‘Attempting’ and ‘style‘ being the salients word here! Nope, not any kind of expert on this subject either but the style and simplicity of fine art photography is greatly appealing to me, and by explaining why we may consider some important aspects of making compelling images.
I have not often taken photographs with a view to immediately rendering them as fine art, so for this article I have taken some landscape images from my archives and tried to apply (what I think is) a ‘fine art’ look in Lightroom. The scenes presented here are from my travels to Iceland, Norway, Alaska, Bulgaria and Wales, each of which has many of Earth’s beautiful landscapes.
So, what is fine art photography? Well, definitions vary, but I think it is essentially photography that is an artistic interpretation of the photographer’s vision. That is to say that how the image is represented takes precedence over what is represented; the artistic interpretation is given more weight than a simple visual account of a specific subject. Others have simplified the description as just a photograph that is destined for someone’s wall! Like any other form of art it is open to subjective interpretation (and is therefore undoubtedly controversial), but an online search of the term ‘fine art photography’ returns an enormous variety of images.
With respect to landscapes and places, the images may be in colour, but are often in black and white; stripping away the colour deconstructs the image into its constituent elements, such as light and texture, which become like brush strokes in a work of art. The result is intended to convey how you feel, or were made to feel, about your subject.
In a sense, this simplification makes it easier for the photographer, as we only have to consider three components of the image: the lighting, the composition and the subject. The difficulty comes in making each of those elements as potent as possible to make the image as a whole striking.
(This image, taken near City Hall in London, is wholly unoriginal but it may illustrate the point.)
But it can encourage us to look at our scene in terms of these main elements, de-cluttering our perspective into the basic tenets of effective composition. While we may marvel at the actual beauty of a landscape, we might consider if the lighting and textures lend themselves to a more profound or abstract interpretation of it. Rather than worrying about capturing the entire vista, interesting lighting and textures can draw us to individual details, and thus create images from a scene that we may not have immediately considered otherwise.
For the attempts with my images, I used the black and white tab in the Basic panel in Lightroom and adjusted the exposure parameters to deepen the blacks and add more contrast. The B&W tab in the HSL/Color/B&W panel below is automatically activated, and by moving the individual colour sliders, I was able to achieve a more selective contrast.
Increasing the saturation levels in the Basic panel before hitting the black and white tab will also impact the effect that moving the sliders will have. Be careful not to move the sliders in the HSL/Color/B&W panel to extremes or artifacts and halos will appear. Finally, I applied some selective dodging and burning to the images, in order that the light itself leads the eye into the scene.
There are, of course, many other ways of processing the image, e.g. using gradient maps in Photoshop, but for now this Lightroom method works for me. Some people use filters and dedicated software to render black and white, but in those cases you are reliant on the software’s algorithms instead of your own judgement. I think perhaps in some cases I have left too many details of the scene intact to qualify as fine art, but this is entirely subjective. Not all fine art landscapes have to be a black jetty on still water from a 300 second exposure. (The line between artistic photography and capture photography can be blurred. Picasso once said, “I have discovered photography. Now I can kill myself. I have nothing else to learn.”)
Of course, fine art is not restricted to landscapes. Portraits, nature, nudes and wildlife can all fall under its remit. I even attempted the processing on some photos of deer, as seen below. (By the way, these are ‘wild’ deer in London’s largest Royal Park, Richmond Park, introduced by King Charles 1 and have roamed freely since 1529. I realise they don’t compare to the truly wild gazelles and antelopes of Africa, but they were photographed from a distance and are rarely, if ever, interfered with by humans. But if you still take issue with that then please consult our excellent monarchy for comment.)
Lastly, fine art can also convey the beauty and simplicity of small details, individual textures or even a creative blur. While some photographers will create a scene from their own imagination to tell a story or express an emotion, others will seek a minimalist effect, creating art in their image with a simple juxtaposition of black and white shapes, or light and shade.
In any event, it adds yet another dimension to photography for me, stimulating my imagination and giving me food for thought. Perhaps my attempts at rendering my images here in a ‘fine art’ style were not successful or effective in your eyes (you may simply argue that they are just B+W conversions), but for me they at least encourage me to think differently the next time I photograph something. And after all, isn’t that how we improve?
Thank you for reading. You can see more of my attempts here.