Fine Art Photography Tutorial

Fine art photography is one of those areas of art that puts more focus on the content, story and emotions of the image rather than the technical aspect.

The creation of pure photos (as called by some artists) is a personal journey and requires more planning and patience. Fine art photographs don’t just occur like action photos; they are generally more curated and designed by the photographer.

By the end of this tutorial, you’ll be so well prepared you’ll have thought this was an in-depth fine art photography online course!

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What is Fine Art Photography?

Fine art photographers combine taking pictures and the conceptual thinking behind the content as an entire process. It’s an opportunity for the photographer to get more personal by expressing feelings, situations, memories and ideas through the subjects in the scene.

Given that all good photographers should aim to invoke a bit of themselves in every photo they take and their images should cause a reaction in their audience – couldn’t all photos be ‘fine art’? Well the lines are blurred yes, and fine art photography can stretch over a few different genres and ultimately it’s subjective as to what is classified as fine art.

But over this fine art photography tutorial, we’ll detail the principles, approaches and thinking that creates the foundation of an obvious fine art photograph. If you

The concepts seem to come from different places and the end result is often different. Even if the processes are the same.

Have a look at some examples on Fine Art America.

Image by Jakub Stefanski (iPhotography Student)
Image by Jakub Stefanski (iPhotography Student)

What Makes a Photograph ‘Art’?

This is probably the most controversial section of our fine art photography tutorial as they answer the question ‘what makes photography art?’ will yield a million different responses.

Everyone sees beauty in different places whether you’re a photographer or not. Therefore the photography definition of ‘art’ is a little vague.

Photographers are sometimes a little more in tune with finding interest and beauty in situations that are otherwise overlooked by others. It’s that creative interpretation of the scene that starts the separation between snapshot and artwork.

Fine art photography should be created as carefully as a painting. The resulting images aren’t taken like an everyday photo in a quick moment. Instead they require a lot of ground work planning out the message, detail, relationships within the overall composition.

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Some fine art pictures are put together with others as a photo series, they may not be a standalone photograph.

These fine art photography definitions may sound vague but that’s because the meaning of art itself is always changing and evolving. Hopefully the accompanying images on this fine art photography tutorial will give further understanding and ideas.

Ultimately the main goal of fine art photography isn’t to demonstrate your technical camera skills. Instead, it’s a chance to express an idea, emotion, or a message. This could be personal, social, political or fictional.

We know one thing for sure; fine art photos are not snapshots. Every fine art photo involves a lot of planning. Between the composition, details, and meaning, these images are created as carefully as a painting.

Image by Deborah McPhail (iPhotography Student)
Image by Deborah McPhail (iPhotography Student)

Is My Photography Art?

There are a couple of questions you should ask yourself when you’re thinking ‘is my photography art?’

● How do I feel about this photo?
● Would I miss this photo if it were lost forever?
● How much do I remember about the moment I took this photo?
● Is the story of the photo clear to strangers?

If you are able to answer these with detail then chances are you’ve got some deep and meaningful images in front of you. But don’t expect all your photos to fall under this category. There is a finesse to creating fine art.

If you find yourself spending time convincing or explaining to others the artistic merit to your photos chances are the image is refined enough. Don’t forget about how messy backgrounds and distracting elements ruin a shot.

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Who is Fine Art Photography For?

Anyone can be a fine art photographer; there are no hard and fast rules about it. You don’t need a qualification to become a professional fine art photographer but spending time studying the art is advisable for it to become a natural approach.

While you don’t need a certificate to say you’re a fine artist you will find some personalities suit it better than others. Digital photography art requires much more time and dedication in the planning stages. Treat it more like a painting or a sculpture – you may do sketches, test shoots and write down lots of ideas before you even turn the camera on.

Some fine art photographers may have a couple of attempts at the same shot over a number of days or weeks – it’s not an instant moment where it all comes together.

