An Interesting Concept

August 21, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

I recently took part in a critique where a photographer put up a technically perfect but aesthetically boring picture of a nude. He commented that he had no concept or message when taking the picture but would like to do more ‘artistic’ work. I suggested that if he worked on the former then the latter might naturally flow.

I always try and get my students to have a concept or reason for taking a picture. This doesn’t have to be a highly intellectual artistic message which will emphasise the need for world peace it can be as simple as showing the effect of shadows on skin, documenting a walk or taking a portrait that tells the viewer something about that person. Think about a simple holiday snap. The reason for taking it may simply to provide a record of the place you visited which is perfectly valid but as soon as we add the idea of showing that it was really pretty, or a complete dump, what a good time we had, the people we met or even how much we drank the dynamics of our picture taking change. We are trying to produce a picture in response to our feelings about a place and convey an idea. As soon as you as a photographer start to work towards a specific theme or concept the creation process becomes much more interesting and creative.

EchoesEchoesTrying to capture a picture that conveys a sense of echoes of ghosts from the past in an empty house. It's been prasised and panned in equal measure.

Unfortunately this doesn’t prevent you from producing a picture that the majority of viewers think is crap but, and it’s a big but, if you are happy with the result and it conveys or shows what you wanted to show then stick with it. Monet, Van Gogh and Cezanne didn’t get rave reviews at first. Because digital photography is an instant process many photographers think that, with luck, they may go out and take that award winning picture today although they are not quite sure where or what of. Most artists have an idea, work on sketches and then create various canvases to explore that idea. Great photographers do the same. Read an interview with a landscape photographer. They will say that they scout locations, think where the light will be at different times of day, examine what they want to convey about the landscape and then make several visits until they achieve the result they want.

Another misconception is that the only bar to taking great photographs is a lack of technical knowledge. Any artist must first learn their medium; you wouldn’t expect sit down at a piano and compose a sonata or pick up your kids water colours and paint like Rembrandt (who painted mostly in oils by the way). Photography is a technical process and any artist must learn their craft in order to be able to capture everything they want to in their chosen medium but digital cameras are able to handle a lot of the technical aspects of photography for us. We have a greater chance of success in recording a given subject with a high degree of technical accuracy and can therefore start thinking more about creative ideas earlier on the learning curve than our predecessors. Ironically the freedom modern cameras give us means that some photographers think less about the artistic creation process due to its technical ease when we actually have more time to think about concepts, ideas, composition and all the elements that make a great photograph.


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