What is fine art photography? Wait— isn’t all photography a fine art? While photography can be considered a fine art, we’re looking at fine art as a niche within photography. In this guide, we’re going to provide enough information for you to come to your own conclusions on that one. The field can be so subjective, and for good reason! Discern between photographic art and other forms of photography as well as navigate through creating, showcasing, and ultimately selling your art on your online portfolio.
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Believe it or not, this is not a simple question. What makes photography art has become increasingly challenging. There’s been debate over the years as to what is and is not fine art photography.
Speaking to what it is in the broadest sense, the fine art photography definition encapsulates the maker or artist’s creative expression, be that an idea, a message, or a feeling. Fine art photography is also often considered in the context of showing, either in a public space like an art gallery, or in private, like wall art in a person’s home.
In the majority of cases, the types of photographs that are not considered fine art are commercial photography (e.g. a photo commissioned by an agency to sell products) or photojournalism (e.g. representational work commissioned by news media). These types of photography typically have one thing in common, that being the commission, or direction, is not created by the artist, but a commercial commission in which you respond to. You might already be thinking of exceptions to this rule, but let's keep discussing the field of fine art photography first.
This might again be a frustrating answer, but it's subjective. Artistic expression, vision, training (e.g. a degree in fine art), thematic bodies of work, and an artist statement, are often be associated with fine art photography, but the artists' unique perspective about a topic, subject matter, etc. are ultimately the guiding force in what makes artwork out of photography.
Overlap with other genres is common in fine art photography. Types of common overlap can include: fashion photography, photojournalism, portrait photography, landscape photography, still life photography, etc. Arguably, even wedding photography as a genre could overlap, so long as the photographer has the kind of creative control and visioning they so choose.
You don't necessarily need a degree to become a fine art photographer, but there are some steps to consider when creating fine art photography that those with a Bachelor of Fine Arts might have developed in their degree. These steps will bring you closer to your goals and communicating your point of view, whether that's getting into fine art photography galleries, or selling your work.
Fine art photography is all about capturing your way of seeing the world, this is above and beyond the most important part of fine art photography. It's about going beyond simply taking a photo artistically. Instead, you come up with a point of view, an idea, or a message as the starting point. Many basic rules of photography like composition, focusing, etc., can be broken here if it fits your message. Technical skills, artist statements, etc. might help you clarify your message, but these are skills and tools to help support your idea and communicate it to others.
Considerations on the road to expressing your ideas include but are not limited to clearing your head, and looking for inspiration and other ways to get your fine art photography to the next level.
Developing a technique for your fine art photos isn't meant to box you in, but technique will help you solidify your vision, decision and confidence to create a more cohesion for your body of work and might improve your overall output quality. After you've decided on a direction, sought inspiration, even taken a few photos, you might want to consider specific techniques to best communicate your vision.
For example, black and white photography is far from over. This creative choice lends itself to emphasizing things like contrast, light, texture, and composition, and depending on your message, may help convey it better or just differently. Sometimes experimenting in black and white helps you get better at color photography, helping you better attend to bright and dark elements.
Other techniques you may want to explore include: negative space, motion blur, negative space, creative editing, subject matter and so much more. Researching more photographers working in the medium will help you get a better feel for how you might want to attack your work.
Now that you have your message, ideas about your technique, you may want to consider amassing a body of work. A body of work is defined as a series of images unified by a single theme or connected by a message. Going back to our famous photographers previously mentioned, examples include Mapplethorpe's still lifes, Adams' mountains, Sherman's exploration of identity through self-portraits, these artists are famous for their specializations. Having a vision or clear set of topics you want to explore will really help you create a body of work, so don't worry too much about how many photos you should have to start with, just think about how you can express your ideas in different ways with a series of photos.
Many artists consider this the ultimate chore, but writing your artist statement will help inform and fill things like your 'about' page of your website, grant applications, even communicating your own body of work better.
Your artist statement should accomplish two things, describe to the reader how you work and what your work means. It can be as short as 100 words, or as long as one page. It’s important to get your artist statement right so that you can properly convey your brand and personality to potential clients.
