The topic of conceptual portrait is HUGE. As you get into learning techniques it will almost feel like you have come over the hill and before you spreads the Grand Canyon. It looks GINORMOUS when you are standing on the edge of it. The more you learn the more you want to learn. Before you jump in, I want you to take to heart a very important truth. Photoshop prowess doesn’t make you a conceptual portrait artist. Neither do big budgets and special effects. Conceptual portrait is about story-telling. That point is vital to your success. Repeat after me. “I ______, am a master story-teller”. (***Chanting in my megaphone with fist in the air***) What do you do? “Tell stories!” How do you do it? “Though imagery”! YES! THAT is what conceptual portrait is ALL about… “Story-telling through imagery”. What clients and collectors of conceptual photography fall in love with is your story-telling ability. This story-telling ability is especially important with clients who commission you. They want the portrait to tell their story, reveal their interests, showcase their personality. You don’t need expensive lighting, elaborate costumes and props either. You put in the image only what helps you tell your story.
I was tutoring a young girl one time who wanted to learn conceptual photography. The first meeting I had with her, she was so excited. She had gone out the day before and shot a bunch of beautiful images of a friend of hers who was willing to be her model. The images were really great. This girl is a wonderful photographer. She pulled the images up on her computer and the first question I asked was, “Okay! What story are you trying to tell?” She looked at me confused and said, “UMMM.. well?? I don’t know. Isn’t that why I am here? You are going to tell me how I make them into a conceptual photo? Right?” And now I’m stuck. There are a MILLION different stories she could tell with these images. I’ll give you an example. (BTY: I think in metaphors all the time. You’ll learn that about me. Sometimes these metaphors are strange. HA) It’s like someone walking in, looking at you and saying…”I need you to go out and buy me a car.” And then they walk out of the room and tell you nothing else. Now YOUR stuck. Where do you begin? You could go pick something out I guess. There are millions of cars out there. You could make up your own criteria and wing it. You need to know what color? What shape? Mini-van? Compact? Electric? Gas? – I come from an advertising and marketing background. Every project I’ve ever had, the client gave me criteria. They would come in and say, “This is the product and this is what I want to say.” Then it became my job to come up with a cool way to say it. I am a creature of habit. To this day, I approach all my conceptual portraits the same way. I figure out the subject matter, come up with what I want to say about that subject and THEN I come up with a cool way to say it. Now… I want to preface this. I don’t know how to work any other way. Because this is the way I have always done it, it is also the only way I know how to teach it. I have a lot of conceptual artists friends who do it completely the opposite. They go out and shoot and bring the images into photoshop and let the images create the story. I SUCK at making conceptual portraits that way. If that is the way you work, then I am not sure I will ever be much help to you. HA! I STILL have images sitting on my hard-drive where I tried to go shoot first and then come back and create the purpose for it. They are still sitting there because they don’t fit anything I’m currently working on. With that being said, I am going to be teaching how to create a conceptual image using (what I call) the “Lights, Camera, Action” Method because… well… I don’t know how to do it the other way. I get everything decided and set up first and only then do I yell “Action!”
So firstly I want you to find a subject that lights your fire. Find a subject, that when you read about it, an image comes alive in your head! THAT’s how conceptual portraits are made. Once you find a topic, then that topic becomes your series name. For example… I have a few series I am working on. One is all about inspiring children in education, another series I’m working on is about inspirational women (or women who’s personality inspires). The Theme/Subject/Topic becomes your series name. – Next… after I pick a theme/subject/topic to talk about, I then pick something specific I want to say on that subject. For example… in my “Education” series I wanted to specifically talk about inspiring children to read. I ended up coming up with three images where the main message was “learning to read is magical”… and bam! There’s the title… “The Magic of Literacy”. If you plan your images this way you will never have any problem coming up with a title. The title creates itself through the planning process. Now that the literacy images are complete, next I plan to talk about inspiring children in mathematics. Still the same “Education” Series but now title is “The Power of Numbers”. When those are finished next I want to talk about inspiring children in science…and so on and so on on… Don’t know where to start? Do this… Browse the internet, watch the news, read a book, listen to music, read poetry… pick a topic. A topic that makes you emotional and fired up and excited. After you do, the rest comes easy and you will never end up shooting a bunch of images you don’t need, taking up space on your hard-drive. (Except for stock images… those don’t count… more on that topic later).
More to come… keep learning and keep “Sharing It Forward”!
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