What Is Fine Art Portrait Photography?

What Is Fine Art Portrait Photography?

You may be familiar with portrait photography, but have you ever had the pleasure of experiencing the fine art form? If you haven’t, it’s time you did. Fine art portrait photography has exploded in the luxury portraiture photography market in recent years. The results are superbly evocative and make simply stunning wall art.

Fine art portrait photographers are, in fact, artists. There is a high level of perception and skill that goes into creating fine art portrait images in the digital world. It takes a highly skilled and specialist photographer to do this well. It’s all about creative vision.

To get a feel for what fine art portrait photography involves, we’ve explored the subject a little and put together some posing tips. Let’s start with what we think fine art is.

What is Fine Art?

Fine art is visual art considered to be something created for aesthetic or intellectual value rather than practical purpose. According to the Oxford dictionary, fine art is:

  1. Creative art, especially visual art whose products are to be appreciated primarily or solely for their imaginative, aesthetic, or intellectual content
  2. An activity requiring great skill or accomplishment

Fine art is essentially an art form practiced for its beauty. It’s all about why it was created and comes from a concept or idea derived from the artist. There is a difference between commercial and fine art. The purpose of fine art is to simply exist. Historically, fine art encompassed painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and poetry, but now includes photography, too.



What Is a Portrait Photograph?

A portrait photograph is an image of a person or a group of people, with the face (or faces), facial features, and expression as the main focus of attention. Traditional poses can be just head and shoulders, half body length, or full body. Importantly, portrait photography attempts to capture the character and unique attributes of the subject. The art is in capturing the personality of the subject.

Portrait photography is all about a technically perfect composition. It’s a skill that requires patience and practice. Bringing out a person’s character in front of the camera, without them reverting to a "photo face," is the essence of good portrait photography. A portrait photograph isn’t a candid shot. It’s carefully planned and rehearsed. The outfit, the props, the location, the angle of the shot, and the pose are all prepared before the shoot.

What Is Fine Art Portrait Photography?

Let’s start with what fine art photography isn’t. It’s not a photograph capturing an event or a memory without artistic motivation. It’s not photojournalism.

In fine art photography, the photographer is the artist, and the recording of the subject is not the main purpose. Making an artistic statement is. A fine art portrait image is created by the photographer as an artist and not just by the camera. The photographer’s vision is central to the resulting shot.

A fine art portrait photograph is intended for wall art. It can sometimes be described as "décor photography" or "photo décor." This style of photography stands in contrast to documentary-style photojournalism in which subjects and events are captured to represent reality.

Fine Art feature: The Menagerie

Fine Art feature: The Menagerie

Fine art portrait photography delivers maximum impact and depicts emotion in a vivid and distinctive style. These portraits are timeless and capture the essence of the subject’s character in a vision created by the photographer. The photographer may use location, props, or surreal lighting to manipulate the image to the one he or she is trying to achieve.

Ultimately, fine art portrait photographs are the family heirlooms of the future. This is art for art’s sake. The finest specimens are in which the subject seems amazingly real when the photograph is positioned just in front of you.

Best Posing Techniques for Fine Art Portraits

Posing is a strong element in fine art portrait photography. It’s what separates the great from the good. No matter how expensive of a kit photographers have, if they can’t direct your pose, they won’t capture the great photograph you are hoping for. Basic posing techniques for great fine art portraits include:

  • Creating separation between the arms and the body 
  • Tucking the arms in, moving them back far enough to hide the upper arm
  • Forcing the chin away from the neck
  • Arching the back
  • Dropping the shoulders
  • Tilting the head back
  • Twisting the body
  • Making motion believable
  • Creating shape

(Basic Posing Techniques Source: http://blog.creativelive.com/10-basic-posing-techniques-fine-art-portraits/)


Fine Art feature: The Menagerie

If you like the idea of your image hanging in your descendant’s hallway, then a fine art portrait photograph is a must. To find the photographer that is right for you, be sure to check out image portfolios. Go with the one that evokes the most emotion in you.

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If it is repetition of the same setup with the same props - is it still considered fine art?

William Howell's picture

Yes, yes it is. And as the article shows, you must also have a very very dark background.

Chad D's picture

period clothing is a super bonus to :) you know just like the old masters used

Ted Chen's picture

lol I had a nice laugh about the dark background. I HOPE you were being sarcastic...

William Howell's picture

Yeah, I was being snarky. I thought fine art photography was 300 dpi and big size, no?

Chad D's picture

fine art is a moving thing you can not define one of those moving things of course is the current trend of what actions are popular which of course makes some work become fine art LIMITED EDITIONS :)

or is that COLLECTIONS ? hmmmmm

Dana Goldstein's picture

And annoyed-looking kids.

Except for the second girl who got to be an angel. :-)

Dana Goldstein's picture

My kids would be pretty annoyed to be portrayed as angels lol.

When I was really small, my sisters thought I was too cute to be a boy and talked my parents into letting them dress me as a princess one Halloween. I was NOT amused!

