This is the sixth post in a series in which I pick some really cool photos and break down the elements about them that I like best. They’re designed to help you (and I) improve your photography. In case you missed the last one, you can check it out here.
Ok, so today we’re going to be diving into the world of fine art photography. It’s an intimidating area for many photographers, myself included. Before we actually start talking about the photo I’ve chosen to look at today, it’s probably worth it in this case for us to actually review the definition of fine art photography.
As it turns out, there are many definitions, but one of the best I found comes from Photography Life
“Fine art photography is not about digitally recording a subject or event. It’s not about capturing what the camera sees, it’s about capturing what the artist sees.”
As a result, fine art photos are almost always a departure from reality. The picture the camera takes serves as a starting point for the art, not the end product. The picture I chose for us to talk about today does this especially well. There is nowhere in the world that you can point your camera at a subject and end up with that image as a result. It is an interpretation, and that’s what makes it fine art.
Ok, so why this photo? What do we comment on here? Hang on. Before you read on, why don’t you try your hand at this first? Look at the photo. Give it time to soak in. Make a few mental notes about what you noticed in the shot. Then compare your thoughts to mine below, and let’s see what we get!
All done? You did give it a shot, right? 🙂 great, then let’s move on!
Right off the bat, you can see that there is a surreal element to this photo. Let’s start by looking at the clouds. If you look carefully, they almost look like they belong in a watercolour painting. The water, too, has a surreal element to it. Some parts are frozen still, while other details seem to blur together.
In other types of photography, this could be an indicator of sloppy form, or the heavy-handed post-processing applied by an amateur new to the game. This isn’t other types of photography though, this is fine art. The rules change. Here, the stylization of the shot is all part of a carefully-orchestrated chorus of details meant to work together to create a specific feeling.
The barrel and the anchor have obviously been added into the shot as well, and the artist has done an excellent job doing so in a convincing manner. Both the barrel and anchor are a little large for my taste – they’re pretty massively out-of-scale, given the size of the ship riding the waves nearby – but again, that’s less important here. This is a perfect example of a shot you’ll never find out in the wild; post-processing makes it possible, and is what pulls it into the realm of fine art photography.
There are many different things this photo can say to you. I have a few interpretations of it, and you probably have a few more. This is great – it means you can have a conversation about the shot, where your view on it reflects your own personal tastes and worldview.
Me, I see a few things here: first, there’s the literal interpretation of the shot. We have a ship on the brink of wrecking in the eye of a major storm. It’s lost its anchor and a barrel of supplies already, and is probably on the verge of losing more.
There’s more to this photo, though.
The raging storm rocking the ship could serve as a metaphor for the tempest raging within one’s heart. Maybe there’s trouble in paradise with a loved one, or maybe someone is just trying to stay afloat in their personal life, juggling too many things at once.
Here’s another take on it – did you notice the American flag on the front of the ship? This photo could be telling a story about the struggle of the early explorers like Columbus. If you look at that in a metaphorical sense, the shot could be interpreted as a commentary on the price of progress.
Whichever way you look at it, when I look at this photo, I feel a sense of foreboding and impending doom. It’s great that the shot makes me feel this; it’s more important for fine art photography to convey emotion than other styles, which may focus more on conveying facts or information (photojournalism is a prime example of that).
The Focal Point
Without a doubt, the ship is the center of attention in this shot. With fine art photography, there’s often less to distract the viewer from the focal point. There may be two or even only one single subject. In this case, it’s all about the ship – an old-school tallship riding the waves.
Your eyes go right to it when you first look at the photo, and what I love about it is that there’s plenty of detail there to hold your attention. Hell, I didn’t even notice the American flag until I had been looking at the shot for about a minute!
Colour Conveys Emotion
There is a blue tinge to this photo that further contributes to the surreal atmosphere going on within it. This was a conscious choice, and it makes the photo feel even more ominous. It’s also conveys a bit of sadness or worry, which is where I got the interpretation of the photo as a metaphor for a troubled love life.
If the photo were coloured red or orange, I might interpret it more as anger or frustration in a different sense. That’s the beauty of colour: you can use it to completely change the feel and meaning of a photo.
Wrapping it Up
Did you try the exercise I suggested at the start of this post? If you did, what’d you see? Was it different from my thoughts? I bet there were a few things you saw differently from me, and like I said earlier, the beauty of it is that that’s the idea. Photography, and specifically fine art photography, is open to interpretation. The best art has a variety of interpretations to it, at times reflecting the artist’s feelings, and at other times the viewer’s.
Hope you enjoyed this shot! Next time, we’ll take a look at photojournalistic photography, which swings to the opposite end of the spectrum in a sense.
Your turn! If you saw something different in this photo, go ahead and share them in the comments. Is there a specific type of photo you’d like to dive deeper on in the future? Contact Me or share that down below too!