What is fine art photography? An insightful guide

What is fine art photography

You may be familiar with photography, but what of its fine art form? That’s right; fine art photography has exploded the photography scene, with fine art photographers being essentially artists. It requires a high level of perception and skill and is about creative vision rather than just capturing an event or a memory, such as in the case of most digital photography and photojournalism.

In fine art photography, the photographer is the artist and his tools of creation are the camera and his creative vision. The purpose is not just recording the subject but using it to make an artistic statement. While fine art photography has no universally agreed meaning, its basic idea is to produce a personal and more evocative impression rather than just capturing a subject. The intention is aesthetic rather than commercial, scientific, or journalistic.

As a result, fine art photography opens up the idea of photography as a form of artistic expression, allowing photographers to explore their creativity and take their visual arts photography skills to new heights. Fine art photography, therefore, requires planning and for the photographer to communicate with their artistic side, not to mention photo editing as a way of bringing out their artistic impression. Capturing the best photograph is still one of the most crucial steps for fine art photographers.

There is a fine line between commercial photography and fine art photography though they have distinct differences. Fine art photography is more about finding the meaning and the beauty of a shot, while commercial photography, on the other hand, is about realism. Thus to categorize a photograph as fine art photography, it has to have artistic beauty and underlying meaning that shows more than the technical skill – creative prowess. Therefore, a fine art photograph will have conceptual background and planning.

What makes photography art?

So, what makes a photograph fine art? As mentioned earlier, fine art photography is about the creative prowess and artistic impression of the photographer rather than just their skill in capturing the subject. As a result, fine art images evoke some kind of emotion from the messages within these photographs.

The intention the photographer has in presenting a fine art image in a certain way to the viewer makes it fine art photography. Fine art photographers, therefore, tend to have more control over their photos as they are not subject to their employer’s rules and vision. To start a fine art photography project, the following are the components that are crucial to its success:

Artistic vision

Before one can become a fine art photographer and their work fine art, the artist, in this case, the photographer, has to have a vision of what they imagine their work will look like.

An idea

Unfortunately, fine photography’s primary purpose is not the subject and to capture a realistic version of it. It is also about a creative idea, an artistic impression and producing work that evokes a message or an emotion. As such, fine art photographers usually have something they want to convey with their world and it can be built around something small such as a single word or a whole statement or concept.


Of course, to produce fine art photography, one has to have the proper technique that allows for this. The work fine art photographers create needs to demonstrate their vision and ideas while having a consistency to it which they can achieve by using the same techniques or medium for each project.

Artist statement

Fine art photography is often accompanied by an artist statement that is a short explanation of what the work is about and why it was created and how.

Body of work

Finally, in fine art photography, there has to be a body of work that usually depicts the artist’s subjects, ideas and techniques to give them uniformity.

As the above components of a fine art photography project show, a fine art photograph must therefore go beyond the literal representation of a subject or a scene to encompass the vision and feelings of the picture and express that it was created by an artist, not just a camera.

What differentiates fine art photography from everyday photography?

Aside from the components of fine art photography listed above, the line between fine art photography and other types of photography can still be a bit blurred. However, fine art photography requires an artistic expression that evokes a certain message or emotion. To get this, the photographer will use their creative vision to develop ideas and concepts and capture the images as they best want to before using photo editing to further adapt the pictures and make them even more so their own to ensure that they communicate the message that they may have.

Just like appreciating a painting, you have to consider its meaning beyond what you can immediately see; the same goes for fine art photographs. Like a painting, fine art photographs can be dissected and analyzed as there is more than what meets the eye. Most fine art photographers will try to capture the social and political issues behind the scene or the subject of the image.

Use of photography in art

Photography has an interesting history that charts its discovery and development as well as its use in art. It evolved from an instrument that projected an image through a small hole to allow the artist to accurately trace an object or scene. This instrument was called the camera obscura. The use of this spread from 1840 onwards, where it was common in the production of portrait art as well as use in landscape painting.

Photography as fine art

Photography became a pursuit for realism instead of an aid to art composition and by the late 19th century, it had become accepted as a minor visual art in the UK and America. Several bodies and magazines dedicated to photography were formed, with photographic artists keen to depict the artistic features of this new medium. Their endeavors were to help make photography fine art and artists such as Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen were quite instrumental in introducing this to museum collections.

