Understanding Fine Art Photography & How to Do it?

Rohan Arora - Author Rohan Arora on Jun 18, 2019

Fine art photography is more challenging to define than you might think. If art means different things to different people, then fine art photography also means different things to each one of us.

What is Fine Art Photography?

Some photographers define art photography as photos that are worthy of hanging in a gallery. While that seems like a clear and straightforward definition, it doesn't sum up everything that needs to go into making a fine art photograph or even what a fine art photo is. Furthermore, there are likely many less than stellar examples of photography hanging in fine art photography galleries that are not art.

If there is one quality that binds all fine art together, it is the message. The artwork is a method of communication for the artist; he or she is trying to say something through their work. Their compositional and elemental choices all center around communicating this message. The message could be a word, an emotion, or even just an idea. In this way, fine art photography can be used to motivate the audience to change their behavior or appreciate something a little more.

To accomplish this, famous fine art photographers usually spend long hours planning and composing each photograph. Artistic photography is not photojournalism. Compositions are made carefully and purposefully, with every possible element planned out.

In artistic photography, often one image is insufficient to communicate a broader concept. For this reason, artists use their body of work to tell their story. The group of photographs is bound together by a polished artist statement. This simple paragraph of text acts as a mission statement for the project and helps set the stage for viewers to get the most out of their work.

As with all forms of communication, sometimes the receivers don't get the message that was intended. In some ways, this is okay and an essential part of the creative process. Artists should accept feedback from as many people as possible as part of their creative process. Feedback only helps them hone their message and improve their style.

Experimentation is the name of the game in art photography. It takes practice and years of experience to build up your portfolio and experience. The only way to learn the techniques, styles, and methods that work for you is to go out and try it. Look at other fine art photography prints, then learn from it and keep getting better, picture after picture.

Techniques for Taking a Fine Art Photo

Start by getting your ideas out on paper. Essentially, brainstorming is the beginning of any creative endeavor, and photography is no different. Spill all of your thoughts out on a sheet of paper. It may be messy, and maybe it doesn't even make sense, but it gives you a starting place. You can then start categorizing and organizing this mess into relevant topics and ideas that you want to communicate.

Now that you've got some basic ideas, it's time to decide on your topic. How can you distill the ideas from your brainstorming? This is the message you want to communicate through your artwork. 

Make it meaningful to you, and make it something you want to share with your viewers.

Now that you know what you want to say, it's time to figure out what you're going to use to say it. What do you want the focus to be on in the photos? Your subjects can be people, buildings, landscapes, pets, still lifes, or anything else. The sky is the limit. What subject best communicates your topic and your message?

You know you want to use photography to capture your subjects, but what other techniques do you want to use? Would black and white or color pictures be the most impactful? Studio-style photography or natural light in the outdoors can be chosen, depending on your style. What sort of post-production and editing do you want to do? More and more, contemporary art photography has included extensive computer manipulation. It may take a little experimentation to land on the best technique for your topic and subjects. Listen to feedback and show your work often. Fine tune what you can and continue to learn along the way. You should pay careful attention to what works and what doesn't, and never be afraid to mix things up.

Once you've got a creative process you're happy with, create an entire body of work based on the message, the subjects, and the techniques that you've landed on above. The collection of work should be coherent; it should communicate your topic clearly. The chosen method should bind them together, and a view should want away with not only a message but a story told through your photographs.

To help you with the cohesive nature of your body of work, write your artist statement, and revise it often. It's a simple paragraph describing the choices you made above and why. What are you trying to say, and how do your subjects and technique help you say it? Keep it short and simple, and make it your mission statement.

After you've done creating a good amount of work you can show, you can make a fine art photography website to showcase your work and set up an e-commerce store if you want to sell your work. 

Pixpa offers an all-in-one portfolio website builder for photographers. Start your free 15-day trial now.

Common Art Photography Mistakes

1. Ignoring the importance of technical quality.

While artistic photography is all about ignoring the rules and speaking your mind, the technical mastery of photography as a medium cannot be overlooked. Fine art photography requires a high level of expertise in what makes a technically good photo. For example, things like getting the proper focus, lighting for a good exposure, and what makes an interesting composition are important. Once you know how to control these elements in the camera, you have the power to use them as forms of communication for your message.

