Ever since Hallmark coined the term “The Valentine’s Store” in a now-famous 1985 commercial, brands have connected with their customers in creative ways in the leadup to February 14th. According to estimates gathered over the years, 58 million pounds of chocolate are sold during Valentine’s week, sparkling wine sales spike, and 250 million roses are produced. In 2022, Valentine’s Day spending hit $23.9 billion, with the top five gifts being candy, cards, flowers, evenings out, and jewelry, according to the National Retail Federation.

Following years of change and uncertainty, we’re looking forward to seeing not only how brands reimagine and reinterpret Valentine’s Day for 2023 but also how photographers visualize an evergreen but constantly evolving holiday. This year presents the opportunity to try something new and put a fresh spin on familiar themes, with more room for creativity and experimentation. Consider these five ideas when shooting timely content for your Licensing portfolio.


In 2021, a survey from Bouqs, a flower company, revealed that 25% of respondents planned to buy themselves a gift for Valentine’s. There are a number of ways to visualize self-love this Valentine’s Day, from self-gifting to different forms of self-care, such as spending time outdoors or creating at-home spa rituals. Document your own self-care routine, or follow a model for a “day-in-the-life” style photoshoot.

(Research from wellness software brand Vagaro and OnePoll revealed that 73% of people were conscious of needing self-care in 2020, during the start of the pandemic. Over the last two years, self-care has continued to be a trending topic.)

For inspiration, consider fall in love with you, a 2021 campaign from the vegan silkwear brand NiLuu, which follows a woman as she takes herself on a date, buys herself flowers, and writes a love letter to herself. Or take a look at I Come First, a 2022 campaign from the Australian lingerie brand Bras N Things, in celebration of the “self-gifting” phenomenon.

Galentine’s Day

That 2021 Bouqs survey also found that 44% of respondents feel that Galentine’s Day is just as important as Valentine’s Day. First introduced in the popular TV show Parks and Recreation more than a decade ago, Galentine’s Day is a celebration of friendship, particularly among women. It takes place on February 13th, the day before Valentine’s.

Over on Twitter, mentions of Galentine’s Day in the UK rose by 37% just from 2020 to 2021. As Galentine’s Day has attracted mainstream attention, brands have tapped into the trend in creative ways: Hallmark makes cards for the occasion, and Party City first sold themed decorations to mark the holiday in 2019. Hallmark was inspired, in part, by research indicating that two in three women who buy products for Valentine’s Day do so to honor their non-romantic relationships.

Bring together a group of friends, small or large, for a photoshoot centered around friendship. You can take a casual approach and document a friends’ “night in,” or you could go all-out with the Galentine’s theme and related decor.

Much-loved pets

In 2020, a survey from OnePoll and Zulily found that 28% of Americans planned to spend Valentine’s Day celebrating with their pets. A separate survey of pet parents, this time from Skout’s Honor (a pet specialty brand) in 2022, found that 84.31 said “a day with their pets” would be the best gift, while 71.04% said a cozy night at home with their pets would be a perfect date.

Brands can also find ways to give back to animals this time of year. In 2021, Crook & Marker, a spiked beverage brand, made headlines by launching OnlyCans, a spoof on OnlyFans, featuring photos of shirtless models and adoptable shelter dogs. For every share on social media, Crook & Marker donated $1 to Muddy Paws Rescue.

Some ways to celebrate pets during Valentine’s Day include volunteering at a local shelter, making homemade treats for your furry friend, or heading outside for an adventure with your pet. After all, in 2019, 20% of shoppers purchased gifts for their pets for Valentine’s Day, with pet spending predicted to reach $886 million, according to the National Retail Federation.

Handmade gifts

At heart (pun intended), Valentine’s Day is a DIY holiday, but crafting has gained newfound momentum in recent years. In 2022, the arts and crafts store Michael’s released its first trend report, naming it the year of “mindful making.” Some key trends they predicted included “making together”—that is, family members and friends connecting over crafts—as well as thoughtfully personalized gifts and upcycled crafts (to reduce our environmental impact).

While they’re not Valentine’s Day-specific, these are all ideas you can incorporate into your seasonal photography sessions. “From construction to delivery, there are a lot of great images to capture during a crafting-themed photoshoot,” the 500px team says. Think about gifts, Valentine’s Day cards, baked goods, meals shared, and decorations.

Symbols of love

Sometimes, the most effective advertising visuals are also the simplest. Believe it or not, brands have been using the “heart shape” for more than a century; in 1868, Cadbury made the first known heart-shaped boxes of chocolates. In 1902, conversation candies were made into heart shapes; by 1911, “conversation hearts” had become a staple for Valentine’s parties and celebrations.

For still life/conceptual shoots, brainstorm classic symbols, such as the familiar heart shape or two clasped hands. If you’re working with models, candid gestures like hugs and embraces carry universal meaning. “Feel free to dig deeper to use symbols and gestures that convey compassion, empathy, and forgiveness,” the 500px team urges. “There are many ways to convey love, and getting creative with concepts can go a long way toward diversifying your portfolio.”

Prioritizing diversity

Last year, we briefly mentioned OkCupid’s digital greeting cards, made in collaboration with BIPOC and LGBTQ+ artists to celebrate inclusive love. Well, they returned for another year with more inspiring artwork.

From 2021 to 2022, the app observed a 10% increase in users who identify as pansexual; the number of users who identify as bisexual jumped by 250%, and there was a 29% rise in those identifying as non-binary. The idea is simple but profound, with OkCupid championing visuals that represent a diversity of experiences, beyond the narrow lens we usually see in commercial media.

When planning your photoshoots, consider what love means to you and the people in your life and community. Look at diversity from an intersectional lens, celebrating the everyday stories of couples, individuals, and families of all genders, abilities, ages, identities, and more. Think beyond the stereotypes and cliches, and get personal by highlighting what’s unique about the real people in front of (and behind) the camera.

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