Concept Is Everything

Concept Is Everything!

There must be a distinction between style and content. Content is the hardcore message, the concept, the story, the idea… which should have impact, finesse, grace and simplicity. Style (technique in this case) is the wrapper, the package that holds the message and should be subordinate to all of the rest. It should support the concept, idea, etc. So many photographers get caught up in the latest flavor of the month in terms of the technique applied to the surface of the image. In the commercial world this is a challenge that’s hard to break away from. The technique applied to an image quickly becomes part of pop culture and some how denotes what is COOL!

Initially a great concept is created and photographed and the technique or visual style that’s used is in support of that particular concept. That technique or style is seen as something that people responds to and therefore art directors try to apply that recognizable effect to all the photography assignments they have…hence I have clients that hire me and say…I want the Martha Stewart look, or the Real Simple Magazine look or the Sports Illustrated portrait look. Technique is just that, something that is repeatable and defines the surface of the image.

No matter how good a technician you are if your photographs don’t have a vision, a concept or impact you have nothing. In this post I’m going to discuss some techniques to help get your mind working in a visual context.

Photography is all about symbols and icons…in a sense we need to create a visual language. Words are concepts and they help create images in our mind that begin to build the essence of a story.

The objects, textures and environments are the props in your photograph. They have to be meticulously chosen. Lets say you have a photograph you want to create and you need…

1. a person.
2. a coffee cup.
3. a dog.
4. a table

A nice group of items, but depending on what you want to say the person could be tall, short, fat, thin. He/She could be wearing dress clothes, swim suit, clown suit or be dressed as a duck. The coffee cup could be an antique, clear glass mug, paper cup with a logo or a tin cup. The dog could be a Mastiff, Basset Hound, Mexican Hairless or a three-legged Saint Bernard. The table could be made of marble or tin, or it could be a big butcher block with fat round legs.

What I’m suggesting is that just like the movie studios cast talent for the right part all the elements in a photograph have to be “cast” in order to have meaning relating to the story you want to tell.

Words are the journey to finding visuals for your concept. Ian Summers a well-known painter and creative coach came up with a list of themes he feels are universal. Ian believes anyone of these themes can be seen in any ad that’s produced.
He looks a these words as a jumping off place to help in the brainstorming process. We will review this technique in class.

Pick any one of these themes and create a circle path of words branching off from your chosen theme. Any words that come to mind. As you add words let the new words help you create other words until you can’t think of any more. You can begin to put the words together into sentences that will help you form visual ideas. By putting odd combinations of these words together you’ll be surprised at the ideas you can develop.

This is called Brainstorming.

Besides using themes to generate ideas you can use the concept of “Sames, Opposites and Comparisons…Metaphors.”

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