How to Communicate "Theme" and "Concept"

The first week of this month's photo challenge has been a quiet one.  It was a holiday weekend. Plus, like me, I know some of you are busy getting ready for AWAI's upcoming photography workshop in Charleston. Or perhaps you're struggling with this month's theme, "Hospitality and Welcome."

Theme and/or concept shots -- like ones representing hospitality and welcome -- can be some of the more difficult to capture… to capture well, at any rate. But if you're shooting for stock photos that can accompany your travel writing or any other type of assignment, then you should spend some time mastering this skill.

Let's take a closer look at this month's theme, "Hospitality and Welcome." I'm going to do what I can here to help you tackle it. The real question to ask yourself is, "How do I visually communicate through a photograph what is essentially a theoretical idea?"

Here's my advice…

For starters, I should say that although I consider myself a people photographer and generally will add people to my shots whenever possible (and encourage you to do so as well) -- the pictures I am going to share with you today are people-free.

That's not because I don't think that a human element would improve these photos --  I think it would.  But, as it happens, these are my best-selling hospitality shots. I took them in a hotel room in San Francisco during AWAI's last photography workshop, and I didn't have anyone in the room with me to act as a model.  (You can bet, though, that hospitality shots will be a theme I focus on when I'm in Charleston next week.  Shots under this theme will sell well to hotels and businesses in the service industry so I'd like to have more in my portfolio.)

Anyway, let's take a look at this first picture…

This place setting was on the desk when I arrived, sitting next to a bowl of fruit and a welcome note from the hotel's manager.

I moved everything else out of the way to isolate the subject -- because I liked the reflection in the glass and I wanted to make sure nothing else was visible in that reflection.

Now, that this isn't the most fantastic photograph ever taken -- and it's certainly not one I had to travel all the way to San Francisco to get.  (In fact, it's one I could have likely taken at home.)  But because it's nice and simple, it'll likely do well in the stock world.  And it's definitely one that I would use to illustrate hospitality.  If I could enter my own photographs in this month's photo challenge, this would be one I'd consider.  And it's certainly one you could use as a model for shots in your own portfolio.

Now, let's look at this next shot…

Again, this is one I took in that hotel room last August.  And it includes everything -- the fruit, the letter from the manager, and the silverware you saw above.

By adding the fruit and the card to this picture, I add more to the story.  While the previous shot looked like it could have been taken in a restaurant, home, or any number of places people gather to eat, this shot starts to take on more specifics.

In my mind, it conveys more of a hospitality feel than the other one does.

Here is another example of the same scene…

I processed this shot a little in Photoshop (see last month's photo tip on post-processing your photos).

But notice how the change in angle gave this photo a completely different feel.  It also allowed me to include other elements like the phone and the notepad, giving my viewer a better sense of place.  It's clear now that this is a desk and not a restaurant setting.  And again, it's a great photo to illustrate hotel hospitality.

And here's my last shot…

This shot -- fairly simple and without a person present -- still represents the theme of "Hospitality and Welcome," especially to the business traveler.

I moved away from the place setting entirely and focused more on the desk. Notice the fruit plate to the left and the partial chair on the right are holding our eyes into the frame. And the chair is slightly toward the camera, open, and inviting.

Adding the open laptop includes an element of business, and though this shot could potentially be in a home or office, it's also a fairly strong shot for hotels.

This shot has been very successful for me as a stock shot.  It's currently sitting as my 14th most-downloaded image -- surpassing other pictures I've had in my portfolio for a lot longer than this one.

To me, hospitality and welcome evokes a mood of warm, kind, and caring people as well as objects or symbols which represent this kindness in mood or gesture.

I know that theme and concept shooting can be challenging -- yet I encourage you to try it. Spend some time struggling through it if you must.  It'll pay off, I promise -- even if you only take shots you plan to enter in this month's photo challenge.  With limited competition, your chances are much greater at winning, and each month's winners are entered to win the $2,000 grand prize.


Remember this month's challenge ends a little early. The entry deadline is the 23rd, so give it a go and let's see what you've got. The theme is "Hospitality and Welcome" -- log on to our website at: and register to win.

If you're a first-time user, you'll need to register first on the "register" link on the right side bar.  Once you have a username and password, click "Enter to Win" to upload your photo.  Only one photo per applicant will be considered. Theme closes on the 23rd!

[Editor’s Note: Learn more about how you can turn your pictures into cash in our free online newsletter The Right Way to Travel.  Sign up here today and we’ll send you a new report, Selling Photos for Cash: A Quick-Start Guide, completely FREE.]