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What is the Constructed Image?

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Rhonda Callow•updated: 10/27/2010

Here is a look at what the constructed image in photography is and how to work with this concept.

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    Building Your World

    In fine art photography you have a lot of different options for how you want to address a concept, and digital photography has opened this up even further. You can look at the creation of a fine art photo series as a way of creating images from real world situations, objects that are hardly altered, or things as they happen. This is only one way to address fine art photography as you can also move in the direction of the narrative filmmaking approach and shift into constructed image photography.

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    Looking at the Constructed Image

    The basic idea behind constructed image photography is that you create a photo, or photo series, where the image in front of the camera was constructed by you as well. This definition of constructed image photography can actually mean a lot of things as it could indicate that you have built elaborate sets to create an image that is not occurring in the real world space, or that you have just made slight changes and arrangements.

    The idea behind creating a photo series with constructed image photography is that you want to address a larger concept as an artist and you are then going to create images that will have similar goals to that of a painter, filmmaker, or installation artist. Oftentimes constructed art photography will focus in on a narrative structure, or it will just have common elements for all the images in the photo series. All of this depends on the way that the artist is approaching constructed image photography and the goals they set. Like any artistic endeavor, the form of the image is usually going to be secondary to the ideas and perspectives the photographer wants to express or explore.

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    Constructing Your Image

    If you are trying to develop a fine art photo series using constructed image photography as your basic form then you should first identify a concept clearly as you are going to be in control of everything in front of the image. You cannot just head out and look for a story as you might with photojournalism as this is going to be incredibly personalized and you will have to direct all subjects in front of the camera to behave in the way you want. It might be best to write out a proposal ahead of time as well as an outline, which is also going to be instrumental if you plan on applying for grants for funding or submitting for gallery showings.

    When you do begin to put together your project you should make decisions about the level of control you really want over your images. You may have a clear idea of the scene you want to construct, but you do not want to dictate the exact movements of the subjects in it so that they have the ability to behave naturally. You will likely want to work with a concept of art direction in mind, as well as very specific photographic lighting so that you can fine tune the image.

    Constructed image photography is built around the replication of a very specific visual idea, so the more control you have to be able to manifest your idea the better. You will want to test out your camera specifics ahead of time so that you know how to reproduce your concept, which means addressing very specific aperture, ISO, and shutter speed settings. Likewise, photo editing and digital manipulation are a key tool in the constructed image so you should do a few test runs to see how programs like Adobe Photoshop will add to your working process.