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Six ways to capture Valentine’s Day

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Hallmark introduced its first Valentine’s Day card in 1913 and started producing them in 1916. In 1948, De Beers unveiled its iconic “A diamond is forever” slogan. In 1986, Hersey’s released Valentine’s Day “kisses” with pink and red foil. By 2004, estimates suggest that consumers bought more than 35 million heart-shaped boxes of candy annually.

Brands have understood the power of Valentine’s Day for more than a century. Although the language of advertising has evolved and expanded in countless ways since then, marketers continue to celebrate love stories every February. Here are our tips for modernizing your Valentine’s Day Licensing shoots and speaking to today’s image-buyers.

Note: Covid is still affecting our daily lives, so stay safe on set! Limit your shoots to small groups of friends and family, use PPE, and practice social distancing.

Spotlight on: Modern dating

As we touched on in our article on visualizing modern love and romance, the Covid pandemic and related lockdowns have boosted engagement on online dating apps and pushed video dates into the mainstream. According to research from Morning Consult, 71% of dating app users said they’re logging on more during the pandemic. What’s more, 36% of adults have used a dating platform, marking an increase from 29% who said the same in 2018.

When capturing Valentine’s Day in 2022, consider creative ways of seamlessly incorporating technology, whether you’re shooting a romantic candlelit virtual date, a festive Zoom Galentine’s Day, or an online get-together between generations of family members. “Don’t forget about non-romantic relationships this Valentine’s,” the 500px team adds. “If Covid has taught us anything, it is that our relationships are important to us. For example, consider kids sharing or showing off their Valentine’s crafts to friends and relatives virtually.”

Spotlight on: Inclusivity

One of the most iconic romantic ads of the last decade is Vodafone Red’s 2013 spot The Kiss, tracing the journey of childhood sweethearts as they grow up and age together through the decades. Age diversity continues to be much-needed in the realm of commercial photography, and romantic images are no exception. Remember to include moments of senior love in your portfolio.

Diversity and inclusion shouldn’t be an afterthought; instead, make it a priority in your approach to photoshoots, from concept to realization. Look to your community for inspirational love and family stories between people of all identities, including a range of backgrounds, body types, abilities, genders, and romantic orientations.

For inspiration, consider OKCupid’s 2021 campaign, featuring a series of digital greeting cards. To bring the project to life, the brand collaborated with BIPOC and LGBTQ+ artists. In 2017, Lush Cosmetics made a splash with an LGBTQ+-inclusive Valentine’s Day campaign, featuring couples in their bathtubs.

Another example of inclusivity done right can be found in Virgin Media’s Faster brings us closer campaign by Adam & Eve/DDB, featuring the love story between two gamers, one of whom happens to use a wheelchair. Collaboration is the cornerstone to any successful commercial shoot, so involve your models in the process and include stories that are meaningful to them.

Spotlight on: DIY

Valentine’s Day has a long history of DIY culture, with the first cards being handmade—in 1847, Esther Howland started manufacturing a collection of stunning, lace-adorned cards for the holiday. Of course, many of today’s consumers have embraced a DIY renaissance. According to Etsy’s Marketplace Insights report, DIY kits emerged as a key shopping theme for 2021, with “personalized gift” taking the number one spot among search terms.

As part of their annual Pinterest Predicts report, Pinterest named “kidding around” as one of their top trends for 2022, citing trending search terms like “useful crafts for adults” and “popsicle stick crafts for adults DIY.” From homemade Valentine’s to DIY floral arrangements and fun home decor, this time of year is perfect for crafty photoshoots featuring the whole family.

“Capture your children making their Valentines, or record the process of your maker friends creating Valentine’s Day-themed crafts (think: knitting, crochet, paper arts, ceramics, or woodworking),” the team at 500px suggests. “You can also set up your own DIY shoot with cute handmade decor, styling, or backdrops that add a personal and one-of-a-kind feel.”

Spotlight on: Home-cooking

At the end of 2021, HelloFresh’s Food Trends & Innovation Report found that almost half of those surveyed said that they cook at home more often than they did ten years ago. Beyond that, more than one in four said they plan to eat together with their families more often in the upcoming year.

Last year, a survey by the research company Numerator revealed that while plans to “eat out” for Valentine’s Day had declined (unsurprising, given the pandemic), cooking at home and ordering takeout were on the rise. Cooking meals and baking treats as a family for Valentine’s Day offer the perfect opportunity for documentary lifestyle images, allowing you to fade into the background and capture genuine emotions and memories.

Sweets and desserts are ideal concepts for Valentine’s, from chocolate truffles to tarts, brownies, and lava cakes. “Be sure to capture the whole process: the baking stage, the decorating stage, and the final product,” the team at 500px advises. “Be creative; browse blogs for recipes and photo ideas, and check out our 500px blog for tips on photographing food.”

Spotlight on: Intimacy

According to Match’s annual Singles in America survey, 83% of singles want emotional maturity in a partner. 84% want someone they can trust and confide in, and the same percentage is looking for someone they can communicate their wants and needs to. Interestingly, just 78% want someone physically attractive, down from 90% in 2020. When photographing couples, it’s important to take a holistic approach to intimacy, thinking beyond the physical to include moments of emotional intimacy and support.

In commercial photography, we talk a lot about “micro-moments”—everyday scenes that resonate with all of us. Moments of intimacy don’t have to be dramatic or sensational; they can also be beautifully ordinary. “Consider what intimacy means to you currently and what you think is overlooked,” the 500px team suggests.

“Every day micro-moments have an intimacy about them as they are observations and recordings of your model’s routines, family, personality, and personal space. Plus, in the age of self-love, we think it is about time to celebrate the love and respect you have for yourself!” Last year, in particular, we saw brand messaging move toward a stronger focus on self-care and treating oneself amid the pandemic.

Spotlight on: Details

As with any commercial shoot, you want to get a variety of angles, perspectives, and compositions. While your lifestyle photos will include wide pictures documenting the entire scene and atmosphere, remember to include the smaller details as well, like two people holding hands or a hand removing a freshly baked batch of chocolates from the oven. “Valentine’s Day content is great for getting cropped shots and close-ups,” the team at 500px tells us.

“Think about romantic gestures, decorative details, or crafts. Also, consider making your subject anonymous to the viewer, allowing your audience to imagine themselves within the scene.” These details and personal touches feel universal, helping to tap into the emotions we all feel at this time of year.

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