What is Fine Art Photography and How to Do it?

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Digital photography has changed the way people take photos, and how many are taking them. Anyone with a camera can be a photographer these days, and many of those want to be professional photographers or artists, though they can be the both. All over the internet there is a rise of those who are calling themselves Fine Art Photographers; so maybe it is time to look into what they are and how they are different to the usual photographers.

Below is what I consider to be one of my fine art images.

Fine Art Photography Example

Home built in the 30s and then abandoned only a few years ago.

I have lots of images that may be art, but they are not what I would call fine art photographs.

Fine Art Photography Example.

The main street of a small town in Australia.

Both images would look nice framed and hanging on a wall, but if what you are trying to achieve is fine art, then only the first one would really fit that category.

Recently I heard a photographer online saying that you could go wacky on an image, add a weird curving blur, then call it fine art. That doesn’t make an image artistic, that just makes it silly.

There doesn’t seem to be a definitive explanation or definition for what Fine Art Photography is, but there do appear to be things that help define what it is.

When I was doing my fine art degree, part of what was required was to take turns putting our work up on the wall for critique. During these sessions we talked about techniques, what was working, and what wasn’t. We would also discuss the ideas behind the work and where we wanted to go with it.

On top of those we had individual tutorials with lecturers to help us discuss our ideas and how to achieve them. The idea was to get a plan together of how to go about doing the work, what we could use to support it, and looking at other artists that did similar work to see how they conveyed their ideas. These were invaluable, in that they helped us work out what we were doing and the direction we needed to go.

Fine Art Photography 3

Consumerism, everything becoming obsolete.

Artists Vision

Before work can become fine art the artist has to have a vision of what they think their work will look like.

An Idea

Fine art is about an idea, a message, or an emotion. The artist has something that they want to have conveyed in their work.

That idea or message may be something small, a single word such as abandon, or it may be a whole statement, like exploring the way the moon affects the tides. It is a start. It is like a hypothesis.

Technique

The work you create to demonstrate your vision and ideas has to have a consistency to it. When all the work is together it has to have similarities. Often artists will use the same medium and techniques for each idea.

Body of Work

In the end there has to be a body of work that shows your ideas, subjects and techniques. If you were to get your images into a gallery there would need to be a uniformity to them all.

Artist Statement

Finally you would most likely need an artist statement. A short explanation of what the work is about, why you created it and how.

When you go to a gallery you might look at the work and wonder what it is about, so you look for the artist statement. It will help you figure out what the artists intentions were, the reasons why, and how they created that work.

Fine Art Photography 8

An high school that has been closed a while the vandals have taken over, but the light still comes through the windows.

So you want to be a Fine Art Photographer?

You don’t need to have a degree in fine arts to be a fine art photographer, but you do need to think carefully about your work and what you want to achieve with it.

Getting your ideas together

Brainstorming is a great idea, sitting down and just writing ideas down.

  • What topics do you feel passionate about?
  • What messages do you want to convey?
  • What subjects do you like to photograph?
  • What techniques are you interested in?

Just write and don’t take too much notice of what you are writing, it is about getting your thoughts down on paper. It might not make any sense at first, but as you work through your ideas it will start to do so.

Fine Art Photography 4

Brain storming the idea of consumerism. It doesn’t always make sense, but it is about getting your ideas down.

Once it is done you should have the bare essentials for what you want your work to be about. You might decide to disregard a lot of it, but there should be enough there to help you work out what you want to do, and which direction you want to go.

Deciding on your topic

Topics can be anything. They don’t have to be heavy topics like ones that are really political, or socially conscientious. I used consumerism, as I’ve had a couple of exhibitions that were based on that concept, and the idea that we were turning our homes into massive rubbish (garbage) bins.

Working out your message, or the motivation behind it, can be a little bit more difficult. Perhaps for something like consumerism you might want to explore the impact it has on the environment, or what is going to happen to all the goods that we keep buying.

Finding the subject for your photos

What is your subject matter going to be? Would you photograph rubbish piles? Maybe look directly at the different brands, and all the different products they come out with. What your images are going to be of, is just as important, and should link to your topic or message.

Fine Art Photography 6

Once a home, built over a hundred years ago, now left, the outside crumbling and grass trying to cover it over.

