Ansel Adams famously said that there’s nothing worse than a sharp image with a fuzzy concept. But, what is a concept?
“A concept has no visual characteristics, and the role of the creative photographer is to find a way of expressing it through a composition of visual elements—line, form, color, tone, etc. What the concept does have is significance, something the photographer cares about enough to want to capture and share it, a message, a feeling, a statement, a metaphor or a story.” ~ Guy Tal, The Concept via Outdoor Photographer
I wondered if I could find examples of these types of significance – message, feeling, statement, metaphor, story – in my own photographs. Here’s what I found.
From a distance this person looked to be bowing towards the majesty and power of the sea – a reminder to be humble.
I seem to have a love for taking abstract photographs in the car wash. Actually, any picture through drops of water attracts me. One of my favourite feelings I call happy/sad, when you’re experiencing pure joy yet know that it’s fleeting. This image depicts that feeling for me.
I took this photo during a visit to Dillon’s Distillery, a small batch distillery of ryes, vodkas, and gins in Beamsville, Ontario.
Their “story” page says that they are perfectionists. Their focus is on quality. They say they want to create something special, something to be proud of. This story was evident in the care taken in the design of their tasting room, of which this photograph is a glimpse.
These trees at the ocean on Palm Beach Island do seem to be “standing guard.” Their trunks look like torsos and their leaves look like heads. They seem to be sentinels keeping watch for who knows what. The metaphor was pretty clear.
Choosing metaphorical titles is a great way to say what your image is about (the title or opening line of your story) rather than what it is.
Story / Narrative
A story implies that something has happened, is happening, or is about to happen. The photograph is just one moment in the story. The story could be clear (as in documentary photography) or ambiguous (we can imagine the story, but may never know the truth).
Most stories involve people, but not always. In the photograph above, some type of sand creation was previously made, by who we don’t know. We also don’t know what body of water this is, but it’s probably at the ocean. The tide is coming in and starting to envelop the sand creation. Soon, it will be gone – a message of impermanence.
As you can see, I was able to find examples of all of the different types. However, my inclination is probably for photographs that evoke some kind of emotion or metaphor.
I hope you try this exercise yourself.