A major event in the photography scene happened in 1902 when Stieglitz formed the Photo-Secession, which was an association of creative photographers. This association began publishing a magazine called Camera Work, whose publication ran from 1902 to 1917 and quickly became a forum for all types of modern arts.

In this era of Photo-Secession, the crucial factor in what set apart fine art photography from the masses was the planning and meticulous care that was taken to develop them. Up until today, photographs are either digitally or non-digitally developed. Non-digital photography can be considered a close relative of the polaroid and involves the development of pictures using light-sensitive film that creates a negative image which is then used to transfer the positive image onto photo paper.

On the other hand, today, digital photography is much more prevalent. Photos taken using smartphones or digital cameras are stored as RAW, JPEG and TIFF files. They can then be easily transferred onto photo paper printed using a c-type process that uses LED light instead of ink to digitally print the photos or through the use of inkjet printers. At first glance, photographs often depict the reality of a scene or a subject. However, in the case of fine art photographs, there is definitely more than what meets the eye.

Steps crucial for great fine art photography

If you want to be a fine art photographer, there are things that you need to pay attention to as it is not only about your technical skill with your camera but also involves engaging your creative prowess. Here are some of the steps and tips that great fine art photographers use to take their creative vision from idea to final art form.

Get your ideas together

Like any creative project, you will need to brainstorm your ideas before starting any fine art photography project. What topics are you passionate about? What subjects do you like to document? Which are the techniques you are most interested in? Finally, what messages would you like to convey?

Let your ideas flow as you get your thoughts on paper and eventually, you will start to notice what makes sense. This brainstorming exercise will provide you with the bare essentials of what your fine art photography work will look like, which is an integral part of helping you work out what to do and which direction to take.

Select your topic

Once you’re done brainstorming and getting your ideas together, the next thing is to decide on your topic. As most fine art photographers do, working on your message and the motivation behind it will help you develop a concept and put all your work in perspective with respect to your topic of choice. Don’t forget, your chosen topic can be heavy or light. Serious or humorous. Political or socially motivated.

Once you have a message you want to convey or a motivation behind your creative vision, then settling on a topic will be quite easy. Remember, the idea can be explored from different directions and it all depends on which direction you want to take and what aspect of your artistic vision you want to amplify more.

Find the subject

Ask yourself: What’s your subject matter? For instance, if your idea is consumerism and the topic of interest is its impact on the environment, then your subject matter could be rubbish piles. Settling on a subject is crucial because it defines what your images will be based on and links to your topic or message.

Figure out your technique

Just because fine art photography focuses on creative prowess doesn’t mean that you underestimate acquiring the technical ability and working out the best techniques to bring your vision to life. The method used has to be the same for all your images under the same topic and while you can’t experiment with different techniques to start with, once you find which one works best for you, then use it to ensure that your body of work is similar and thus achieve a cohesive portfolio that not only looks exceptional but also connects together when put on display.

For instance, color is vital for all forms of art and even more so in fine art photography, as you can use them to evoke a certain emotion by cultivating certain moods. An example is the use of cooler colors for a calming effect and warmer colors for a motivational result.

Work on your body of work

Once you have all of the above steps figured out, the next thing is to create your body of work by making as much work as possible because, believe us, you will discard some pieces when you find that they aren’t working. It is tough to figure out what goes into your body of work, especially if you are planning to exhibit your work. This is why you should create as much work as possible, even while adhering to your ideas and topic to convey whatever message you wish to communicate.

Photo editing is still important

Fine art photography is much more than the actual process of capturing a subject or scene and each stage in its development. Everything from planning to editing plays a vital role in the outcome of your body of work. As such, get comfortable with fine art photo editing, image clipping, photo retouching and many other aspects of photo editing. This is because the process of photo editing allows you to make use of tools and technical skills to take your imaginative photos to the next level.

Craft your artist statement

Once you have enough body of work to make your creative portfolio, it is now time to craft a great artist statement that relates to your work and the message and motivation behind it. An artist statement for fine art photography is written in art speak and should sound good.

Final thoughts

Fine art photography is about the photographer’s creative vision, the artistic impression and more importantly, the work is about them and what they are passionate about.

As such fine art photographers have to know their vision and creative ideas, figure out their motivation, topic and subject matter and how they wish to create their work. All this is what makes their artistic statement and sets them on the path to making fine art photography that tells a story or evokes a particular emotion.

Without the above steps, the photographer is just making lovely images, not creating fine art photographs. So, there is a lot of vision and thought towards working out what the work in a fine art photography project should be about.

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