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Sunday, November 29, 2009

Need a Challenge? Illustrate a Concept

Sometimes the best way to push yourself to be more creative is to give yourself a challenge. One way that many art teachers do that is to have you illustrate a single word or concept, or a particular emotion. The word "quiet," for example, might be illustrated nicely by a person studying in the library, but it could also be illustrated by a harbor scene at sunrise. And while you can't see the wind, you can certainly illustrate the concept of wind--leaves blowing down the street, salt spray blowing off the tops of waves, etc.

Emotions are a great source of photo ideas. Think of the range of emotions that most of us go through in a typical day: happy, sad, pensive, blue, exuberant, excited, victorious, defeated, loved, lonely, etc. If you have young kids around the house you're likely to see this spectrum of emotions on an almost hourly basis and taking pictures of those emotions and moods is a great way to add depth to your family album.

Even if you don't know your subject though, you can often try to imagine the emotions they're feeling and then accent them using the tools of composition, exposure, color palette, etc. To me the photo above perfectly illustrates the concept of the word "alone" or "lonely;" though that is just my interpretation of the scene--there's every possibility that the person in the photo isn't feeling lonely at all. In composing the shot I used a normal lens and a very open framing so that the person standing on the jetty was engulfed in a huge area of sky and sea. I also shot on a somewhat overcast day and late in the afternoon so that the palette of the scene emphasized the solitary nature of the moment.

Interestingly, as I was composing this shot, I heard the lines of John Masefield's poem "Sea "Fever" (my mother's favorite poem) running through my head: "I must down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky..." I'm not sure if I was thinking of the poem first or saw the potential image and that made me think of it, but either way, the word "lonely" was in my head.

What concepts does the photo conjure for you? Peacefulness? Serenity? Loneliness? Memories of summer? Wanderlust?

Challenges push you forward as an artist both visually and emotionally and finding ways to illustrate ideas and concepts is a great way to hone in on your personal vision. And if you have ambitions to sell your photos or become a professional, you'll find that most photographs are assigned, or purchased through stock sources, based on your being able to illustrate concepts rather than come back with photos of specific subjects. The photo here, for instance, could be used to illustrate a financial ad ("When it comes to investing decisions, you're on your own.") or a Hallmark card ("When you're away, the world seems empty."). Merging visuals and emotional concepts is precisely what the advertising world is all about.

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