How to make a conceptual photograph.
Once you’ve gathered inspiration and have an idea of what you want to create, it’s time to make it happen.
Sketch your idea and plan your shoot.
“I start by visualizing my idea, and then I sketch it out in Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator, sometimes with color,” says Anti. “This helps me visualize the concept better. It’s also very helpful when you’re working with a team.” Your sketch can be as simple as stick figures and basic notes, or it can be more detailed. As long as it helps you translate your idea into something tangible.
“Dissect your sketch and break it down to the different elements in the image,” says photographer Michael David Adams, who has a background in surreal portraits and concept art. Whether you want to make a note about composition, color palette, props, or lighting, write it all out and use these notes to plan how to shoot your idea.
Gather your elements.
“Usually I don't just take a single photo, I collect material to create something else later in Photoshop,” says Anti. Lots of conceptual photographers work with composites, where multiple images are cut together and merged into a final photo. These images aren’t all perfectly composed frames, but rather simple shots of different components, or elements, that the final photo will include.
Your notes and sketches will help you break down what you need to photograph. Pay attention to light and color if you’re making a composite. If one photo is backlit and another is side lit, the two won’t look consistent. Similarly, if one photo was shot indoors at a lower color temperature and another outdoors at golden hour, they won’t look like they belong in the same image.
Do as much as you can in-camera so you don’t have to spend lots of time making complex photo manipulations later. “To create a realistic composite, you should design your set and shoot as much as possible on that set. I rarely use stock photography,” says Anti.
Create your photo.
Once you’ve gathered all your material, it’s time to assemble your creation. “After I finish shooting I go to my computer. This is where all the magic happens; it’s the most exciting part because this is when I can finally see what my image is going to look like,” says Anti.
Some conceptual photos might only need to be edited or retouched to be complete, while others require more work to realize your vision. For Adams, post-production is a simpler process that involves “just the elements, masking, and color matching.” Learn how to make a composite, make your first layer mask, or use layer masks to combine images with these guided Photoshop tutorials.