Fine Art Photography

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The Digital Eye is my column in What’s Up Yukon. This article was published November 10, 2011.

Andy Warhol once said, “Photographers feel guilty that all they do for a living is press a button.”

The digital era has made it possible for most everyone to take “good” pictures so what sets fine art photographers apart from the rest?

In my view, fine art photography has more to do with the creative concept of the photographer as an artist than it does with the technical perfection of the piece.

It is created to express the artist’s feelings and interpretation of their world.

Contrary to Warhol’s theory, the fine art photographer embraces the possibility of capturing a split second in time that touches the hearts of the viewer.

There is no specific style or technique that is specified that qualifies photographs as fine art although there are a number of masters that one may wish to emulate.

Ansel Adams and Edward Weston in landscapes, Annie Leibowitz and Yousuf Karsh in portraiture, Vivian Maier and Henri Cartier-Bresson in street photography are but a few that can be named.

However, the problem with trying to emulate these masters is that in doing so you would not be creating anything new. You can learn from them, but must build your own style.

A fine art photograph speaks to the observer.

While difficult to define, most people know when they are in the presence of such a work of art. A salon print of a fine art photograph is a joy to behold and not easily forgotten.

The voice of the artist comes through in the composition, depth, and colour or tone of the piece.

Technical mastery, while important, is not the be all and end all for fine art photography.

As an example, in fine art street photography the images may not always perfectly focused, but the framing and the moment must be captivating.

“Actually, I’m not all that interested in the subject of photography. Once the picture is in the box, I’m not all that interested in what happens next. Hunters, after all, aren’t cooks, said Henri Cartier-Bresson.

“Photography is nothing – it’s life that interests me,” he said.

Cartier-Bresson went on to create masterpieces of street photography that reached the souls of people around the world and still do today.

It is not the latest Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera, with all the bells and whistles that makes fine art photographs; it is the inner vision of the photographer.

Of course, it is necessary to learn to use your DSLR correctly, but remember, it is simply a tool to create the image you see in your mind’s eye.

Would you like to try your hand at fine art photography? Here’s a project for you.

Photograph an object that doesn’t move, anything that will be there for one month. It can be a small item that you can photograph in your home or a large item such as a building, a boat or a bridge – as long as it is available for a month.

Each day, take another photo of the object that is different from the one(s) before. Try different angles, look for different light, use close-ups, move away and include a background.

As time goes on, it will become more and more difficult to create a new, interesting image but you will find yourself thinking about it in terms you hadn’t thought of before.

Study each image you make critically; learning what you like about it and what you don’t. This will help you the next time you decide to open the shutter and record what is there.

Be open to change. Be open to feeling. Be open to trying new things.

You will be amazed at what you can create.

I asked Damien Tremblay, a Whitehorse based fine-art landscape photographer for his view on fine-art photography.

“A very subjective concept,” he said. “Fine Art Photography is more than photography; it is about creating art.”

“The fine art photographer tries to communicate his personal vision and his emotions. He takes the greatest care in making a photograph, whether we talk about the artistic components (composition, light, emotions) or the technical components (use of technology, software, skills in making the final print…). Ideally the end product of fine Art Photography is a print, a photograph.”

I agree with Damien. A print cannot be matched by any other medium.

Email questions to me or post them in the comments section below.

Happy shooting and remember to leave the environment as you found it.

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One Response to Fine Art Photography

  1. Murray says:

    ““Actually, I’m not all that interested in the subject of photography. Once the picture is in the box, I’m not all that interested in what happens next.” nicely sums up why I don’t shoot RAW. Although I’d probably say that it IS photography that I’m interested in, not whatever you want to call manipulating images in a darkroom or Photoshop.

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