light illuminating your subject. You can get creative with the board’s position, or you can put holes into it to light up some portions of the shadowed side.

2. Colour Gels 

Get creative with colour, by introducing colour gels to your set. Taking careful consideration of what your model is wearing you can select one or multiple colours to create an eye-catching composition. 

  • How to: Attach colour gels to your lights using clips or adhesive. Experiment with different colors and positions to see how they interact with your subject and background. Be mindful of how the colors blend and contrast with your model’s attire to achieve a harmonious look.

3. Silhouettes 

Bring in a touch of mystery to your shoot by creating a silhouette portrait. For instance, you could do a full body shot of a dancer mid-pose, the interesting body shape silhouetted would create intrigue for your viewer. 

  • How to: For silhouettes, we don’t need any light on the model themselves, we only need to use backlighting. However, you could perhaps only silhouette a portion of the body by introducing a spotlight into your image to illuminate the model’s face for example.

4. Rembrandt Lighting

Using Rembrandt’s paintings as inspiration, create an artistic portrait using his signature lighting technique. For this shoot, why not introduce rustic colours into the shot for your background and model’s clothing?

  • How to: Position your light 45 degrees in relation to your subject, raise the light up slightly and angle it down. We have an in-depth guide to further lighting techniques including loop and butterfly, which you can read about here.

These creative lighting techniques offer a range of artistic possibilities that can transform a simple studio session into an expressive and impactful photographic experience. By experimenting with these methods, you can discover unique ways to illuminate your subjects and bring your artistic vision to life, regardless of the complexity of your equipment.

Props and ThemesMastering Studio Portraits: From Idea to Final Shot | Skylum Blog(4)

Props are not just accessories; they can be the cornerstone of creativity in studio shoots. Often, an entire shoot can revolve around a single, inspiring prop, or they can help define the themes for your session.

Natural Props

Utilising natural elements like fruits or plants can add vibrancy or convey tranquillity. For instance, a colourful portrait could include models interacting with fruit, such as squeezing to show juice running down their hands—an approach that pairs well with a food stylist for added flair. Alternatively, a serene setting might feature floral arrangements, with models surrounded by an assortment of flowers. For such detailed setups, collaborating with a floral designer could enhance the visual impact.


Furniture can serve both as a prop and theme, especially if it boasts a distinctive style like shabby, chic or antique. It not only adds interest but also provides a variety of posing options for models. Keep an eye out for unique pieces in thrift stores that can be featured in your shoots.

Sports Equipment

Integrating sports equipment can infuse your shoots with energy and motion. Consider using longer shutter speeds to capture the dynamism of the equipment in use, emphasising movement and action.


While working with animals can be challenging, it can also enrich your photography by capturing the interaction between pets and models, adding a playful element to your images.

Vintage Pieces

Incorporating vintage items such as old clocks, cameras, or suitcases can create a timeless quality in your photos. These shoots could be further enhanced by applying vintage filters and editing techniques during post-processing to reinforce the nostalgic feel.


For a beauty product shoot, various cosmetics like moisturisers, creams, and lipsticks can be showcased. Using bright, clean lighting can produce high-quality, appealing images that highlight the products effectively.

Always be on the lookout for interesting items in your daily life that could be incorporated into your photography. You never know when an object might spark an idea for your next creative project.

Experimental TechniquesMastering Studio Portraits: From Idea to Final Shot | Skylum Blog(5)

Daring to venture beyond can sometimes lead to groundbreaking artistic creations. While experimental techniques may not always work, they often open new avenues for creative expression. Here are some ideas to ignite your creativity:

Motion Blur

Previously mentioned in the context of sports equipment, motion blur can also transform classic headshots. It can convey a spectrum of emotions or apply energy to still portraits, making them appear more vibrant and lively.

Double Exposure

Venture into the city and capture vibrant night scenes to use in double exposures. Blending these images with studio portraits can produce eye-catching visuals, ideal for conveying themes or moods. Double exposure can also be used to merge two different poses of the same model, creating an intriguing layered effect.

Projection Photography 

Project images directly onto your model to set an impactful scene. Use patterns, natural scenes, or abstract graphics as your projected images to craft a narrative or establish a theme.

Smoke, Mirrors, and Water

Utilise smoke to add a mysterious or ethereal quality to your shots. Water and mirrors can be used for their reflective properties, creating captivating visuals and depth. Consider submerging your model partially in water or using the reflective surface of a mirror to enhance your composition.

Starting with simple experiments and gradually embracing more complex ideas can lead to a wealth of creative opportunities. One successful experiment may spark another, leading to a cascade of unique and imaginative results. So, don't hesitate to think outside the box and explore the potential of your ideas, no matter how abstract they might seem initially.

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How to Get Inspiration to StrikeMastering Studio Portraits: From Idea to Final Shot | Skylum Blog(6)

Experiencing a creative block can be incredibly frustrating, leaving you feeling overwhelmed and stifling your creativity. As artists, we've all encountered this challenge, akin to a writer facing the dreaded 'writer's block' while staring at a blank page. So, how do you break out of this rut and reignite your passion for creating? Here are some strategies to help inspiration flow:

Take a Walk

Sometimes, the best way to clear your mind is to step away and immerse yourself in a different environment. Whether it’s a stroll through the woods, a city park, or along a bustling street, let your thoughts wander without pressure. This mental break can unexpectedly spark creativity.

Explore Other Forms of Media

If photography alone isn't inspiring you, turn to other artistic disciplines. Watch films by visionary directors who might share themes with your work, visit art galleries to study the classics, or dive into a novel and let your imagination visualise the narrative. Engaging with diverse forms of art can provide fresh perspectives and innovative ideas.

Try Something New

If you're accustomed to studio work, why not change your setting? Experiment with street photography or outdoor portraits. Venturing into different photography styles can broaden your creative horizons and potentially enhance your studio work.

Rest and Be Patient

Occasionally, the best way to overcome a creative block is to take a significant break from your work. This doesn't mean an hour off to handle chores but perhaps a week away from your artistic endeavours. A proper break can reset your mind and rejuvenate your creative spirit. Remember, great ideas often come when least expected, so patience is crucial.

By embracing these approaches, you can transform a period of creative stagnation into a productive phase of artistic discovery. Keep an open mind, and allow yourself the time and space to find inspiration naturally.

The Bottom LineMastering Studio Portraits: From Idea to Final Shot | Skylum Blog(7)

Studio photography is an exceptionally rewarding experience, creating scenes and telling narratives through the lens. Like all artistic endeavours, there are times when inspiration might seem elusive, leading to moments of frustration as you search for that next spark of creativity. We hope this guide has inspired you to embrace both simplicity and innovation in your approach. Sometimes, returning to the basics with a straightforward portrait can rekindle your creative spirit, or perhaps, exploring entirely new techniques will open up uncharted artistic territories. Keep exploring, and soon enough, you'll find your flow.

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Mastering Studio Portraits: From Idea to Final Shot | Skylum Blog(8)

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