Creating something new is the most important ingredient in making art. But we can’t create something new when we’re just capturing a scene in reality. The trick is to bring an artistic concept to your photographs.
As my grandfather was a painter from the homeland in Austria and an art teacher, I have studied a lot of paintings since I was a child. My latest video gives you a glimpse of how I see fine art photography through my eyes. This gives you a good starting point to get started in fine art photography as it reveals the different basic concepts but also how I decide between them and how much editing is possible without over-editing in each photographic concept.
The concept of realistic photography
We live in the real world. So every time we capture a scene, in reality, we are just getting a reality capture. This fact makes it quite difficult to create art, and even in painting it is easier to create art in a realistic style. The artist always creates something new on his canvas, whereas capturing reality with a camera doesn’t create something new, which in most cases does not lead to art. Realistic photography is well used for reportage photography, for example. And the goal here is simply to indicate the reality in the photographs as well as possible, which does not allow too much retouching. Reportage photographers might even lose their jobs if they edited their images like we do in fine art photography. So while reportage photographers should stick to reality, fine art photographers should look at concepts that stray a little further from reality.
The concept of expressionist photography
Let’s take the first small step away from reality and into fine art photography. The photo above, of the Bridge of Sighs in Venice, is not the best photo I have ever taken. But that makes it a pretty strong example here, because it’s already art just by its composition and the story it tells. Let’s see why this is the case:
Travelers who visit Venice know that there is a prison right next to the bridge, where only the worst criminals we have locked up – for life. When they were imprisoned, they had to cross the Bridge of Sighs, making it the last place in their lives to see sunlight. This image shows more or less the same vision of how prisoners, hundreds of years ago, would have perceived the last sun of their lives. That’s why I decided to take this shot at sunset, where you can see the last rays of the sun on the houses in the distance. And that’s ultimately also the reason why I chose the title “Last Sunlight”.
Expressionist photography would allow me to edit in a way that strays from reality, although I didn’t have to edit too much in this case. Art has already been created by the relationship between the elements of my composition: the prison, the Bridge of Sighs, the last sun in the distance, and the facts of history – the history that holds them all together. I simply expressed the inner values of the elements. This is what expressionist fine art photography is: expressing the inner values of a story. I just expressed what was already there. So the next time you shoot: think if there are any inner values in the elements of your scene that should be expressed. These may be different, but sometimes it is just one point of light and historical fact.
The concept of impressionist photography
I am a photographer, passionate about nature and lover of landscapes. It makes me see things that are often totally different from reality. This is simply the behavior of lovers: they see the world through rose-tinted glasses. So if we want to even move away from reality a bit further, if we don’t even care about reality anymore, an impressionistic concept is our friend.
While Expressionism is about the inner values of a scene, Impressionism is about the subjective perception of the artist. In the picture above you see this pretty chapel with this tree. As a tree is a symbol of life and in a broader sense, a chapel or a church could be associated with deceased people, I wanted to tell this story between life and death, good and evil. The weather was always changing between sunlight and rain that day, so I decided to accentuate this weather contrast by reinforcing the dark sky on the right side, as well as the sunlight, hitting the grasses. The light path up to the chapel even adds to the whole story, as it shows something like: “stay on the right path and be enlightened”.
There are almost no limits in editing for impressionist photography. While this shouldn’t be the primary focus, it’s also not a problem if your Impressionist fine art photograph looks like a painting. I did a lot of retouching on this image, but it is not overcome, as it shows the subjective perception of the artist – me, in this case. And that makes an image an impressionist art photograph. So when you shoot next time and you are overwhelmed with emotions: think about how you can bring those emotions, perhaps by conveying a special vibe with your image, a vibe that matches the story being told. your image.
The concept of surreal photography
Ready to step away from reality even further? Ready for the opposite clear of reality? Surrealist photography is one of my favorite artistic concepts in photography. This usually leads to the strongest images for me, but to be honest it’s also the most difficult concept of all. The problem is obvious: we live in the real world. So how do you photograph a surreal scene in our real world? It is simply not possible.
The trick is to look for surreal stories instead. It is like looking at the sky and not seeing clouds, but rather different figures. As I took the photo above, I saw a mountain rise and break through the clouds. This is why the title of the image is “Birth of a Mountain”. The mountain did not rise. We are living in reality. It was only the clouds that started to dissipate. But through my eyes it looked like the mountain was going to rise. And that was the illusion that I wanted to bring to my image.
In surrealist photography, we no longer have any limit to the editing. Surrealist fine art photography is all about telling a surreal story in our real world. I just wouldn’t add things that weren’t there. It could be great art too, but for me that’s where the photography ends and the composition begins. Do not mistake yourself. There’s nothing wrong with composing, it’s just the border I drew for myself. So when you shoot next time and see a surreal story, like figures in the clouds: think about how you can tell that story by arranging all the elements of your composition in a way that supports them. Mood can also be a very good storyteller.
It’s not just about editing
Ambience is an important thing in fine art photography because it helps support the story and evoke emotions. What’s interesting is that I’m often asked what filters you need, to create fine art photographs, to bring mood to photos. But it’s not all about editing, and I don’t use artistic filters. Sometimes it’s just the right light, as you can see in the image above. The version on the left was only a test shot a few hours ago in flat light, while the right was my last exposure with the right light, supporting my story of “And There Was Light”, which is also the title of this image. Finally, it is history that makes an image of art.
Many more details, examples and tips on how to get started with fine art photography are revealed in the video above.