Creating a conceptual photoshoot can seem like a very daunting task. How do I make a photo “conceptual”? The key is to avoid overthinking. Here’s how David and I go about planning a conceptual photoshoot.
First, let’s make sure we understand what conceptual photography is.
What is conceptual photography?
Conceptual photography aims to express ideas and concepts through photos. It expresses an idea. Conceptual photography is derived from conceptual art. The “concept” in a conceptual photo is preconceived and if successfully executed is understood by the viewer. Conceptual images are typically achieved by staging a photograph to represent the idea they desire to communicate.
Step 1: Inspiration
Inspiration is the starting point of everything. There are so many ways to spark inspiration. Look through art books, watch movies, go on a walk, or reflect on what you’re struggling with in your own life.
Flipping through a bunch of art books is what inspires me the fastest. Pay attention to see if there are any common themes within the work you are most drawn to. Is there a certain color palette that’s resonating with you? What type of mood are you drawn to? Does anything you see ignite any new thoughts or ideas? Can you find ways to expand on a thought you see present in art you love?
I’ve also found it helpful to journal. Is there anything you are personally struggling with? Nothing is more authentic than creating art about your own personal struggles.
At this point, you really just need a loose idea of what you want to do. As long as you have a strong idea of a feeling you want to convey, you’re golden!
EX: I want to convey what it feels like to be trapped inside your my life — This is such a loose idea, but it’s all you need to start.
Step 2: Production
This is the planning stage. Now that you know what idea or concept you want to convey, it’s time to focus on all of the little details that will bring it to life. You will need to:
– Build a set OR secure a shoot location. What type of setting will help the viewer understand your overall concept best?
– Book a model for the shoot. Choose a model who can best promote the overall idea you want to convey.
– Gather props to style and enhance the shoot. Props can go a long way towards helping your idea translate to the viewer.
– Choose wardrobe. Pretend your model is a character. How does that character dress? How can you represent their personality or challenges they face through their wardrobe?
– Schedule the shoot. If shooting outdoors, make sure to consider what time of day best conveys your concept.
It’s also a good time to start thinking about these questions:
– What setting should you shoot in to help the viewer feel how you want?
– How can you pose or manipulate your subject to enhance the overall mood of the shoot?
– What type of lighting do you need to set the mood?
Step 3: Color
Colors unknowingly evoke feelings and emotions from a viewer, so color plays a big role in creating successful conceptual images. If the mood you’re trying to convey is happy maybe a brighter color scheme is best – OR – you might be like me and love creating environments that look happy but rely on posing to convey the darker meaning. I love creating worlds where there is tension between the subject and the environment.
When it comes to color, there is no right or wrong answer. It’s all about what you want to achieve with the shoot.
I’m not saying you need to go crazy with paint, but it’s important to be mindful of what colors are represented at your shooting location and with the model’s wadrobe. All of the small details added together are what create the overall feeling and aesthetic of an image.
Step 4: Lighting
Nothing tells a viewer how to feel more than lighting does. It sets the mood of a photograph in a subtle and artful way. With conceptual photography, it’s incredibly important to put a lot of thought into lighting.
Moody lighting often translates into darker, more dramatic or intense images. Bright, even lighting typically triggers the viewer to think there is a happier thought or lighter concept being portrayed. But again, you can create opposing thoughts and juxtapositions with your lighting. David and I do this all the time. There is nothing I love more than a happy environment and sad subject.
These are some of the questions you should consider with your lighting design:
Where is the light source coming from?
Does the subject have any sort of connection or relationship to the light source?
Where will the shadows fall? How does that add to the image?
Step 5: Develop a story
David and I come up with a theme, purpose, and storyline for every shoot we do. Building out a clear storyline helps us better understand what we are trying to achieve with the shoot. We consider our models to be “characters” and they need a drive and a motivation. Having a strong storyline also helps me plan out the types of poses I want the model to do.
Even when we are hired by a client to shoot an album cover, we build out an entire concept and storyline to present to them.
At the start of each shoot, I explain the story to our model. It helps them get into character and gives them a strong understanding of the energy, mood, and tone I need them to convey with their posing throughout the shoot.
The stronger the story, the better the shoot.
Step 6: Leave room for serendipity
You’ve done the planning and have a solid idea of what you want to accomplish – now step back and let the magic happen. Every model brings their own unique energy to a shoot, so in a way every shoot is a collaborative art piece. Always leave space for the shoot to go where it needs to go. Sometimes the model will inspire my mind in new ways, and I am able to pose and create in ways I didn’t think were possible.
So have a plan, but remember it’s ok to go off-script a little sometimes.
About the Author
Jada and David are mixed media artists who innovate digital imagery to create surreal works of art and stimulating visual content. They specialize in custom set design and photography. When creating they do not limit themselves to one medium. They incorporate aspects of painting, sculpture, photography, design, and motion to tell compelling visual stories in an impactful, unique way.
David is a sculptor at heart and uses this talent to build and create liminal sets filled with color and optical illusions. With a background in theater, lighting design is his second passion and each set is designed to have lighting integrated seamlessly into these complex installations.
Jada is most at peace with a camera in her hand. She is able to produce images that embody powerful emotions and complex thoughts because of her ability to make her subjects feel at ease in front of the camera. Her dramatic style of portraiture lends itself nicely to work in both fashion and the music industry.
Together, Jada and David are a dynamic creative duo that execute the set design, lighting design, and photography of all of their projects. You can find more of their work on their website, Instagram, YouTube, and their blog. This article was also published here and shared with permission.