Blog Gallery: 10 Examples Of Fine Art Photography - May 2020

If you look at photography on the internet, as I do, you will run across many questions around the topic of fine art photography. What is a fine arts photographer? What is the differece between a snapshot and a work of art worthy of hanging on your wall? What is the role of composition and color in fine art photography?

In this in-depth guide, I will compare 10 pairs of photographs. For each pair I will show one snapshot such as might be taken by a non-photographer and one fine art photograph worthy of display. By reviewing these fine art photography examples and reading the explanations, you will start to understand what is fine art photography and how fine art photographers create compelling images.

This will help you to discern if the products for sale in a photogrpahy gallery are truly fine art, or if you just want to use the photography tips below to improve your own image making.


Note my favorite images are for sale as luxury fine art prints (sublimated aluminum metal and Lumachrome acrylic wall art) on my online photography gallery that you can access here.

You can also purchase directly from this page by clicking the 'Prints Available' link under the available images.


horse, snapshot, Santa Fe, New Mexico, photo

horse snapshot

This image is a snapshot of a horse on a small ranch outside of Santa Fe, New Mexico run by the My Little Horse Listener non-profit. Note the distracting background and lack of overall composition or color harmony. A distracting background will pull the viewer's eye away from the main subject (the horse) and onto the items behind him that add no value to the composition. Also, having the subject placed in the center of the image is not as appealing as being off to one side or the other as discussed below.

image of a horse, horse eye, close up image, ranch, Santa Fe, New Mexico, southwest USA, blue eye, white horse, compelling image, photogenic, photo

horse eye to eye

Contrast the previous image to this one of another horse on the same ranch in Santa Fe, and you will see that the differences are striking. This fine art photograph effectively uses a clean background, good composition, and color to create a compelling image.

Notice that in this image, the focus is only on the horse and his eye, and the subject becomes the blue eye to the white background of the horse himself. There are no distractions in the background pulling the viewer away from the main subject. In photography, the background is as important, if not more important, than the subject. This ensures that the viewer is captivated by the image as intended by its creator, and it is essential to crafting a work of art.

Composition in photography is critical to making it fine art rather than just another snapshot. This image uses the traditional 'rule of thirds'. In this case the subject, the blue eye, is placed 1/3 from the right of the picture instead of in the center. It was discovered by artists long ago that placing the subject in a work of art a bit off to the side creates some visual tension, which serves to make the image more interesting to the viewer, compared with placing it directly in the center.

Finally, the third main change between the images is the use of color. It is still possible to make a striking image of a brown horse with a brown eye using the background and composition techniques above, but a blue eye on a white horse is even more striking. My mentor, Bryan Peterson, has told me several times that a photographer can go out looking to make compelling images based solely on color, and he has a book out on color in photography attesting to that fact. Check out some of his images on Instagram by clicking on his name above, and I think you will agree that color is critical to fine art photography.

snapshot, silverback gorilla, mountain gorilla, Uganda, photo

silverback gorilla snapshot

This image is of a silverback mountain gorilla taken in Bwindi Impenetrable Forrest National Park in Uganda. Although it is always fascinating to see pictures of rare animals in the wild, this snapshot does not use the elements of design to creat a fine art photograph. One of the main topics I want to cover with this exampe is of 'filling the frame.'

image of silverback gorilla, Bwindi Impenetrable Forrest National Park, Uganda, Africa, habituation tour, trekking experience, African animals, silverback gorilla, photo

image of silverback gorilla

In this fine art portrait of the same silverback gorilla, notice the difference in emphasis on the subject. By either physically getting closer or by using a large telephoto lens to get closer optically (the safer option for dangerous wildlife), the fine art photographer can again remove distractions and ensure the viewer focuses primarily on the subject. By filling the entire frame of the image with the gorilla, the viewer is not distracted and feels an intimate connection with the animal. It is in making this connection that separates a fine arts photographer from a normal one.

I recently wrote a photo blog about my safari in Uganda that you can read here if you want to see more shots of that awesome trip including elephants, chimpanzees, hippos, volcanoes, and more.

snapshot, peacock, Austin, Texas, photo

peacock snapshot

Most images taken of peacocks look something like this snapshot, or worse not filling the frame with space around the outside of the tail feathers and a distracting background. There is no eye contact, no connection to the animal, and the overall image is not a compelling work of fine art.

image of peacock, Austin, Texas, Mayfield Park, telephoto lens, staring into your soul, photo

image of peacock

Contrast the snapshot with the second photograph, and I hope you will agree the second image is much more captivating. This fine art photograph uses eye contact, in addition to the rule of thirds composition and filling the frame, to creat a stunning visual. When photographing wildlife for fine art photography, it is critical to establish a connection between the animal filmed and the viewer of the image. There is no better way to do this than through eye contact. The eyes should be clear, and in focus, even if other parts of the animal are not.

