Art photography

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 that convey meaning or serve a particular purpose. We show you how to develop an idea and present it through your photos, with examples.

What is fine art photography?

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

Although landscapes, people, and streets may appear, they are usually meant to serve a purpose or hold meaning. The choices made in the subject, the composition, etc. in a photo are chosen on purpose.

How to develop an idea for your fine art photography

The message or idea in your fine art photography can be a word, an emotion or a concept. Doing fine art photography has a process, and perhaps even more intentional than other types of photography. The first step is to consider an idea or concept and then how you are going to present it through photography.

A good place to start is to consider what excites you or something that makes sense to you. You can consider a range of ideas until you find something that works for you. Write them down and start categorizing the ideas/themes in a brainstorm; from there, you can streamline them. Writing down your ideas and even developing an “artist statement” can help, especially if you want to talk about your work with others.

Once you have found your main ideas, start researching the topic. See what other photographers and artists are exploring with similar themes. You can do this by researching social networks, the web, reading books and other works, as well as visiting exhibitions.

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

looking through train window to london waterloo station weird art photo

Image: Jessica Miller

Present 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 emphasis to be. Will you use landscapes, people or still lifes to express the concept? Trying out different styles and techniques is the only way to know whether or not it works – for you and your idea.

Previewing is a good method to determine how your ideas and messages will be interpreted in an image. As Marsel van Oosten said, “pre-visualization is visualizing an image before it is created. Instead of just capturing what you see in front of you, you first create the image in your head and then try to capture it. It’s the most important creative technique I use and know.

Within this, trial and error experimentation will strengthen the end results. It’s okay if an idea doesn’t work, try again.

As with other forms of photography, you should always consider the kit you are using, composition, color, 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 in creating great photographs that will convey your idea.

You also need to consider whether you are taking single shots or images as part of a series. Here Tracy Calder shares some tips on how to build a portfolio.

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

Image: Jessica Miller, from the series ‘Topophilia’

Share your work

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

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

See more competitions to enter here.

Fine Art Photography Examples

Jovana Rikalo

Art photography Girl with owl

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

Jovana Rikalo is an art and portrait photographer from Serbia. She graduated in law but turned to a career in photography in 2013. Her dreamlike, emotional images are often shot outdoors in soft, natural light.

Reka Nyari

Floral Ink Art Photography Portrait

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

After studying at art school, Reka Nyari took up modeling and developed an interest in photography. Her fine art photographs often explore traditional ideas of gender, beauty and sexuality with a hint of mischief, eroticism and empowerment through the art of tattooing.

Florian Ruiz

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

Mirage Cities (series). Cityscape Winner, Fine Art Photography Awards Amateur Category (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 limits of photography by challenging its ability to render an image of what is invisible to the eye through time and distortion. The Mirage Cities series won first place in the Amateur Photographer category of the second Fine Art Photography Awards, in Cityscape.

Student projects

University photography graduates shared great examples of fine art photography at their summer exhibitions.

Aliz Kovacs-Zoldi

aliz kovacs awards fine art photography

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

Aliz Kovacs-Zoldi’s project The inner journey was inspired by her personal experience during the pandemic and the mental health challenges she faces.

“I wanted to channel the experience of isolation, anxiety and how herbal care helped me into my third year project. During my research I came across a theory called hero’s journey. He explains that all myths and hero stories share the same same steps regardless of their origins, and that these stages rotate perpetually. Reading this theory, I discovered that the challenges I faced in isolation echoed the steps 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

flat white flowers and stems with ink

Image: Zoe Ellen-Marie Jones

Birmingham City graduate Zoe Ellen-Marie Jones used mixed media and was inspired by environmental photography for her project which deals with the seriousness of climate change. She told us, “Each of my photographs conveys change and devastation using a mixed media approach. Flowers and plants were the main subjects of my work, and I used materials like water, inks, oils and fire to alter their natural appearance.

By contrasting plants and materials, I was able to juxtapose the inherent beauty of nature with the damage caused by climate change, highlighting the grave dilemma facing the world. Additionally, these materials serve as metaphors for the very things that wreak havoc on the planet, such as ocean acidification and pollution, water pollution, and oil spills that can happen far too often.

See more examples here:

Behind the scenes at the Middlesex Summer Exhibition

Westminster graduates show resilience during graduation

Falmouth students share various techniques in the Gweles exhibition

UWE students share first post-pandemic exhibit

Featured image: Jessica Miller, from the “Topophilia” series

Further reading

The world’s best fine art photography unveiled

Improve your photography

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