Working out your technique

The technique isn’t so important, it just has to be the same for all the images. You can experiment to start with, to help you work it out, but once you have what you want then your body of work has to all be similar. You are looking to create a cohesive portfolio that will look great, and connect together when on display.

Creating your body of work

You should make as much work as you can. If you are planning an exhibition, then you need to know now much work you will need for it. When it is all done there are going to be pieces that simply won’t work and you will be better off leaving them out. It is difficult to work out what is best for an exhibition, and just because you made it doesn’t mean it belongs.

Your Artist Statement

Finally you need to write that artist statement. It needs to be written in what they call artspeak, or language that fits in with the art world. It has to sound good. If you are applying to galleries then your artist statement is what they are going to take notice of, just as much as your work.

Here is an example of one written about work around the theme of abandon:

It is human nature to sculpture and contour the environment into shapes and forms that we find pleasing. We live in these buildings, work in them, and find entertainment and nourishment in them. We spend time in rooms designed to help us learn through many stages of our lives. When the buildings can no longer be maintained they fall into decay quickly. My work is looking at the rate of decay and how similar it is to the human condition. How easily we can fall into the same sort of decay when we are no longer being cared for. Through photographs of old, and recently abandoned buildings, I want to explore the metaphor of the human condition with the deserted buildings.

I just made this short statement up, but I hope it gives you an idea of what an artist statement is like. If you do a google search you will find many places that can help you write one. You will also be able to find examples of them to see what other artists are doing, and how they are creating their work.

Fine Art Photography 9

The old science room in the closed school. Things are scattered and nothing makes sense.

Finally

The work should be about you, and what you are passionate about. Don’t worry about what other people think. If you know what your vision is, what your subject is, and how you want to create your work, then your statement should come easily and you will find yourself on a new path, an exciting one.

If you are just making lovely images without any of the above, then chances are you aren’t creating fine art photographs. However, if you have a vision or message, and have ideas that you want to convey through your work then you are more likely to be creating fine art. Perhaps you should think about what you want your work to be about. It is also fine to just take photos because you enjoy it.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Leanne Cole is a fine art photographer based in Melbourne, Australia. She loves Melbourne and photographing it, along with other parts of the state. She likes doing architectural and environmental photography. You can find her on her website or on Instagram.

  • But isn’t craft, by definition, doing something you are trained to do with no creative input, there are aspects of photography that are craft, but then it can become more creative as well. You could say the same about painting, drawing, any other art form as well. Perhaps the way you work is different to an artist then. I need that artist statement to guide me in my work, it helps me find what I am looking for. I have also entered art competitions and always been asked for a statement. There are people who just take photos for the fun of it, it isn’t up to us to judge how good or bad they are, and there are people who go for the more fine art look. I am a trained artist, so that is what I call myself, you might not like that, but I have the degree, and so I feel I am an artist and my medium is photography. Thank you.

  • Fr. Alexis Duncan

    Yeah, well I have degrees and have been trained as an artist and have been painting and taking photographs for nearly 45 years. So I know where you are coming from. My only complaint is that we sometimes take ourselves way too seriously and place the title “artist” on a pretty high shelf. But, no, a craft does not by definition mean there is no creative element involved. I know a lot of woodworkers, weavers, and silversmiths who have wonderfully creative work, but it isn’t art. It is something that is the result of great effort and insight however. I am not disagreeing with you, I’m just pointing out that we should never be ashamed to be just what we are… without lofty labels.

  • I can understand that, though sometimes it is important to take yourself seriously, but I don’t think that means you have to be up yourself. I love what I do, but I hope I am realistic about it as well. I totally agree with your last comment, totally. I don’t mind labels, it is what we do, someone is a doctor, a lawyer a teacher, I’m an artist, it is what I do. Thanks.

  • freeopinions

    Why not do what every Photoshop beginner has done since the beginning and call it “fine art”? Because you can be better than gimmicks like that.

  • I am not quite sure what you mean, my point has always been that doing gimmicks like that are not fine art, that there is a lot more to it than that.

  • Edward Taylor

    I am a photographer my self, and am telling you fine art photography is real and a branch of photography. Leanne is right a photograph of a building is or could or can be considered fine art { fine art photography}. There has been good fine art photography work with a building.