The composition here also uses the 'rule of thirds' to generate some tension in the mind of the viewer. By placing the head of the peacock off-center, this helps to eyes to wander the image from left to right and focus on the eyes, locking in the connection between the viewer and the subject. Also, the frame is completely full of the peacock and his feathers, leaving no room for distractions.

snapshot, mountain landscape, Dinosaur National Monument, Utah, photo

Mountain Landscape Snapshot

Above is a landscape photograph from Dinosaur National Monument in Utah. There is a river running from the bottom right into the image, and mountains in the background - pleasant, but not an outstanding work of art. Below we will see how to take it to the next level.

landscape, Dinosaur National Monument, Utah, nature scene, USA, photo

Twisted Tree and Mountains

In this example of fine art photography, taken at the same location, a foreground subject is used to get in your face and pull the viewer into the landscape, taking a pleasant scene to the next level as a fine art photograph. Pictures are two dimensional renderings of three dimensional objects, so the photographer has to use some 'tricks' to get the viewer's mind to see the image as 3D.

One common composition technique in landscape photography is to use a foreground subject. In this image, the dead and twisted tree becomes an integral part of the scene. It helps lead the viewer from the foreground tree to the mountains in the background and back again, giving the appearance of distance in what is actually a flat surface. This engagement of the viewer is one key element of fine art photography.

Also note the point of view, how you are looking from the level of the tree itself instead of from eye level. Most snapshots are taken while standing, but fine art photographers know that it is almost always better to find a different view point, such as down low in the image here. Being low and getting very close to the dead tree brings the viewer into the image, so they can feel as if they are there themselves. Fine art photography should always leave the viewer feeling something special.

snapshot, tree farm, Inle Lake, Myanmar, photo

tree farm snapshot

This image is of a tree farm near Inle Lake in Myanmar. Since the trees are planted, they form a nice pattern, which helps this snapshot to not be completely borring. But as you will see below, changing the point of view can transform this pleasant but unexciting image into a work of fine art.

trees, Inle Lake, Myanmar, Asia, lumber, starburst, tree farm, photo

Starburst in the Trees

This image is of the same trees as in the snapshot above. The three main elements on display in this fine art photograph are point of view, pattern, and leading lines. Together they make this an image worth hanging on your wall.

Rather than the typical eye-level shot seen in the first image, this one takes a different point of view, with the viewer laying down on their back looking up at the trees and sun (made into a starburst). This different perspective transforms how we see these trees, and makes you feel as if you are in the forrest.

The pattern of the trees, which were in nice rows, creates a calming effect as the reader can predict what is going on outside of the frame, making it easy to imagine laying in the woods. Only the starburst of the sun breaks the pattern, creating some visual tension to keep the viewer engaged.

Finally, the way the trees start from the edge of the image and then move towards the center, called 'leading lines' in art, helps the viewer feel the missing third dimension from the otherwise flat image. Being able to follow the lines of the trees up to the sky again works to keep the viewer interested and helps to make this an example of fine art photography.

snapshot, waterfall, Malanje, Angola, Kalandula Waterfall, photo

waterfall snapshot

In the snaphot above, you can see the Kalandula waterfall in central Angola. This image is not particularly interesting and does not take advantage of some of the basic techniques of fine art photography, especially when filming flowing water as you will see below.

Kalandula Waterfall, Luanda, Angola, Africa, natural beauty, relaxing, photo

Waterfall

In contrast, the above image is an example of fine art photography using both the 'fill the frame' composition technique as well as a long exposure to capture the movement of the flowing water.

As discussed previously, it is important to fill the frame in fine art photography. You want to leave the viewer with no doubt about the subject of your composition. Here, the focus is only on the waterfall and the flowing water, eliminating the surrounding trees, rocks, and sky that can distract the viewer.

In addition, a slow shutter speed is used to get a soft, 'cotton candy' effect from the flowing water. This is pleasing to the viewer and works much better for fine art photography than the hard edges of flowing water stopped by a fast shutter speed as seen in the first image.

Photography tip - to get this 'cotton candy' effect, you need a tripod and a shutter speed of at least 1/2 second. This will make your flowing water silky smooth and pleasing to the viewer; of course the tripod is needed to hold the camera steady for long exposures, ensuring that the resulting image is still sharp.

snapshot, sand dune, Sussousvlei park, Namibia, photo

Sossusvlei snapshot

This image of a large sand dune was taken at the Sossusvlei park in the Namib desert in Namibia, a country in south west Afirca. The tree shows the scale of the sand dune, some of which reach 1000 ft tall! This image is a snapshot because it does not use good light (shot mid-day) or any elements of design, giving a rather bland version of the giant dune.

