Why It Is So Difficult to Judge A Fine Art Photograph

Judging or evaluating a fine art photograph is difficult. While it is possible to establish a scale of values or levels to determine a value, the criteria remain subjective. A photo will always be debated upon by individuals of differing opinions.

Photographie artistique d'un arbre au Kenya.
Fine Art Photograph of a Tree in Kenya.

Two Levels to Judge

To evaluate a fine art photograph, I stand by two possible levels:

  • The message and the content are both a rational and an emotional interpretation.
  • The level of the conception that is based on all photo techniques: framing, composition, balance, colors, contrasts, geometric shapes, etc.

To judge an artistic photograph, an observer does not refer to its aesthetic qualities but to the information it contains and whether the photograph is interesting. It is remarkable that the content of an image remains identifiable despite bad technique.

The technique itself is only intended to support the process of identification. The techniques of designing a photo are only intended to improve the reading of the message and content.

The Photographer and The Observer

Knowing the photographic grammar not only allows a photographer to judge photos in an enlightened way, but it also allows one to produce quality photographs. The application of the rules themselves must not become an end in this process.

The photographer must not be enslaved by the photographic grammar and rules during shooting. He must be focused and entirely devoted to the shooting itself, to the enhancement of the current photographic elements as well as to their content. Rules must not even enter his subconscious, as they are unimportant in this stage.

For the observer of a photograph, the recognition of the content and the reaction that it provokes are the most important part of the experiment.

The quality of the composition favors this process and sometimes makes it very pleasant. Sometimes certain elements of composition are so dominant that they disturb the observer's perception. For example, a focus point is one of these dominant or disruptive elements. In a composition, the point is a photographic element that is small, tiny. It is distinguished by its light, its contrast in the scene, its color. The point is static. It shows no tendency to move in a photo. A single point occupies a preponderant place in an image: it dominates the composition.

Creativity is Crucial

If a rigorous design quality helps to enhance the message or content of a photo, then a good dose of creativity is essential to produce quality content.

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The photographer's creativity is expressed through the content, the message, and the design of each photograph.

At the time of the shooting, the photographer must dwell on the content and its message so that it might captivate an observer.

It is a bit like being present as a central character in a book. When you read a book, you are passionate about the story because of the content and the message delivered by the author. You will focus on the conceptual side, paying attention to the spelling, grammar, paragraphs and chapters.

The Construction of a Photograph

To build a fine art photograph, the photographer must use reinforcement elements such as the point, visual lines, surfaces, details and structures. These things must be able to be spotted by the viewer.

The photographer must also consider the visual balance between objects.

He must take care of the original plan or sketch, as it is a material surface intended to carry out the ideas of the photographic work. It reminds the photographer of certain tonal and color values which are assigned to certain (or all) parts of the photographic scene. It may contain the background or a certain shape.

The photographer must manage his negative space and his positive space. The negative space is what supports the visual impact of the positive space, which consists of the points of interest in the image.


Judging a fine art photograph is not an easy exercise. A photographer must practice again and again with certain concepts and messages in mind. He must learn the grammar of the language of photography. When he becomes a good judge, he will become a good photographer. It is a long but rewarding process.

Be humble, patient, constant, persevering, and persistent because the road to excellence is long.


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