What Is a Fine Art Photograph?

by Robert Keim

Art is (imperfectly) defined as works that are intended to be appreciated primarily for their aesthetic or emotional value. Thus, a fine art photograph is a creatively inspired and meticulously crafted image that many people will find pleasing on account of its beauty, elegance, drama, or cultural resonance. The most common subject matter is the natural world, since nature is shared and has universal appeal.

In an age of ubiquitous smartphone cameras and a seemingly infinite supply of digital snapshots, why would anyone pay for an artistic photograph produced by a professional photographer? The images that we see online usually do not incorporate the compositional techniques and post-processing refinements that enable a photograph to be successful as a standalone work of art. Furthermore, pictures taken by smartphones or point-and-shoot digital cameras frequently lack the image quality required for superb reproduction on a large monitor, and they very frequently lack the image quality required for superb production of large prints.

There is really no comparison between taking snapshots and the lengthy, exacting procedure by which professional photographers create a fine art image. When I am capturing landscape photographs, I am so absorbed in the quest for creative expression, strong composition, and optimized camera parameters that I prefer to be completely alone. Full concentration, technical mastery, and a contemplative attitude are crucial, especially since natural scenes can change with surprising rapidity and artistic opportunities are easily lost.

This initial work in the field is followed by complex post-processing techniques that allow fine art to emerge from the raw data captured by photographic film or a digital sensor. Some of my photographs will pass through five separate image-processing applications as they are carefully refined and enhanced, and all of my fine art images are painstakingly inspected for subtle imperfections that might be noticeable in a large print.

Printed photographs marketed as artwork may seem overpriced, and in my opinion they sometimes are. Since I am not a "famous" photographer, I have the luxury of charging reasonable prices for my work. But in any case, there is a tremendous amount of effort and expertise behind a collection of truly excellent fine art photographs.