Concept Photos

The Guide to What, Why and How

Taking a conceptual photo requires capturing a shot that illustrates an idea – therefore isn’t every photo we take ‘conceptual’? No.

Why not?

Conceptual photographs relay ideas through an image that don’t naturally exist. They are created by combining props, engineering situations or clever cropping. In advertising, they’re used to convey powerful political, social, and philosophical messages.

Fact – The term ‘conceptual photography’ comes from ‘Conceptual Art’ – a movement in the late 1960’s.

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How to Create a Concept Photo

Depending on how you like to approach your art you can edit create concepts in camera or build it all from scratch in editing (or you could do a bit of both!)

Software like Photoshop, Affinity Photo, and Luminar allows you the ability to layer multiple images together and blend them to create conceptual ideas.

You can scour free stock sites such as Pixabay, Pexels, and Unsplash for source images if you don’t have relevant ones yourself.

Alternatively, you can create it all in-camera. It may take a little more planning (that’s vital anyway), but it means you’ve got more control over the final shot.

Nor do you have to have a fancy camera either, you could shoot it all on your iPhone if you wanted.

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6 Tips for Amazing Conceptual Photography

To get started on taking these powerful message-ladened photos we’ve got 6 tips below on what to think about.

Plan it Out First

If you aren’t a planner then concept photos aren’t for you. You need to spend time thinking about what you want to say. Photography is nothing but an opportunity to be controversial (which we’ll come to) so don’t repeat something you’ve already seen.

Sit down and write out your message – is it political, motivational, or topical? Make a word cloud of associated words that conjure the same meaning and start to develop those words into objects that they symbolise.

For example, think about.... (click to open)
  • Anger = A broken glass
  • Happiness = A blooming flower
  • Sadness = A gravestone
  • Loss = A floating lone balloon
  • Confusion = A highway intersection
  • Anxiety = Being deep in water
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Make the Background as Important

With concept photos you need to make sure the background is relevant or utterly plain – there’s no middle ground.

With concept photos, everything you place in the shot is used to extract meaning by the viewer so anything misplaced or overlooked will make your message muddled.

Use a wide aperture (i.e. F/2 or wider) to blur out the background as much as possible if you can’t change your angle otherwise.

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Think about Colour Psychology

When thinking about shape and object choice also cast your mind to colour. Colour psychology affects the mood in a concept photo as with everything else. If you’re handy with photo editing then you can recolour an object without too much fuss if it’s not possible to do it on-set.

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Replace Matching Shapes

We’ve all seen the goldfish swimming in the lightbulb shot – while we may not have all figured out what it means it’s still a good example of conceptual photography.

If you’re not using an object in a usual way like this, then consider replacing it for a similarly shaped object – advertisers do this a lot.

For example, switching a vinyl record for a clock – could symbolise that time is spinning or that music is to be enjoyed all the time.

Check out these examples of a concept photos where the expected object is replaced to tell a different story.

Use Objects to Convey Emotion

Whichever objects you decided to include in your photo make sure they mean something. We could all look at an egg and say it’s ‘fragile’ or ‘delicate’ – do the same thing when building your shot. Give everything a purpose and make sure all those purposes add to the original message.

Don’t add things just because they look nice or fill a blank spot, only use objects that mean the right thing. Even looking at basic shapes is a good place to start off to source the right emotion.

Shapes carry their own emotions, such as...
  • Circles are wholesome and complete. They are a comforting shape.
  • Rectangles are solid, familiar, and reliable. They remind us of a safe space.
  • Triangles are aggressive and symbolise achievement or aspirations of moving upwards.
  • Pentagons (and larger multi-sided shapes) look more mechanical or industrial and therefore less comforting (to a human) but still useful for the right message.
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Be Brave

Finally, as we said earlier, say what you want to say. Allow yourself to be brave, controversial, and outspoken. Embrace topical societal issues in your concept photos. Speak up for those forgotten or start a conversation about an issue personal to you – you never know who may be feeling the same.

Conceptual photography is a way of photographers speaking from the heart through their art. Photographers generally aren’t Masters of Literature or verbal language. Instead, we prefer to speak our minds through visual imagery. Use the camera as your message board!

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Showcase: Powerful Concept Photos

To wrap up our look at conceptual photography here’s a short showcase of dynamic and thought-provoking images we’ve found online. If you want to know more about creating photo composites using Photoshop then take a look at our easy-to-follow Photoshop Composite Course to get you on the road to conceptual success!

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