Anyone can label themselves as a photographer today with access to smartphones equipped with powerful cameras.
However, photography — especially fine art photography — is more than name-brand equipment or a clear picture. Whether you’re a novice or experienced photographer, the following fine art photography tips can help you take quality, thought-provoking images.
Fine Art Photography Tips
While photographers debate the exact definition of fine art photography, most agree that this genre aims to transmit a vision, emotion, or message from the photographer.
This photography style does not sell anything, nor are the pictures quick, lucky snapshots of the world. Fine art photography takes time, purpose, and vision.
Keep these things in mind as you read through the following tips that will help improve your fine art photography portfolio.
1. Find Your Vision
Since fine art photography is all about expressing the photographer’s perspective, your first step is to find your vision.
What emotion do you want to evoke? Is there a particular message or commentary you would like to express through your artwork?
Take some time to get out in the world, observe things around you — or explore your imagination! — and settle on your vision.
Once you have your vision, you can start planning your shots and location. Fine art photography does not always focus on what you physically see with your eyes, but what you want to express through an image. This fact alone is what separates the photography style apart.
Use your vision to start planning your photoshoot, colors, effects, and post-processing. Here are some tips to help you find your vision:
- Plan the shot with a few sketches
- Explore different locations
- Take time to find the perfect angle
- Play with light and mood in post-processing
2. Get Some Inspiration
Inspiration can come in many forms. You may find it while reading a book or on your way to work. Either way, always be prepared for when that moment of genius strikes. Keep a notebook with you to write down any ideas you may have.
As we’ve mentioned before, fine art photography isn’t just about capturing a beautiful moment. The goal is to express emotion or a more profound message.
As such, let your mind wander when seeking inspiration. Your photographs don’t have to show reality; in fact, taking an other-worldly approach is a fantastic place to start.
Another trick to get some inspiration is to follow other photographers. As you’re learning the details of fine art photography and discovering your vision, examples from famous photographers can teach you much more than books.
Use examples of existing fine art photography, and study how each photography set up the shot. Take notes on what you like or what sparks emotion, and use those things to inspire you.
3. Create Something Extraordinary
In this digital age, pictures are everywhere. Our phones and computers are full of images, and photographs are trying to sell a brand or product everywhere we look.
So, what sets your fine art photography apart from the others?
Focus on making something new, something out of the ordinary. For example, if a sunset on a beach inspires you, how would you turn that from a standard vacation image into something captivating and enthralling?
When planning your images, make sure your audience will see the extraordinary components, whether they are the striking composition or unearthly colors.
Also, stay away from photography clichés! A cool vignette effect may look nice, but it is certainly not out of the ordinary. Here are some everyday things that amateur fine art photographers do that hinders the originality of their photos:
- Using auto exposure, which gives your image a dull look
- Centering your subject
- Applying excessive vignettes to hide composition mistakes or to make it appear more like film
- Purposefully adding grain to your images
- Not using the natural light to highlight your subject
- Creating images that are vague and hard to understand
Stay away from those chlichéd methods and find your voice. Remember, you want to make something new, dynamic, and thought-provoking.
4. Find Your Niche
Most photographers have a specific style and niche that shows who they are as an artist. While it is customary to explore various fine art photography styles, finding your expertise is essential to establishing your voice as a photographer.
Here are some examples of various photographic styles. If you are unsure which to pursue, try taking photographs in each area of interest and see which images speak more.
Street photography is a very complex field, as it covers everything from portraits to landscape images.
While not all street photos are part of fine art photography, you can use this style in your fine art expression, like Henri-Cartier Bresson.
Have a clear idea of what you want to express with these urban images, and spend some time looking for the perfect locations, subjects, and lighting.
If you want to create images that escape reality, try underwater photos. The reflection, weight suspension, and flow of the fabric and hair make these images appear like you are in a dream.
Take some time to experiment with the effect of different make-up and long, flowing garments.
Abstract fine art photography often focuses more on composition and color rather than on a specific subject.
Even if you don’t have a person or location as your specific subject, you can still create just as much emotion with abstract photography.
Black and White versus Color
A lot of famous fine art photographers exclusively use black and white in their photographs. This method removes any unwanted distractions and lets the viewer focus directly on what the photographer wants to portray.
While black and white photography is often drastic and shocking, that doesn’t mean that color photos can’t have the same effect.
In fact, many color photographs can be just as powerful — if not more so — as monochrome photos.
When choosing the color scheme for your body of work, consider your vision and the emotion you want to portray. Choose the color scheme that would send the message most clearly.
While the fashion industry does want to sell clothes, they do so by evoking a certain feeling. You can do the same with fashion fine art photography.
Use make-up, hair, expressions, motion, and composition to evoke a feeling while highlighting fashionable clothes.
