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Lesson 22 of 24
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Conceptual vs Perceptual

Trevor November 19, 2020

Before we get onto the core features ” You are probably saying finally” I would first like to explain about two different photography methods.

In traditional or ”conceptual” photography, our aim is usually to capture the best image we possibly can, every single time. An image we hope will, live up to our standards, and bring us and others fulfilment. Due to this reason, while taking the picture, photographers are filling their minds with things like composition, framing, subject matter, lighting, camera settings and more. They are also judging every single picture they take during the shoot and afterwards. We can sometimes become so involved with all these technicalities and expectations that we can miss out on what is really going on around us. By simply paying mindful attention to your surroundings, you’ll see new opportunities and possibilities to create pictures that have a real meaning to them. Being present and experiencing these moments in your practice can far outweigh what simply taking a nice photograph could be.

Tip: From a photographer with over 15 years experience

I have spoken with a lot of photographers at all different skill levels and at different stages of their careers. Like any type of art, people who do traditional photography, can also be their own biggest critics and very judgmental towards what they produce and their current level of abilities. They judge every shot that they take as they are taking it and compare themselves to others who are on a different level of skill to them as they go through their photographs afterwards

Mindography practice helps you not to get caught up in this style of thinking, or adopt this mindset. It’s for this reason, along with many others that in mindography, we focus mainly on something which is called perceptual or ”mindful” photography. We focus on interpreting what we see in the photograph, broadening our perception and becoming more aware through our senses. Seeing what has always been around us with something called “clear seeing”.  There are no technical directions for you to follow with your camera and no preconceptions to be used. This is about exploring.

This type of photography can ultimately open you up to a whole new world and really expand on your current level of creativity. We’ve all heard the saying that…

 ‘’Rules are made to be broken’’

While both practices are perfectly acceptable at different times, and I would say that I definitely practice a combination of both during my photography work. I personally really like the blend, but for any Mindography practice that we do, we will only be concentrating on Perceptual Photography. This will also help you with creativity in your Traditional Photography Practice.

Check out part of The Creative Process speech by a man called Ira Glass. Credit to Plamen Panchev Studios for sharing the video.

To help explain the difference a little more, I’m going to show you two of my favourite pictures that I have ever taken.

Conceptual (Traditional) Photography: – 


The first image is a landscape picture taken just off the summit of Torc Mountain in Killarney, Co.Kerry. The shot was taken at sunset. A lot of thought was put into producing this image. The right place, the right time, the ideal weather conditions and all the necessary equipment needed. All of these technical elements are required to create a ‘’visually acceptable’’ image. I had to carry all my heavy equipment up the mountain and also walk down again in the dark. I could be critical about many technical aspects of this photograph if I chose to, but I love this image. It’s my favourite place in my hometown and it hangs in our home and in the homes of some family and friends who are also drawn to it. This picture makes me feel good and gives me a great sense of accomplishment as a photographer because I achieved the specific task I set out to do.

Perceptual (Mindful) Photography: –


The second image is a selfie of my fiancé Ciara and I. Back when she was my girlfriend and we were both still living with our parents. I called one evening and she was having a nap. I went to wake her up, as we hadn’t seen each other in a couple of days. We were just chatting and catching up. I said something to make her laugh and just in that moment the alarm in her phone went off to wake her up. I picked it up and just swiped up and took one picture. No technical thought process, no expectations, no adjustment of the subject, just one snap with no critique after. We just carried on chatting. Fast forward a couple of years and it’s the first picture we ever frame of ourselves together and put out in the open for people to see. Just by glancing at this picture I’m taken right back to that day, I can remember what I was thinking. I can feel the happiness, the laughter, the love, all captured in this slightly blurry selfie taken in a split second. When I look at it, I automatically smile. This was both of us in the moment, enjoying life and we can now relive that through the photograph which is hanging in our home.

Both images above mean something to me, but for hugely different reasons. Now that I have explained the background to how and why I took these pictures, can you think of any images you have taken that can compare? Do you have a picture that was taken for a reason and one that just serves a purpose? Do you have one that was taken in the moment in a more mindful way that evokes feelings and emotions in you?

Come back to these images if you are ever feeling a little stuck and they can be an anchor to what you are trying to achieve in your photographs. Don’t overthink or over complicate opportunities that arise.

In the last section we asked you to locate some of the happiest memories you have from the pictures you have available.

Reflect and think about how you can divide the pictures you have selected into two different sections. One being Conceptual or Traditional Photography and the other being Perceptual or Mindful Photography.

Which type of pictures evoke bigger emotions?

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