5 myths about conceptual fine art photography

 

Over the years of holding creative photography workshops and engaging with my Instagram community, I was happy to see that there are so many like-minded people around. However, I’ve noticed though these people might have same interests and passions as me, something is stopping them from actually crossing the line and starting doing something outside of their comfort zone (which might be a wedding, family, interior or other “commercial” type of photography).

 

According to my personal statistics, there are 5 myths that can be stopping you from trying to shoot new things:

 

Myth #1 - Nothing is possible without big budgets: When you see works by Tim Walker, your heart drops and you get discouraged because you won’t ever be able to get those budgets, right?

 

Myth #2 - Location is key and you need to travel far: Looking through your Instagram feed it’s easy to tell to yourself: “well, of course, my images would also look stunning in that gorgeous place. But I’m stuck in the middle of nowhere and there’s nothing as beautiful around.”

 

Myth #3 - You’re a loser without formal photography education: It was a big one for me personally. Long time I felt humbled by the fact that I wasn’t properly taught to express myself and my ideas.


Myth #4 - Everything has been said and done before: And there’s nothing you can add to this world, you’ll be just copying someone else’s ideas. BS, guys.

 

Myth #5 - No one will buy it, so you can’t make a living with it: the Conceptual artist is not a real career, maybe it is, but only for the chosen ones, not for you. Mom, dad, brother, husband, friend says the most important thing in life is making money. So if you can’t make a living from that, why even bother?

 

Do any of the points look familiar? I bet at least some of them do. Why do I call them myths? Cause from my personal experience and from the experiences of many other fellow-creatives it’s simply not true. Let me explain why.

Why do I call them myths? Cause from my personal experience and from the experiences of many other fellow-creatives it’s simply not true. Let me explain why.

Myth #1 Nothing is possible without big budgets

 

Wrong. In fact, low budgets make you more creative! There are usually 2 major things about the budget that concern people:

 

Money for props, wardrobe, etc.

Paying your models and supporting professionals, such as makeup artists

No, you don’t need a lot of money to start your creative photography experiments. In fact, when you don’t have the money, this is when your mind begins to search for new ways of using the old stuff or new materials that you can get very cheap or for free.

Let’s get the first one clear: No, you don’t need a lot of money to start your creative photography experiments. In fact when you don’t have the money, this is when your mind begins to search for new ways of using the old stuff or new materials that you can get very cheap or for free. I often use: old clothes, fabric, newspapers, foil, plastic film, etc. (More about it in my future post: Creative photoshoot on a low budget)

Understand this: your props don’t have to look perfect in reality.

Understand this: your props don’t have to look perfect in reality. They may need (depending on the situation) look good in your photo, but it doesn’t mean you have to invest your time and money on making the prop look stunning from every angle. Yes, you can have only one half of a dress, ship, etc. if that’s the only part that’s going to be in your shot. Think like a theatre decorator. Take a look at the images below: the total budget for them was below €10.

Then, of course you’ll need SOME money, to get the stuff that you don’t have at home. Here’s a solution. Set a budget limit. Say, I can spend €20 on this shoot, and then maybe I won’t buy a couple of lattes and a new t-shirt, but I’ll do something I’ve been thinking about doing for a long long time. Which one will make you more proud of yourself? New piece of stuff or a new thing that you create? 

 

As for paying models and muah people: if you’re just starting out with some creative photography, there are also people that are starting out with modelling or makeup and hair. They can be found in makeup schools, model schools, related FB groups, Instagram, via common friends, etc. Yes, there are chances that you won’t get the best result. But in any case, it’s going to be a valuable experience for both of you. It doesn’t have to be perfect from the very beginning! In fact, it doesn’t have to be perfect at all).

Say, I can spend €20 on this shoot, and then maybe I won’t buy a couple of lattes and a new t-shirt, but I’ll do something I’ve be thinking about doing for a long long time. Which one will make you more proud of yourself? New piece of stuff or a new thing that you create?

Myth #2 - Location is key and you need to travel far

 

I won’t argue that location can mean a lot and it’s great when you have an opportunity to travel or use amazing spaces. However, if you don’t, it’s not a reason to stop shooting. You can shoot at home, in the backyard, nearest park, ANYTHING that’s easily accessible.

Yes, it depends on the concept, yes there might be limitations, but those limitations make you think, get creative and overcome them. It’s a challenge and this is how your creative mind gets stronger, by overcoming challenges!

it’s great when you have an opportunity to travel or use amazing spaces. However, if you don’t, it’s not a reason to stop shooting

When I started taking conceptual photography seriously I had a newborn daughter. I couldn’t actually leave her for more than a couple of hours, so I had to either shoot at home (which again wasn’t always the best option when you have to bring lots of new people to your place - moms will understand), or very-very close to our house. So most of my works of the “early period” were shot in the park nearby. Including these two, btw. 

