Written by Malak Nour

Hello there! This is Malak! Last time, I discussed Art from your Newsfeed and the Artidote phenomenon. This time I’d like to start by asking you to take a moment to consider what you’re feeling/thinking right now…

Now, try to think of a way to translate what’s on your mind into an image; as in, something visual that you can share with others. Done? Now let’s talk conceptual photography; but first…

What is Conceptual Photography?

Conceptual photography is all about this notion of transforming ideas into photographs. A conceptual photograph can take the form of social commentary, self-expression, a political statement, an advertisement, anything. The key to the photo is its concept, whatever it might be. So, one can have a photograph with a straightforward message that is meant to be clear to the majority of viewers; for example, photographer Julie Smith’s photo, below.

Photograph by Julie Smith
Photograph by Julie Smith

Or one can have a photograph that explores a concept that’s more abstract and open to interpretation, such as Jimmy Bui’s photograph. For this project, Bui draws inspiration from songs that strike a particular “emotional chord” with him and then uses this inspiration to create a photograph. This photo of his is inspired by Sara Mclachlan’s Ice.

Music to Life photo series by Jimmy Bui Photography
Jimmy Bui’s project: The Music of Life

Much like any kind of art, a conceptual photo is an expression of an idea that the artist has in mind or is trying to explore, and therefore it doesn’t necessarily have to be “pretty”. If one wants to express a distressing idea, chances are your photo is not going to be filled with sunshine and rainbows!

There are quite a lot of conceptual photos that are not going to be pleasant to look at because the artist’s job, in this case, is not to make us feel good, but to deliver what he/she feels. So try not to take the appearance of a conceptual photo for granted; don’t just dismiss a photo as being too dull or too ugly. Take a closer look. Look at the photo, read its title (if there’s any) and speculate.

The Cell (part 4) by Nasir Ali
The Cell (part 4) by Nasir Ali


Challenge Yourself!

Suppose you now have an idea, remember the visual image you thought up at the beginning of this article, in mind that you want to express or explore through a photograph, what should you do?

  1. Try to think of your concept and what you associate it with. If your concept (love, for example) can talk, what would it say? Can it be a place, colour, an object, or perhaps even an animal? What image pops into your mind when you think about it? So, tease your mind with such questions and take time to think.
  2.  Find creative ways to execute your idea and make sure you go for something that youre capable of. You don’t have to go for an idea that requires elaborate lighting and studio props if you dont have access to such things.  Aim for what you are capable of. Yes, a fancy studio or experience in post-processing will add to your photo, but they wont necessarily make a good one. What will make a good conceptual photo is your ability to send the message; be it a clear and explicit one, or a rather abstract and indirect one.
51.52 by Taylor Marie McCormick
51.52 by Taylor Marie McCormick



John Suler’s journal article, titled: Conceptual Photography (In the 4th edition of Richard Zakia’s Perception and Imaging, Focal Press (Elsevier), Oxford, pp. 102-114.)


So what are you waiting for; take up the challenge! Take a few snapshots and email them to [email protected] along with your name, school, the title or inspiration behind the photo, and the URL of your blog if you have one. We’ll post photos here to inspire other CC fans. Can’t wait to see the creative photos you’ll send!