5 Cornerstones of a Fine Art Portrait – “Fine Art: an activity requiring a fine skill”
5 Cornerstones of a Fine Art Portrait
“Fine Art: an activity requiring a fine skill”
Tim Walden, M.Photog.Cr.,F-ASP
Beverly Walden, M.Photog.Cr.
Can a “mere” photographic portrait be considered fine art? Does a camera qualify as an instrument that can create a fine art piece? For over 15 years, we have “bet the farm” on this very concept and successfully so!
This article details what we consider the five cornerstones of fine art photography and how we produce pieces that will stand the test of time as we continue to create high value pieces for our clients.
Cornerstone #1: Impact
It’s an elusive word-impact! Many years ago, during the rush and craziness of getting competition prints ready, we came upon what we consider a great way to think about impact. After all, an image without impact will not compete well, nor will it meet its sales potential.
For us, there are two key concepts we use to create an impacting image; strong composition and unusual approach.
In order to have a compositionally strong image, you must first understand composition in a foundational way. When that happens, you can break the “rules” and create striking images simply by moving a subject to the very corner of a photograph, putting them very low in the image, or having them walking out of the image.
Taking an unusual approach can be as simple as creating a portrait in a monochromatic palette with only the subject in a contrasting color, or as complex as shooting a portrait from a cherry picker to get an unusual angle.
Putting both strong composition and unusual approach together is like lighting the fuse on a stick of dynamite. The results are explosive!
Knowing how to light a portrait can be an impacting element as well. Dramatic lighting can take ordinary and turn it into extraordinary. Understanding lighting patterns and when to use each one appropriately can take a portrait out of the realm of ho hum and into the realm of a fine art portrait. Dramatic lighting can make a man look threatening who is really harmless, show off textures and shapes or create a certain mood. Lighting is the brush of the photographic artist and it will vary depending on the effect wanted.
Cornerstone #2: Vision
One of the greatest skills an artist can have is vision – seeing the end at the beginning. At our studio, we start with the end in mind. For us, it is critical to involve the subject ahead of time as our vision for their fine art portrait is formed by learning about them, their personality and the purpose of the portrait through our pre-planning sessions. During this time, we seek to understand the big picture and not every detail. Then, as we work with the subjects during the session, the vision is expanded to fit the client.
Long ago, we did not believe in the value of pre-planning and we did not get the results we wanted. What we learned from this experience is that we need to involve and educate our clients before the session in order to produce the level of portrait they expect to receive. Today, we don’t do a session without pre-planning – it’s part of doing business with us!
Knowing what a great print looks like by having the background or knowledge of fine art printing gives you the tools you need to know where you are headed. This is why education is so important.
Cornerstone #3: Execution
Having a strong foundation and executing with true knowledge of lighting, exposure, posing fundamentals, set design and so forth is a must to create a fine art portrait. Do you understand lighting ratios, quality of light and direction of light? No fudging here!
Can you draw true expressions out of your subjects by creating an environment your client feels comfortable in? Are you the type of personality that allows your clients to let their walls down? You must be a lover of people and your clients must know that in order to be authentic during the session. Camera smiles and fine art portraits don’t go together!
Commanding the camera room to fulfill your vision is critical to success. When we train new associate photographers, the first item we work on is people skills, not camera or lighting skills. It is that important!
Cornerstone #4: Post-Capture Work
What you do in the camera room is only one part of the equation; it is what you do after that takes the piece to its potential.
One of the key changes in the photography profession is the ability to fulfill and expand the vision through digital post-capture techniques that were not available in the past to the degree they are today. One note of caution; high standards should not change even though vision is expanded. Today’s fine art pieces still require excellence and skill which will never change.
Although post-capture work is vision enhancing, at Walden’s, it is not faddish or used to create a trendy piece. It isn’t ok to hide problems or lack of skill with post-capture magic.
Nik Software has taken our fine art portraits to a new level that is sometimes mind-boggling! Along with the amazing enhancements they offer, they are non-destructive and give us the most finite control of our work, doing things we only dreamed of in the darkroom.
When the image is captured, we consider ourselves to be only half way to the final vision. It’s what we do in post-capture with the files and then overseeing the actual printing of the piece that fulfills our vision.
Tim states, “There is not a better person than me to do post-processing work on what I shoot because I hold the vision for that piece. That is why Nik Software is so important to me. I can sit down and fulfill my vision without turning it over to others whose vision it is not.”
Cornerstone #5: Printing and Delivery
We bring our vision to completion by producing pieces that are archivally sound. To achieve this, we produce giclee prints using papers and canvasses from Breathing Color without OBAs (optical brightening agents) in them. Each piece is hand-printed, embossed, and is a limited edition print that is hand-signed by the artist just as a true piece of art would be when purchased in an art gallery. We also include a Certificate of Authenticity, also signed by the artist.
In the pre-planning session, our literature, and in the sales appointment, we are continually showing our clients what a true fine art print is and how we meet the criteria. It is an on-going process to educate the public on the value of what we do and we believe it is critical to our continued success.
On a final note, we often teach one of the best ways to get clients through the door is to create GAPS. What are GAPS? Simply put, anything that lifts your business up and away from the competition creates a GAP. The bigger GAPS you create, the better off you are.
In an “instant, gotta have it now” world, creating fine art pieces that are one-of-a-kind, take time, and have the patina of richness and high value drenching them in every way is a sure way to create a GAP that is hard to beat.