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What Is Conceptual Photography? 32 Inspiring Examples

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Conceptual photography is all about ideas, symbols, and themes. It’s the perfect way to express yourself and make the most of your creative freedom.

But how do you come up with conceptual photography ideas? For good conceptual photography, you have to come up with an original idea. Then you have to edit your results in a way that communicate your vision.

Before you start planning your shoot, inspire yourself with these 32 conceptual photos.

A conceptual photo of a room with a blurred image of a man
Photo by OB OA on Unsplash

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Make Your Background Interact With Your Subject

Backgrounds are often used to complement a subject or to make it stand out.

A conceptual photography shot of a man walking under a huge picture of a pointing finger
You can use clever street art like this to literally point at your subject.

You can use common backgrounds, such as walls, to make a concept come to life. A wall with graffiti art could make your subject look like it has wings, for example.

Woman standing in front of wall with angel wings drawn onto it
Photo by Lisa Fotios from Pexels

Look for interesting street art in your area. This challenge will improve your street and conceptual photography skills.

Use Everyday Objects to Symbolise Nature

Many of us live in places full of at least some kind of nature. You can go out and take photos in your local park, for example.

A conceptual photo of a plant growing from an eggshell on a purple background
The beautiful thing about still life photos like this one is that they can be interpreted in many different ways.

But what if you had to recreate nature indoors using everyday objects? To take the photo above, the photographer used a simple purple background, an eggshell, and dill. This could symbolise a growing tree, finding strength in empty places, etc.
Experiment with different items in your home to boost your creativity.

small plant inside a light bulb
Photo by Singkham from Pexels

If you can’t find any objects, then you can even use your hands. I love this simple use of green paint. It symbolises that the person is ‘green-fingered’ – they have a natural gardening ability.

A hand with the fingers painted green, holding a leaf
Photo by Alena Koval from Pexels

Take Photos in Water to Create a Dramatic Effect

Photos taken in water, or underwater, are dramatic and emotional. This makes water the perfect subject for conceptual portraits.A dramatic conceptual portrait of a man emerging from the sea with his hands on his head - conceptual photography ideas Here are a few of the many things you can do with water:

If you don’t have any beaches nearby, take photos in a bathtub or use running water. The great thing about a bathtub is that you can add coloring to change the color of the water. Be careful not to stain your model’s skin, though!

Woman's face with blue make up in blue water
Photo by Dazzle Jam from Pexels

Recreate Your Childhood Dreams for a Sense of Nostalgia

Many conceptual photographers like to use their dreams as inspiration for their work. Your own childhood dreams can provide you with an abundance of original ideas.

Conceptual photography can involve expert editing skills and extravagant backdrops. The image below has been edited so that the sailboat almost appears to be floating in the sky. This creates a beautiful dream-like scene.

An edited image of a sailboat floating in the sea with a starry sky
Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

But you don’t need to use fancy equipment to recreate dreams.  But it can also be very simple.

A dreamy conceptual portrait of a little girl sleeping, covered in golden starsThe photo above is the perfect example of a simple yet nostalgic conceptual portrait.

Share Your Perception of Time with Others

What does time mean to you? Does it feel like a never-ending waterfall, or does it move slowly? Everyone’s perception of time is different.

Atmospheric photo of an hourglass - conceptual photo ideas

Because time is such an abstract term, it can encourage you to experiment with surreal ideas. The image below shows the sand falling from between their fingers. This can show time slipping through their hands.

Sand running through a persons hands
Photo by Ben White on Unsplash

You can also give yourself specific keywords to work with.
You could use how something grows, or how the same person or place looks at different times of the day.

Use a Piece of Glass to Create a Surreal Reflection

Reflections are perfect for conceptual portraits. They can be used to symbolise self-esteem, appearance vs personality, and many other important topics.

A colorful portrait of a female model holding a mirror to her face - conceptual photography ideas

Any kind of reflective material will work for this challenge. You can use a regular mirror or a body of water. Even your phone screen can create surreal, humorous, or thought-provoking conceptual pieces.

Reflection of an airplane and buildings in a puddle
Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash

Create Anonymity Using Simple Photoshop Tricks

Some conceptual portraits are mysterious and moody. They often feature people whose faces are hidden by objects or paint-like substances. You can create these in your editing program.

A surreal monotone portrait of a female model featuring a painted red streak over her eyes - conceptual photography ideas
Partly hidden faces can make a concept seem more relatable. Sometimes, anonymity can make it easier for someone to relate to your story.

Use brushes, textures, and other resources. You can download these online for free.

