Are you curious about how to improve your fine art photography? Whether you view photography as a hobby or a profession, perfecting your fine art skills is a great way to boost your portfolio. Fine art photography engages your mind and challenges conventional concepts through colors and lines.
When you hear the phrase fine art, you may think of the Mona Lisa or stuffy museums. But photography is a fine art as well! Even the most casual photographer can improve their technique by embracing aesthetic art methodologies and subjects.
Read on for details on how to improve your fine art photography, find inspiration, and perfect your artistic vision.
What is Fine Art Photography?
Analogous to the age-old question of what is art? Defining fine art photography is a bit challenging. The easiest way to describe how fine art photography functions is photos taken from the point of view of an artist. The snapshots have a more meaningful message than what you see on the canvas or glossy photo paper.
Fine art photography usually has creative elements like contrasting colors, shapes, and settings to make a statement. The artist tries to provoke strong emotions from the viewer through the camera lens.
Artists that create fine art photography also have a concentration (or specific subject). Their muses may be anything from the ocean to mythical creatures – but they always tie the elevated art aspect into the traditional picture-taking method.
Intricate lines, texture, depth, and balance are the primary factors when taking fine art photographs. Before snapping fine art photos, consider what you want to say through your pictures.
Are you interested in symbolism, or do you want something more direct, with little interpretation necessary? Do you want your images to reveal dazzling colors or have muted tones? And most importantly, what do you want your viewers to feel when they look at your photos?
While every photographer is different, there are a few aspects every artist should keep in mind for fine art photography:
- Keep it surreal. Fine art photography does not need to be realistic
- Lighting matters
- Experiment with bold colors
- Find inspiration everywhere
Fine art photography does not have to be solemn or melancholy – have fun with it, and try several techniques to figure out what works best for your vision.
Keeping it (Sur)Real
We have all looked at a piece of art and wondered about its meaning. But frequently, the significance is up to interpretation. Remember to create the art you want, not the art you think people want to see.
Surrealism is a significant aspect of fine art photography. Traditional picture-taking concentrates on capturing specific people or moments in time, but fine art photography is more about telling a story through a single image.
If you need an example of surrealism, one of the most famous is The Son of Man by Rene Magritte. The portrait features a man in a suit with a simple background, with his face almost entirely obscured by a bright green apple.
If you have no idea how to incorporate surrealism, do not worry – it is not as tricky as it sounds, and you do not need to be a Dali-level artist to encapsulate surrealism. Try adding props, like brightly colored fruit or even animals. You can ask your subjects to wear specific articles of clothing or turn your muses into art themselves with shadows and light.
The surrealism method is all about tricking the eye and making viewers do double (or triple) takes to understand the image. People may attempt to comprehend it, but the beauty of fine art photography and surrealism is that there are no definitions associated with them.
As a photographer, you probably know that lighting matters. However, you can manipulate it even more with fine art photography.
Artists like Caravaggio used shadows and light (known as Chiaroscuro) to paint some of the most famous portraits in living memory. Today, light manipulation branches from paintings to photographs yet still promote the same complexities.
For example, consider a traditional portrait with an evenly-lit, balanced background. Then, try removing background light to make the subject stand out – or vice versa. If your message has a moody allure, you can create shadows around faces or hide them entirely to suggest ambiguity.
Practice adding and subtracting light until you find the perfect setup. You can also invest in a professional photography lighting set if you want to alter your photos.
If you want your lighting to have an antique or vintage feel, try to find an old-but-still-functioning camera. Vintage cameras are great for fine art photography as they provide unique lighting and often evoke a haunting vibe.
Colors & Their Meaning
Like lighting, color always matters in photography. Fine art photography means you can engage creative hues and tones to convey your vision.
People love color, and science proves that color makes us feel something. Most hues have some form of symbolism attached to them, such as:
- Blue – indicates calmness, purity, and honesty
- Red – anger, lust, power, excitement
- Green – envy, relaxation, and nature
Of course, you can blend these to form pastels or jewel tones – or layer them over your image for an even higher impact. Color is especially effective in fashion photography. You can direct the eye straight to the garment and keep the rest of the image muted.
Fine art photographers often use color to minimize or maximize their message. Black and white images with pops of color work well for landscape photography or portraits, and you can adjust your shading later if needed.
We all know about writer’s block, but creative block happens, too. Get your creative juices flowing with a journal or notebook. Carry the journal with you 24/7 to jot down any fine art photography ideas.
You can find inspiration in even the seemingly most meaningless places. Write down a new item at the grocery store that catches your eye and use it as a prop later, or scribble your dreams down in the middle of the night.