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How to Become a Fine Art Photographer

If you want to be a fine art photographer then you need to go to places that you know will help you create images. These may be places that are out of your comfort zone and away from your home. Fine art will push you to these areas because not everything can be re-created digitally in Photoshop.

Being in the right environment helps you think about the story of the shot. This may stir emotions you’d not considered when planning and it’s exciting to let these new fine art ideas take over.

You must be willing to go the extra mile to make your shots look authentic and sometimes controversial without holding back too much. If you have a busy work and family life you may find that the demands of fine art aren’t possible to match.

While it’s not just an art form for young, carefree photographers you do need to have flexibility in your schedule to dedicate a good amount of time to it.

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Visit a Fine Art Photography Gallery

If you really want to immerse yourself further and get a deeper understanding on what defines fine art then we’d recommend making a trip to an art photography gallery.

You can see how the artist works, look at the consistency, and also how the work all looks when it’s put together in an exhibition. Surrounding yourself with fine art photography prints will allow your creative mind to see the consistent message in the art form.

Think about;

● What is grabbing your attention?
● How does it make you feel?
● What elements are contributing to this feeling and how?
● What does the colour palette look like? Colour psychology is very important in photography art prints

Look for fine art photography galleries that are exhibiting the work or local artists. Chances are they may be present during the exhibition to talk to. If not you may be able to get contact details and chat online about their approach and thinking; and if you like their work enough enquire if they have any fine art photography for sale!

Surrounding yourself with good examples of creative art goes past the walls of the gallery too. Get yourself a good coffee table photography art book and browse through the images and stories regularly.

It doesn’t just have to be photographers that inspire you either; painters, sculptures and movies are great sources of artistic emotion.

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8 Fine Art Photography Ideas & Techniques

Let’s get into some more practical advice for creating fine art photos. We’ve got a list of tips, photo series ideas and techniques to consider.

Remember though that following each of these tips doesn’t instantly mean your photo is considered artistic, they are simply approaches and suggestions to get you thinking more creatively like a fine art photographer.

1. Choose a Single Subject

If the point of your shot isn’t clear in less than a second to your audience you’ll lose their attention. Having the main subject clear and obvious is crucial. If its a still life shot consider using a plain black or neutral background to make the foreground subject stand out.

If your subject is dark then use a lighter background to contrast. Mixing a dark subject with a dark background is going to require a lot of light to separate the two adequately.

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2. Deal with Creative Photography Blocks

Not many (if any) photographers are brimming with ideas 24/7 if they say they are, it’s probably just for show. Our minds just can’t be on max settings all the time – it’s good to give it a rest. If you hit a creative block and a downturn in motivation then let it happen, acknowledge it and start to solve it.

Head outdoors, without your camera, for a walk and just breathe in the air. Take stock of what goes on around you and notice simple things like the sounds, colours smells and feel of things. You may get really frustrated that you didn’t bring your camera but that will only serve well for the future as you’ll be desperate to get back behind it feeling a little more invigorated.

Read more about hitting a creative block and dealing with motivation here.

3. Create Movement with a Slow Shutter

Fine art relies heavily on emotion and in a still image it can be hard to create a sense of drama that stirs something up. Playing around with motion blur is a good way to suggest movement and energy.

Slow down your shutter speed to around 1/15th for starters and get your subject moving. It could be a model swinging their long hair around, calming raging waters or tree branches blowing in the wind. Either way it creates a different dimension to the image.

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4. Get Creative with Composition

When you put a bland looking subject in the middle of the frame, the viewer might think they’ve seen everything in this photo and there is no need to explore it further. All background details, which could also be significant for you, can be lost, and the image becomes boring.

It doesn’t mean you shouldn’t put any subject in the centre. It just means you need to consider what your subject is blocking – is it something important? If so, shuffle it left or right.

5. Take Black and White Photos

Black and white photography trains the mind to think more about shape, texture, patterns and how those elements connect together in a scene. While you can take fine art photos in colour, having a black and white preview on your camera gives you an impression on the shape of the image and how the objects work together.

