With the rise in the popularity of digital photography, interest in fine art photography has grown. Art collectors are more likely now to spend serious money on art photos than ever before. But the question still remains for many photographers: What is fine art photography?
In this article, I’ll provide you with an introduction to fine art photography and provide you with some ideas aimed at stimulating your creative expression. I’ll cover some common fine art camera techniques, add some practical tips, and touch on post-processing to enhance your fine art photography.
- What is Fine Art Photography?
- What Does it Take to Become a Fine Art Photographer?
- Camera Technique in Fine Art Photography
- Post-Processing Fine Art Photographs
- Getting Your Photos ‘Out There’
- Final Thoughts on Fine Art Photography
- Frequently Asked Questions
What is Fine Art Photography?
Fine art photography expresses ideas, messages, emotions, and concepts. Fine art photography is challenging to categorize because, like all art, it is subjective. One person’s perception of what a fine art photo is will differ from what another person thinks it is.
One key aspect of fine art photography that is commonly agreed upon is that it is not concerned with the recording or displaying of reality. This is something normally associated with regular photography and not fine art photography. Photographers more intent to record life as they see it work in photojournalism, sports, or documentary photography.
To become a fine art photographer you must have the intent to express yourself through your photographs. There is no limit to what you photograph or the techniques you use. The most important aspect of this genre of photography is how you express yourself.
Fine art photography is all about expressing ideas, emotions, and concepts. Whatever message you want to convey can be shared through photography.
This may seem a daunting idea to some, but to other photographers, it is more natural than photographing what is purely visual. You can express anything you like. But, as in any artistic field, working with consistent themes tends to bring more success.
Creating a body of work is one of the most popular means artists use to present their creativity. It’s one thing to hang a random collection of incohesive prints on a gallery wall. It’s another thing to carefully curate a selection of images guiding people through a concept.
Producing a body of work involves concentrating on a subject, no matter how metaphysical it might be. Start with the seed of an idea. Work with it until you’re satisfied your expression of it through your photos is meaningful. Be consistent with your choice of subject. This will help you communicate. For some fine art photographers, this will be more important to do than for others.
Consistent use of technique and subject matter are two aspects of fine art photography than can help you gain success. When you photograph the same subjects often your photography evolves and develops. It will be different if your subject choice is more haphazard.
My wife is an excellent photographer. She loves to photograph flowers. She always has. I do too, but the photos I take of flowers never seem to have the same ‘wow’ factor as hers do. We can photograph the same flower at the same time and produce two very different images. The difference is that she infuses her flower photos with more emotion than I do.
In the past year, she has begun growing cacti. She loves to pick up her camera each morning to photograph the new flowers. Many of them only bloom in the morning and are closed by mid-day. This has become a regular thing for her.
By photographing a subject she loves, her expression of feeling for the flowers becomes more apparent. The more immersed she is in growing, grafting, and propagating cacti, the more dedicated she is to make beautiful photos of the flowers. This immersion is a vital part of her creative expression.
Some of the photos are for recording the colors, textures, and shapes of the flowers. Others are all about feeling. These are fine art photographs. By photographing the same subjects you can fine-tune the techniques you enjoy using the most. You will learn to better portray your subjects and present your message.
As a young cadet working in the photography department of a daily newspaper, I was told two things were most important. Fill the frame and make sure it’s sharp. In news photography, this is solid advice. For fine art photography, neither of these things matters.
Camera technique in fine art photography has no rules or even guidelines. How you use your camera in other genres of photography matters. Correct exposures, sharp focus, and purposeful composition all require attention. In fine art photography, the technical process has no bounds. It seems like the more rules you can break, the more artistic your photos appear.
But there’s no need to throw camera technique out the window. Being consistent with the way you use your camera to express yourself helps to build a strong body of work. This in itself can help you grow and could mean art dealers and buyers pay more attention to you.
Developing a personal style often means photographing subjects using the same techniques. The more you experiment with technique, the more refined your photographs become. Over time, your expression of concepts through your photographs has more meaning and becomes more coherent to others.
My Personal Experience
I love to photograph people of ethnic minorities using my natural light portable studio. I have worked on producing these portraits for many years. The technique involves isolating a person against a plain background. I prefer using a black background. This removes the person visually from their environment and the photos provide no clues as to the location I make them.
Over the many years, I’ve been developing my method, my technique continues to evolve. Using only natural light I seek to create studio-like images. When I first began experimenting, the portraits I made were nice, but the lighting was very flat.
In recent years as I have continued to develop my technique, the lighting is still all-natural, but the results are more refined. This experimentation and learning process helps me to produce better photos that fit my intent.
As you build your vision and develop your photography style, keep in mind the main elements you want in your photographs. The more you work on these, as I worked on improving my use of natural light, the more people will connect with your work.
You can use your camera to make photographs that cannot be seen by the human eye. This type of photo can often be considered fine art photography.
Learning to manage your camera so it makes images that look unnatural can help people focus more on the concept you are wanting to convey. Subjects can become indistinct when you use a slow shutter speed or very narrow aperture. By controlling the exposure well you have the ability to control how much detail is visible or hidden in a photograph.
Understanding how your camera works to record reflected light will help you make more informed choices.
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Using a slow shutter speed is a common fine art photography technique because it can create surreal-looking images.
Using a slow shutter speed captures any movement in a composition uniquely. Whether you have a moving subject or intentionally move your camera as the shutter is open, blur will occur. We can never see this with our eyes.
Photographing a moving subject using a slow shutter speed can mean the subject is blurred or that it is not visible at all. The length of time the shutter remains open relative to the speed the subject is moving is critical for results. A fast-moving subject appears more blurred than a slower-moving subject photographed using the same shutter speed.
