As the name suggests, conceptual photography is all about capturing meaning and essence of the moment. And to take these ideas to extreme, the photographer uses a series of elements, props, light, poses, atmosphere and other techniques to create a mood or convey his/her feelings to the viewer. Very few conceptual photographs give a single message, but send out a series of messages or try to put forward a series of emotions. The most successful conceptual photographers however, are those who are able to create a single message with a powerful photograph using simple and few elements. They ‘put in place’ the things and the beings which are the subject of the final photograph, and the placement of those things and beings ‘construct’ the concept, the idea, and the final outcome. The most successful conceptual photographs are those with very simple, clear backgrounds, where nothing but the subject(s) evokes the feeling or conveys the message. Conceptual photographs, or the photos that include special meaning behind the scene of the real objects in the photo, inspire and fuel the person’s creativity as you develop the ability to see the creative idea behind the photo.
Glimpses of Conceptual Photography
Any message or feeling that the photographer intends to convey in conceptual photography, should be done as aesthetically as possible. Images are known to have a powerful effect on our emotions, and thus the phrase – “a photograph says a thousand things”. That being said, your goal as a conceptual photographer should be to provoke a response, not to offend the viewer. There is abstraction to some extent in a conceptual photo; the image is not exact example of the concept, but a general expression of the idea. Concept shooting needs lot of ‘mental’ preparation, rather than on scene analyzing. Before you shoot, you have to decide on several things. For creative ideas, the best way out is to think of images that mean something to you or evoke a feeling, emotion, sensation, and then find a way to use those images in the photography. Conceptual photography does not always attempt to be delighting or beautiful. At times, it might simply be, or even present deliberately, displeasing images to get an idea across. Hence, many conceptual photographers attempt to make their images indifferent, to make sure that the viewer is not deflected from the concept of the photo, either way.
Conceptual photography uses well-established and carefully chosen graphical symbols to represent ideas, movements, moods, anything and everything that the photographer wishes to include in the message of the photograph. Symbols with strong, well-established connotations are usually used by photographers to help embed their message and carry forward the idea behind their image. Symbols are placed in the composition such that they may or may not correlate with each other, but together add to the meaning of the photograph and evoke an emotion in the viewer’s mind while conveying the desired message. This kind of photography often involves use of photo editing software to achieve the desired effects and give the image a final touch, thus improving the photograph.
A Photographer’s Role
Some conceptual photographers like to assert that their photograph has one and only one objective meaning, and they strive to make ‘it’ mean the same to everybody, regardless of the background. This may or may not be possible all the time, as the viewer may not always be able to relate to the symbolic juxtaposition in the photograph. On the other hand, some photographers attempt to make their photographs ultimately subjective to interpretation, and leave it entirely to the viewers themselves to decide what it means. Many people believe that this makes sense, as it is impossible to expect every single person to interpret your image in a particular way. As different people have different experiences, such subjective attempt is considered to be more sensible as the viewer can interpret the photograph based on his/her own experiences.
A good conceptual photograph communicates your message in a powerful and unique way with good photography skills. The objective variant of conceptual photography is more useful when it comes to advertising, as the photograph must convey the desired meaning in an advertorial and a promotional purpose. Whether for use in print media, television, or on the web, a successful photograph can upgrade your brand from the average to the outstanding. But even in this case, the attempt can only be restricted to a particular region. The subjective variant, however, is more of the artsy kind, and thus, may or may not be suitable for the advertorial purpose.
Many photographers around the world have done outstanding work in the field of conceptual photography, and set a benchmark for others to follow. Some of the renowned photographers who have added to the glory of concept shooting and influenced the art immensely are Eugène Atget, Man Ray, Irving Penn, Cindy Sherman, Herb Ritts, Andreas Gursky and Dan Pero Manescu. Those who wish to explain their point of view graphically and get a message across a range of audience can opt for this kind of photography. With the above explanation on what is conceptual photography, arm yourself with the right camera and ideas. Get ready, shoot!