Fine art photography: what it is, how to do it, and the best examples.

Fine art photography is about using your camera as a paintbrush. An artistic approach makes fine art photography distinct from other photography types. Learn what fine art photography is and how to do it – with expert input from professional art photographers and academics.

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What you’ll learn:
 


What is fine art photography?

Fine art photography is about the artist and their vision, how they capture what they see and present it as a digital or physical print. It overlaps with landscape and portraiture, but it’s characterised by the approach an artist uses to create photos in a distinct way.
 

“Fine art photography is the intentional use of photography as your artistic medium of choice, used to further your conceptual idea.” 

– Professor and Photographer Ariel Wilson

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While the camera is an important tool, what really makes a photograph considered ‘fine art’ is the intention of the artist.

Unlike photojournalism or commercial photography, fine art photography is not about capturing a subject or documenting real life. While landscapes, people, nature elements and more may appear, they are not the specific focus or intention of the image.


“Fine art is an individual’s pursuit of a certain interest that isn’t commissioned or propelled by an external influence. There’s a conceptual difference when it comes to fine art.” 

– Photographer and Professor Adam Long


The definition of fine art photography has an element of subjectivity around it. However, usually fine art photos display feelings, emotions and the artist’s vision, which sets them apart from commercial photography.
 

Forms of fine art photography.


Fine art photography is an opportunity for artists to explore and communicate their ideas. The form this takes overlaps with many other photography types, with the resulting creations often landscapes, portraits, still life or abstract images.

Before you jump in and start shooting your own artistic photography, it’s important to study these styles, learn from the pros, and appreciate work within the genre. Exploring different forms of fine art photography can help you identify the kind you want to create.
 

Landscape photography.

Photo of a valley landscape

From historic landscape photographers like Ansel Adams to contemporary pros like Dan Tom, photographing landscapes often falls within the realm of fine art.

These artists communicate the truth of a scene and strive to share it with the world. Learn about environmental causes and the nature of the world within the work of landscape photographers.
 

Still life photography.

Portrait photo of bread on a plate next to an open lipstick container

Still life is a collection of inanimate objects arranged as the subject of a composition. There are countless famous still life paintings and photos in museums, while many modern examples often take the form of product photography.

Innovative photographers like Elise Mesner capture scenes that are unique and fanciful, transcending into fine art. Take a whimsical approach to create a distinctive voice and find a new perspective on that item.
 

Portrait photography.

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Portraiture can be a wonderful example of fine art. However, it doesn’t apply to all portrait photographs, such as headshots created for an actor or profile.

Portraits created with intention – like those by Justin Dingwall, or the work of the legendary Robert Mapplethorpe – strive to represent the world and communicate an attempt to understand it. People are drawn to looking at other people, so portraits and self-portraits are a wonderful opportunity to capture the experience of the human condition in an artistic form.
 

Nature photography.

sunset-at-a beach.

Nature photography covers a broad range, from shooting plants and animals to landscapes. It overlaps into fine art photography when the image aims to capture more beyond the physical subjects – whether it’s the mood, a feeling, or an artistic vision.

Many fine art nature photos blend colours and seasons, or have an abstract or distinctive take on natural landscapes.
 

Passion photography. 

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The forms of fine art photographs can vary greatly.

Whatever interests or passions you have, do some research and discover the famous work within those disciplines for fine photography inspiration. Learning from pros is an invaluable tool to better your skills, whether your passion is for: 
 

Adobe Creative Cloud for fine art photography students.

If you want to take your fine art photography skills to another level, you might be interested in Adobe Creative Cloud for students. Students and teachers can save up to 65% off the package – giving you access to apps like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign for less.
 

Learn more

Examples of fine art photography.

Placement of the models, their expressions, and use of black and white aims to express the emotional connection more than focusing on details of the physical subjects. 

This still life image is reminiscent of classic still life paintings, positioning real objects to reflect and replicate fine art values through photography. 

Contrasting colours in both models’ hair and clothes, alongside the flower and background – with their pale skin and closed eyes – all combine to conjure the photographer’s desired artistic effect.

Black and white is common in fine art photos. Here it helps focus on the elephants’ movements, capturing the moment and showing their togetherness as a family. 

The mist above the water and sun setting creates a wider image rather than narrowing focus on the pier. 

A slow shutter speed drags the motion of the waves into the sunset – a good example of landscape photography blending with fine art.

Black and white accentuates the symmetry and architectural shapes for a visually-pleasing shot of New York skyscrapers. Discover more about architecture photography

This staged photo adds mystery around the subject given her clothing, composition and expression, alongside the background – conveying an artistic theme which transcends the physical setup of the image. 

Adobe Creative Cloud for fine art photography students.

If you want to take your fine art photography skills to another level, you might be interested in Adobe Creative Cloud for students. Students and teachers can save up to 65% off the package – giving you access to apps like Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign for less.
 

Learn more

How to do fine art photography: tips from the experts.

 

Creating fine art photography can be broken down into a two-step process – taking the images and editing to perfection.

Before you head off with a camera and your own artistic vision, consider these tips and techniques from our expert photographers.

How to take fine art photos.

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Art may be subjective, but many of the same rules that make commercial and product photos successful also apply to fine art photography. Having a clear plan, the right tools and settings, and understanding how they affect your final images, will help you create captivating fine art photographs.
 

Define your vision.
 

The best fine art occurs when an artist explores a subject they are passionate about. Decide what ideas you want to pursue and explore – you will probably find it easier to create worthwhile work when those ideas are important to you. This can streamline your vision, identifying key photography areas your work will relate to – such as street, nature or fashion photography.

