Creating a fine-art series might seem like a tall order. Where do you start and what is the best way to go about the process? It might be your first time trying to create a fine-art series, or you might have created several series already. You might have an exhibition coming up or maybe you’re looking to create another revenue stream by selling your work. No matter your experience or the reason you’re creating a fine-art series, this article will help you get started, as we dive into the process of creating a fine-art series, from start to finish.
Images above by Thomas van Schaik
What is a (fine art) photo series?
A photo series is a set of images that share a conceptual story. Each image may be independently different, but in a series, they complement each other and highlight the series’ subject.
For example, a photo series may illustrate a specific subject, tell a story, reveal a truth, show a particular aesthetic, present a vision, etc.
As a rule of thumb, aim for about 4-10 images in your photo series. Generally speaking, a series with less than 4 works will be unable to tell a story and create enough cohesion. The upper limit helps you get rid of lesser images that you might’ve otherwise included in the series. Ultimately increasing the overall quality of the series.
Determine the goal of the series
It’s important to determine the goal of your series: where will your series end up? Where will they be shown? Are the artworks going to be sold?
It may be for an exhibition, an open call for a publication, a photo festival or to put up for sale in a gallery. Depending on the end goal, the photos you select may have to be strong individually or only as part of a series. Some images may just be a ‘filler’.
A filler is an image that adds value to the series but doesn’t stand out as an independent piece when you take it out of the series. Fillers can be important pieces when creating a series for exhibition purposes. However, they should be avoided when you are creating a series with the aim of selling individual pieces.
Images above by Chris König
Identify the theme of the series
The theme is the overarching connection between the images in the series. The theme may be shown in each image, or every image can tell a part of the full theme.
When choosing a theme, avoid being too general. If your theme is too vague or overarching, it will be hard to create or find photos that fit. Instead of a more broad theme like ‘Mountains’ or ‘Fashion’, you could choose something more specific within the genre, like ‘Swiss mountains at dawn’ or ‘Colourful pants’. The more specific your intention is, the more your series will be able to make a strong impact and stand out.
You could use an existing photo that you’ve already taken as a starting point for further development. Or perhaps there is a particular technique or a subject you’d like to experiment with.
Creating a fine art photo series can take some time, so it is advisable to choose a theme that you are genuinely interested in. It will help you stay inspired and the audience will sense your genuine interest too in the end result.
- Choose a theme personal or specific to you, but open to variation.
- Select a subject that will keep you interested for a longer period of time.
- Base your photo series on a theme that is too general or broad.
- Duplicate other artists - make sure to bring your own take on the same theme
It may be difficult to find a theme in photos you already took randomly, so sometimes you may be better off starting from scratch.
When starting from scratch
Do your research
When creating a fine art series it is important to do research. Even though you may know a lot about the subject or theme already, it’s good to learn about it from every possible angle to help you create a series.
It will help you to make unexpected associations and show something in a different way than normal. The knowledge of your subject will shine through in your art.
Some questions you can consider at the research stage are: What do you want your art series to say? Does a narrative emerge? Will the series be chronological or non-linear? What colours stand out? And what historical or cultural implications do they have?
Go out and capture the images
When shooting photos specifically for a photo series, you’ll become more intentional and see more.
Slow down your pace. You may notice things you wouldn’t have noticed if you were not taking your time to look for shots of a series.
One of the useful psychological effects that you will be able to use to your advantage when you have properly defined the theme of your series and if you did the research is the Baader-Meinhof phenomenon. The more you look for images that fit your series’ theme, the more they will appear in front of you. Like when you wear a yellow shirt and suddenly you notice so many other people wearing yellow shirts.
Images above by Markus van Hauten
Visually connect your images to one another
Your theme is the overall topic of the series. Then there is the common thread: the way you connect your images to one another .
Creating consistency or a common thread in your series can be done in different ways: colours, texture, photographing technique, framing, a detail echoing another image, a specific kind of light, etc.
You can choose a repetitive approach, which can be in a subtle way. That will anchor your individual photos in a larger whole and create more homogeneity.
Perhaps you don’t want to choose a repetitive approach. In that case, be extra careful and focused on your end theme to provide consistency to your series.
In a chronological series it is important that each images directly follows up on the previous image, the overarching story of the series should clearly connect each image.
Essential Elements to look out for
Subject: the eye is usually drawn automatically to the photo’s subject. Preferably the subject is similar in each photo. However, you can change up the subject and look for similar surroundings.
Surroundings: the surroundings almost tell more about the subject than the subject itself. If you choose to work with different subjects, the surroundings will play an important part in creating coherence in the series.
Colour: Colour can play an important role in a fine art series’ unity. You can focus on using similar colours or look for contrasting colours. Either way, you can create consistency through saturation, lightness, etc.
Contrast: similarly to colour, contrast can create a connection between your images. Soft light images will differ a lot from hard light images.
Ratio: on a larger scale of your series, your images’ ratios are also a factor to count in when creating your fine art series. Not every image needs to have the same ratio. In a gallery, you’ll often find series with 1-3 different ratios, with each ratio having more than one image. If you already know where you’ll be displaying or using the fine-art series, then you might keep in mind which aspect ratios will work for the exposition space or gallery that you’re working with.
Images above by Nina Papiorek
Selecting cohesive images for your fine art series
The sorting and selection process is a crucial step in the making of a series. The way you edit your series might differ depending on your end goal.
Don’t forget to look back at your original plan and theme. Keep this in mind when you’re going through the selection process. Some photos may be beautiful individually, but if it doesn’t fit the series’ theme, it will affect the strength of the collection as a whole.
Even if you already know which photos you want to select, take the time to sort through all your images and create an overview.
If you can, print your images in low resolution and see which ones work best together. You may find images you thought were not good, and discard others you liked but don’t contribute much to your series.
A fresh pair of eyes can help too: ask friends or family for their feedback.
A note, when aiming to sell fine-art photos
When you’re creating a fine art photo series with the aim to sell your images, you have to keep this in mind in your selection process. Your images should work in the series, but also independently.
Usually, people will only buy a single work from a series. So each image in the series must be able to stand on its own. Try to avoid using any filler images.
Above shows collections from Chris König and Tom Kluyver
When creating a fine art series, it’s essential to start with the end goal in mind as that will impact your theme and selection process.
The theme is the overarching topic of your series, which will help you to be intentional about the images you select or will shoot.
Keep an open mind in photo selection and don’t discard photos in advance. Using filler images may work for some goals, such as expositions, but should be avoided when selling the work. If your end goal is to sell your fine-art work, for example at Tones Gallery, then each image in a series should be able to stand on its own.