Conceptual photography is a genre of photography that explores concepts over the traditional focus on things. The images communicate ideas rather than just illustrating a scene, capturing an emotion, or recording a fact.

They are often created using unconventional techniques and can be abstract or surreal in nature. Conventional photos are something taken by a camera, whereas conceptual photography is defined by the artist’s conception.

Conceptual photographs are more concerned with the idea of the photograph than the subject being photographed.This idea can be created through various means like reflection, abstraction and manipulation.

Conceptual Photography

What Is Conceptual Photography?

Conceptual photography is a term that is used to refer to a specific type of photography that has been created for the specific purpose of conveying some sort of concept.

Some people will use the term conceptual photography to refer to any type of photography that involves an idea or concept, but others will use it more specifically to refer to a sub-set of photography where the concept is more important than the subject matter.

Conceptual photographers are tasked with creating images that convey a specific concept or idea, as opposed to simply trying to capture a realistic representation of their subject.



Some artists even go as far as to destroy the photograph in order to achieve their goal. The meaning of the photograph is derived from the idea behind it.

With conceptual photography, you might see an image that looks like a pile of bricks with rusted metal on top of it.

However, you realize that it’s really a portrait of an abandoned house with two doors – one leading into darkness and one leading into light –and this is what gives the image meaning beyond what is shown in the actual picture.

Regardless of what they are trying to accomplish, conceptual photographers have certain processes and tasks that they typically have to complete in order to produce their end result. 

The first thing that conceptual photographers need to do when creating an image for this purpose is come up with an idea.

What Is Conceptual Photography?

Conceptual photography is a form of art that uses the tools of photography to express concepts instead of objects.

The conceptual artist takes the photograph not for its own sake, but rather for the idea or message that it tries to communicate.

In this sense, conceptual photography is similar to other kinds of conceptual art such as literature or music. There is an underlying concept or message conveyed through the piece, which may be made more evident by titling or labeling the work.

The concept or message is often drawn from an existing cultural framework, such as religion, politics, science, and so on. An example of conceptual photography in this vein would be a picture of a crucifix with Jesus replaced with a candy bar.

Perhaps the most famous example of conceptual photography is “Blanket for a Sail,” which was created by Robert Rauschenberg in 1953. The photo depicts a man standing on a small boat holding up an American flag as a makeshift sail.

Rauschenberg wanted to discuss the role that symbols play in society as well as how we approach our own patriotism. A more recent example of conceptual photography is “From Here to Eternity,” which was taken by Chris Jordan in 2005.

What Is Conceptual Photography Used For?

Conceptual photography is a genre of contemporary art and photography in which the images are primarily conceptual in nature, with the subject matter being less important than the photographic technique used to create the work. 

In these photographs, the subject matter is often secondary to the idea behind the image.

Sometimes a specific object or scene or even an entire series of images can be seen as a conceptual art piece, while in other cases it is merely one component of an overall conceptual framework. The scale of conceptual photography varies greatly.

It may involve just one photograph or several dozen that are connected by some common theme. The only thing that all conceptual photographs have in common is that they are meant to communicate an idea rather than what they depict.

Conceptual photographs may also use various elements from other visual arts forms such as painting and sculpture. This cross-pollination has led to some confusion over what exactly constitutes conceptual photography and even whether it is a separate genre at all, but it seems clear that conceptual photography is a distinct genres with its own conventions and expectations for style, content, and presentation.

Types Of Conceptual Photography

The Symbolic Photograph 

Symbolic photographs are the most conventional of concept photographs. They are based on a very simple image, where a real-life object is replaced by its symbolic equivalent (for example, a needle for medication).

This type of photograph is commonly used for documentary photography. This type of concept photograph is often used to create awareness about certain social issues. 

For instance, if one wished to create awareness about child labor, one could take a picture of an adult hand gripping the neck of a child.

The Abstract Photograph

In this type of photography, the idea behind the photo remains abstract and open to interpretation by the viewer. It is often used in modern art and commercial photography as well.

For example, one could use shapes and lines to symbolically represent emotions or ideas. 

