Fine art photography has become more popular in recent years. Established institutions and art galleries are incorporating fine art photography and photography museums are opening up around the globe.
It is a flourishing new field of photography, but what exactly makes fine art photography? And how do you become a professional fine art photographer?
In this guide, our tips will help you to improve yourself both artistically and business-wise, so you can get on your way to making a name for yourself in fine art photography.
What is fine art photography?
It is hard to give one definition of fine art photography that everyone will agree with. There is often a thin line between commercial photography and fine art photography.
One of the main distinctions is that fine art photography is often symbolic, rather than representational. The photographer’s vision is the most important aspect of fine art photography. It involves bringing a vision, emotion or creation to life, as opposed to simply capturing what you see artistically.
To further emphasize, the main goal of fine art photography is not to demonstrate your technical skills. It can even break the usual rules of photography and be unrestricted.
For example, a fine art photo might be out of focus, involve surreal or abstract objects and/or creative editing.
When you’re preparing for a fine art photoshoot, it is an important starting point to have some sort of concept or vision in mind. This will help you to figure out how you want to express your art and the way you see the world.
Another definition mentions that fine art photography should be judged solely for its beauty and meaningfulness - two very subjective points, but tying in with the goal that a fine art photo should aim to express a vision, emotion or message.
Elevating your photography to fine art
Follow and analyse the work of famous fine art photographers
As a learning method, it can be useful to take inspiration from others and study their photos. How are their images connected to one another? What makes them special?
You could look at famous fine art photographers who you may admire to follow their style and read books or articles to understand their creative process.
Additionally, you can take photos of similar subjects to start up your own creative process - just beware that it doesn’t stop you from developing a personal style.
Strive to create an authentic, personal vision, for example, by combining subjects with your own life experiences to make it more personal. Try not to pay attention to what’s trendy nor let hypes drive your art.
Experiment with what makes you unique
The number one trait of all great fine art photographers is having a unique perspective. It doesn’t mean reinventing the wheel, but to show your personality or vulnerabilities through your art.
Doing this might make you feel somewhat scared and excited about sharing the fine art works. If that’s the case, it means you’re on the right track. Everyone has fantasies, thoughts and taboos that we keep to ourselves – art can unveil these in powerful ways.
As mentioned before, don’t be afraid to break some of the photography rules in this process. Following the rules at all times, means it will be harder to stand out from the rest and be unique.
Always keep in mind that fine art photography is about the message and those technical aspects should not cloud the artistic elements.
However, technical mastery of photography shouldn’t be completely overlooked. The knowledge of technical aspects and how to control these elements in your camera can give you the power to use them as forms of communication for your vision. This includes not relying too heavily on your camera’s automatic features.
Create a cohesive body of work
A cohesive body of work means a collection of images somewhat related to one another. This could be through the same subject matter or activity, or processing style.
If you want your art to be exhibited in a gallery or sell your prints you will need a body of work uniformly showing your vision.
A decent size is 10-15 images that are strongly related to each other in a way that is easily identifiable by the viewer.
Get the (right) attitude of a fine art photographer
Get your ideas together
To create a vision and get a cohesive body of work, it is important to get your ideas together - starting with some simple brainstorming.
Sitting down and just writing ideas down helps to get creative. Don’t take too much notice of what you are writing, as it is about getting your thoughts on paper.
At first, it might not make much sense and you might decide to disregard a lot of it. However, as you work through your ideas, you might find out the direction you want to go and work out what your vision is.
Some pointers to get you started with brainstorming:
- Which topics do you feel passionate about?
- What message(s) do you want to express?
- What subjects do you like to photograph?
- Which techniques are you interested in?
“I have never made trials or experiments. Whenever I had something to say, I have said it in the manner in which it needed to be said…I can hardly understand the importance given to the word “research” in connection with modern painting. In my opinion, to search means nothing in painting. To find is the thing.”
Have an artist statement
When you have created your collection, you will most likely need an artist statement.
An artist statement is a short explanation of what the work is about, how you created it and why. It helps others to understand your vision, intentions and work methods.
You don’t necessarily have to write the statement after you’ve finished your project - writing it beforehand can be very helpful, as it gives you a direction on what to look for when shooting your photos.
