In fine art photography, photography is used to communicate a message, feeling or idea through subjects that hold a 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?

This is a question that we’re sure has crossed everyone’s mind. Fine Art photography is unlike other genres of photography, such as photojournalism, where the photographer captures the subject for what it is. Fine art photography is much more subjective and is about presenting a narrative, idea, message or feeling through the medium of photography. With the camera being a tool to create the photographs.

Whilst landscapes, people and streets may appear within the photographs, they usually intend to serve a purpose or hold a meaning. The choices made in subject, composition, lighting and so on within a photo are also purposely chosen.

Need further explanation? Three photographers share their definitions here.

How to develop an idea for your fine art photography

The message or idea in your fine art photography could be a word, emotion or concept. Doing fine art photography has a process, and perhaps one that is even more intentional than other kinds of photography. The first step is to consider an idea or concept, and then how you will present them through photography.

A good place to start is to consider what you are passionate about, or something that has meaning to you. You may consider a range of ideas until you find something that works for you. Write them down and start to categorise ideas/themes in a brainstorm; from here you can streamline them. Writing down your ideas and even developing an ‘artist statement‘ may help, especially if you want to talk about your work with others.

Once you have found your core ideas start doing some research around the topic. See what other photographers and artists are exploring similar themes, and how they are presenting it. You can do this through searching on social media, the internet, reading books and other literature, as well as visiting exhibitions.

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

looking through train window towards london waterloo station eerie fine art photo

Image: Jessica Miller

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

Pre-visualising is a good method for considering how your ideas and messages will be played out in an image. As Marsel van Oosten stated, ‘Pre-visualisation is visualising an image before it is made. Instead of merely capturing what you see in front of you, you first create the image in your head and then try to capture it. This is the most important creative technique that I use and know.’

As part of this, having some experimentation with trial and error will strengthen the final results. It’s perfectly okay if an idea doesn’t work, just try again.

Like other forms of photography you should still consider the kit you use, composition, colour or black and white, 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 for creating great photographs that put across your fine art idea.

You should also consider if you are taking singular photos or images as part of a series. Want to know how to build a portfolio for your photography? Tracy Calder shares some advice for how to put together a portfolio here.

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

Image: Jessica Miller, from the series ‘Topophilia’

So how do you know if your photo has been successful in putting across your message? Ask yourself and also other people some deeper questions such as ‘Is your message conveyed?’, ‘How does the viewer read the composition? Does it guide their eye?’, ‘What do I/they get from it?’ and so on.

Portrait fine art photography

Fine art portrait photography is captured with intention and meaning and aim to deliver emotion and impact. They are more than just capturing a headshot, beauty or fashion campaign or documentary shots, where the photography is capturing reality.

Fine art portrait photography tips:

  • All about the eyes – Portrait photography is about the eyes. Even if your subject’s eyes are closed and this is deliberate it will impact how the viewer interprets and connects to the subject. If they are open and the main focal point, then keep those eyes sharp!
  • Consider the environment – Capturing the surroundings of the person you are photographing can reveal more in your storytelling. Linking the background with the subject and narrative of your photo will give your photo a more concise and interesting concept.
  • Light – use natural light to your advantage, especially if you do not have artificial lighting. There are amazing opportunities to create striking portraits.
  • Shadows – Creating a shadow can add character, shape, dimension and drama. You can completely change the look of your portraits depending on where you allow the shadows and light to fall.

See top fine art portrait photography tips here.

Yerbury fine art portraits

Credit: Faye Yerbury

Nude fine art photography

Nude fine art photography is a niche of portrait photography and can be closely associated with boudoir photography.

Nude fine art portrait photography tips:

  • Experiment with different materials – Very soft organza, or silks of pastel tones, can add a new dimension to your pictures. Material can be wrapped around your model, used as a veil or encouraged to blow in the wind when it creates fluidity and movement when combined with slow shutter speeds.
  • Move your feet – Do not take multiple images from the same position. Walk around the model to get different looks. You may vary the height of the camera by standing on ladders or hills. Lying or kneeling on the ground will also provide a different perspective by making your model look taller.
  • Check out the location – Once you have chosen your spot, check what time of day the light will be best. Make sure you select the right model for the location, too. Think about skin tones, for example. Ensure the location is safe for everyone involved in the shoot.
  • Direct the model – Direct the model as much as possible, but make sure that they are comfortable with your ideas. When you are happy with what you’ve got, you can let your model add their own creative ideas. It’s important to respect your subject’s personal space, especially when working with someone new to you.
  • Hire a stylist – Consider using a hairstylist. They can make a good image a great one. They can also help with make-up. It can be an advantage to have a third person along to arrange materials in a particular way. Flimsy, floaty material slips off easily and a stylist or helper can fix things while you wait to shoot.

See top fine art nude photography tips here.

Nude fine art photography

Photo credit: Faye and Trevor Yerbury.

Landscape fine art photography

If you are choosing to use landscapes within your fine art photography, the first steps are to find connections, location and subject for your photographs. Consider the purpose of using your chosen landscape scene for your photo.

