Fine art photography is more challenging to define than you might think. If art means different things to different people, then fine art photography also means different things to each one of us.
What is Fine Art Photography?
Some photographers define art photography as photos that are worthy of hanging in a gallery. While that seems like a clear and straightforward definition, it doesn’t sum up everything that needs to go into making a fine art photograph or even what a fine art photo is. Furthermore, there are likely many less than stellar examples of photography hanging in fine art photography galleries that are not art.
If there is one quality that binds all fine art together, it is the message. The artwork is a method of communication for the artist; he or she is trying to say something through their work. Their compositional and elemental choices all center around communicating this message. The message could be a word, an emotion, or even just an idea. In this way, fine art photography can be used to motivate the audience to change their behaviour or appreciate something a little more.
To accomplish this, famous fine art photographers usually spend long hours planning and composing each photograph. Artistic photography is not photojournalism. Compositions are made carefully and purposefully, with every possible element planned out.
In artistic photography, often one image is insufficient to communicate a broader concept. For this reason, artists use their body of work to tell their story. The group of photographs is bound together by a polished artist statement. This simple paragraph of text acts as a mission statement for the project and helps set the stage for viewers to get the most out of their work.
As with all forms of communication, sometimes the receivers don’t get the message that was intended. In some ways, this is okay and an essential part of the creative process. Artists should accept feedback from as many people as possible as part of their creative process. Feedback only helps them hone their message and improve their style.
Experimentation is the name of the game in art photography. It takes practice and years of experience to build up your portfolio and experience. The only way to learn the techniques, styles, and methods that work for you is to go out and try it. Look at other fine art photography prints, then learn from it and keep getting better, picture after picture.
Techniques for Taking a Fine Art Photo
Start by getting your ideas out on paper. Essentially, brainstorming is the beginning of any creative endeavor, and photography is no different. Spill all of your thoughts out on a sheet of paper. It may be messy, and maybe it doesn’t even make sense, but it gives you a starting place. You can then start categorizing and organizing this mess into relevant topics and ideas that you want to communicate.
Now that you’ve got some basic ideas, it’s time to decide on your topic. How can you distill the ideas from your brainstorming? This is the message you want to communicate through your artwork.
Make it meaningful to you, and make it something you want to share with your viewers.
Now that you know what you want to say, it’s time to figure out what you’re going to use to say it. What do you want the focus to be on in the photos? Your subjects can be people, buildings, scenery, pets, still lifes, or anything else. The sky is the limit. What subject best communicates your topic and your message?
You know you want to use photography to capture your subjects, but what other techniques do you want to use? Would black and white or colour pictures be the most impactful? Studio-style photography or natural light in the outdoors can be chosen, depending on your style. What sort of post-production and editing do you want to do? More and more, contemporary art photography has included extensive computer manipulation. It may take a little experimentation to land on the best technique for your topic and subjects. Listen to feedback and show your work often. Fine tune what you can and continue to learn along the way. You should pay careful attention to what works and what doesn’t, and never be afraid to mix things up.
Once you’ve got a creative process you’re happy with, create an entire body of work based on the message, the subjects, and the techniques that you’ve landed on above. The collection of work should be coherent; it should communicate your topic clearly. The chosen method should bind them together, and a view should want away with not only a message but a story told through your photographs.