7 ideas that will help you plan a subtle Valentine's shoot

Valentine's Day
(Image credit: Joanna Nix Walkup from Unsplash)

With Valentine's Day imminent, you’ve no doubt seen shop aisles adorned in hearts, food stores advertising dine-in meals for two, and your Instagram feed filling up with love-inspired photoshoots. If you’re planning a Valentine's-themed shoot of your own, but think you might have left it too late, we've got some simple ideas that will ensure your shoot isn’t clichéd!

Despite being single, I’m not a hater of Valentine's Day. In fact, I think it’s the perfect occasion to reiterate to your friends and family how much they mean to you. However, I do hate how commercial it can be and I really hate seeing cringe-inducing Valentine's posts popping up on my social media.

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I’ve got no problem with photographers wanting to shoot Valentine's content. It’s nice to shoot something a bit different and give yourself a theme to work with, but what I cannot stand is seeing shoot after shoot involving red roses, heart-shaped balloons and pink or red backdrops. Just because Valentine's Day is stereotypically all about hearts and varying shades of rouge, doesn’t mean your photography needs to be.

Valentine's is about love, after all – it’s about emotions and connections, may that be with a romantic partner or your best friend. It’s about intimacy and vulnerability and all of these things don’t add up to someone holding a pink, foil, helium balloon. I’m not saying the themes I’ve mentioned can’t be used in photoshoots at all, but try to be sparing and think a little bit outside the box. 

To help you plan a non-cringey Valentine’s shoot, we’ve come up with seven ways to incorporate love into your photography without being too in-your-face. We’ve taken inspiration from some of our favorite wedding, street and fine art photographers so we can guide you in planning a shoot that you can be proud of, any time of the year.

1. Think Editorial

(Image credit: Farhan Abas from Unsplash)

Instead of thinking purely about how you can make this a Valentine's shoot, think about how a fashion shoot can be made to feel intimate. There are lots of subtle ways that editorial photoshoots can elicit the feeling of love without showing obvious displays of affection. 

It could be as little as a simple touch of an arm, or someone leaning their head on another person's shoulder. Sometimes less is more, and you don’t need to shoot people kissing to make viewers think there is more to the people in the picture than meets the eye. Fashion magazines can be a great source of inspiration, so next time you’re in a shop have a flick through Vogue or Tatler.

2. Subtle styling

(Image credit: Sunny NG from Unsplash)

It’s very easy to instantly jump on the bright red rose bandwagon when shopping for props, or ask your model to wear clothes with sweetheart necklines and romantic silhouettes. There are, however, better ways to go about styling your shoot. Try opting for light-colored flowers (possibly not even roses) if you're set on using florals – I love using gypsophila (baby's breath) in shoots, as it's super dainty and you can use it to cast beautiful shadows. 

When it comes to outfits, play around with different textures and tones. Neutral colors are great for layering, and work really well if you're shooting outside. Suits are a great choice of outfit; they're powerful, a juxtaposition to the usual Valentine's attire, and your model will almost certainly feel powerful in one. Pair with either a sheer shirt under the blazer or nothing at all for a look that is both seductive and serious. 

3. Get to know who you're shooting

(Image credit: Wright Brand Bacon from Unsplash)

If you’re shooting a couple, try your best to get to know them first. Find out where they met, what makes them laugh, what their quirks are or even what they love most about each other. You could incorporate places they hold dear to them in your shoot such as where they met, where they had their first date or even in the home they share together. 

Wedding photographers are known to ask their couples to whisper saucy sweet nothings in each other's ears to instigate laughter – you too could use this technique to capture some beautiful, candid moments. 

4. Shoot the extremes

(Image credit: Nadine Rupprecht from Unsplash)

When thinking about composition, experiment with shooting from really far away so that you can capture full body shots with a beautiful background, or really up-close and personal shots where you perhaps just capture parts of their face or just their hands. The best way to capture moments that feel real is by making the couple feel like you're not really there, so that you can see snippets of your couple in their most natural form. 

5. Shoot Boudoir

(Image credit: Monika Kozub from Unsplash)

If you’ve ever thought about doing a boudoir shoot, Valentine’s could be the perfect opportunity. Not only will you get some stunning images for your portfolio, but you could boost someone’s self-confidence at the same time. Valentine’s isn’t all about the love you have for someone else; it can also be about the love you have for yourself and what better way of making someone feel confident by taking pictures they can look at and think “I am beautiful”. 

If you do plan a Boudoir shoot, make sure you talk at length with your model first about what’s expected of them and what they’re comfortable with, and don’t be offended if they ask to bring a chaperone. 

6. Catch the quiet moments

(Image credit: Toa Heftiba from Unsplash)

This might sound a little counterintuitive, but photograph your couple doing everyday things like lying in bed together, cooking breakfast, taking the dog for a walk or driving in the car. So often in life, we forget how important these little moments are – a little hand squeeze here, or a kiss on the cheek there. Try to capture these lovely sincere moments and your photography will appear all the more authentic. 

7. Be avant-garde

(Image credit: Shot by Cerquelra from Unsplash)

Just because you're shooting something Valentine's-themed, doesn't mean you can't be a little bit abstract. Whether you're shooting with a couple, an individual or a group of friends, experiment with unique poses, camera angles, composition and props. Be a little bit avant-garde with your color palette, wardrobe choices and locations and your shoot will thrive! 

Scroll down for more Valentine's inspiration…

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(Image credit: Farhan Abas from Unsplash)

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Hannah Rooke
Staff Writer

Having studied Journalism and Public Relations at the University of the West of England Hannah developed a love for photography through a module on photojournalism. She specializes in Portrait, Fashion and lifestyle photography but has more recently branched out in the world of stylized product photography. For the last 3 years Hannah has worked at Wex Photo Video as a Senior Sales Assistant using her experience and knowledge of cameras to help people buy the equipment that is right for them. With 5 years experience working with studio lighting, Hannah has run many successful workshops teaching people how to use different lighting setups.