How do I develop a concept for fine art photography
I believe a good concept lies in a strong idea. When I say strong, I think of something which defines my thinking, which is to characterize my artistic work and adds value to my portfolio.
I see the idea as the spine of the body, if the body is the concept.
Sometimes a complex concept comes out of my mind in less than a day, but most often, the core or a hint of an idea reveals at first, and the rest comes out later. Later can mean a few hours or even a month. It depends on a lot of different factors, some of which are under my control, but some of them are unfortunately not.
First and the most important, am I in the creative flow, or do I have to get into it?
- Is it an idea that could be executed in the near future or not?
- Am I under time pressure or not? (Usually, I perform quite good under time pressure, but sometimes there are exceptions. I’m a human too.)
- how many projects I work on at a time?
Also, it is good to mention that random ideas come more often to my mind than narrowed down focused ideas. I’m not exactly sure why it works like that with me, but I guess it has a lot to do with indirect association. In the future, I will definitely try to train my mind to make use of free association as a tool when it comes to given themes. It will help me to deliver more versatile and interesting concepts to my cooperation partners or clients.
The similarity between developing a concept for a client or for my personal project.
There are a few aspects that clearly define the similarity between a commissioned and personal project.
- Time – I have a certain time frame for the job set by the client.
- Reputation – In a commissioned job, if my work is satisfying, my client will return to me next time or recommend me to their partners. In a personal project, if I get successful, a gallery might ask me to exhibit in its show.
- Money – In a commissioned job, I get paid for the project by the client or the agency. In a personal project, I can generate income by selling the prints of the projects or I can sell the project to an agency.
These three factors are essential to keep in mind. Since I do both kinds of work.
Why is it essential for me to have a thorough concept before I start to photograph?
In most of my projects, I photograph people in a very unusual scene. Often makeup or a mask that is involved in my project takes hours to apply. Or the poses I ask from my models are often tough to emulate, so it is better to have a detailed plan rather than just do random weird things in the studio until something interesting happens.
I think if I can provide a detailed concept to all the participants in advance, then everybody can focus on their part instead of stressing on things that can be avoided.
I also feel more confident when I have a concept to refer. Not to mention that if I have a good functioning concept, I can save time on set, which is great because if time equals money, then time on set equals lots of money. And no matter if I work on my personal project or shoot for a client, if some money can be saved, then it is great.
In the next section, I will write about how much room is given to improvisation on a set.
How do I decide if I shoot a series or just a single image?
Most likely, for commissioned projects, the client is clear about the number of pictures needed, like, if it has to be a series, or single images or a mixture of both. However, when I develop a personal project, I most likely decide at the very beginning what I want out of the concept. Is it a one image concept or the concept is deep enough to chain images together to create a story?
Would more image support the concept or just make it weaker?
Sometimes a single image can make a more significant impact than when it would be accompanied by five other images.
Sometimes less is more.
It is hard to put together a good series. It can fail in so many ways. So, to be honest, I make a series when I really feel like from the beginning that it needs to be a series. For example, at the time I write this post, I’m working on a series that could not be contained in a single image because of the nature of the concept. It is about changing the relation between two ladies. I just simply don’t see the way how I could compress that concept to a single image.
I hope you get it.
What are the technical steps I usually follow to develop a concept?
After I have the first idea, I open a new page in my notebook to write notes and paste some pictures to it if I feel like. I try to write in a very loose style, sometimes only words, and write as much as I can about the idea itself. It is a sort of brainstorming I do by myself.
Once I had the first sketches written in the notebook, I put it away and try to forget the whole thing for a couple of days or more. Sometimes I swing between the feelings of “I created something great” and “this idea is worth less than nothing.”
Once I forget the brainstorming session which I had previously, I open the book again and try to rethink the whole thing. As I mentioned before, I write in a very loose style, so when I come back to my notes, I don’t judge my notes by form but only by content. After I filter the weak parts, I can do another round of brainstorming. And so on until I think the concept is good enough.
Sometimes it takes a couple of months to create one because I like to forget about what I wrote, so in this case, I do not get over–excited about it. In this way, I can stay as objective to my idea as I can.
This is the hardest part.
When my feelings about the concept are natural, I try to flip the whole concept upside down and put it into different aspects. Such as “what if the subject would have a certain feeling reflected on her or his face, which would contra-post the scene or something like that.
What If? I ask this to myself a lot…. It is a great way to test my creativity.
This process also takes days usually…. however, it goes a bit faster than the previous step because I’m already convinced myself about the concept will be good enough, so I do not have to deal with my emotional fight. In other words, in this stage, the concept can stand on its legs; I only customize the rest of the body.
All in all, I see a good concept as a fruit. You plant the idea as you would do it with a seed. You water it, feed it with your inputs, and when it is ripe, you harvest the concept.
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