By now you're probably ready and excited to get shooting! As you might have guessed, the camera you use for fine art photography is totally up to you, and buying or finding one for your work can be informed by your technique, artistic vision, and message for your body of work.
Our tip—start with what you have, get to know how to use your camera manually, and go from there.
Tripod: If you don't already have a tripod, getting one can help with things like shooting with long exposures, still life, general ease of use when setting up your composition, fine art portrait photography, and more
Backdrop: Photography backdrops can add different looks to your scene, in some ways making it look more professional, or adding in a kind of style. Size of backdrop and material are a couple of things to keep in mind when choosing backdrops.
Lighting: Flashes and reflectors are more ways to give you control over your shoot. They can add to your decision making and budget, but might really pay off, depending on your vision. Check out this article on the best accessories for portrait photography.
A film camera: not technically an accessory, but some argue a film camera can spark inspiration, and slow you down in a good way, forcing you to make decisions about framing, composition, etc. you might not have otherwise considered with a digital camera
Making money might not be as straightforward as other photography gigs such as commercial or wedding, but you can still make money as a fine art photographer. You’ll want to create your own fine art photography portfolio to allow for your work to easily be shown to the public.
Building relationships are important in making money on your images. Going to openings, meeting fellow artists, connecting with local art councils, curators, gallery owners, arts workers, etc. will help you expand your networks and introduce people to your work organically. Swapping social accounts or e-mails when it feels right might offer up more opportunities to collaborate, connect, and even cross-promote work.
Granting agencies, galleries, even friends and networks will want to see your website before they make decisions about your work. Having a great online portfolio is a necessary step in your artistic career. Use a website builder that offers a variety of templates that make sense for you and also gives you a free trial, so you can try before you buy. Create and build your social accounts too, so you have more than one place to feature your work, as well as more than one place to sell it. Check out our easy-to-follow checklist for making sure your social media game is strong, as well as this guide to grow your followers.
Grants are financial support awarded to artists so they can create work with some of life's financial stressors elevated. You might be surprised at the number of organizations out there with grant opportunities to help artists create new work.
Three steps that will help you apply for artist grants include:
1) Create an online art portfolio (grant committees will want to see your work, so make sure you have a website that best fits your work)
2) Have your artist statement ready to go
3) Bone up on writing the best application for your artist grant
Showing at, or being represented by, an art gallery are pretty major feats if you want to make money from your fine art photographs. To accomplish this, it's important to of course be doing all of the above— making work, meeting people, showcasing your images online, but we have a few more ideas to get in front of gallery owners and art dealers.
1) Do your research: Make an inventory of local (even national) galleries, and start looking into them. Sometimes you'll be able to tell what kind of work owners and curators choose to exhibit, saving you time when you do your reach outs on what places might be the best fit for your work.
2) Cold calls: After you find potential fits, send an email or give a gallery a call to inquire about exhibiting and representation. Even if you don't end up getting signed, you might still make an impression that carries over to another opportunity.
3) Call for submissions: Find opportunities to exhibit through open calls for exhibition. Places like your local arts council, Facebook groups, and other online submission boards may present opportunities to have your work shown in galleries.
Consider any expenses you incurred in creating your photograph (e.g. film and developing, printing costs) and how much time you spent producing and editing it. This should give you a good baseline for how much you might consider charging. Some are able to double this cost to price their art, or a 100% mark-up e.g. if it cost you $100 to create your end product, consider trying to charge $200 for it.
In addition, looking around to see what contemporaries are charging can be beneficial to better understand your market and pricing your pieces to sell. This might be your best bet at first, if you're new to the game and haven't got a list of clients or gallery representation yet.
The ways you present your work is an important step in your process - from gaining notoriety, to making money from your artwork. Whether selecting bodies of work for your online portfolio, selecting a website builder, creating a photo book, or preparing your work for a gallery exhibition, displaying your photography is a crucial part of your process.
That's it! We hope you gained some valuable information about the ins and outs of fine art photography. Whether this art form is your main focus, or a fulfilling hobby, we hope with a bit of inspiration, direction, and knowledge about the industry, you'll be producing some awe-inspiring photographs that we might see in a gallery or on walls some day.