I really appreciated the discussion of art vs fine art and particularly the distinction between portraiture and fine art portraiture but don't really understand the role of your posing tips. They seemed more like one approach to the subject, rather than definitive to the goal. Also, while I liked the examples, I thought their "statement" was too vague. Maybe that's part of the point and why I'm generally not attracted to fine art. I like mystery in a photo or painting but with stronger clues.

You've whetted my appetite. Now I'll explore the idea further.

Kirk Darling's picture

Most of the "fine art portraiture" (all of that in quotes) I've seen has been overly pretentious. However, there are photographers out there who attend to their client portraiture with such a high degree of classical skill that their work is attractive to those beyond the paying client--just as has been the case of classical painted portraits that are now "fine art."

Louise et Joseph Simone of Quebec are examples of photographers who do such work.

I'd like to see a discussion attempt to quantify the characteristics of a portrait that cause it to transcend familial interest.

I would like to see that discussion too. Although there are obvious examples, I think it's just one of those things that, 'you know it when you see it.'

OMG! After writing the previous lines, I went to the Simone's site. Their work is wonderful! Thanks! Now I have more examples of photos of which I'll never be capable. :-(

Chris Bruna's picture

This is what we would call a “native add”?

Robert Thompson's picture

"If you like the idea of your image hanging in your ancestor’s hallway, then a fine art portrait photograph is a must."

My ancestors? Dead people collect art now? Cool...

Dana Goldstein's picture

Opens up a whole new market.

Tino C's picture

Every photo is a fine art photo if mounted in the correct frame.

Seems like you know nothing about fine art. Frame is not enough. Proper fine art photo should be toned into black and white with one of VSCO film presets.

Dana Goldstein's picture

"Let’s start with what fine art photography isn’t. It’s not a photograph capturing an event or a memory without artistic motivation. It’s not photojournalism."

I wonder if photojournalists realize that they have no artistic motivation. :/ Thanks for letting them know!

I'm not sure that sentence implies all photojournalism is without artistic motivation. And, while individual photojournalists may have some artistic motivation, it's certainly not inherent in the genre and one could successfully argue it shouldn't be. :-/ <- I win because my emoji has a nose! ;-)

BTW, I visited your site and you have some really nice photos! :-)

Dana Goldstein's picture

Thanks Sam 😊 While I see what you mean, I still make the mistake of treating Fstoppers content as though it has been cohesively written lol, so it looks like she had a train of thought going there. I think though that everyone who picks up a camera has some level of artistic motivation. There are plenty of other things to do that are Lrd knows more secure than freelance photography. 😎

I've not seen a lot of cohesive articles here except for those written by the same authors. Honestly, I struggle with cynicism and being overly judgmental. This just happened to come on one of my good days and even then, I was probably overly judgmental of the people who were hard on the author. :-( I'm not a freelance photographer but getting a regular paycheck isn't always that secure either. <sigh>

Hey Fstoppers, this is sponsored content, right? The dead give-aways are 1) According to her LinkedIn page, the author is an "Independant (sic) Content Creator," i.e. not a professional photographer or artist like usual; 2) Only one studio is highlighted; 3) The writing is generally weak, over-hyped, or just plain wrong, serving to reinforce the idea that this one studio is doing this thing called Fine Art Portraits.

I read Fstoppers every day and I appreciate all the free content. I don't mind the ads, because I know that they pay for that content. If you want to include advertorials, that is fine too, but the honest way to do that is to separate them from the regular articles somehow, usually with the word Advertisement or the phrase Sponsored Content. Otherwise I feel like I just got duped.

If my suspicions are wrong, please let me know.

Really? I didn't get that impression at all. Your first point is irrelevant. I think your second point is invalid because, while there is a link to a specific studio, it isn't called out in the text. More likely, the author didn't do as much research as you or I would like. The facts of your third point are demonstrated in the author's article on photographing Oxford, without any possible motivation, thereby invalidating your conclusion. And regarding her writing style and tendency to hyperbolize, I find very few Fstoppers articles to be particularly well-written. There are, of course, some excellent authors among them. :-)

Thanks for your input. To be fair, I'm not drawing a conclusion but rather asking a pointed question based on a few valid observations. To me they add up to a big red flag. Sure, it may be the case that this is just an example of particularly bad writing. I don't know the answer so that's why I'm asking the question.

Sorry. You did state it as a question. I guess "dead give-aways" biased the rest of my reading.

I'd like to know how one is meant to hang an image in one's ancestor's hallway? Unless one still owns the home, I suppose...

Bill Reed's picture

It is a myth, because a Photograph is never Art... a photographer is not an Artist.

Lighting is not an Art.
Pushing a button is not an Art.
Moving sliders in lightroom is not an Art.
Having models wear costumes is not an Art.

Can a photo be great, awesome, fantastic... sure, but never Art.

Photography isn't *necessarily* art but certainly can be. I think you're conflating talent with artistic intent.

Hans Rosemond's picture

I think you’re taking an incredibly narrow view of what photography is. Photography is not just sliders and buttons. It’s also chemistry, filtering, color theory, medium selection, gear choice...etc. Photography can be every bit as hands on and flexible as a painter with a easel.

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