Myth #3 - You’re a loser without formal photography education

 

I would say it’s a “nice to have”, but definitely not a must. Just look at the works of Maria Svarbova, Magdalena Berny, Anka Zhuravleva, they are very well established people, who are completely self-taught. If they can do it, so can you. By the way, masters like Henri Cartier-Bresson and Rodney Smith also didn’t have formal photography education. Yes, they studied other forms of art, which I think is important, but also possible to do on your own.

 

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want to diminish the value of the formal education in anyway, but I don’t believe that the lack of it should stop you from trying.

There are so many ways from watching YouTube videos on the topic to attending workshops of the photographers that you like. However, before you get to them you need to be clear what you what to learn and from whom

How and where you can learn? There are so many ways from watching YouTube videos on the topic to attending workshops of the photographers that you like. However, before you get to them you need to be clear what you what to learn and from whom. It’s very possible that you already have a number of photographers that you admire. Create a list of those for yourself and start searching anything that’s related to each person from the list: interviews, articles, behind the scenes videos, etc. For example, I found very helpful listening to interviews and watching documentaries about Annie Leibovitz, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paolo Roversi and Tim Walker. Brooke Shaden has lots of information on how to approach photography creatively. I too have a YouTube and IGTV channels, where I publish behind the scenes videos.


 

Myth #4 - Everything has been said and done before

 

So true. BUT! It hasn’t been said and done by YOU! And that’s the most important thing! Your perspective is unique. Think of chefs, when they cook. All of them have the same ingredients, yet, the meals that they have as a result can taste quite different.

So true. BUT! It hasn’t been said and done by YOU!

Perhaps you know the famous quote that has been attributed to many people, but most frequently to Pablo Picasso: “Good artists copy; great artists steal”. What it means is that there’s nothing wrong with utilising ideas that you see in someone else's work, if you manage to use them better than the original and make them your own, adding your perception and experience.

 

Another quote that supports this point is from Austin Kleon’s “Steal Like an Artist”: “What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.”

 

For example, Salvador Dali was inspired by virtually everything! But perhaps his inspirations that came to my mind were ancient Greek sculptures. But we’d never dare to say his work wasn’t original, right? If you want to read more on what inspired Dali, check out the official Salvador Dali Society website

However, what’s important to remember here is to state clearly and honestly what your work was inspired by. It will be beneficial for both you and the source of inspiration, and if the source is a contemporary and not an ancient Greek poet or Renaissance painter he/she might be even flattered that his/her work has such an impact on other artists.

 

If you’re still worried about copying something, understand this: copying is a way of learning. Any craft can only be mastered, when you copy something. You need to know the rules, in order to break them. Copying is a way to becoming a skilled craftsman. Transition from a craftsman to an artists comes when you begin to connect things that were not connected before. You take the ingredients of your knowledge and combine them in a new way. That’s when the art is born.

Copying is a way of learning. Any craft can only be mastered, when you copy something.

By the way, for some people the transition never happens, they stay on the level of a craftsman and that’s ok too.

 

 

Myth #5 - No one will buy it, so you can’t make a living with it

 

There are 2 points I want to address here:

 

1, Guess, what? You don’t have to! There’s no need to turn this into a business immediately, as you start. For example, even greatest masters like Ansel Adams, had to do something else to support themselves, as incomes from photography prints wasn’t enough. That didn’t prevent him from being an outstanding artist in landscape photography artist.

Photography business (be it for wedding or headshot or even fashion photo) rarely has much to do with creativity on your side. There’s a client and you need to do what the client wants and is willing to pay for.

Remember also, that photography business (be it for wedding or headshot or even fashion photo) rarely has much to do with creativity on your side. There’s a client and you need to do what the client wants and is willing to pay for. This is why many photographers, who start on their path as “finding a creative outlet” and breaking away from their boring office jobs, later find themselves unsatisfied and caught in the business side of things. They stop doing photography just for the sake of it.

It’s CRUCIAL to have personal projects, constantly explore new means and experiment with taking pictures on your own. Not all the work will be commissioned. However, the personal non commissioned work might be the way paying clients to find you. Which takes us to the second point.

 

2. People DO buy it. There are hundreds, if not thousands of photographers making money exactly by producing creative photography content. Just think about all the Instagram-famous artist, like Sheidlina, Joel Robison, Rosie Hardy for example. No, it won’t be as high on demand as a traditional wedding or family photography, but there’s a market anyway. If you want to continue on that path and get serious about it, you’ll find your tribe.

 

I hope now, after reading this post your discouragement about creative photography evaporates never to come back. Are there any other things that might be stopping you from investing more time and effort in taking pictures in unusual ways? Let me know about them below and we’ll address them together!