When you think of the phrase ‘fine art’, I imagine the scenario you conjure up in your mind is walking through the Louvre, staring at beautiful, priceless works of art by da Vinci, Delacroix and Caravaggio (or maybe that was just in my own mind). In the world of digital photography, ‘fine art’ means something a bit different. It is simply the distinction between an unplanned snapshot and a photograph with creative intent, meaning a particular intent or concept behind the image.
If you take a camera to your great-aunt’s birthday party and run around with it snapping photographs like crazy, odds are they’ll end up being just that – snapshots. However, if you take the same camera to the same birthday party and think conceptually about each image before taking it, strategically placing each person and prop, you may be more in tune with fine art photography than you originally thought.
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What Makes a Photograph ‘Fine Art’?
The second you look at an image, the answer might be obvious. Choose an image of yours that you particularly admire, and ask yourself these questions:
- Does it look as though there was some sort of intent behind the image?
- Does this image evoke some sort of emotion?
- Does this image create questions in my mind?
- Does this image make me want to see more work from this same photographer?
If you have answered yes to most or all of the above questions, chances are you are already well on your way to becoming a fine art photographer. Everyone who has access to a camera can take a snapshot, but not everyone can take a fine art photograph. You have to know how to “see” images; envision them in your mind and then bring them to life through proper styling, location, etc.
A fine art photograph almost always has some sort of intent behind it. Why did the photographer take this photograph? What is he or she trying to tell us? If you take a photograph for a particular reason, chances are your viewers will be able to pick it apart and determine what that reason was. Unfortunately, taking a photograph of something just because you think it is pretty is not usually a good enough intent to keep viewers intrigued.
While all photographs don’t need to have an extremely obvious political message behind them, the image should speak to the viewer in some way. Sometimes the message can be as simple as an emotion; the photograph may make you sad, or happy, or feel strange inside. If a photograph evokes some sort of emotion from you or makes you feel as though you have learned something by looking at it, it is a fine art image.
Fine art photographers don’t usually accidentally chop off their subjects’ hands or feet. When looking at a fine art photograph, you’ll usually be able to tell that the photographer really thought about their composition. The hands are placed just right, that fern is facing just the right direction, the sun is hitting the chair at the perfect spot, etc.
Knowing how to use a camera is one of the first steps to creating fine art photographs. If all of your images are over-exposed or under-exposed and don’t seem to have any creative intent behind that quirk, viewers may think that you don’t understand how to properly expose your images. The same goes for a photograph being too blurry, or too grainy, etc. Understanding how to shoot in manual mode and take crisp, beautiful images will help you down the line, even if you don’t have the creative intent yet.
Can You Become a Fine Art Photographer?
Yes, of course! You can even make a career out of it. The trick is to begin to become more aware of the photographs you are taking. If you want to take a photograph of your cat rolling around on the ground, why do you want that photograph? While you may enjoy a snapshot of it years down the line, consider ways in which you can take that subject and turn it into fine art. This may include changing the composition, adding in another subject or object or simply looking for a new photograph to take altogether.
Start by thinking of everything in the world around you as a work of art. While you don’t need to go overboard while doing this, begin looking at your surroundings as if they were all photographs. Look up from your computer right now, what do you see in front of you? Would this make a good photograph? If not, what could you do to make it better? Could your sibling move their arm out of the side of the frame, could you shift the couch a little bit so that the lines flow better with the lines of the doorway, could you place an object on the table to make the photograph more interesting? Begin to think of little ways that you can shift scenes to make them more aesthetically pleasing. Oftentimes the smallest additions or changes in light can create the most interesting compositions.
Once you begin thinking in terms of art, you can begin producing art. All it takes is a bit of training your mind in order to imagine and create aesthetically pleasing images. If there’s nothing in the world around you that is inspiring you, create something! Think of an interesting dream you’ve had recently. Is there a way you can use props and makeup in order to recreate a scene from that dream? If you can’t seem to think of anything interesting to create, flipping through photography magazines is a great way to get inspired. Begin by trying to recreate your favorite photographs, and you’ll soon be creating beautiful photographs of your own!
Practice, practice, practice. To help get you inspired, Udemy has a course on commercial photography that will let you in on the secrets of the pros.