Six Reasons to Study Fine Art Photography

Twilight  Grey

Twilight Grey © Bob Killen

Your photographic vision may lean towards commercial, portraiture, wedding, fashion, industrial, or a wide combination of these genres. Perhaps you are a pro, an advanced hobbyist, or maybe you are new to the field and just exploring the exciting possibilities of photography. Suddenly, you hear the term ‘fine art photography’ and wonder what is this genre, and should I study this subject area?

Let’s take the last question first. The answer is a resounding “yes” and there are six powerful reasons why. But first, a loose history of the fine art genre.

‘Fine art’ as a genre developed in the 17th century and covered art forms devoted to aesthetics, distinguishing them from applied arts, a process that serves some practical function and or commercial interest. During this period, loosely known as the European Renaissance, fine art included painting, sculpture, architecture, music, and poetry. Theatre and dance fell into the minor fine arts and did not emerge as a major force within the genre until the late 18th century. Fine art emerged in Asia along similar lines, but the history periods vary and the early American fine art has a European bloodline.

Fast forward to the 21st century and, while fine arts included the traditional disciplines, new forms such as film, photography, conceptual art, and printmaking all gained acceptance as fine art. Literature is also a major fine art form, but academically it finds a home of its own and most institutes of higher learning associate fine art with visual and musical art forms.

In many of my blogs, (see I discuss what fine art is, but for the purposes of study, we define fine art as “a visual art created primarily for aesthetic and intellectual purposes.” In this sense, there are conceptual differences between the Fine Arts and the Applied Arts. As originally understood for much of the modern era, fine art meant that the aesthetic qualities of the work required a sophisticated judgment, which may mean some standard of good taste or a higher order of intellectual perception. However, in the postmodern era, the value of good taste has largely disappeared, and it is avant-garde to accept or applaud the absence of beauty. Moreover, one rarely finds the term “fine art” in art history studies today at an academic level, but it does remain common in describing curriculums and as a title for university departments and degrees.

For photographers, fine art work is a series of images that develop a theme or subject study, and such series constitute a body of work or contribute to a larger body of work. Fine Art Photography stands in contrast to photojournalism and commercial photography, as these applications provide visual support for stories, or create a visual stimulus for a product or service. Conversely, Fine Art Photography is thematic and explores social issues, graphic dislocation, subliminal thought, duality, reality, surrealism, impressionism, and is a genre that is often a vision beyond the documented record.

Below are six compelling reasons to study the fine art genre. However, the overarching reason is that educational studies show, that individuals who make fine art a part of their visual education are more likely to develop unique projects and visual voices with character.  Photographers who complete a fine art theme course develop and deliver better images, regardless of what genre(s) they pursue (look at our testimonials).

Specifically, the Fine Art Photography Course at the Orange County Center for Photography and Digital Arts accomplishes six goals:

  1. Learn how to make art on purpose, not by luck or happenstance. Students learn to create in the mind and then execute a plan that allows them to achieve powerful, imaginative, thematic images.
  2. Learn how to discipline your time and resources to create a project.
  3. Learn how to extend the emotional range of your work, and explore self-revelation.
  4. Learn how develop a visual theme that presents a vision beyond record.
  5. Learn how to create museum quality prints.
  6. Learn to develop an audience for your work that will earn you income.

All of these reasons, and more, are the things that you need to excel in any photographic genre. That is why Fine Art Photography is a requirement for those students studying photography in an academic institution.  Enrolling and completing the course at The Center does not mean your work will necessarily hang on the walls of a famous institution, but it does mean you will be able to exercise a greater creative depth with your work, apply advanced techniques and become an ‘expressive specific’ not a visual generality.

These are the tools, thinking, and discipline that you will need to bring to any photographic genre, and “yes” you need to study fine art… you need to stretch to succeed.

Bob Killen teaches the Adobe Curriculum and Fine Art Photography at the Orange County Center for Photography and Digital Arts. You can enroll in our next FA series, which begins in January 10, 2014, by clicking here. To reach Bob for additional information, please contact him at

Please follow and like us:

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *