Can landscape photography be fine art at all? Some will say it can not. Art is so much, but why is photography questioned as being art?
Is it because photography and digital editing are regarded as simple and something “everyone can do”?
Or is it because a photograph looks more realistic than a painting and by this doesn’t give the viewer much room for his own interpretations.
Or maybe because digital art is easy to copy and distribute? Many questions and difficult to give a definite answer.
How do we understand photography as art?
It might have something to do with lack of understanding among the general public about what photography is. A common question from people not knowing photography well, is when they see a great photo, they say - “you must have an expensive camera.” Probably they will not say to the painter “your brushes and paint must be very good and expensive”.
Whatever the reason the fact is paintings sell at significant higher prices than photographic art does. But without doubt photography is becoming more and more acceptable as art.
There are some examples of fine art photographs selling at incredibly high prices. One recent example is Peter Lik a photographer who is said to have the price record selling one of his images for $6.5 million. Maybe this indicates it is not all about the art piece itself but more about the photographers marketing skills.
What is fine art and what is not?
When does a landscape photo become fine art landscape photography?
What is the difference between landscape photography art and landscape photography fine art? There are many photographers and artist using the term “fine art”. What is it and when does a landscape photo become a fine art landscape photo? The definitions are many;
- A fine art photo represents the creative vision of the artist (photographer)
- A fine art photo is not realistic as it is enhanced by the photographer
- The final goal is to make a (big) framed print anyone can hang on a wall in a home or an office.
- Fine art photos are intentionally produced for display and sale
- Black and White photos are more often regarded as fine art
- Fine art photos are made for art collectors
- Fine art photos are not for commercial and editorial use
- Or is simply fine art landscape photography when you can find someone willing to pay for your photos?
As you can see, there is not one clear definition what fine art landscape photography is. In my opinion, fine art landscape photography is about the artistic skills of the photographer as well as his marketing skills.
When we read and discuss on the Internet, we are very likely to get into a discussing on technical aspects. Which are the best cameras and lenses? Which sensor produces less noise? Which Photoshop techniques are best for the perfect blending of two images?
Does fine art landscape photography need to be technical perfect? If yes, what is technical perfect?
Nowadays we see a growing number of iPhone photography that is marketed fine art photography. Everyone will agree the iPhone is not technical perfect with regards noise and sharpness. Despite this, people make fine art with iPhone, and they sell it.
This fact is one good proof that it is not necessarily the technical aspects that are most important when we talk about fine art landscape photography.
From snapshot to fine art compositions - in tree steps
Taking pictures of landscapes
It is easier to define what landscape photography art is not.
A snapshot with no further thoughts or planning behind it, will most likely not be listed as art. Probably not even the photographer, in this case, will claim it is fine art. It is well known beginner photographers snaps photos without a creative vision.
When you come to a beautiful location and in particular if this is a new location, you are often blown away by its beauty. In such a situation when the scene in front of you makes you wow, it is easy just to lift the camera to eye level and push the shutter.
Why do some photographers succeed?
Unfortunately many times you come back home and look at your photos you realize something is missing. When you find photos on the Internet from the same location taken by other photographer and these photos are stunning, well it does not make you feel any better.
This has happened to me many times as I started out photographing. At that time, I did not understand why. The more I studied and practiced photography I realized there is much more into this than simply having a camera and push the shutter.
The reason is almost always the other photographer had a plan or even a vision for his photo. And he had the necessary skills to make a great photo out of the scene.
What about "snapshots"?
There is no reason a snapshot cannot be used as a part of a bigger project ( a piece of art). It is quite common artists use some of their not so good photos when they create composite images in Photoshop.
I collect snapshots all the time both with my iPhone and DSLR. I am building a library of images that can be used for a different purpose later. More about this further down this page.
Making fine art landscape photography
Fine art landscape photographers understand the difference between taking and making a picture. They know that composition and light make the difference between a beautiful and mediocre photo.
The most important is to get the composition right in the camera when photographing the scene. To be able to do this, you to stop and think for a while - try different angles before you push the shutter.
If you don’t get the composition right in-camera it is very hard to fix that later in Photoshop as many tends to believe. You can do many things in Photoshop like adjusting an imperfect exposure and color balance. You can even remove unwanted elements. But the overall composition cannot be adjusted much in post processing.
The art of postprocessing
Today there is a lot of focus on how images can be improved in post processing. There are numerous techniques that can be used to enhance photos, but these techniques are mostly related to color and contrast adjustments.
Everyone strives to make the perfect photo. Even the professionals nowadays spend a lot of time in Photoshop adjusting the photo, so it represents what they envisioned when they took the image.
After post-processing, the photo is still not fine art. More is needed before it reaches into the fine art category. The photo must be prepared for print, printed, matted and framed before it becomes fine art.
You can simply not look at fine art landscape photography on a screen. On a screen, I cannot tell the difference between a “well done” landscape photo and a fine art landscape photo. It is when the photo is finished in a frame it becomes fine art.
Creating a fine art landscape compositions
I will take the fine art landscape photography term a little further. A beautiful sunset is just a beautiful sunset even if it is framed. Except for beautiful colors, it does not wake any emotions in me - not any longer. I have probably seen too many of these photos over the years.
To me, art should make me stop and think. The photo must speak to me. I call these photos a “piece” of art. Often these images are composites made of many photos. The goal with a piece of art is to match colors and build a great composition with a story.
Must everything be perfect?
A mediocre photo or parts of a mediocre photo can without problem be an element of a more complex composition. I love playing with my photos and make them different.
The “perfect” photo is fine, but we are seeing a trend on the Internet photos is starting to look the same. Rarely a “realistic” photo stands out from the rest. More and more often I find myself enjoying photos where the photographer is creating “photo art” - something different.
The possibilities are endless. You can make a lot of creative images directly in the camera, or you can do it in post processing.
Different ways of creating photo artistic compositions
In camera techniques:
- Intentional camera movements creating blur
- Focus shift
- Zoom burst
- Multiple exposures
Creative post processing
- Photo filters
- Using plug-ins
- Photo art - blending multiple images
How much adjustments or manipulation of a photo is OK?
There are many discussions going on what is real landscape photography and what is a photo manipulation. How much can you retouch your photos before it is not a landscape photograph anymore, but rather art?
When you create a photo nobody will doubt is an artistic creation, you don’t have to explain anything. You don’t even have to tell it is a composite, everyone knows.
The problems start when you are altering a photo which is supposed to be realistic. It is possible to remove unwanted objects from a photo.
In landscape photography this might be tempting as you can and should not move elements from the nature. If you travel to a distant place and the weather is bad, can you add a better sky in Photoshop. We all know it can be done.
Is using Photoshop cheating?
Photographers with good post processing skills can do this to perfection and no one can tell the photo is a manipulation. Is this OK? Maybe not.
The fact is most of the photos on display on the Internet are more or less manipulated. Do we need to claim it is a composite or not if it is realistic?
Should all retouching be declared, even the smallest adjustments. Where is the borderline?
Is using a wide angle lens manipulation? It distorts the reality, so the result is no longer real. What about using filters to blur movement? Is that cheating? There are so many questions and few answer on this.
Photographers have different opinions
Below are two interesting articles discussing the topic. The two authors have a different take on it. It is interesting to read but it is not possible to say one or the other is right.
The first article is written by an author claiming Photoshop editing has gone to far.
The second article is comments on the first one. It is written by an author with a different view on this.