Defining Fine Art Photography

Waiting for a moment
Creative Commons License photo credit: ^riza^

In the previous poll, I asked “What is Fine Art Photography?” as an open-ended question. We had some really awesome responses, and those who offered up their thoughts definitely put some effort into it. Since we had so many great comments, I had a hard time picking out any that stood above the rest. So rather than feature a few comments, here are some excerpts from all the comments:

Neil Creek

… My rule of thumb definition would be “if I’d be happy to hang it on my wall” it’s fine art. But that’s probably too broad a definition for most. I think the key thing is that “fine art” is completely subjective. No one will agree what is fine art, but it might be easier to get consensus about what isn’t… read more

Niels Henriksen

… The adjective I think is Fine-art, one word and this has an understanding in the artistic and commercial world. This nomenclature is restricted to certain forms of works of art such as painting, sculpture, printmaking, theatre and architecture. Notice how photography is not fine-art just by itself, but shows up when we actually produce prints. It is the actual output or visual art that becomes the fine art… Fine art is also being used to describe a level of quality and sophistication about one’s work… I will also wholly control the output process… read more


Fine art is a field in which the photographer makes the image. Those who just shoot to shoot really do not qualify to be called fine artist. As one who works extremely hard to create I can say that it is the insight and eye that creates the art. I may not come back with what I initially thought I was going to shoot but that is due to the change of the elements and this change also is the process of creating art… read more

Scott Ward

I believe fine art encompasses two things…
1. The photograph should be a “good” photograph. It should be well composed, sharp, evoke an emotional response, etc. This can also be very subjective and market-driven…
2. The media makes a difference. If I am looking to invest in a fine art photograph, I don’t want one that will begin to show noticeable fading in 25 years. I want a print that will last a lifetime and beyond if possible. I believe that fine art is an investment that will raise in value over the years, but it will not if the actual print will not give it time to accrue value…
A fine art photographer would be one, then, to create such works… read more


I think that this is completely subjective. It can range from photojournalistic photography to completely Photoshopped photography that doesn’t even resemble photography anymore. However, it is going to be upscaled photography that definitely pays attention to the canons of photography: lighting, composition, focus, etc… If someone is willing to pay for the photography and they want it hanging on their walls, then they probably consider it fine art… read more


For me it’s simplicity with a punch. Something that when you look at it, you just know that it is something more. You cannot wrap my mind around it, your awed, and inspired at the same time. I rarely come across photos like these. There are many kinds of art photographs that I consider amazing, but rarely something I’d label “fine”. You inspired me to look through Wikipedia for the answer, and really there isn’t an answer… Who’s to say what fine art is? It can be generalized, but not defined… read more

John P Sercel

I tend to agree with Niels, in that Fine Art is the image (in this case) that the artist creates – art for beauty’s sake – and is completely separate from the media it is finally transferred to. It is a kind of dangerous definition, I suppose, to say that the artists designates his own work as fine art, but then I don’t know of any absolute metric that can be used… read more

Chris Lohman

It’s funny that this topic came up. Just the other day I posted a pic on a “Critique My Photo” blog for Fotki. The pic was my attempt at Fine Art Photography. The title of the post was simply “Fine Art?”. I received a wide variety of responses and not alot on my pic. Rather the debate was about what is “Fine Art” …??? One of the best post was the following… read more

Alessandro Rosa

When I thought about your question of what fine art photography is, the word crafted came to mind. The dictionary definition for crafted (v.) helps explain my viewpoint: “To make or construct (something) in a manner suggesting great care or ingenuity.” So I would say that to be considered a fine art photograph, the image needs to be crafted by the artist, or to restate it I would say that my definition of a fine art photograph is an image that is made in a manner suggesting great care, ingenuity and skill. So subject, lighting, composition and idea are well thought out, display a mastery of the craft of photography and are executed to produce an image of superior quality. Unfortunately, I don’t think that there is anything that can really quantify what the quality is, it is one of those “I’ll know it when I see it things.” Such is art… read more


I believe that fine art photography is less about product, and more about the artist’s vision- a commentary of sorts. Yes, the photographer needs skill, in lighting, composition, exposure etc. but not as much for the purpose of creating a “good” photograph but because to be an artist one must have the skill to effectively communicate one’s vision… I have to completely disagree with those who say that it is about what sells — that may be essential in stock photography for example, but I believe that the artist that is solely producing work because it is what the consumer wants to see has lost sight of their own artistic vision… read more

Harley Pebley

I don’t have anything to add regarding the definition, but do have a recent conversation to relate that I thought was interesting. A friend and I were leaving an annual arts festival featuring local painters and sculptors; all sorts of styles and skill levels. One of these things where you pay a fee and you’re in. I commented on the lack of photographers and suggested it might be interesting for us to try to put something together for next year. I was told we wouldn’t be allowed since photography isn’t fine art… read more

One reader even took things a step further and posted his thoughts on his own blog.

Damien Franco

… Conceptualizing an image from the moment of capture to print should, perhaps, maintain an integrity consistent with evoking feeling… I believe, however, that you can label yourself as a Fine Art Photographer or produce work that is Fine Art Photography if you are placing yourself at the mercy of those who may be more qualified to validate your work… The funny thing is that after you have successfully been deemed, by those in the industry, as a tried and true “Fine Artist” every work you have done prior to the acclaimed label is now acceptable as “Fine Art”. If you’re lucky you won’t already be dead when this happens…. read more

I also posed the question to a few of the others at the Fine Art Photoblog. Neil (shown above as the first comment) answered the question here on the blog before I even had a chance to announce it to the whole group. So here are some additional thoughts from Andrew and Myself.

Andrew Gibson

For me, Fine Art Photography is something that is beautiful. Art is about creating objects of beauty, uplifting the spirit and celebrating the amazing world we live in. Sometimes, though, art is ugly or threatening and disturbing and brings things to our attention that we'd rather not know about or acknowledge. War photography is a great example of this. Take for example the photos of Zoriah, a photojournalist embedded in Iraq who Brian featured recently on this blog. Is it Fine Art? The intention of the photographer isn't to make art, I'm sure, but to tell the story of the Iraq war from his perspective. But the photos have a strange beauty. It's art, but it's disturbing, in your face and deals with issues we'd rather not acknowledge or think about.

Brian Auer

I believe Fine Art Photography certainly falls within the bounds of the encompassing realm of Fine Art. To me, Fine Art Photography has to do more with mastery of the process than the actual photo. This process would include things like choosing the camera, capturing the image, processing, printing, etc. Since the process is typically a lengthy endeavor, the artist will usually form a strong emotional connection with the piece of art they have created. When others see that artwork, they might also connect with that photo in some way, but not necessarily in the same way as the artist. So can we label ourselves as Fine Art Photographers? Absolutely. Nobody knows your work and the process behind it better than you do. Whether or not your work is liked by others is an entirely different question.