Fine art photography and how to do it


September 16, 2022 In fine art photography, photography is used to communicate a message, feeling or idea with subjects holding a meaning or serving a particular purpose. We show you how to develop an idea and present it through your photos, with examples. What is fine art photography? This is […]

September 16, 2022

In fine art photography, photography is used to communicate a message, feeling or idea with subjects holding a meaning or serving a particular purpose. We show you how to develop an idea and present it through your photos, with examples.

What is fine art photography?

This is a question that we’re sure has crossed everyone’s mind. Fine Art photography is unlike other genres, such as photojournalism, where the photographer captures the subject for what it is. Fine art photography is much more subjective and is about presenting a narrative, idea, message or feeling through the medium of photography, and the intentional use of photography to communicate an artistic concept.

Whilst landscapes, people and streets may appear, they usually intend to serve a purpose or hold a meaning. The choices made in subject, composition and so on within a photo are purposely chosen.

How to develop an idea for your fine art photography

The message or idea in your fine art photography could be a word, emotion or concept. Doing fine art photography has a process, and perhaps one that is even more of an intentional than other kinds of photography. The first step is to consider an idea or concept, and then how you will present them through photography.

A good place to start is to consider what you are passionate about, or something that has meaning to you. You may consider a range of ideas until you find something that works for you. Write them down and start to categorise ideas/themes in a brainstorm; from here you can streamline them. Writing down your ideas and even developing an ‘artist statement’ may help, especially if you want to talk about your work with others.

Once you have found your core ideas start doing some research around the topic. See what other photographers and artists are exploring similar themes. You can do this through searching on social media, the web, reading books and other literature, as well as visiting exhibitions.

NB: an artist statement is a short piece of text that clearly describes your work. It aims to give the viewer understanding, context and basis for the work.

looking through train window towards london waterloo station eerie fine art photo

Image: Jessica Miller

Presenting a message or story through your fine art photos

Once you have found what you want to say through your photography, you will need to decide how you want to say it, and what you want the focus to be. Will you use, landscapes, people or still life to express the concept? Trying different styles and techniques is the only way to know whether it works or not – for you and your idea.

Pre-visualising is a good method for considering how your ideas and messages will be played out in an image. As Marsel van Oosten stated, ‘Pre-visualisation is visualising an image before it is made. Instead of merely capturing what you see in front of you, you first create the image in your head and then try to capture it. This is the most important creative technique that I use and know.’

As part of this, having some experimentation with trial and error will strengthen the final results. It’s perfectly okay if an idea doesn’t work, just try again.

Like other forms of photography you should still consider the kit you use, composition, colour, lighting, editing etc, and what is appropriate for the message you are sending. Having a good understanding and being able to control these elements will be important for creating great photographs that put across your idea.

You should also consider if you are taking singular photos or images as part of a series. Tracy Calder shares some advice for how to put together a portfolio here.

intentional camera movement image of buildings by a sea harbour fine art photography

Image: Jessica Miller, from the series ‘Topophilia’

Share your work

Once you have created your work it’s a good idea as part of the creative process to gain feedback from others to help improve your photography and understand how other people receive it. Does your message come across to them? You can do this by sharing on social media, asking people you know, or members of photographic communities.

You could also consider entering competitions such as the Fine Art Photography Awards, Sony World Photography Awards and EISA Maestro where there are categories suited to fine art photography.

See more competitions to enter here.

Examples of fine art photography

Jovana Rikalo

Girl with Owl fine art photography

Girl with Owl. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, 135mm lens, f/2, 1/800sec at f/2, ISO 125. Image: Jovana Rikalo

Jovana Rikalo is a fine art and portrait photographer from Serbia. She has a degree in law but diverted to a career in photography in 2013. Her dreamy and emotion-packed imagery, is often shot outdoors using soft, natural light.

Reka Nyari

Blooming Ink fine art photography portrait

Blooming Ink. Canon EOS 5D Mark IV, EF 70-200mm lens, 1/60sec at f/8, ISO 100. Image: Reka Nyari

After studying at art school, Reka Nyari started modelling and developed an interest in photography. Her fine art photography often explores traditional ideas of gender, beauty and sexuality with a hint of mischievousness, eroticism and empowerment through the art of tattoo.

Florian Ruiz

Mirage Cities (series). Winner Cityscape, Amateur Category of Fine Art Photography Awards (2016) Image: Florian Ruiz

Mirage Cities (series). Winner Cityscape, Amateur Category of Fine Art Photography Awards (2016) Image: Florian Ruiz

French photographer Florian Ruiz, creates projects to express the atmospheres, feelings, and sensations of desolate places. In recent works, Ruiz seeks to test the bounds of photography by challenging its ability to render an image of what is invisible to the eye by means of time and distortion. The series Mirage Cities came first place in the Amateur photographer category of the second Fine Art Photography Awards, in Cityscape.

Student projects

Photography university graduates shared some great examples of fine art photography in their summer degree shows.

Aliz Kovacs-Zoldi

aliz kovacs reward fine art photography

5. Reward, 1/180sec at f/11, ISO 200. Image: Aliz Kovacs-Zoldi

Aliz Kovacs-Zoldi’s project The Journey Within was inspired by her personal experience during pandemic, and the mental health challenges faced.

‘I wanted to channel the experience of isolation, anxiety and how the care for plants helped me into my third-year project. Whilst researching I came across a theory called the hero’s journey. It explains that all hero myths and stories share the same stages regardless of their origins, and that these stages revolve perpetually. Reading about this theory I found that the challenges I faced in isolation echoed the stages detailed in the book, so I decided to use it as a guide to help create a narrative for my series.’

Zoe Ellen-Marie Jones

white flowers and stems flatlay with ink

Image: Zoe Ellen-Marie Jones

Birmingham City graduate, Zoe Ellen-Marie Jones used mixed media and inspiration from environmental photography for her project that addresses the severity of climate change. She told us, ‘Each of my photographs conveys change and devastation using a mixed media approach. Flowers and plants have been the main subjects of my work, and I’ve employed materials like water, inks, oils, and fire to alter their natural appearance.

By contrasting the plants and materials, I was able to juxtapose nature’s inherent beauty with the harm caused by climate change, emphasising the serious dilemma that the world is facing. Furthermore, these materials serve as metaphors for the very things that are causing havoc on the planet, such as ocean acidification & pollution, water pollution and oil spillages that can occur far too often.’

See more examples here:

Behind the scenes of Middlesex summer exhibition

Westminster graduates demonstrate resilience in degree show

Falmouth students share diverse techniques in Gweles exhibition

UWE students share first exhibition post-pandemic

Featured image: Jessica Miller, from the series ‘Topophilia’

Further reading

World’s best fine art photography revealed

Improve Your Photography

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