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the f stops here: the myth of fine art photography



In 2010 (the most recent year for which statistics are available), 139,500 photographers plied their trade in the United States. Presumably, this number doesn't include hobbyists that occasionally shoot for pay, or photographers running “businesses” that fly under the legal radar. The actual number of photographers taking pictures for profit is probably much higher.

With those numbers in mind, here's a very serious question:

How many of those photographers are producing what could be considered fine art?

Our industry is flooded with picture takers marketing themselves as fine art photographers. That phrase--”fine art photographer”--gets bandied about in our world, just like the terms “boutique,” “vintage,” and “unique.”

Not everyone wants to be a fine art photographer. But for those striving to get there, we'd like to share a few thoughts about putting the artistry back into fine art photography.

For photography to be fine art, it must have vision and value. In other words, a fine art image transcends a snapshot, and has worth to spectators beyond just the client that purchased it. Fine art photographs have meaning and magic and mystery, and are equally at home in a gallery or on a living room wall (even if the people in the photograph don't live there). Fine art photographs evoke an idea, or an ideal, rather than simply capturing a moment. This is not to say that family and wedding portraiture cannot rise to the level of fine art; of course they can. But not all family and wedding portraiture is fine art, even if it is marketed as such.

Fine art photographers aim to make images, not just take them. And therein lies a huge difference. We are reminded of the western art tradition of master painters commissioned to create portraits, of their attempts to capture the essence of their subjects, and to distill that essence into something more universal, like joy or grief or power.

So we ask: isn't it worth using the term “fine art” as more than just a marketing ploy? Fine art photographers hone their skills by displaying their work in galleries, in industry publications or by entering their work into shows and competitions. These tasks are not easy, nor should they be. The goals of vision and value are noble ones, and accordingly, hard to achieve.

But when some of us refine our craft, all of us benefit. Standards are raised, clients become more discerning, and the value of our work (when it is done well, with care and intention) increases. As the saying goes: a rising tide lifts all boats. Somewhere, there's a fine art photograph of that.

~ The F Stops Here is an exclusive collection of articles by Design Aglow, designed to be used and shared by photographers. Look for this column twice monthly here on the Design Aglow Blog and feel free to grab & share on your site, blog and/or social media pages with a byline and link to DesignAglow.com.


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