An artist statement can be quite short and doesn’t have to be full of technical jargon. Again, fine art photography does not necessarily follow the normal photography rules, therefore technical aspects that you purposefully did differently can help the viewer understand what actions were specifically chosen to achieve the final art pieces. You can start with 2-3 sentences that give an overview of your project, followed by an explanation of how those ideas are presented in your work.
Don't expect to be 'discovered'
When you’re producing artistic projects that you’re proud of and you want to get yourself exhibited, don’t expect to suddenly be discovered by an art gallery.
It is unlikely that a commercial gallery will come across a photographer by chance, as they rather approach someone who has gathered an audience and some interest already.
For example, having a strong online presence through social media and your website can be crucial when you are looking for “being discovered”. Being part of an online community is important and will help you grow your network.
Additionally, it is important to get yourself out there to allow gallerists, curators, critics and others in the fine art photography world to notice you. You could start by looking for open calls for festivals or group exhibitions, or team up with peers to put on your own show.
Also try to enter as many competitions as you can, because even if you don’t win, you may get noticed and remembered by the judges and visitors.
Build a network
Related to the previous point, creating connections with other creatives and artists will help you move forward in your career and helps to get yourself into the art world.
An artist may have the best fine art photographs, but it won’t matter if no one knows about them. So you need to build a network to find someone who has an ‘in’ and get into the right communities.
You can build your network in several ways. For example, by connecting with artists through social media or local art groups. Once you’re connected, you can collaborate and cross-promote each other.
You could attend gallery events or creative festivals to meet like-minded people who may have interesting contacts in their network.
Another way is to find an interesting or influential person online and just send them an invite for a coffee or video call - there is no need to be shy! Most people are happy to chat and help you connect with others, especially if you want to chat about them.
Act professionally from the start
Treating your fine art photography professionally from the start will make it easier to become an actual professional.
You should treat your art with the respect it deserves, even if you are not selling much yet. Print quality is extremely important and you should not skimp on it. For example, if your photos are vivid and vibrant, but they look dull on prints, it is useless.
Don’t limit yourself by thinking too small either. Your prints should be the size you think the photo deserves.
Start a spreadsheet to know what you have sold, to whom, when and for how much. This will help you to evaluate yourself and grow your work.
When you get on board with a gallery, be as professional as possible. The best known artists are often good business people as well. Be enthusiastic, suggest ideas to the gallery and be visible, whether physically or by staying in touch via phone and email. Obviously, not to the point that it is irritating, but nicely pushing yourself can help you advance your career as a professional fine art photographer.
How to price your fine art photography
Pricing fine art photography is not as straightforward as typical commercial or freelance photo package prices.
There is a fine balance between undervaluing your work and overpricing.
It can be tempting to sell your art at a low price to attract buyers, but cheap art may reflect poorly on you as a fine art photographer (and the community).
At a minimum, you want to consider the time you put into the project, the materials involved and any other costs - then add an amount on top of it to set your selling price.
However, don’t be greedy. When starting out, you can’t price your prints at the same level as someone who has been in the industry for years. You still need to prove yourself and create a name for yourself. Keep in mind that you can always increase your prices, but decreasing it will look awkward.
What you’re looking for is a sweet spot. A price point that respects your art and helps build momentum as people buy your art, talk about it and spread the word.
More and more galleries post prices on their websites. Online research may give you an idea of what other photographers are asking for their fine art. You could also ask other artists or galleries what they would consider a fair price for your fine art photography.
Getting into fine art photography can seem daunting at first. By taking your time to prepare yourself and following the tips and tricks given above you’ll stand a better chance of making high-quality work and being recognised for it.
A final tip, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Ask friends, colleagues and other fine art photographers for tips and pointers on your work. Criticism is a good thing during development and it can only help you improve yourself. Of course, this doesn’t mean that all criticism you’ll receive is valid or helpful, however never dismiss criticism upfront and give some thought to what might be meant by it.
Through experimentation and trial and error, you’ll see yourself, your techniques and your work improve over time. This applies not just to your photography skills, but to your networking and business skills as well.
At Tones Gallery, we are always looking for up-and-coming talent. If you’ve created one or more collections and are looking to be represented, feel free to send us a message with your collections here.
Also, don’t hesitate to contact us if you’re just looking for some guidance, pointers or general advice. We are happy to help. You can reach us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.