In today’s article I present a type of photography that perhaps you have heard from afar, or you have been afraid to approach it, or you have tried it but you have stayed with the intention. This is conceptual photography. A type of photography that can be a very wide field although however extensive it may be, all the works have a clear common denominator, expressing an idea, a concept.
This seems so complex, it is not if you know how to carry it out. That’s why today I’ll tell you in a few simple keys so you can achieve your first concept photography. And that, instead of getting frustrated and throwing in the towel, you want to keep trying. If you don’t, let it be because it doesn’t go with you, you don’t like the experience and you are more of another type of photographic genre. But let it not be because you don’t know where to start or how to execute. That’s why we are in the Photographer’s Blog ;).
What is conceptual photography?
If we say landscape photography, well, it’s easier, but if we talk about artistic photography, for example, or concept photography As it is in this case, things get a bit complicated, right? It seems that the limits are less clear and the concepts can get confused or mixed. So you don’t get lost, a direct definition to the point: conceptual photography is one that aims, with an image, to convey a generally abstract idea.
“Half Full” (by Jordi Larroch)
Currents within conceptual photography
It could be said that there are two types of currents within this discipline:
The one who tries to message be the most clear and universal possible. The idea is that everyone who looks at the photograph understands the message immediately and without misunderstanding. In this type of photography, the messages are clear, with simpler images, without distractions.
«Time» (by Jordi Larroch) Another current that sends more subjective messages with more complex ideas that leave possible interpretations open for the viewer to draw their own conclusions. In this case, the risk is greater, since the viewer may not understand the message or even not even see that there is an underlying message. Here, the photographs can be more complex, with more symbols or even more overloaded with elements.
Photograph by Gerome Viavant
To get a clearer idea, I definitely recommend that you take a look at the work of Chema Madoz. He is one of the best conceptual photographers in history (and my favorite). His message is clear, direct and his images are prepared but not retouched. You can see here a documentary about his work.
Conceptual Photography Applications
Beyond the artistic connotations that conceptual photography can have due to the fact that it is photography, there are some applications or outlets for this discipline.
Advertising photography. Advertising photography does not only intend to show a product, an object, but also tries to associate that product with a message or idea, from the idea of happiness to that of freedom, to name a few examples. Advertising has a great ally with conceptual photography and makes the most of it.
Image banks. If you are looking to expand your job opportunities as a photographer, you can consider the possibility of creating conceptual images to sell through image banks. These images are used both for advertising and to illustrate articles (such as this or any other type), whether in digital or print media.
Social complaint. Although conceptual photography is very different from documentary photography, it is also used as a social complaint, to portray the society that surrounds us, as a call to reflection.
If you identify with any of these reasons, or you are simply curious or like to experiment and try new photographic styles, I encourage you to continue reading to discover the keys that will help you achieve conceptual photography.
Retouch Yes or no?
Although first of all we will talk about a topic that can be controversial. Many of the conceptual images imply a large dose of manipulation or digital retouching. Now, is it necessary? No, it is not. It could be said that this is one of the most creative and what else requires the imagination of the photographer, because the idea can be conveyed without the need for Photoshop or any other photo retouching program. In fact, I have mentioned it before, the great Chema Madoz, does not achieve his photos with retouching, but with ingenuity. The ingenuity and the imagination they can more than supply a touch-up or photographic manipulation.
Moreover, the more real an image seems, the more simple and direct, the more it will impact and reach the public. Sometimes you see conceptual photos where the result is due more to a computer creation and can end up screeching the brain. If you want an efficient message, better get to the point.
It is not necessary to modify an image to convey a concept
On the other hand, there is a powerful tool with retouching programs that opens up a whole world of possibilities and that, of course, can be used for your own benefit and for the message you want to convey. This tool is not required but it can help.
Raffaele Claudio Rossiello
In the end, the important thing is not going to be if retouching has been done or not, but if it impacts the public, if the underlying message reaches them. The choice is yours ;).
How to do conceptual photography?
In this case the way of working is different from how we usually proceed. Normally you grab your camera and go in search of landscapes, emotions, beautiful scenery, street snapshots, etc. You seek to capture the beauty of what surrounds you or immortalize moments, for example. There is a reality that you photograph, although in the process you modify that reality through composition, speed or any other photographic technique that you have at your disposal. In conceptual photography you believe that reality. Nothing is random, it requires planning (although it is possible to catch it by chance, it is rare). Shooting is the last thing.
Steps to follow
Below I detail the seven steps to follow to achieve a photograph of this type:
1. Look for idea or concept
The first thing you have to decide is what idea or concept you want to convey with your photography. It can be anything you can think of, from death to freedom, going through economic crisis or family. Anything goes.
2. Choose the message
With the same concept, very different messages can be expressed. In this second step you will have to decide which one you want to send to the viewer. It can be a positive or negative message.
3. Define public
It is not the same that the photograph is aimed at a young audience than at a more adult or mature one, it is not the same if it is aimed at women or men, your audience may be the workers of a specific company, or of a specific city . Define the audience and it will help you fine-tune in the next step.
Once you have the idea and the message, and your defined audience, you will have to decide how to transmit it. To do this, you can brainstorm what you relate to the concept and the message. From adjectives to situations, people, places, etc., always taking into account the people to whom it is addressed so that you can relate to the symbology, the colors, the place, etc.
5. View the image
You have a first sketch in your hands, the first ideas on the table, now try to visualize them in your mind, imagine what your photography can be like. You can even imagine different scenes. Stay with the one you like the most, the one you see the clearest or the one that is most comfortable for you to execute, this will result in a better result and the desire to repeat ;).
6. Set the stage
It’s time to build your reality, prepare the objects, the lighting, the ideal setting and everything you can think of to achieve the image you have visualized.
Well yes, it is a photograph in which the important thing is the message, but… do you think you can forget about a good exposure? Or a good composition? Absolutely. Your image must be correct at a technical level, with a good focus, well exposed and with a careful composition, because otherwise, the public will not stop to look at it, and so… how is the message going to reach them?
To finish, I leave you with some conceptual authors so that you can continue delving into this type of photography:
I hope this article has been so inspiring that you just can’t resist picking up a pen and paper to start putting your ideas down. If so, I am going to ask you a favor, that you share it so that other people can also try a bite of this interesting photographic discipline. Spoonfuls of ideas for everyone!
Photograph by Dannyqu