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Conceptual photography is one out of the many photographic genres into which a photographer can get immersed and become a specialist often quickly and with a good possibility of making a career of it. This is especially true with the advent of the digital format.

As the name of this type of photography suggests, the photographer uses a series of elements, props, light, poses, atmosphere and other techniques to create a mood or convey a feeling or sensation, a message to the viewer.

Very few conceptual photographs convey a single message but rather a series of message or evoke a series of emotions. However the most successful conceptual photographers are those that can easily create a single message with a powerful photograph using simple elements.

This is most evident in marketing and advertising campaigns. How do you know how the fragrance of a new perfume smells like by simply looking at its photo? Images of flowers,of beautiful people, images of wealth, will often do the trick. The viewer has no idea of what the fragrance is or if it would be pleasing to them. But they will associate beauty and wealth with the perfume through conceptual photography.

An example, and a very well known one, is the cigarette industry and brand placement of their products. Think of a cigarette brand for men and one for women, I will give you the names at the end of the article and I bet that I will guess as to the brands you came up with.

In these cases the manufacturer never advertised that this was a manly cigarette or meant just for men, or mean just for women or that their cigarettes were sexy, or tough. But by suggestive use of male and female models in tough, or elegant and suave atmospheres, we grew up assuming that these brands were for men or for women only. These images were created through the use of conceptual photography, cinematography and well executed clever marketing campaigns to target specific segments of the population.

Conceptual photography is best suited for the marketing and advertising industry, but is is a powerful tool to be used by organizations, the social industry, religious organizations and any organization wishing to bring their message to the world.

How would you show addiction, like addiction to caffeine, in a subtle yet convincing way. How about a photo of a coffee dripping syringe next to a coffee mug (Dave Nitsche).How would you show love? The look on a mother’s face admiring her newborn should do it. A broken relationship is easily shown by photos of a broken snapshot of your other half, a wedding ring cut in two is another good example. The key is to make the viewer feel the emotion or feeling that you are trying to convey or grasp a message by viewing your photograph such as the message conveyed by a hand reaching for the sky. This could be a message of “follow your dreams”, “give it all you got”, or an appeal to a higher being.

The most successful conceptual photos are the simplest ones with clear backgrounds where nothing but the subject(s) to evoke the feeling or convey a message.

Any message that the photographer wants to convey or any feeling that you want to illicit in conceptual photography should be done in as an aesthetic a manner as possible. Images sometimes can have a very powerful effect upon our emotions, does the phrase a “photo says a thousand things” and your goal should be to provoke a response not to offend the viewer.

Care should be taken not to use disturbing images to covey a message or idea, this can be accomplished in more subtle ways. If one wants to show death, showing a corpse will convey the message for sure but the same message can be conveyed with a shot of a cemetery or of headstones.

For creative ideas, think of images that mean something to you or evoke a feeling, emotion, sensation, then find a way to use those images in your photography.

And the answer to the cigarette questions: Marlboro for men, Capri for women. Told I would guess. Do a search of their advertisement and notice the images associated with each brand.


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