What is Fine Art Photography and Do You Pursue Art?

What is Fine Art Photography and Do You Pursue Art?

Before taking on the definition of "fine art photography," perhaps we would be wise to consider Einstein's words: "Whoever undertakes to set himself up as a judge of Truth and Knowledge is shipwrecked by the laughter of the gods." Having said that, pretty much every single photographer oft considers their work and career in the context of "fine art."

It has been said that success in photography accrues to the degree a photographer becomes known for their own signature "style"--their own "voice" or "art." And thus, many attribute success in photography to one's ability to exalt fine art. Others argue that success is more about marketing, following fashions, and "serving the client." The ultimate truth is likely that success derives from a combination of all these elements, which varies for each individual photographer. But while marketing without art has time against it, art without marketing at least has time on its side. Unfortunately, even with time on their side, sometimes recognition takes a bit too long for even the greatest artists, as in the case of Vincent van Gogh and Herman Melville, who perished penniless and relatively unknown.

Are there absolute metrics for art? Are there rules of composition, or just guidelines? Do the rules of art change over time, or do they stay the same, while some eras drift away from the classical rules into decadence? Are the rules meant to be broken? Does art mostly inspire an emotional, intellectual, or spiritual reaction? Does greater art inspire all three reactions? Is beauty in the eye of the beholder, or do some folks just not get it? Does Photoshop allow one to find the true art in a model or landscape, or to crucify it?

Let's listen to a few excellent videos reflecting on the nature of art and fine art photography, and discuss!

The prolific Ted Forbes has a lot of experience in the world of fine art photography, and he created yet another wonderful video reflecting on the world of fine art:

Ted also reflected on the "fine art" of Richard Prince, which consists of taking other folks' Instagram photographs, printing them with minor modifications, and selling them for over $90,000 each:

Such is the nature of a rather well-paying corner of the fine art world!

The successful painter, fine art photographer, author, and entrepreneur Alain Briot emphasizes the usefulness of approaching one's photography as fine art:

Above Ted Forbes referenced Peter Lik as perhaps not being the finest of fine art photographers, but as Lik has sold well over $500,000,000 of prints from his fifteen or so galleries, can one really argue with such success? Lik recently created an inspiring "origins story" video:

Ted also mentioned something about how "furry animals and landscapes" were not necessarily higher fine art, but successful wildlife photographers like Thomas Mangelsen would likely disagree. Here Mangelsen is unveiling another one of his wonderful "furry animals and landscapes" photographs in one of his galleries:

The rugged street photographer Chuck Jines stands up for "empirical criterion for beauty" and the "rules of composition" (with a bit of salty language):


I harbor immense respect for all the above folks and have been inspired by all of them. Both Peter Lik and Thomas Mangelsen have wonderful galleries down in La Jolla, California, which is worth the trip for everyone in the SoCal region (and beyond!)!

Well, what is your take on the nature of fine art and the "rules of composition?" Do you approach your work as art? Are you known for your own unique style, or are you aspiring to become known for it?

As we turn the discussion over to you, we'll leave you with one more wonderful Ted Forbes video simply titled "Fine Art Photography:"

So how would you define "fine art"? Do you see the contemplation and pursuit of fine art as integral to developing your photography career? Do you actively study the classical masters and/or rules of composition, or do your taste and compositions mostly stem from that which is hot on Instagram and/or that which "feels right?" Do your clients hire you for your signature style, or do they mostly hire you to shoot their vision or the day's "popular" style?

And most importantly, from gallery shows to developing distinctive styles to studying the past masters, how do the concepts of art and fine art fit in the further development and enhancement of your career?

Elliot McGucken's picture

Dr. E is an award-winning Ph.D. physicist, author, inventor, and photographer. He took up photography to fund his physics theory: Light Time Dimension Theory. He signs all his work with dx4/dt=ic. LTD Theory's Principle: The fourth dimension is expanding at the rate of c relative to the three spatial dimensions.

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I agree with Chuck Jines but think there are times and ways to make such observations. There was a recent post where a reader made similar pronouncements which may have been valid, although he wasn't specific enough to judge that, but were inappropriate in this venue.
Interestingly, While I agree that Mr. Jines' photos were empirically better than those of Mr. Forbes, I don't really care for either of their work but then, I'm more of a "furry animals and landscapes" kind of guy! :-)
Assuming a photo meets the empirical criteria for good photography, I think fine art is defined by having been manipulated to echo the personality of the artist. No manipulation...the artist is God!

Thanks. I'll give them all a look. :-)

OMG! I love your ballet/landscape photos! :-D

The first picture is bullshit!


really nice work Elliot McGucken!

It's a sign of internet "journalism" that an article titled, "What is Fine Art Photography..." never addresses what Fine Art photography is, or even, what is Fine Art. Even though the answer is fairly simple.

If the photographer, viewer, or a critic defines a work as "Fine Art", then it is, by definition, Fine Art. Of course, this leaves the question "is it good, bad or God-awful putrid" Fine Art, but the author doesn't want to write about that either. In fact, after reading and re-reading the article, I don't know what his point was, except to perhaps be able to say, "Look at me, I write about Fine Art..."

Can someone please tell me why would I want to spend $$$ on a print of a 📦 which I can do myself rather than enhance my room with Peter Lik's gorgeous panoramas?
Thanks in advance!

I wish these darned Fstoppers would stop F-ing with us...

When it comes to talking about art, I always recommend "exit through the gift shop" Banksy's documentary
It says everything I think about, and it says it better than I do