Predicament of Conceptual Photography

ATTN: This is article is from my 2008 archive 

When I was new to concept photography, the main problem I faced was: discouragement.  I would try to take on a subject/theme and try to outline what I would need to make it into a great photograph. But I would get discouraged easily and then take my mind elsewhere.

The whole process of creating an image in your mind, I found was easy. But, the fact that I would need to gather all those materials- some out of my reach (and limit) made it very discouraging. Because It meant that I am just thinking about something that I will perhaps never be able to accomplish.

Being open-minded and open to different possibilities of “things” as key subjects in photographs are what good conceptual photographers get over. That being said, it must be very hard for them to get that perfect object (ex. lamp) for their photo (and it has to be the perfect shade of colour that they imagined). These small details work to become stronger details in conceptual art. As you can see, I have great respect for Wes Anderson (lol).

It is definitely hard to imagine with limits but through training you can overcome it from my experience.

Here is an exercise that I gave myself, and I encourage you to do this to enhance your mind for conceptual photography/art.

  • Make a photographic composition in your sketchbook of any theme. The key is to make sure, whatever theme you choose; you have to create the entire composition with the things available to you at home. For example: I chose the theme of “love”; I used roses and letters that have romantic handwriting on them to create a composition.. (cliche idea but it works, and all accessible to me!)

Here are some elements that you should try to answer:

  1. Purpose: What do I want the key target of this image to be? Try to answer the: Who/What/Where/Why and How.
  2. Subjects: What are the subjects of this image? for example: Nostalgia, beauty, excellence.. etc.  Anything can be the subject, it’s all up to you.
  3. Theme: What theme will this photograph portray? for ex. Classic minimal phone that looks timeless.
  4. Style: How do you want your concept to be expressed? for ex. in a classy way but not dull; making it eye-catching and attention grabbing.
  5. Colours: What colours would make this concept work? Try to remember the psychology of colours for your concept. Fit both together.
  6. Title: Name your photograph. Do it right away after answering these questions. If you remember the title you will stay tune with your concept. for ex. “Sequenced Romance”.

*This will not only help you with conceptual photography but also in other types of art, such as graphic design.

Here are some websites that are very inspiring and helpful.

ColourLovers  – for building colour palettes and patterns
Outstanding examples of Conceptual Photography
Conceptual Photography Ideas and examples


I did the exercise on the subject of “Romance” eight years ago and here are my results.

Title: Disturbed Romance
Description: To create this image: I used a rose from my garden, I did calligraphy on a blank piece of paper (just wrote my name and did some doodles). Then I splashed some water on it. My whole theme was the old 1800s’ romance.
(this image is unedited and by the 15-year-old me.)


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