Concept Shooting in Photography

Concept Shooting in Photography

concept-shooting.jpgConcept Shooting is a way of approaching photography that can take your work to a new level. It takes a little more thought than just going ‘snap happy’ but can really help you to convey a message with those viewing your shots. Christina N Dickson from looks further at Concept Shooting. Image by ~*Leah*~.

Winter is coming for many DPS readers. The weather is turning cold and frightful. And sometimes, you just can’t motivate yourself to bundle up and head outside to practice your photography. How can you keep developing your skills in the winter and prepare for next the next season?

Concept shooting.

Concept shooting is similar to advertising, stock, and photojournalism for several reasons. First, concept shooting involves some intense analyzing of a “message” you want to strongly convey. Second, concept shooting involves careful consideration of your audience and how the message will touch them most powerfully. Third, concept shooting is centered on emotions, and the telling of a story in its message.

Concept shooting involves a great deal of “mental” preparation, rather than on scene analyzing. Before you shoot, you decide several things. For example, we’ll apply each of these considerations to the concept of love:

  1. Message: Is your message true love or broken hearts?
  2. Angle of the message: Is your angle the true love of family or the true love of kindred spirits? The bitterness and pain of broken hearts, or the recovery?
  3. Audience: Is your story written for first time high school lovers, or 50-year marriage partners?
  4. Emotional connectors: In what ways can you cause your story to resonate best with your audience? The love that brings a sense of belonging? The love that will last forever? The pain of betrayal? The despair of no hope for recovery?
  5. Creative composition: An audience of high schoolers will require edgy, high contrast, and inventive imagery. An audience of older couples will perhaps be impacted more by elegant, soft, and expressive imagery.
  6. Dynamic artistry: Camera angle, type of lighting, color, venue, depth, and motion…all such factors will influence the overall outcome of your concept shot.
  7. Story telling quality: In one image, does your concept tell the complete story? A picture is worth a thousand words, so one image can capture depth of story. It will simply take some time in thought, and some well developed shots.

The following three images all expound on the concept of love. Each is an independent story. Each effectively reaches its audience. Take a moment to evaluate each image based on the 7 criteria before reading the project creation description.


  1. Concept: Love
  2. Message: Broken Heart
  3. Audience: Young women who lost their first love
  4. Emotional Connector: Feeling of aloneness and walking away from what once was;
  5. Creative composition: Taken from the ground so the broken heart is considered first before the girl; the girl is anonymous adding to mystery of who is experiencing the broken heart
  6. Dynamic Artistry: The broken heart is in 2/3rds of the frame dominating the image, but attention is given equally to the girl due to the fact that she is walking toward the vibrant blue ocean
  7. Story telling quality: Does this single image describe the feelings, the experience, and the hurt of a broken heart?

Starting to make sense? Let’s evaluate one more. Remember to pause for a moment to evaluate the image for yourself before going on to the explanation:


  1. Concept: Love
  2. Message: True love
  3. Audience: lovers who know commitment
  4. Emotional Connector: Feeling of beauty, delicacy and precious value
  5. Creative composition: Taken from above to take advantage of a perspective of innocence
  6. Dynamic Artistry: the shallow depth of field completely isolates the rose without taking away from the story telling quality contributed by the hands, and the black backgrounds provides for no distracting elements
  7. Story telling quality: Does this single image describe the feelings, the experience, and the precious value of true love?

No matter what level of photography you are, no matter what field you dominate, if you take the winter months to practice conceptual photography, you will find your imagery grow leaps and bounds in whatever field you pursue.

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Christina N Dickson is a visionary artist and philanthropist in Portland Oregon. Her work includes wedding photography and leadership with

Some Older Comments

  • Nicholas March 3, 2013 04:30 am

    I am new to photograghy and recently enrolled in a concept composition class. I feel I am over my head with the concept thing... but this page has given me some help ... now I need to burn some brain cells for the assignment I have to turn in a couple of days... concept: a pic of the external place where you live and a pic of a room you live in... well I am thinking... god help me.

  • snapit October 12, 2011 07:46 am

    i just wanna be good at what i do. i wanna grow

  • Lauren September 8, 2011 09:49 am

    Wow, I really enjoyed this article! I do find it a lot harder to keep shooting in the winter, and I think this idea could really help! Thanks!

  • Deshawn June 30, 2011 07:18 am

    This was very helpful in giving me a start to working on concepts. I have a photo shoot with a model with some experience and was a little intimidated when she started asking about concepts. I was like "concepts?" Now I have a base where and how to start paying attention to such things when preparing for a shoot.

  • ShootTokyo March 29, 2011 02:36 pm

    This is great. I have been doing this a lot lately and found that it really helped my photography.

  • Mark Woodland March 28, 2011 12:56 am

    I wonder if.."is a visionary artist and philanthropist".. is a title the author gave herself?

  • Paul March 26, 2011 09:25 pm

    Nice little article, useful to bear in mind as wedding photography can often be event driven?

  • Aseel March 26, 2011 08:41 am

    DPS is the best website, and really providing useful and helpful information and open your eyes to something new every time.

    warm regards,,, ,, ,

  • Bruce52 March 25, 2011 03:06 pm

    I guess we all make mistakes - I didn't get advice right !

  • Bruce52 March 25, 2011 03:04 pm

    Great advise. My only problem when looking at those three images - I can only see two.

  • Pashminu Mansukhani March 25, 2011 02:54 am

    Yes, this is one of the best ways to help young photographers to explain the "concept" of photography. In the recent past, I have observed that photographers then to just "shoot" without thinking twice about the concept, audience etc. With fast lens and gigs of memory cards, they "think" that one of the photographs will come out as "this is it", but alas none of them mark any mark above mundane.