Look at other famous fine art photographers for inspiration as well. What do you like or dislike about their images? What do they say to you? Writing your thoughts down is a concise and easy way to remember your ideas when you pick up your camera.
As cheesy as it sounds, inspiration is everywhere – and, as art has no definition, you can take full liberty with your fine art photography. The world is yours.
Fine Art Photography Techniques
All photography styles need cameras, and cameras work relatively similarly. But there are tons of different techniques and strategies that can change the outcome of your image entirely – and fine art is no exception.
And, you do not need a camera worth thousands. You can use your phone’s camera, or try out new techniques with whatever digital camera is on hand, at least for practice.
Still-life portraits became popular in the 17th century, with painters such as Van Gogh and Cezanne at the forefront. In art history, still-lifes usually include fruit or motionless objects at the center of the piece, with various items of different textures surrounding the focal point.
For fine art photography, the general idea of still-life painting applies. Fine art photographers that utilize the still life technique often use objects (fruits, flowers, vases, or glassware) to depict their message. Still-lifes also work well for fine art portrait photography.
While this may sound somewhat dull, color and light can impact a still-life image. Using a vibrant color as your background with simple fruits and veggies upfront makes for a bold, statement-making piece. Use out-of-the-box objects for added oomph.
Do you love traveling and seeing old buildings or cathedrals? Try incorporating architecture into your fine art photography! From Michaelangelo to Frank Lloyd Wright, architecture and art go hand-in-hand.
So, what makes pictures of an old church or brand-new modern building into fine art images? Perspective. Take your image from a bird’s eye view or point your camera upwards to showcase extra-tall skyscrapers. If you want to capture an industrial mood, take photos in cloudy weather.
One of the more modern art photography methods, long-exposure imaging, involves a still, clear subject with moving objects in the background.
Attempt long exposure by using the manual or bulb setting on your camera, and slow your shutter speed. This technique lets you hone in on your subject and brightens any lights in the background. A popular setting for long-exposure images is metropolitan areas, as neon lights show particularly well in a slow shutter speed setting.
If you like to keep it moody and mysterious, the silhouette technique is for you. Made famous in the art world by Augustin Edouart in the 19th century, the silhouette method turns subjects into outlines with no detailed features.
In the fine art photograph realm, silhouette portraits have a brightly-lit background with a dark subject as the focal point. The model has a defined outline, but you cannot see features or faces. If you want to try silhouette photos, the best time is at sunset – the sky gives you the ideal backdrop for a high-impact image. Silhouette also works well for documentary photography.
Another modern technique, hard light, involves a bright light source that emphasizes specific aspects of a photo. An example would be an image of a person with shadows covering their entire body aside from their face.
Implementing hard light is all about your perspective and shutter speeds. Faster shutter speeds indicate less ambient lighting (soft light) and provide a contrasting, shadowy image.
Fine Art Photography Tips
The hardest part of fine art photography is doing it – so here are some tips to remember for improving your overall photography game.
Choose Your Models Wisely
Fine art photography often conveys personal messages that may make you feel vulnerable or exposed. You want to find models capable of portraying the subject matter in a way that does not appear forced or disingenuous.
You do not need to have supermodels as your subjects, either. Ordinary people or loved ones make great muses and are often more intriguing to look at than runway models of today. Showcasing unique beauty or features elevates your portraits from traditional to high art.
Location, Location, Location
As mentioned earlier, inspiration is everywhere – but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t travel to find new locations or settings for your next shoot.
Research hidden gems in your area, or explore state parks if you want a natural environment. Find quirky or kitschy locales that look great in photos (bonus points if you use long-exposure).
You do not need to go to the Grand Canyon to take a decent photograph, but you should expand your horizons and find the perfect fit for your artistic vision. Ensure you can haul all of your gear there, though!
Don’t Overthink It
Never worry about creating art. Instead, make what you want and say what you want to say. That can be as simple as taking a selfie in low lighting or as complex as snapping your friend next to rush hour traffic.
If you try to force the fine art out of your images, you will not have much luck. True art happens when you apply your creativity and personal touch to your photos – it adds authenticity and gives the viewer a look inside your mind.
…But Don’t Play it Safe
While you should never overthink your photos, you should additionally never play it safe when creating fine art photography. Fine art photography is often daring and avant-garde, so don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone and make something otherworldly.
You can also implement your wacky ideas in editing through filters or layering if you do not have access to a green screen or your concept doesn’t exist in real life.
Fine art photography has no actual definition – it can be anything you want it to be. Whether you enjoy snapping photos of your family at dinner or prefer to take pictures of towering skyscrapers, fine art photography is ready and waiting.
Grab your camera, a notebook, and a tripod – it’s time to get artsy!