Too often, artists use mediocre quality film or low-quality camera sensors to get a grainy and artistic look. The better practice would be to use a higher quality technique but get the artistic result through technique.

When to hold the camera by hand is another example of a technical aspect that should not be overlooked. The shaky handheld look can be useful, but you want it to work for your pictures and not against it. Knowing when and how to use a tripod is essential for all photography.

Finally, photographers tend to lean too heavily on the automatic features of their modern cameras. Automatic exposure and autofocus are great tools, but they tend to lead to dull and ordinary images. Setting your camera to fully manual frees you up to control the image and get just the look you are after.

2. Confusing technical quality with art.

While technical quality is vital to artistic photography (see mistake number one above), a technically perfect photograph does not make it art. Art photography is about your message, which transcends the technical aspects entirely. The technical must not cloud the compositional and artistic elements.

3. Following too many rules.

Beginning photographers learn all sorts of rules. There's the rule of thirds, the golden rule, and many others for you to follow to create fine art photographs.

But following the rules that everyone learns means your images might come out looking like everyone else's photography. If you want your art to be unique and to stand out, then you'll have to learn to break some rules.

4. Trying to make all of your photos beautiful.

Nearly all commercial photography is based on beautiful and aesthetically pleasing photography. As a result, all of us are conditioned to perceive photography through the same filter of that beauty.

But sometimes, especially as artistic photographers, the message we are trying to communicate is contrary to this aesthetic. Sometimes grungy, dirty, or dramatic fit the message better. Art doesn't have to be beautiful, but it should be compelling and impacting.

5. Not Using Abstraction.

Abstraction is another important concept in art photography. It can mean removing superfluous elements from a photo and distilling it down to the bare essentials. It helps the viewer connect with the image on a more fundamental level. Or it can be done while composing the photo or in post-production. Either way, it's an integral part of sending the right message with your photograph.

Check out some amazing Fine Art Photographers' websites built on Pixpa.

Arrowood Photography

Tara Arrowood does fine art portrait photography of equines. She started photographing horses in 2010 when she wanted to show the connection between horses and humans. Her work around horses has been exhibited in art shows and horse parks in Northern California.

Daniel Espírito Santo

Daniel is a Portugal based photographer who focuses primarily on fine art landscape photography and makes use of sea mostly in the images he creates. He likes to show the adventurous spirit in his images. Daniel enjoys traveling and surfing, as well.

Jens Rosbach

 Jens is a Berlin-based photographer who likes to do artistic landscape photography. His work has been featured in many magazines such as Zeo Sasion and Naturefoto. Jens also has been a finalist in awards like Wildlife Photographer of the year (2015) and fine art photography awards (2017).

Teresa Meier

 Teresa is an Oregon based fine art photographer who loves puzzles and thinks of a photograph and concept as a puzzle. She creates the photographs through stitching various elements in photoshop.

Austin Saidak Photography

 Austin is a fine art landscape photographer and an adventurer. His photography journey started in 2011 when he quit his job to travel and started documenting what he saw along the way. His photographs mainly consist of mountains as he is also a good climber.

Minhaz Sarker

 Minhaz resides in Seattle and is focused on fine art photography of nature and urban landscapes. Minhaj has a special love for trees and is involved in photography on free time, which he gets apart from his studies. His work also includes captivating black and white fine art photography as well.

Terhi Asumaniemi

 Terhi has done her M.A. in photography and visual journalism from Finland and works there. Her fine art nature photography focuses on the story, which arises out of human interaction with nature.

Thomas Fleckenstein Photography

 Thomas is a German-born photographer who lives in Iceland. His photography consists of fine art nature and landscape photographs. He likes to explore mind and nature through photography and is influenced by eastern philosophy and minimalism.


Defining art of any kind can be a tricky exercise, perhaps even more so in photography. There are so many styles of photographers in the world. On some levels, all photography communicates a message. The key to understanding fine art photography is understanding whose message is being visualized. Is the photographer speaking through their art? Or was a photograph commissioned for a commercial enterprise? Remember, how the work is received is only part of the equation. The most crucial part is that the photographer can say what needs to be said.

Inspired by these stunning fine art portfolios? 
Create your own portfolio to showcase your fine art photography skills with Pixpa. Sign up for a 15 day free trial!


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