Creating an artist statement may help your journey as a fine art photographer. It doesn’t have to be long – just an explanation of your idea and how these photos will reflect them. This can help define your project before you begin and guide your journey as a fine art photographer.
 

“Great fine art photos often have three things. They have an aesthetic draw and are visually appealing, are well constructed and crafted and have some form of conceptual engagement.” 

– Ariel Wilson

 


Composition and perspective.

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Try photographing a mundane object 100 times to see the different perspectives and visuals you can create. While 95 per cent of them may be useless, you’ll better understand your tools and might end up with a few striking images.

If you enjoy shooting in colour, try shooting black-and-white photographs for a change. It may sound like a cliché, but removing colour reduces distractions, so the focus is on the message of the image. Mixing up the way you create photos can help elevate your ideas to find a new perspective.
 

“Focus on compelling content that pulls the viewer in, really good composition and beautiful light.” 

– Photographer and Teacher Tina Tryforos



Camera settings for fine art photos.

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To create impactful fine art photos, you need to understand the tools at your disposal. Get a handle on how to use your camera and test out different settings. Some of the key camera settings to use and understand include:
 

  • Depth of field. This is the area in focus from the point nearest and furthest from the camera. Aperture size, lens type and focal distance all affect depth of field. This can create a limited area of focus that enables you to create truly striking images. There’s no ideal depth of field when taking fine art photos – it depends on your artistic vision – so it is worth experimenting with.

o   Shallow depth of field brings the subject into focus, blurring the background and commonly used for portrait-style fine art photos.

o   Deep depth of field captures a large area and keeps most of the image clean and clear, good for black and white images, and landscapes.
 

  • Focal length. Your camera lens determines the focal length. Given the range of fine art photography, the correct length is up to you. Wide-angle lenses or a 50mm lens are great for shooting subjects close up, while zoom or telephoto lenses with a longer focal length are suitable when the subject is further away. Experiment with focal lengths and perspectives to achieve your vision.
     
  • Shutter speed. When capturing movement in your fine art photos, selecting the right shutter speed is vital. Scenes where subjects are in motion – such as people, animals, vehicles and nature – can be altered to add an artistic touch. Again, manually switching speeds as you shoot is a great way to see what works for you, depending on how you want to represent movement.

o   Fast shutter speed. Freeze subjects with shutter speeds of 1/1000th of a second and faster. This should provide a clear image of a subject, which can be effective capturing those rarely seen standing still.

o   Slow shutter speed. From 1/100th of a second and slower, you can capture movement of slower subjects or use it to add motion blur. When shooting moving water or the impact of wind, it can create an artistic flair. 
 

How to edit fine art photos.

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Once you’ve snapped some high art photography, you might need to provide a few finishing touches. Editing can refine your work and bring out your artistic aims.
 

Post-processing fine art photos.
 

You don’t need to capture your image perfectly in the first instance. Post-processing tools like Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom can help transform and elevate your image. With these you can edit images by adjusting colours, contrast, tone, balance and more to reach the desired result. Understand when to use Lightroom vs Photoshop.
 

“Use any means necessary to get your point across.” 

– Adam Long


Convert colours.

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Changing your colour images into black and white is a common part of the fine art photography editing process. You can do this in post by using both Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom. The ability to manipulate individual colour values can help you achieve your desired tone.

Adjust the tonal balance, add and edit layers by manipulating curves, shadows and more. Practise using different settings to see the impact and understand what works for your fine art images – it can depend on the subject, focus, and artistic direction. 
 

Remove errors. 
 

Watch out for colour distortions and chromatic aberrations that may appear during the edit. In some cases, these can add an artistic edge. But if you want to remove them you can do so within Lightroom. 
 

History of fine art photography.

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Like the definition of fine art photography, the history of the style isn’t crystal clear. After the first photographs emerged in the 1820s, there is evidence of fine art photos developing throughout the Victorian era. It’s generally viewed that the genre only really broke through in the latter half of the 20th century. 
 

Fine art photography timeline.
 

  • 1851 – John Edwin Mayall exhibits daguerreotypes, illustrating The Lord’s Prayer as an early form of fine art photos.

  • 1858 – South Kensington Museum (now the Victoria and Albert Museum) hosts the world’s first major photography exhibition in London.

  • 1891 – The International Exhibition of Art Photographers in Vienna sees more than 4,000 photo submissions and 600 pieces exhibited in the Imperial and Royal Austrian Museum of Arts and Manufactures.

  • 1940 – New York’s Museum of Modern Art establishes a department of photography and appoints Beaumont Newhall as its curator – a cornerstone for photography as an artform.

  • 1961 – Dr S. D. Jouhar founds the Photographic Fine Art Association.

  • 1970s – Robert Mapplethorpe and Robert Farber breakout as fine art photographers, covering various subjects.

  • 1980s – Further breakthroughs see Sally Mann, Cindy Sherman and more emerge as fine art photography stars with renowned books and series.

  • 2000s to present – Technological trends, digital photography and printing improvements push fine art photography in a new direction. Collectors’ interest grows with limited edition prints and book volumes. In 2004 it was estimated 7,000 photographs were sold in auctions alone, demonstrating its place as an artform.

Adobe’s fine art photography partners.


The following expert fine art photographers contributed to this guide.

  • Ariel Wilson is an artist, photographer and lecturer of photography living in Dallas, Texas. Her work has been exhibited internationally. See Ariel’s work.
     
  • Adam Long teaches photography in Oregon and has exhibited his own work with a focus on landscape and nature photography across the world. See Adam’s work.
     
  • Tina Tryforo is a photographer, bookmaker and educator from New York who teaches photography and digital art in Rhode Island. See Tina’s work.

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