Why Create Fine Art (Artistic) Photographs – Part 1

Defining art photography (fine art photography) is complex and difficult. For years, we have been trying to express ourselves as photographic artists, and through this process we have gained certain certainties about this artistic discipline, which we will share in this article.

We also think it is important to share our thoughts because this is what we have been doing for several years during our photography workshops.

This photograph was created for the collection 'Musical notes on water'.
This photograph was created for the collection 'Musical notes on water'.

An Art Photograph is Created to be an Artistic Work

To create an artistic photograph, the photographer must consider himself to be an artist by taking control of the creative process. In this article, we have already explained that, for us, photography should be considered to be an artistic discipline.

Making an art photograph requires a special creative approach that remains strictly separate from documentary photography.

Indeed, creating an art photograph goes well beyond the representation of a scene. It does not have to account for reality. Most importantly, an artistic photograph is an image that shares a photographic vision an artistic approach that always sends a contemplative message to its viewer. The situation can also be described as a metaphor.

The photographer is completely involved in this process. The scene he chooses is merely an excuse to portray his emotions and feelings.

Art Photography is not “Just” a Documentary

An artistic photograph is not “just” a documentary. We use the word “just” as it is very important—we use it with a special purpose. Indeed, for us, art photography can be approached from a documentary perspective, where the photographer equips certain means during a shoot or during post-processing to beautify an image while maintaining his interpretation of the scene. He can also use an easily recognizable scene to create a metaphor or a parable highlighting the photograph’s purpose.

But what is documentary photography? It is a photographic discipline that is both factual and descriptive. It does not need to be aesthetic. The purpose of a documentary photograph is to illustrate a magazine article, a book, or to serve as a legal document for administrative papers.

This type of photography is not intended to create a parable, a metaphor, or to transmit a message. Above all, it is a descriptive snapshot. A documentary photograph is a testimony to a fact.

The technical evaluation criteria are simple. A documentary photo must:

  • Have the subject(s) presented in sharp composition.
  • Expose the central theme accurately.
  • Manage colors smoothly.
  • Have a strong contrast.

For example, it should not have overexposed or underexposed areas because key details could be lost, and the factual aspect would be called into question.

For example, documentary photography is intended for researchers because it has the value of testimony over time.

In a documentary photograph, the photographer must not engage from an emotional point of view or express an opinion of the scene that is photographed. A rule of thumb is that the photographer must be absent from the scene. His beliefs and his opinions should not be reflected or expressed either implicitly or explicitly. The photographer must be totally neutral, as if his presence never existed.

To expand this reasoning further, a documentary photograph could be taken by a totally autonomous camera that would take pictures automatically.

An artistic photograph pursues completely opposite goals. It depicts a scene that is detached from reality. It does not have to account for what the people on the scene have seen, as it is only a personal interpretation of reality.

It must show the artistic vision (the artistic approach) of the photographer, who should be completely immersed in the creative process of the work. This reasoning goes so far that one will be able to recognize the brand and style of the photographer.

When an artist photographer reaches this stage of creativity, he is in the prime of his art profession. When creating an artistic photo, the photographer weaves his passion and soul into his work, metaphorically speaking. Indeed, he must be present in the picture even if we do not see him. An audience must be able to guess that someone is behind the viewfinder. As we have described in this article, in general, art is a means for a person to express his personality, to show his vision of the world and his source of inspiration. This is what it means to be an artist.

Being an artist is to share one’s perspective of the world by interpreting reality.

If we follow this principle, fine art photography is a way to share a photographer's vision with an audience. It is for this reason that an artistic photograph is completely different from a documentary photograph because it reflects the expression of an artist who is a photographer. But an art photograph can have documentary bases. By post processing the photo, a photographer gives artistic relief by transforming the subject into a medium of black and white or by saturating the colors, or perhaps by changing the depth of the field. These transformation tools are infinite. Power lies within the photographer's imagination, and only he can limit himself.

An Art Photography is Always Processed

As we said before, an art photograph is an interpretation of the real world by a photographer. The transformation tools to manipulate reality are mostly installed computer software. As we will see in a future article, the use of computer tools allows the artist to translate an image into an artistic photo. Processing reinforces the artistic approach or the photographic vision of a photographer by illuminating key points.

The goal of this conversion is to allow the artist to always produce works that can be recognized and attributed to him at a glance. It takes years to achieve this result. This is the ultimate achievement for an artist: to be recognized by his style. It is a constant task. It is incessant, meticulous, difficult, and delicate, because the photographer must first discover his own personal style and affirm it before incorporating it into each work that is produced. To isolate one’s particular style is the most complex stage for an artist to fulfill. Again, the word “artist” is used in a general sense.

Mastering computer tools is not a guarantee of producing quality art photographs. Certainly, it is the artistic work itself that determines its success. The photograph alone must interpret reality. Computer techniques illuminate certain aspects but are not a sufficient condition to be considered as a quality artistic approach.

An artist photographer who uses software to transform reality must do so by being consistent from one photo to another. His style must be visible, identifiable, and clear for all individuals who will look at the photos. For us, it is certainly the most difficult stage. This Holy Grail is difficult to attain.

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