Coming up with a great idea is challenging for me. I only know one person who can come up with a great idea on the spot, and that’s Photofocus editor Rich Harrington. Recently, our studio was selected to design a Dream Shoot for

We could do anything we wanted, a wide-open project, and would provide all the gear we needed. One of the hardest things for me to do is come up with a good idea. I have ok ideas all the time, but most never amass to anything. Here are a few ways that I come up with a good idea.


Look at some of your favorite brands and pick apart their advertising. Reverse engineer their style and try to imitate it. I had originally wanted to do a sports shoot as my Dream Shoot, so I looked into advertising and promotional materials produced by Nike and Under Armour. I learned a lot by breaking down their style. Clip some images and save them in a folder labeled Inspiration.

Note, these images are copyright their respective photographers and used for educational purposes only.


Every once in a while I like to stop by my local Barnes and Noble to browse the magazine section looking at everything from business to fitness, home and gardening to weddings. Seeing whats popular and trending in other genres of photography help the way I craft my shooting style. Don’t be afraid to buy a magazine and tear out pages, or use your phone to save images for your Inspiration folder.

Mind Maps

I always have a few ideas stuck in my head, but I can’t expand on them if I don’t see them in front of me. Mind maps help me visually organize my thoughts and develop average ideas into great ones. Most of the time Ill do this brainstorming alone, but sometimes its helpful to do it with friends to keep ideas flowing. Write it all down – don’t let a thought hold you back. You can always cross it out later. Don’t know where to start? Answer Who, What, When, Where, and Why.

Movies & Television

Telling stories in motion are sometimes easier than telling a story in just one photo. Graphic designers and photographers working in Hollywood often have a monumental task to promote movies and television shows in print, but they come up with some remarkable images. If you like a certain scene in a movie, take a screenshot and save it. Analyze the lighting or the set design. Look through movie posters and try to break them down into small pieces.

Note, these images are copyright their respective photographers and used for educational purposes only.

Social Media

Instagram, Pinterest, and Tumblr are great resources for photo inspiration. Just type in a keyword for the kind of shoot youre looking for and hundreds of different looks will come up. A little while back, I also wrote about using Instagram to find great locations. Here’s a quick search for “sunset” and “key west”.

Once you gather a bunch of images, develop a mood board and find out what those photos have in common. Is it the lighting? or the location? . . . maybe it’s the post-processing that really draws you into the image. Here’s an example of a mood board I created for a project a few years back by dragging images from my Inspiration folder into Photoshop and doing a rough layout. The client wanted a tough, gritty look for a brand of custom t-shirts.

Some of the best ideas in the business are borrowed or stolen. Theres nothing wrong with taking a concept, evolving it and running with it. Find a way to try and make it your own. Im always looking for new inspiration and different ways to come up with new ideas. How do you come up with ideas? Share your thoughts in the comments below.