The Concept in Conceptual Photography

The other day I went to an event and it was about creative portraiture or conceptual photography.  I tend to call conceptual photography Fine Art Photography.  The event was to teach people how to do conceptual photography.  I didn’t stay for it, I realised after a while that it really wasn’t for me and is something I have been doing for many many years.

This is a repost of a post that was first published May 29th, 2014.

The Concept in Conceptual Photography

Over the last couple of days since I went I have been thinking about the word conceptual and how it applies here.  It is one thing to do it, and another to be able to explain what it is to other people.  I thought in this post we could look at what conceptual photography is, or rather my understanding of it.  It really isn’t as complicated as it sounds.

You start with an idea. That idea can come from anywhere.  You see a scene in a movie and suddenly ideas for images are bouncing around your head. Maybe you open a magazine and more ideas start happening. You start thinking about how this image could come together.  What do you need to make it happen?  Where are you going to take the photos?  Do you need some props?  Do you need a model and who will that model be?

Working with a concept

You have a concept of what you want, now you just need to make it happen.  That is conceptual photography, at least how I understand it to be.

I have included an image with this post, the image is called “The Woodland Bride”, an image I took last year.  I am going to talk about how the idea started, and how I made my conceptual image a reality.

The thinking behind the image

I had been watching some things on the internet with an artist who was using cheesecloth to make costumes.  While I liked the idea of it, I didn’t want to do exactly the same.  It was also fascinating the whole idea of brides.  Perhaps because I had been asked to photograph a wedding.

I wondered what it would be like to photograph someone dressed like a bride, but use the cheesecloth and make it all raggedy.  When I got married I didn’t have a traditional wedding, I didn’t really have a wedding dress. This idea has been festering in my head. The idea of the bridal gown, that was never worn, but keeps coming out.  Worn out with time.  There was the basic concept.

Creating the image

I talked to a friend and she said she would model it for me.  She said that there was this beautiful spot up at her father’s house that she thought I would like.  She was right, I did like it.  I dressed her, or rather put the fabric around her to make her wedding gown.  I tore it more as I was doing it.  Then I gave her the veil.  I put it over her face because I wanted her to be anonymous.

We realised we didn’t have a bouquet, every bride should have one. We looked around and I started picking up sticks.  The sticks were perfect with the concept.  While not originally part of the concept they worked well with it.


The final image

During the shoot I took many images, but this is the one that seemed to work the best.  I am very pleased with how it came out.

On a side note, if you have enjoyed this post or learned something new, please remember this is how I make my living, so it would be wonderful if you would consider making a small donation.

This is how I come up with my ideas, and I am sure many of you have been doing conceptual photography for a long time and didn’t realise that you were.

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  1. Leanne, I love the photograph! I have been feeling down because most of the conceptual photos that I see these days are taken in a studio, with moody artificial lights, and I have been wondering whether it is possible at all to take good conceptual photographs outdoors. Hence, this post was inspiring, as well as very helpful.
    I recently started a blog where I share my journey with photography, which often includes questions that I am dealing with about photography. If you could kindly drop by and share your thoughts on the questions, I would be grateful. My site:

    1. Thank you, oh yes, there are always other ways of doing the lighting and there are many photographers that use only natural light.

  2. Love it. Great bouquet. High concept! As I don’t believe you work in the event photography realm, I wonder if you’ve heard of the ‘trash the dress’ concept in wedding-related photography. You sort of nailed it, conceptually…

    1. Thank you Jonathan. I don’t work in it at all, this was done a few years ago, I was playing around with fine art portraits, but gave up doing them for lack of interest. I have heard that concept, yes.

  3. Oh, I forgot to tell you that I just love the photograph, clever, thought-provoking, and masterfully done.

  4. The magic of a “handle”! All “conceptual photography” is “fine art photography”, intentional, planned and staged. When I do “commercial photography” for a real estate client the shots are carefully planned and staged, often with a specialist making sure that every vase is in the “right” spot. Maybe as “conceptual photography” it would be more “artistic”, perhaps more valuable.

    Certainly you pay more for a seminar in “conceptual photography” than for “planning your images”. We think a picture is worth a thousand words, but some words are worth thousands of dollars.

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