The mission of my Concept Photography book (upcoming), is to describe my process for going from concept to completed photograph. It’s also an introduction to the wonderful group of people who were an important part of the process.
While there are many ways to get from A to B, I hope you’ll find this book valuable for inspiration and as a reference. It’s intended for photographers and artists working in a variety of fields (Examples: Music, painting, and sculpture).
For a behind-the-scenes journey of avant-garde photography, set in locations including Peter Gabriel’s studio in England (Real World), I’ll be sharing excerpts from the upcoming book here.
To learn more about my books and classes and to receive a discount, you’re invited to subscribe to my List by clicking HERE.
Visual references to help form the basis for your concept photography
In the five articles preceding this one, I covered the overall photography process, how to cast an actor or model, how to write a briefing for your creative team, how to use nature photography for key and support color selection, and how to create a Lookbook.
For this article, I’ll focus on how to write the background story for your concept. Your story is the starting point for everything else within Concept Photography.
Anyone can tell a story. We do it many times each day. But if writing a story seems out of reach, don’t worry. I’m here to tell you that anyone can write a one or two-page story in a single day.
The key things to remember: you’re only writing for yourself, and your story only has to accomplish two things:
- Become a reference for you.
- Enable you to communicate the overall feel of your photoshoot.
But, after you’ve written and edited your story, if you decide to share it with other people, please do! Medium is a great place to publish your tale online for free. For a fee, plenty of organizations will print and even arrange to distribute your story through online retailers, including Amazon (example: BookBaby).
In this photoshoot, my overall story was inspired by early 1900s industrialists, particularly those in the automotive industry. More specifically: Henry Ford’s history. He was the epitome of self-made–something I very much admire. But, because he went through an unenviable number of tragedies during his early life, the man who became known as a revolutionary force in manufacturing transformed into someone else. While some of his transformations were due to the truly rough business environment during the 1900s and his personal beliefs (he was an isolationist in a world heading toward World War II), others were due to his own questionable actions.
- What we now know as the Ford Motor Company is really the third version of the company. The first two versions were essentially stolen from him by a variety of nefarious characters.
- As an isolationist, he was dragged into supporting Word War II by President Roosevelt. By the end of the war, the production of the B24 Liberator aircraft by Ford was one of the keys to America winning the war.
- Clara Ford, his wife, blamed him for the death of their son.
This list goes on and on, encompassing both the best and worst characteristics in humans.
In How to Create a Lookbook, we looked at one aspect of the story behind the Steel | Out of Place photoshoot. In my upcoming book Concept Photography, we’ll dive into the personal account of Henry Ford and how it connects to the photographs shown here.
Here are the methods I used to write all the stories in my book.
Concept Photography–Writing the background story
The overall concept for this photoshoot was: Hiding in Plain Site–both the literal interpretation of that phrase and Dorthy’s role as the protagonist.
Most people write better if they’re given a set of rules or constraints. There’s no reason why you can’t do the same for yourself. Or, ask a friend to make up a set of arbitrary rules for you.
- Your entire story must be less than 500 words long (1 to 2 pages).
- The last word of every paragraph has to rhyme.
- You can only write about two characters in your story.
From the music world, here are two historic examples of success due to constraints:
- After Peter Gabriel left Genesis to go solo, he continued to work with drummer Phil Collins. The one rule: Phil was not allowed to play cymbals, including high hats. The result: some of Gabriel’s most memorable music does not have cymbals. And with this constraint, Collins went on to invent a new snare sound with his engineer that defined a decade of music leading up to his famous song In the Air Tonight.
- While Gabriel instituted his drum rule, Steven Tyler gave himself the ongoing task of writing lyrics that told a personal story and rhymed. The result: If you’ve heard Aerosmith’s song, Sweet Emotion, you’ll never forget the lyrics.
For Steel | Out of Place, the constraint was that the entire story had to be written and told as a compelling screenplay for a 15-minute movie. That’s a maximum of 15 pages of double-spaced dialog. And all of it needed to be shown from Dorthy’s vantage point–one that doesn’t exist because she’s a fictional character.
Showing instead of Telling
You’ve probably heard the writing adage: “show, don’t tell.” That means that no one is interested in a character telling their story verbatim for 500 words. We want to know the setting, time of day, and what the character is doing.
For Steel | Out of Place, here’s how I set one scene:
Rain was pouring outside of the diner. Every time someone opened the door, its cold dampness seeped into the vinal upholstered seats in their booth. Dorthy lit a cigarette to warm up as the clock silently ticked past midnight. Glancing up at Ford, “what if we just left and didn’t tell anyone?”
Some people prefer writing an outline first, others prefer just writing with no ending in mind. If you have a starting and ending, then an outline can be helpful.
- If you have a starting and ending, then an outline can be helpful.
- On the other hand, if you have a starting point and no clue where the story should go, then just start writing. Then, if you need an outline to help you communicate your story to your creative team in your Briefing, write it after the fact.
Thousands of years ago, the Greeks already had public storytelling down to an equation.
- Act 1–Intro, setting the scene, elements of the character’s background.
- Twist–Something unexpected such as a happy or tragic event.
- Act 2–Bulk of the story (usually the most difficult to write).
- Twist–Another unexpected event that increases the tension. Sometimes a flash-back or flash-forward is used here. Note: At this point, it’s important not to introduce a new character that sweeps in to save the world. This is lazy writing to the point that the Greeks had a specific name for it (translated into Latin): Deus ex machina.
- Act 3–climax and resolution.
In the 1800s, Gustav Freytag developed his Freytag’s Pyramid for storytelling. Several different versions have evolved. Here’s the version that I use:
Information to include:
- Location where they group up, live, work
- History of characters
- Unique quirks
- Location of story
- Indoors or outdoors
- Time of year
- Time of day
- Key colors
- Key objects
Write when you’re the most creative and don’t edit while you’re writing. You’ll find a version of this sentence in most books about writing, and it’s absolutely true. Don’t worry about sentence structure, spelling, grammar, or anything else. Just write during your most creative time of the day.
On another day, come back and begin editing the story by asking yourself: what makes sense and doesn’t make sense about this story.
If you decide to publish your story in a public forum, it’s time to edit for structure, grammar, and spelling.
Your goals should be:
- Write a one-page summary for each character that will be shown in your photoshoot.
- A one-page summary of the scenic information.
- At least two pages telling your character’s story.
This story is an excerpt from my upcoming book on Concept | Photography. To learn more about my books and classes and to receive a discount, you’re invited to subscribe to my List by clicking HERE.
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