Sossusvlei, Namibia, Africa, sand dunes, light and shadow, famous photographer, Art Wolfe, sunrise, Namib desert, Dead Vlei, photo

Namib desert dunes

The main point I want to illustrate with this set of images is the use of light. This example of fine art photography was shot early morning of another dune in the same park, when the sun was still low on the horizon, known as the golden hour. That had the usual effect of casting everything in a golden glow, but in this case as the crest of the dune runs north to south, it also had the effect of casiting one side of the sand dune in the light while leaving the other side in shadow. This makes for a prounced leading line that starts in the bottom left of the image and snakes its way across, bringing the eye of the reader along. I first saw an image like this taken from the famous photographer Art Wolfe.

I recently wrote a photo blog about my Namibia safari that you can read here to see more images taken on this incredible journey including desert landscapes, wild horses, lions, elephants, leopards, and more.

snapshot, prayer flags, Tiger Nest temple, Paro, Bhutan, photo

Tiger Nest Snapshot

In the snapshot above, of the Tiger Nest Temple in Bhutan, there is little of interest to the viewer. The temple is small, seeming far away, and the composition of the foreground does not draw you into the image.

image, Tiger Nest Temple, Paro, Bhutan, Asia, prayer flags, valley, hike, mountain temple, photo

mountain temple with prayer flags

Contrast the snapshot above with this fine art photograph that uses both composition and color effectively. Here the temple is much more visible and becomes an obvious part of the overall composition, placed in the top left of the image using the 'rule of thirds' discussed above. Also, the prayer flags have now been positioned such that they add a colorful and interesting out-of-focus foregound interest to bring the viewer into the frame, as well as to frame the temple itself. This composition techinque is called 'framing within a frame' where something in the foreground is used to frame the main subject, creating a compelling arrangement that draws the eye of the viewer from the foreground to the subject.

If you want to read my photo blog of my trip through Bhutan to see more of the people and temples of this Land of the Thunder Dragon, please click here.

snapshot, monks, Thimphu, Bhutan, photo

monks snapshot

Here is another snapshot from Bhutan, this time at a Buddhist school outside the capital, Thimphu, where apprentice monks study. This image does not have an obvious subject, and there is little of interest to bring the viewer into the scene.

buddhist monastery, Thimphu, Bhutan, Asia, monk, student, shoes, prayer hall, photography tip, monastery for monks, monk image, photo

Monk image walking

Contrast the snapshot above with this fine art photograph, and you can see a striking difference. The second image has one strong subject, and there is no question what the viewer should look at. The composition in this photograph uses the 'rule of thirds' to place the subject (monks feet and robes) off to the right, and the pattern of all the empty shoes helps make the background more interesting. Also, with all of the empty shoes facing one direction, and the monk walking in the opposite direction, a contrast is created, which adds tension to the image, engaging the viewer. A similar image of only the pattern of the shoes shoes, without the tension of the monk walking the opposite direction, would not be as interesting.

If you want to read my photo blog of my trip through Bhutan to see more of the people and temples of this Land of the Thunder Dragon, please click here.

snapshot, fishermen, Mandalay, Myanmar, photo

fisherman snapshot

Above is a smiple snapshot of two fisherman on a lake in Mandalay, Myanmar. The image is plain and has no strong artistic qualities to make it a work of art.

lake, Mandalay, dawn, Myanmar, Asia, boat, fisherman, net, sun, sunrise, travel images, silhouette, photo

Fisherman Throwing Net

In contrast, this exmpale of fine art photography uses several effective elements of design to create an image worthy of display. In addition to better composition, this image uses light and form to generate interest from the viewer. The photograph was taken at sunrise, leading to beautiful colors and good quality light. I used an FLW filter on the camera to enhance the natural pink/purple glow of the sky, something I often do for sunrise or sunset photography. Also, placing the subject in front of the much brighter sun creates a silhouette, which reduces the fisherman and his net to a colorless form. This creates interest because it allows the viewer to wonder a bit about what they are looking at, keeping them engaged as their eyes scan the subject for clues as to their nature.

That concludes this in-depth guide comparing 10 examples of fine art photography with their snapshot equivialents. I hope that you find this guide helpful in demonstrating how fine art photographers create works of art. Light, exposure, composition, color, and other elements of design are consciously used to creat fine art photographs that can be sold in photograpy galleries or online. Next time you see a beautiful photograph, you will better be able to understand why it captures your attention, and maybe you will better be able to choose a work of art to hang on your wall at home.

If you like the fine art photographs above, take a look at my online photography gallery here to see the beautiful fine art images and amazing products that we offer. You will find fine art photography of wildlife, nature, abstracts, and travel.

What do you think of fine art photography? Leave a comment below to let me know.


Note my favorite images are for sale as luxury fine art prints (sublimated aluminum metal and Lumachrome acrylic wall art) on my online photography gallery that you can access here.

You can also purchase directly from this page by clicking the 'Prints Available' link under the available images.


Posted in Travel, Wildlife, Africa, Asia.

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