No, this fine art photography niche is not like normal food photography where people put Instagram photos of their latest meal.
To make food turn into fine art, think of the elements as part of a still-life painting. Play with the lighting, contrast, and negative space to evoke emotion with food.
Another idea is to present the food as separate elements instead of a final product that you may see on a menu at your local restaurant.
You could pose the person, but not in the traditional way. You may not even want to include the person’s face, depending on the emotion you want to evoke. Another option is to capture people’s natural feelings and actions instead of looking for a new perfect headshot.
Just like portraiture, the wildlife niche of fine art photography does not include your generic animal pictures. There is a vast difference between National Geographic wildlife photographic images and fine art photographs of animals.
With these images, you want to use nature and wildlife to share your vision. Experiment with low lighting, blur, or even unnatural colors.
5. Take Your Time to Get the Perfect Shot
A flawless fine art photograph does not happen in an instant. You are not taking a candid family photograph, but instead trying to express something profound and meaningful.
Take your time.
Once you have a vision and inspiration, start planning your images. You can begin with simple sketches or preliminary photographs to test how your message relates through the lens.
Take notes on which techniques work and which need some improvement. Try various compositions, lighting arrangements, and subjects. Go out and photograph during different times of the day until you get the perfect lighting effect.
Be patient with yourself and your artistic process, and never be afraid to toss an idea and start fresh if it just isn’t working with your vision.
6. Include the 7 Principles of Art and Design
As you set up your perfect composition and plan the photograph, keep the seven principles of art and design in mind. Utilizing them will help you create an intriguing and pleasing image.
- Balance: explore symmetrical and asymmetrical compositions to obtain a certain feeling
- Rhythm: use the image space as a piece of music, and apply rhythm through the placement of objects in your picture
- Pattern: look for natural patterns or create your own to capture the audience
- Emphasis: use composition, arrangement, and lighting to emphasize your desired subject
- Contrast: apply lighting, color, or texture contrast in your image to portray an emotion
- Unity: ensure all elements of your photograph work together cohesively
- Movement: use color and composition to draw the eye across the image
7. Try Using Blur
Whether you want to express the world’s busyness or give a commentary on our human perspective, blur can be a unique and powerful tool.
There are several ways to create blur, from moving your camera to zooming while pressing the shutter. You can also photograph a static object with motion around it to make a blurred contrast.
8. Change Your Shutter Speed
Photographing movement — including cars, people, animals, and water — can be difficult. With fine art photography, your goal is not necessary to capture a still image of movement.
Instead, explore the possibility of altering reality with different shutter speeds.
A faster speed (1/200 of a second) stops the motion in its tracks, while a slower rate (1/15) smooths the movement.
These shutter speed changes can take a regular photo and turn it into something new and thought-provoking.
9. Use the Right Equipment
With fine art photography, your equipment is not the most critical factor in shooting incredible photos.
Of course, a high-quality camera is a huge plus, but that doesn’t mean you need to get the camera with the most potent zoom and clarity.
First and foremost, focus on your creativity. You can create stellar fine art photography with minimal equipment. If you have a decent camera and the right lens, the rest is up to you.
The perfect lens depends on what you are photographing and how far away it is.
For example, if you want to focus on wildlife, you will often photograph longer distances. A telephoto or zoom lens would work great in these situations. Likewise, if you’re going to take close-ups, try a 50mm or wide-angle lens.
10. Take Your Time with Post-Processing
The difference between a nice and extraordinary photograph often lies in post-processing. You will probably spend hours creating the perfect lighting and composition to fit your vision.
The effects you can apply in post-processing are endless. Some necessary edits include changing the color temperature, exposure, and lighting.
Once you feel confident with Photoshop or Adobe, you can try blending various exposure levels, playing with color grading, burning and dodging, warping, cutting, and layering your images.
Much heavy work in fine art photography happens in the post-processing stage, but the effort can make a world of difference.
11. Create a Portfolio
The most satisfying part of photography is getting to share your art with others. Once you have plenty of pieces that are of professional quality, take some time to create your own portfolio.
Create a physical portfolio and a digital one, as both will be useful when you speak with potential clients and try to spread the word about your photography.
However, don’t just put together a haphazard collection of every photograph you’ve ever taken. Spend some time thoughtfully considering what your best pieces are and which ones you want to represent your artistic work.
Another fantastic tip to creating a professional portfolio is collecting a body of work that connects somehow.
The connection should be evident for each collection. You could focus on one single subject and include ten different shots with that person or object, or you can connect images with similar composition, style, or coloring.
Either way, make sure vision and voice as a fine art photographer are clear.
Fine art photography is different from other photography styles. With these great tips, you will soon be creating your own extraordinary images.
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