  • Robert Carter

    Thank you for writing this fine article, or should I say interesting article . . . I enjoyed it very much. it gives food for thought. One person’s trash is another’s treasure. I agree with one of your opening statements, “There doesn’t seem to be a definitive explanation or definition for what Fine Art Photography is, but there do appear to be things that help define what it is.” I would simply change the phrase “doesn’t seem to be a” into “is no”.

    I will often see an image that I cannot place into any category except ‘fine art.’ Is it the lines, the color, the aura, vagueness . . . what? I suppose this is such an interesting subject because deep down in our hearts we all want to be producers of fine art . . . I’d also like to be a gourmet chef!

  • Leanne, The school you went to was likely an art school more geared toward commercial art and and client type work. There are also art schools where the curriculum is more focused on personal work and self expression.
    If you graduated from the school you describe, you do likely have a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree, but an art curriculum that’s more focused on client work is totally different than an art school who’s primary focus is personal work. I’m not saying one is better than the other… just wanted to make sure you knew that the two are completely different approaches.
    I would consider the commercial approach to be more in the “Commercial Photography” area, rather than “Fine Art Photography” which is totally focused on personal discovery and artistic freedom.

  • Chip I went to an art school as they should be, one that makes you work as an artist on your own individual work. There was nothing commercial about it. The place I went to is one of the most distinguished places in Australia and some of the best artists from Australia went there. I am also fairly certain that my own work is very different to anything you would see in the commercial world as well. We have photography courses here, that are for commercial industry, but you do not get a fine arts degree from it.

  • I’m confused about your comments then. You stated “I was taught to treat being an artist as though it was a business”. You also mentioned in the article that “the artist has to have a vision of what they think their work will look like.” This is a much different approach than what you would find in program that is more oriented toward developing a personal “style”. The piece may start out one way, but it rarely looks the same when it’s time to move on to the next piece. My undergraduate was in painting and drawing and so I look at this in a different way. But all too often you’ll find photographers trying to mimic someone else’s work which to me is the totally wrong approach to doing personal work.

  • Yes, I was taught to treat being an artist like a job, that we also have to earn money, eat and pay bills. Really, it was to take it seriously. To be an artist as your job, you need to do things that will make it so you can survive. At Uni we had to spend time in our studios, they wanted us there 5 days a week during the day working on our art. We had to have consultations with other artists, lectures about what we could do and where we were going. We had exhibitions of our work, so we had to prepare for those. It was all taken very seriously, so that when we graduated we would continue that work ethic. Work in our studios, produce work and prepare for exhibitions.Of course for most of us that also means we have to do other things for a while to earn a living, and most artists have to do that. There aren’t many in Australia that can live solely off what they earn.
    I do think you have to have some idea of where your work is going, maybe not the finished product but you have to have some ideas. Galleries also want to know. Usually that can mean that you are working towards an idea or theme. I don’t like having preconceptions of exactly what I’m trying for, but if I have an idea of what I’m trying to achieve then I know that I will get better results, than if I’m just playing and don’t have a clue what I want to do.
    In Australia if you study a fine arts degree, that is what you get, there isn’t a commercial aspect to it, in the regards to what you are talking about. If you do something that is intended for commercial then you get a degree or diploma in something else.
    My work is my work, I don’t get commissioned, it is my vision. That’s it. Though I think I’m still experimenting, but it is getting there.
    I find that the term fine arts is applied to so many things, and most of the time it isn’t that at all. To me it covers a lot of things that go together.

  • Okay, got it. Maybe it’s the the words and way it’s described in this post that really throws things off kilter. It sounds like you went to a great art school and I meant no offense. In the end there’s really nothing precious about the words “art” or “fine art”. If it makes you happy or fulfilled then go for it!

  • I went to a really good one here, it took me months to get over getting into it. It’s one of the best in Australia.

    We don’t have that things with paying for uni like you do. Our system is very different. I graduated in 2007 and my entire debt for the 3 years was around $15K, we have a lot of government funded places here.

    I disagree with you about the curriculum, there should be some aspect of that. I wish I had been taught how to market myself. In a world that is changing, I want to be able to create my art and make a living from it. I don’t want to work in jobs I hate so I can eat. It isn’t a hobby, it is something I have to do, so being taught some business skills for the artist is great. I think if you don’t want to pursue it as a vocation, and just be a hobby artist, then go to your local arts society.

    I think that is what many of us are trying to do. It is a very tough and competitive world out there.

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