This type of photography doesn’t always have to be surreal; it can also be realistic like the symbolic type but with a deeper meaning attached to it.

The Surreal Photograph

Surrealism is a genre of art that uses exaggerated imagery and symbolism to create a dream-like state in the viewer’s mind. 

Conceptual photography has many elements drawn from surrealism which aims to challenge our perception of reality through imagery that may seem illogical or irrational.

Conceptual Photography Examples

The idea behind conceptual photography can be anything from a social commentary to a play on words or concepts. 

Most conceptual photography is focused on the idea of taking ordinary images and presenting them in an unusual way using various means of manipulation, such as photomontage, double exposure, and darkroom techniques like dodging and burning.

This can be done to make a social statement. For example, creating a composite image that combines different racial backgrounds to present a more racially harmonious society. Transferring a visual concept into reality is one of the most important aspects of creating conceptual photography.

It requires careful planning and precise execution. There are many different ways to go about doing this. 

The simplest is to show the viewer something recognizable in an unfamiliar way.

For example, you could take multiple headshots of people and combine them so they look like one person with six heads. Another common technique is to show an out of place object.


Conceptual Photography Tips

The conceptual approach can be applied to many other types of images.

It is not the subject itself that makes it conceptual, but the way in which it is captured and presented. 

The main idea behind conceptual photography is to have artistic control over what you are shooting and how you are presenting it.

It does this by taking an ordinary object or scene and turning it into something extraordinary by capturing it in a way that excites the viewer’s imagination. Conceptual photography requires a great deal of planning before you pick up your camera.

You must determine what you want to capture and how you will capture it, and then figure out how to make your message clear to the viewer.

Though conceptually based images are usually more complicated than traditional photographs, they can also be much more interesting. They can appeal to your viewers on a deeper level because they make them think about the image rather than just look at it.

Abstract Conceptual Photography

Abstract Conceptual Photography is one of the types of photography that has gained immense popularity in recent times. Abstract conceptual photography aims to create meaning through visual art. 

This is done by manipulating the idea of reality or perception of something.

There are many abstract photographers who use different styles and techniques to create their own meaning and message in the photograph. In this type of photography, there has to be a reason behind it taking the photo. 

There has to be an idea that connects with the viewer, giving them the meaning behind the photograph.

This connection can be made by colors, shapes, patterns, or even textures. All these elements come together to create a full picture in front of the viewer’s eyes when they view an abstract conceptual photograph.

You don’t need any professional equipment to start experimenting with abstract conceptual photography. Many people use tools such as webcams, mobile phones, and compact cameras to create this type of imagery.

You can also use old film cameras that you have lying around at home for this purpose. It is not about what you shoot with but about how you manipulate your camera and your images.

Points Of Memory: Broomberg And Chanarin: Conflict, Time, Photograph

In their series, Points of Memory, Russian-based photographers and brothers Boris and Arkady Kudryavtsev (aka Broomberg & Chanarin) capture the moods and energies of different cities around the world with a series of black and white images.

Taken in such places as New York City, Moscow, Paris, London, and Tokyo, these photographs are meant to bring their viewers back to a particular time in their own lives. “It is about evoking memories,” explain the artists.

“Reminding you of something you have seen or something that has happened to you. It’s difficult to explain but it’s something we all do instinctively.” 

The duo says they allow themselves to return to these moments in time through their photographs by setting out with an intention.

“In each city, we try and create an idea or make something happen,” Broomberg & Chanarin tell us.”We look for situations that have cinematic potential.” 

They also say that every one of their photographs is an experiment but they rarely go into a shoot with a preconceived idea of what they are looking for or how they want the final product to look.

Inspirational Examples Of Conceptual Photography

The series of photographs by Jean-Pierre Roy entitled “The Audacity of the Invisible” is truly a masterpiece of conceptual photography. The images show us the incredible moment when we suddenly find ourselves in a place where only the air is visible before us, and we are unable to breathe.

Trees, windows, car wheels and even a child’s bicycle – for photographer Jean-Pierre Roy these objects become the main theme of his work. The artist creates an illusion that makes people look at things not as they are but in a different way.