Black and white portrait of a woman edited with a streak of red paint

Use Motion Blur to Create Surreal Photos

Motion blur is a popular technique. Anyone with a camera can experiment with it. The right kind of blur will make your photos look eerie and confusing. These are two qualities that many conceptual photographers love using in their work.A surreal monotone portrait of a female model featuring motion blur - conceptual photography ideas You can move your camera as you press the shutter. Or have your model move around while your camera is on a tripod.
You can also use the panning technique. This involves moving your camera in the direction your subject is moving. It will make everything but your model look blurred.

man on a bicycle with blurred background
Photo by Kaur Martin on Unsplash

Make Your Favourite Objects Levitate!

You can combine levitation and conceptual photography to create beautiful fantasy-themed photos.

A conceptual photo of a book levitating in a library
Levitating books can represent the magic of stories.

Levitating people can symbolise inner peace or a yearning for adventure. Use levitation to emphasise your love for an object. It can be anything from a specific kind of food to your favourite possession.

Camera levitating in the air
Photo by safal karki on Unsplash

Define Loneliness Through Conceptual Self-Portraits

Self-portraiture is a great way to express your feelings without using words. Try to define loneliness using your own experiences with it. Do you associate loneliness with empty rooms or crowded places?A conceptual self portrait of a man sitting in front of a large blank screen Though loneliness has a negative connotation, it can be a source of joy for some people.

Whatever your answer is, use it as inspiration for your next conceptual photoshoot.

Silhouette of a man against a starry night sky
Photo by Greg Rakozy on Unsplash

Photograph the Different Stages of Healing

Healing, like loneliness, comes in different forms. It’s a powerful concept because it’s something everyone can relate to.

A dark and moody conceptual photo of a flower bandaged to a persons wrist
This photo is a great representation of the healing powers of nature. A flower can’t heal a wound, but spending time out in nature can ease emotional pain.

You can use a scratch to symbolise heartbreak. Or a bandage to symbolise the healing process after your heart gets broken. You can photograph the different stages of a healing process.
To put it simply, there’s a lot you can do with this universal experience.

Look for Concepts Outdoors

You don’t always have to come up with your own ideas. Sometimes, all you have to do is go out and photograph your surroundings.A street photo of a bicycle with watermelon painted wheels - conceptual photography ideas Take the time to explore your area. You might find unusual buildings, landscapes, and vehicles. These could be the stars of your next conceptual piece.

Airplane flying above a building
Photo by Jeremy Bishop from Pexels

Capture the Struggles of Decision-Making

We’ve all had to make at least one important decision in our lives. Like healing and loneliness, decision-making is a universal struggle.
Jobs, relationships, and self-care all come with a plethora of obstacles. These could serve as inspiration for your next photoshoot.

A lot of everyday things can represent hard decisions. Think of two roads, arrows, or doors pointing in different directions.

Many road signs in a deserted landscape
Photo by Mark Neal from Pexels

Have your model stand in the middle of these things. It will make it seem like they’re trying to make a life-changing decision.

A conceptual photo of a person sitting above a highway

Use Costumes to Create Surreal Portraits

An unusual costume can make a big difference in a conceptual shoot. Astronaut costumes, masks, and bizarre hats can turn a simple portrait into a surreal work of art.

An otherworldly portrait of an astronaut - conceptual photography inspiration
There’s a lot you can do with a simple costume or piece of clothing. Some costumes are relatively cheap and don’t look fake in photographs.

Using these costumes, you might find it easier to emphasise your ideas. You can use an astronaut helmet to represent loneliness, isolation or enjoying one’s own world.

Woman in a fairy costume in the woods

Take Cute Conceptual Photos of Children and Props

Who says conceptual photography has to be moody all the time? You can enhance your photos of children using clever concepts and adorable outfits.

A conceptual photo of a young boy in a wooden boat outdoors
This photo might represent the child’s desire to become a pilot. It could also be a symbol of his love for toy airplanes.

Conceptual photos of children can focus on a child’s dreams, ambitions, or favourite toys.

A small child sitting with a teddy bear

Use Butterflies to Symbolise Freedom and Creativity

Butterflies are not only visually appealing but perfect for conceptual portraits. They represent freedom and creativity. And they’re also symbols of hope, the human soul, and resurrection.A conceptual photography portrait using Butterflies to symbolise freedom and Creativity You can use stock photos of butterflies to create surreal and exotic photos like the one above. You can also invest in realistic butterfly accessories. These include rings, necklaces, and hair clips to make your photos stand out even more.

Woman with painted face and a butterfly on her mouth
Photo by Isabella Mariana from Pexels

Conclusion

Conceptual photography is an important part of the photography world. Anyone can use it to get out of their comfort zone, express themselves, and contribute their story to the world.

Take the time to create conceptual photos. You’ll learn how to come up with original ideas and improve your editing skills. You’ll also be more in touch with your emotions.

If you enjoyed these tips, then take a look at our Wow Factor Photography course!

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