Finding Inspiration: Music Videos

Where do you look when you are searching for inspiration for your photography?

Growing up in the 80s and 90s, music was a big part of my creative inspiration. I remember Saturday mornings watching Video Hits and late nights watching the music video countdowns on Rage. These were the days before we had such ready access to the internet, YouTube videos on demand were not yet known and MTV as a channel dedicated only to music was a novelty. Music was the soundtrack to all our days and the accompanying video clips were a core part of this experience.

Music videos are a great source of inspiration for photographers, offering ideas and motivation through the study of lighting, composition, cinematography, colour, editing, focus, storytelling, symbolism and the overall aesthetic of a clip. After all, videos in their simplest form are just multiple still frames strung together and many of the technical principals are the same.

Taking inspiration from music videos doesn’t have to be literal either. Digging deeper than the initial visuals can uncover a treasure trove of ideas that can be adapted into photographic concepts, allowing us to translate inspiration into our own voices and create something true to ourselves.

Below are a few of my favourite music videos for visual inspiration.

Ellie Goulding – Figure 8

Pause any frame of this video and the still image would make a beautiful photograph. The juxtaposition of both black and white and colour and the splashes of vivid red in an otherwise neutral colour palette are striking and add both softness and intensity. Light and shadow are used beautifully to show the passing of time and to draw the eye, leaving other parts of the frame almost entirely in darkness. Certain scenes are also flipped either upside down or 90 degrees, giving a sense of distortion that is just subtle enough to make you question reality.

Veruca Salt – Shutterbug

I would still love to go and play in the prop cupboard from this shoot – the bicycle dresses and springy hoop skirts combine surrealism with a theatrical twist (and besides they just look like they’d be so much fun). The architecture of the space is beautiful, adding to the drama. The tones of the video are slightly muted with softer blacks and a mix of deep rich colour with neutral, natural tones and focus is used creatively, often blurring the image or hinting at elements rather than showing them directly. The video is also shot from varying angles – below looking up, increasing the visual height of the spring skirts, or from above looking down on the twirling dancers, adding a different sense of perspective.

Michelle Branch – Goodbye To You

Besides the appeal of the nomadic artist lifestyle – travelling as the road takes you with nothing but a guitar – the small details and symbolism in this video are what appeal to me. The goldfish in a jar, being released mirrors the story of Branch in the video as she walks out of one life into freedom. The word ‘dreamer’ written in pen along her finger. The sun flare through the trees and from behind run-down buildings, emphasising their texture. Little elements like this help to build a story with more depth.