In this series of photos, you can see what it looks like when you put your head underwater in a lake or swimming pool. Underwater visibility is very limited, and sometimes it’s hard to find your way back to the surface again using only your sense of sight.

This series offers us an opportunity to feel how it is like to be a fish and see how our vision works underwater. These images were created by using special camera techniques that allowed the photographer to create an optical illusion of an object being invisible.

The technique involves double exposure and masking out parts of the image creating an unobserved effect that leaves us with an unusual photoshoot.

Defining Conceptual Photography

How exactly can we define conceptual photography?

Conceptual photography is the name given to a movement of photography that was born in the 1960s, but it was not until the late 1970s that the term ‘conceptual photography’ appeared.

The creative approach of conceptual photographers is based on the idea that making an art of their own medium, which is almost limitless in its potential for expression. 

Cindy Sherman’s work created from 1975-1990 and Ansel Adams’s photographs from 1922-1933 are considered to be examples of conceptual photos.

Conceptual photography can be used to express an idea or message. It does not have to be limited to a single meaning, but can also suggest several different interpretations (like the works of Rineke Dijkstra).

A conceptual photo can be characterized by its “straight” content, ironic or satirical nature, and/or by any elements which are deliberately added to heighten the effect of a photo (for example adding text on a photo).

In general, any artistic approach that might be called unconventional can be considered conceptual.

History Of Conceptual Photography

Conceptual photography is a genre of photography that explores the ideas behind and the concepts involved in the making of a photograph. Like most genres of art, conceptualism finds inspiration in many places: philosophy, politics, poetry, music, and even common sense.

The movement was founded on the basis that an object has no intrinsic meaning and that its existence is due to a concept or idea. An image is often an interpretation of reality based on the knowledge we have been fed throughout our lives.

A photograph is not necessarily a document of reality but rather a representation of how someone sees things; it is often subjective. Nevertheless, this does not mean that there is no such thing as artistic truth.

The artist can use their artistic license to manipulate reality in order to best represent their ideas. Among the first conceptual photographers were Cindy Sherman (born 1954), Duane Michals (born 1933), John Baldessari (born 1931), Edward Ruscha (born 1937), Barbara Kruger (born 1945), and Richard Prince (born 1949).

Cindy Sherman’s early work explored gender stereotypes by presenting herself in various characters such as ballerinas, biker girls, or office workers. She would also use herself as her own model for these photographs.

The Development Of Conceptual Photography


Conceptual photography has been around since the invention of the camera in the early 19th century. In fact, it could be said that conceptual photography began with the invention of photography itself.

The first person to capture an image with a camera was simply recording an event for later reference. This was not conceptual photography because it had no meaning. 

This distinction is important for understanding what conceptual photography is and how it differs from other types of photography.

The first time a photographer took a picture with more than just an illustrative purpose was probably in the late 1890s. At this time, there were several very famous photographers who all worked at about the same time but did not know each other

They all developed a style in their work that still exists today called Pictorialism. Pictorialism was focused on creating images that were beautiful as well as meaningful and intellectual.

Take Portraits Of Emotions

What do you think about one-word sentences? One word is a great way to describe your portrait. And when you combine this with the right emotions, magic happens.

When it comes to portraits, emotions are important because they make your subject look human, real and relatable. Your portrait would be a dull, boring photo if there were no emotions in it.

As photographers, it’s our job to bring out those emotions and make your subject look good! For example, a fashion photographer has to capture the emotion of their models. 

If they don’t feel any emotion, then the photos will come out boring and flat.

In contrast to portraiture, landscape photography doesn’t need many emotions. 

But what about macro photography? Macro photography needs much more emotion than portraiture. 

Why? Because macro photography involves details and complexity – we have to see every little thing in our photo! 


However, as photographers, we can also create emotions in our macro photos by controlling the light and composition of the shot.

No matter what your subjects are, emotions make them more interesting and relatable – they give us something that we can connect to which is one of the main goals of conceptual photography.