Fine art photography is difficult to define, primarily because artistic value is very much in the eye of the beholder. It can be best described as photography purely for the sake of expressing the photographer’s own vision and feelings. It can also be defined by what it is not. It is not like commercial photography, in that it is not produced to sell a product or promote an image. It is not journalistic in nature where a photograph is taken to capture or tell a visual story that coincides with a written one. There are elements in the art photographer’s world that tend to rely more on artistry and they are discussed below.
Great Art Photographers
To give a sense of the photographic work considered to be at the pinnacle of fine art photography, think of the dramatic black-and-white Western landscapes of Ansel Adams or the iconic images of Americana captured by Alfred Eisenstaedt as epitomized by his “VJ Day” photo of 1945 with a perfectly framed sailor and nurse locked in a kissing embrace. These are but two of the world’s most well-known fine art photographers.
Fine art photography is focused on the aesthetic or inspirational value of an image irrespective of any other concerns. Therefore fine art photography tends to have subject matter that focuses on natural elements, human forms, landscape, architecture and even dramatic images dealt with subtly and in fine detail.
Lighting and Composition
Whereas finding or capturing extant images was the norm in art photography for many years, more recently elaborately staged and lit created images have come into vogue. With the widespread use of digital photography, the photographic artist’s ability to manipulate imagery is almost unlimited.
Printing and Display
For most of the history of fine art photography images were printed and displayed on photographic paper simply tacked to cardboard or plywood backings when shown in galleries or exhibitions. In the late 1990s it came into vogue to mat and frame fine art photography for display and in the early 2000s it became popular to show oversized prints out of frames and even on alternative surfaces such as stretched canvas and even fabric.
Since the late 1970s art photography has gained in popularity among individual and institutional collectors. As print techniques for multiple reproductions improved, many photographers produced limited edition prints of their work in small numbers and placed them for sale through dealers or auctions or printed them in high-quality coffee table books of their own work. Fine art photography is sold under its own category at top auction houses around the globe.
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