  • Ivette Fred March 25, 2011 01:59 am

    Excellent. Thank you very much!

  • Mark March 24, 2011 05:51 am

    I approach concept photography after the shoot. I focus on the subject, texture, light, composition, and initial implied narrative I feel. Once I develop/process the image (Lightroom) I then spend time researching quotes that I feel match the mood of the image. Two examples:

    1. "Inside my empty bottle I was constructing a lighthouse while all the others were making ships."

    2. “When friendship disappears then there is a space left open to that awful loneliness of the outside world which is like the cold space between the planets. It is an air in which men perish utterly.”

  • scott March 22, 2011 11:01 pm

    Took this one while working on a film noir project.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck March 22, 2011 05:12 pm


    Here I tried to recreate an angry Bride after hearing the post marriage cofession of the Groom - she was on the ground as the revelation was so shattering that she could not stand. When the Grrom said, "I'm sorry" she flies into a primal rage. (Did it work?)

    "I'm Sorry, Honey" Trash the Dress:

  • ScottC March 22, 2011 02:30 pm

    Interesting article, I've never thought of photopraphy using this combination of concepts before.

    Though by accident, and a with different concept and message, I took this and believe it tells a story for the recent St Pats Festival.

  • Toni Aull March 22, 2011 12:45 pm

    I just love all wisdom passed down!!
    Thank You!!

  • Toni Aull March 22, 2011 12:44 pm

    I just love all wisdom passed down!!
    Thank You!!

  • Erik March 22, 2011 08:28 am


    This is a take on Yin and Yang using skates - using a figure skate and a hockey skate shows the synergy and complementary nature of Women and Man

    Yin Yang:

  • Antony Pratap February 23, 2010 04:02 pm

    Brilliant post! The points are broken down very well. I agree with Edward, I need criticism and suggestions.

    P.S. Just thought I'd let you know about the formatting of point 7 (Story telling quality: In one image,..)

  • edward May 3, 2009 10:02 am

    I need help, criticism and suggestions on my first few shots or even concepts shots at my sight. I am interested in learning more and getting connected in the circle of digital photography.

  • Mandy November 20, 2008 08:20 pm

    I love this article, I love the way photographs can tell stories and that's one of the main reasons that draws me to photography.

    I can connect with a story told through a photograph more than a story told through art for instance, nothing against art it's just a personal thing!

    And this article is really helpful in describing each process needed to create a great concept image - thanks can't wait to give them a go!

  • Alex November 7, 2008 04:53 pm

    Great article. I've been thinking around this for quite a while in regard to a particular theme, this will help me put some flesh on it.

  • Denis November 5, 2008 10:55 pm

    I think this article is great! So well thought and comprehensive!
    Thanks !

  • Sagar November 2, 2008 05:51 am

    one of the best and my favorite article on DPS

    would like to see more of such articles...
    really nice...

    thank you very much

    will love to see something related to colors.... : )

  • Kim October 31, 2008 07:22 am

    Possibly one of the best posts Ive seen here.


  • Dr. Nicolas Rao October 31, 2008 04:37 am

    Neat! Very clear and concise article on planned photography. I find a little planning usually leads to a lot of inspiration from a fertile brain. Food for thought! Feed it!

  • PRH October 30, 2008 09:02 pm

    Great tutorial. I'll have to give this a go.

    Lovely images too

  • Natalia October 29, 2008 10:57 pm

    Amazing article! Absolutely love it and will recommend to my readers, who are mostly shoot for microstoks where concepts are of high demand.

  • Steve October 29, 2008 01:05 pm

    A good field of study that can give you more insight into this type of imagery is semiotics. It is the study of symbols both verbal and visual. By understanding the symbols the mind uses to interpret meaning, you can create a deeper, more meaningful image. I did a few to many papers on the stuff to be useful to the average person, but I think wikipedia has a good place to start. Also, there was a website that helped me a bit... let me see... ah there it is.

    It's a bit dense, but it is good

  • Chris October 29, 2008 09:19 am

    That was a neat exercise! I've noticed learning how to compose a story in a frame is what most people have a hard time doing since they can't connect snapshots with human emotions.

    I'm definitelly guilty of ignoring the importance of this lesson from time to time. I've found writting every morning about anything you want helps get the creative juices flowing once again. It doesn't even have to be alot just 200 words or so will do.

  • Glenn October 29, 2008 08:54 am

    I love this way of shooting. I tend to do this myself, as i was trained as a journalist and always shoot with a 'Story' in mind.

    Although this way is a little more indepth and pre-planned. I think i'll give it a go before my next shoot.

  • Traverse Davies October 29, 2008 04:07 am

    I started a photo group that (in theory) will be doing a themed shoot every month. Themed is a little looser than concept shoot (our next one is supposed to be in an abandoned house with the theme "Haunted", however you want to interpret that). It really stretches you creatively and is a whole lot of fun...

  • Zeeshan Kazmi October 29, 2008 02:08 am

    Nice tips for those who want to push the limits and learn new things. I interviewed several commercial photographers for Colours Magazine, and they mentioned the importance of shooting for yourself. As this lets you increase your creativity and broaden your experience. Otherswise you are limited to what your client wants.

    It would also be important for personal portfolio development or for increasing your own experience. I am certainly going to try it the next chance I get for some free time.

    Zeeshan Kazmi

  • Rosh October 29, 2008 01:57 am

    Excellent topic.

    This is a great exercise to push photographers beyond point and shoot. Point and shoot is fine for personal photography. But, I know many of the photographers on this site would like to make a living with photography and point and shoot will not do.

    I think I'm going to try it a couple ideas this weekend.


  • Rodrigo October 29, 2008 01:37 am

    Spring in Argentina. We can still practice concept shooting.
    This is my version!
    Excellent site.