Even with fine art flower photography, shoot in RAW to get a colour version of the image but use a black and white filter to render the shot on screen.

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6. How to Write an Artists Statement

This may sound very flowery to some but writing an artist’s statement about your fine art photos can be a very powerful and useful technique. We’re not saying it needs to be a novel sized recalling of your life just what the intent is of this one particular piece or photo series.

When writing, be clear to state the title of the piece, what it means to you, what prompted you to create it and maybe even how you did it technically speaking.

7. Faceless Fine Art Photography Portraits

Faceless portraits are perfect for making unusual fine art portrait photography. Portrait photography isn’t easy to get the timing of the best expression right so this artistic approach makes it way more fun.

Portrait photographers typically will talk to their subjects to provoke a certain expression but instead the fine art approach is to mask the face entirely. You can even do this as a self portrait.

It’s a challenge to create emotion without the mouth and eyes being visible. Use hands, head positions and body language to suggest the feeling of the subject. It’s best to try with adults, fine art child photography poses enough challenges to get your subject to stay still!

This type of faceless portraits gets you thinking past the obvious connotations of facial expressions and develops different ideas as to how someone could be feeling based on other factors. This fine art technique has been used successfully in many campaigns about mental health and domestic abuse.

8. Share Portrait Ideas with your Model

If you are shooting portraits, then it’s good to bring them up to speed with what you are trying to create.

Portrait photography and fine art photography require something different from even an experienced model so get some examples of what you’re looking to create and share them in advance.

Talk about what you feel when you see the idea and this should help them recreate the same emotion through their pose. The photoshoot will take some time and may involve a lot of experimentation.

Top Fine Art Photography Books and Websites

Before we come to the end of our fine art photography tutorial we wanted to show you some of the best fine art photographers and their work. These individuals have won many fine art photography awards and accolades amongst them and are great sources of inspiration.

We’ve also got some tips about great fine art websites and books to check out too.

Fine Art Photography Websites

If you want to immerse yourself in some eye-catching fine art photos click on the following websites;

● Hungry Ghost Collective
● Broken Light Collective
● Boudoir Collective

Famous Fine Art Photographer

Check out these outstanding fine art photographer’s websites;

Alex Stoddard
Brooke Shaden
● Carolyn Hampton
● Lotus Carroll
● Willemijn Louws

Art in Nature Photography. Spot light and Bird. Black background.

Fine Art Photography Examples

If you’re into fine art landscape photography, portraiture or even street shots then we’ve got a collection of visual art centred books that are worth putting on your wishlist!

Please Please Please Return Polaroid by Miles Aldridge
Creating Photographs by Albert Watson
Eternal London by Giacomo Brunelli
● Think Like a Street Photographer by Matt Stuart
Annual Series No.7 Four Book Set by Mona Kuhn
● Looking at the Overlooked by Norman Bryson
Living with Art by Mark Getlein
Matisse and Picasso: The story of their Rivalry and Friendship by Jack Flam

10 Tips for Fine Art Photography

Here are our 10 tips and ideas for getting started in fine art photography;

1. Don’t approach it like a snapshot, give more time to your artwork.

2. Plan out your ideas before – sketch, write or rehearse your shot before turning on the camera.

3. Create something that is meaningful to you. Fine art can be controversial and deep.

4. Use whatever camera you can get your hands on, the technical aspects don’t matter as much as the content.

5. A more compelling story will override any lack of knowledge in camera skills.

6. Get inspired and go to fine art photography galleries and exhibitions.

7. Invest in some coffee table art books to get ideas and techniques.

8. Take a break and don’t force inspiration. Go for a walk if you hit a creative block.

9. Use a black and white preview on your camera to think about shapes and the relationships between objects even if you want the shot in colour. Shoot RAW.

10. Enjoy it – fine art photos are a leisurely pursuit, not a race to the finish.


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