Usually, you’ll want to have your camera on a tripod when using slow shutter speeds. However, the technique known as Intentional Camera Movement, ICM, uses slow shutter speeds but does not need a tripod. Moving the camera while the shutter is open you can create abstract-looking photographs. Especially when you use a very slow shutter speed.
This technique is best using a lens with a very wide aperture setting. Usually, f/2.8 or wider produces the best results. The focal length of the lens you use and the distance between you and your subject also affects the results.
Getting creative when using a very shallow depth of field allows you to isolate certain parts of your compositions. You can create photographs of subjects in ways that are not usually seen by the human eye. Used well, this technique can enhance your fine art photos. Used poorly it creates clichéd looking images.
How you set your exposure can mean the difference between a photo that looks pretty normal or one that is not natural to our vision.
We see more tone range than most cameras today can record. This will change as camera technology continues to evolve. Our cameras have a limited tone range they can record in a single frame. Learning to manage this well means you can set your exposure to highlight certain areas of a composition and hide others.
This is most effective when taking photos in bright, hard light, like on a sunny day. When you expose the brightest parts of a composition well, the shadows will appear much darker in the photo than they do in reality. This technique is often used to manipulate how a photographer wants you to look at their subject.
How you post-process photos taken using this technique has a major impact on the finished pictures.
The sky is the limit when it comes to post-processing fine art photos. When your skill set matches your imagination you can make even a very ‘normal’ looking photograph into a fine art image.
Many purist photographers dislike the modern means we have available for editing photos and how they are used. But, as I stated earlier, there are no rules in fine art photography. You can do what you like.
As with taking pictures and choosing subjects, continuity in post-processing also helps to build a recognizable body of images.
Starting out in fine art photography means you’ll need to experiment with different ways of post-processing photos. It will take time and practice to discover the look you like. Editing with your concept in mind you’ll develop a style that is consistent with the message you want to convey.
Fine art photography is made to be seen. To be shared online, printed in books, or shown in galleries. Once you’ve defined your photographic vision the next step is to produce a body of work that you want to share. Your expectations play a huge role in how this happens and how you will feel about it.
Any form of art is subjective. Fine art photography certainly is. Having a strong body of work brings you closer to building an appreciative audience. When people can follow through a collection of photos around a concept or theme, they can be more receptive to your photography. This can help in getting your work printed or hung in a gallery.
Once this happens, you have more likelihood of your photos being seen and even sold. Finding a gallery is not always an easy task. You’re best to do some homework and find galleries that show the type of work you produce. Some galleries may not even show photographs at all. Unless your work is exceptional, (and sometimes even when it is,) finding a gallery to show your photos is challenging. You have to be persistent and expect that eventually, you’ll be successful.
Final Thoughts on Fine Art Photography
The aesthetic value of fine art photographs is subjective. What one person likes, another may detest. What anyone hangs on their living room walls is up to them. But if you want to sell your fine art photos you must think about how attractive other people will find them.
Sadly, the value of any art is often based on what art buyers will spend on it. In the fine art photography world, this has created contention. The value and artistic quality of digital fine art photography are often questioned.
The introduction of non-fungible tokens, NFTs, has further stirred this discord. The art world seems to thrive on this rhetoric, so maybe it is good for business.
I think the most important thing to do when you want to pursue creating fine art photos is to be true to yourself. What do you want to say with your photos? What is the message and what kind of emotion do you want to express? When you can communicate these things through photos that you love, you’ll most likely feel rather satisfied with yourself.
Frequently Asked Questions
Fine art photography is created for the sake of art and following the artist’s creative vision. Fine art photography is intentional and often based on the artist’s concept. Fine art photographs may be photos that do not fit into any other categorization of photography.
Fine art photography is considered, intentional, and often intended to hold some aesthetic value. Fine art photography has no concern for a genuine representation of anything at all. This is an opposite approach to photography.
Traditionally photographs are considered as depictions of a moment in time. They show what reality was like at the moment the photograph was taken. Fine art photography is not at all concerned with this but can encompass this concept. Fine art photography uses a camera as a means for creative expression.
Fine art includes every conceivable medium and expression. Photography is one form of fine art.
Yes, it is possible to make money with fine art photography. But it is very difficult to make enough money to live on. Owning a camera and wanting to become a successful fine art photographer is similar to owning a guitar and wanting to become a rock star. It is possible, but only a small percentage of people who try become truly successful.
To be a successful fine art photographer you need a lucky break. You must have the means to show your work, even if it is only to one rich friend. Once someone has paid a significant amount of money for one of your photos you are more likely to gain some momentum. If the buyer is known in fine art photography circles, this will help your endeavors.You must find opportunities to show your photos. You need to establish your niche and become well connected with people who have money to spend on photography.
Kevin Landwer-Johan is a professional photographer, photography teacher, and author. He has been passionate about photography for as long as he can remember.
Kevin began his career in newspaper photography in the late 1980s and worked in editorial photography for many years. After this he interned with a commercial photographer, learning many new skills. From there he freelanced, covering many different genres of photography ever since.
He ran his own award-winning photography business before moving to Thailand in 2002. Since then Kevin has continued to work in photography and also moved into video production. For the first ten years of his life in Thailand, he focused on producing media content, both photos, and videos, for non-profit organizations. He funded these efforts primarily through the sale of his stock photography and videos. In more recent years Kevin has discovered a great enjoyment in teaching photography.
He also runs in-person workshops, develops online courses, writes, and creates videos about photography.