Fine art landscape photography tips:

  • Try using filters – Using an ND filters can help with long exposures or creating a sense of mood.
  • Capture the intimate – your fine art landscape photos don’t have to be wide-angle, grand vistas. Consider focussing on details of the landscape, which can reveal more in your narrative.
  • Sense of scale – create ambience and a sense of scale by including a person in your photo.
  • Change the aspect ratio – try photographing in portrait or square formats as well as landscape.
  • Don’t forget dull days – if it works for your concept don’t be discouraged by dull, cloudy days!  You can get great results with heavy clouds or mist. You can also try going with a minimal approach or converting to black and white.

See our fine art landscape photography guide here.

intentional camera movement yellow beach hut by the sea fine art photography

Try creative techniques, such as intentional camera movement or multiple exposures. Image: Jessica Miller, from the series ‘Topophilia’

Still life photography

What is still life photography?

Still life photography is the depiction of inanimate subjects. Your fine art photography could be made up of using arranged natural or manmade objects to form a still life.

Still life photography is a great way to challenge some of your photographic and camera skills. Composition, form, placement of objects within the frame, focus, depth of field, camera angle and lighting are all factors that will need to be considered.

You don’t need a studio; you can do this at home. Here are some tips for your still life shoot:

  • Plan your shoot – including the objects you use and make deliberate choices about the objects and where they are placed.
  • Think about styling – Aside from the arrangement of objects think about the styling and ‘look’ or mood of your photos. A great example is creating a still life of fruit, objects or flowers in the style of Dutch Masters.
  • Observe the light – if you don’t have any lighting, natural light is a great source. Experiment with placing your objects by a window. Observe shadows and direct sunlight and how this affects your photo.
  • Collect props – build up a collection of props that reflect on your theme. This will help if you want to create a series of images.

Claire Gillo shares how to take perfect still life photographs here.

See more of our best-ever landscape, portrait & still life photography tips here.

Bird in a glass case. The bird had been killed by a cat and the image preserves its beauty.

Bird in a glass case. The bird had been killed by a cat and the image preserves its beauty. 1/200sec at f/8, ISO 200. Image credit: Claire Gillo

Black and White Fine Art Photography

When it comes to shooting in this genre the subject matter can be of anything – and many like landscape and portraits work really well. The only stipulation for shooting a fine art black and white image, other than it being shot or processed with your artistic impression, is the image needs to be in black and white.

Here are some quick tips for your black and white fine art photography:

  • Fine art photography has no boundaries – so you can use whatever camera you like! Black and white works well in a variety of mediums, including film.
  • Dull misty conditions are perfect for black and white fine art photography. Look for something interesting in the foreground and capture a blend into the white mist.
  • Look for dramatic contrasting light.
  • Be experimental – you could even try adding a splash of colour within your photo.

Claire Gillo shares her guide to fine art black and white here.

Share your fine art photography work

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

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

See more competitions to enter here.

Examples of fine art photography

Here are some examples of fine art photography to help you build inspiration for your portfolio…

Jovana Rikalo

Jovana Rikalo is a fine art and portrait photographer from Serbia. Plus, she has a degree in law but diverted to a career in photography in 2013. Her dreamy and emotion-packed imagery, is often shot outdoors using soft, natural light.

Reka Nyari

After studying at art school, Reka Nyari started modelling and developed an interest in photography. Her fine art photography often explores traditional ideas of gender, beauty and sexuality with a hint of mischievousness, eroticism and empowerment through the art of tattoo.

Florian Ruiz

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

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

Student projects

Photography university graduates shared some great examples of fine art photography in their summer degree shows.

Aliz Kovacs-Zoldi

aliz kovacs reward fine art photography

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

Aliz Kovacs-Zoldi’s project The Journey Within was inspired by her personal experience during pandemic, and the mental health challenges faced.

‘I wanted to channel the experience of isolation, anxiety and how the care for plants helped me into my third-year project. Whilst researching I came across a theory called the hero’s journey. It explains that all hero myths and stories share the same stages regardless of their origins, and that these stages revolve perpetually. Significantly after reading about this theory I found that the challenges I faced in isolation echoed the stages 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

white flowers and stems flatlay with ink

Image: Zoe Ellen-Marie Jones

Birmingham City graduate, Zoe Ellen-Marie Jones used mixed media and inspiration from environmental photography for her project that addresses the severity of climate change. She told us, ‘Each of my photographs conveys change and devastation using a mixed media approach. Flowers and plants have been the main subjects of my work, and I’ve employed materials like water, inks, oils, and fire to alter their natural appearance.

By contrasting the plants and materials, I was able to juxtapose nature’s inherent beauty with the harm caused by climate change, emphasising the serious dilemma that the world is facing. Furthermore, these materials serve as metaphors for the very things that are causing havoc on the planet, such as ocean acidification & pollution, water pollution and oil spillages that can occur far too often.’

See more examples here:

Behind the scenes of Middlesex summer exhibition

Westminster graduates demonstrate resilience in degree show

Falmouth students share diverse techniques in Gweles exhibition

UWE students share first exhibition post-pandemic

Featured image: Misty conditions makes for great black and white fine art photography. Image credit: Claire Gillo

Related content:

Welcome to the AP Improve Your Photography Series – in partnership with MPB – This series is designed to take you from the beginnings of photography, introduce different shooting skills and styles, and teach you how to grow as a photographer, so you can enjoy producing amazing photography (and video), to take you to the next level, whether that’s making money or simply mastering your art form.

Find the latest Improve Your Photography articles here.

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