Monthly Archives: February 2016

Exploring Fine Art Photography


“Hi Professional Photo Critique, 

Lisa here from Paper Hearts Photography (previously Bliss Photography). I am currently trying to change up my style in my work to reflect a more fine art photography look in my images. I have always loved the darker, more artsy type images but wanted to wait a few years to dip into it so I can get the experience I needed with basic photography to obtain the goal I want in my work. So each month I am going to set up and shoot a different themed session. This month I started with what I call, “FOREST”.

So now I am hoping to get some feed back on my images and see what I can do to improve what I am going for exactly. Please note I do use overlays and actions in my work to try to give it a darker look and I have decreased the contrast a bit.”


NIKON D7100 50mm f1.8 1/4000 ISO 400


Welcome back to Professional Photo Critique Lisa! I’m so glad you’ve found our online photography critique helpful and are back for another session. It’s nice to see you branching out and doing something “for yourself” by exploring fine art photography. Too many times, as artists, we focus on the images that generate income. We get so busy working to generate imagery that satisfies the needs of others that we forget to satisfy ourselves. Eventually, this will lead to dissatisfaction with photography. Telling other people’s stories is fine, but we also need time to express our own. These singularly unique ideas are what will set us apart from every other photographer out there.

“Concept without execution is like coming up with a beautiful idea for a poem and then misspelling some of the words when you publish it.”

So let’s begin an analysis of your departure into the fine art side of photography. Fine art photography is one of the most difficult genres of photography to define. Even the dictionaries only offer ambiguous references, “photography created to fulfill the vision of the individual professional.” This definition would seem to apply to all commercial photography. I would add that in commercial photography we often have to satisfy the client and in the documentary and photojournalism world, we are trying to be objective. Fine art photography is the only genre where we are 100% free to express ourselves. But that freedom doesn’t always mean an endless outpouring of imagery. More often than not, we are so accustomed to shooting for someone else that we are out of practice when it comes to generating our own unique ideas.

I believe there are three characteristics that are extremely important to achieving success with fine art photography. The first, and probably most important is concept. This is the story you’re attempting to communicate. Having a strong concept behind your piece not only gives the viewer a reason to look, but gives them reasons to continue looking. Your concept will direct your lighting, color palette, composition and all other storytelling elements in your photograph. Whenever you have a question about any element of your photograph, you simply return to your concept and realign yourself.

When viewing your photograph, titled “Forest,” I’m left wondering what the story is. What are you sharing with me and what am I supposed to feel when viewing your image? The first thing I do is look to the model’s face for cues on what I’m supposed to be feeling. Without this interaction, I’m left to roam around the image looking for meaning. And I don’t really find anything. These are questions that I shouldn’t be asking. But they are also questions that you are asking. In your submission, you wrote, “…to obtain the goal I want in my work” and “…what I can do to improve what I am going for exactly.” It seems like you executed a shot without a concept or intent.

A photograph without a concept is simply a pretty picture. There’s nothing wrong with a pretty picture, but in a day when millions of pretty pictures are being uploaded to social media, an image that makes me feel something will stand out in the visual onslaught. A good conceptual photograph will give you enough information to understand the story but it won’t tell you the ending.

An excellent source of inspiration for conceptual photography are our memories, our dreams and nightmares, variations on other photographer’s work, current events and popular and obscure literature. The story is so important that when we do get a vision or have a moment of inspiration, it’s important to write it down. Always carry a notepad or write it in your phone. I like the notepad because I tend to sketch out my ideas so that I can ensure that I retain that visual. A couple of my favorite fine art photographers are Brooke Shaden and Martin Stranka. Shaden is known to sketch out her ideas in much the same way I do, although her sketches are far superior to mine. Each of these artists has achieved a high level of success. Pay special attention to their color palette, their concepts and how their intention and concept are executed to achieve their narrative.


Sketching the ideas that you get so that you don’t forget them is an excellent way to preserve moments of inspiration.


Brooke Shaden


Brooke Shaden


Brooke Shaden


Brooke Shaden

The next element of fine art photography is intent. If concept is your story, intent is the reason you are sharing it. It’s the WHY. Why is this image important to you? What inspired you to press the shutter? Is it cathartic? Are you hoping to share this experience with others? Your intent will inform your choices for framing, lens selection, lighting, composition, posing, etc.

The final trait of fine art photography is execution. If you have a great concept, backed by genuine intention then it would be a shame to stumble with the technical aspects. It’d be like coming up with a beautiful idea for a poem and then misspelling some of the words when you publish it. Sure, you got your point across, but sometimes the errors detract from the potential beauty.


Martin Stranka


Martin Stranka


Martin Stranka


Martin Stranka

I really enjoy your styling, the headdress and bouquet are spectacular. I would expect the story to be just as spectacular and I don’t see it. I’m left with the impression that the story was built around the props, instead of the props being used as elements in the story. A lot of the frame’s information is used to establish the setting or environment. This must be important because there was so much information dedicated to this. But yet, I don’t see a whole lot of justification for this much space around the subject. I believe the subject is supposed to be the center of interest. And that’s where I believe the crop should be.

And if your center of interest is the woman, I think there are a couple of techniques you could utilize to help emphasize that. You can provide separation from the background with contrast (a light subject on a dark background or vice versa). She’s a dark object on a similarly dark background. I think she would stand out more if she’d been placed against the light background behind her. Depth of field would also help to further establish the woman as the center of interest. I know your depth of field is extremely shallow, but you can increase this by pulling the subject away from the competing elements behind her. The last technique I’d suggest for separation is color. You can use complementary color to help bring that subject forward by placing a warm color in the background and cooling the subject down or vice versa. This effect can be achieved with any color on the color wheel, simply choose your color and then head across the color wheel to find that color’s complement. Movie posters regularly utilize color as a means of separation and emphasis.

I love the color palette you chose and I think you created a beautiful image. If this is your beginning, I’m excited to see where this new direction will take you. Congrats on your new direction and we look forward to seeing your new imagery!


Based on your theme ‘FOREST’, I think you clearly represented the connection between the subject and the environment. I like the how the twigs in her headpiece echo the texture of the background. The costume and attention to detail are all present in color palette as well. In your retouching, the added warmth shifts the mood. As a fine art image, I can see this being pushed even further one way or another just in tone. The original image had a cooler feeling, which could send the viewer a message of sadness, isolation or make me wonder more about the subject. Adding the warmth makes me focus more on the connection to the environment in a more positive correlation.

When experimenting with fine art stylized images, I think its worth pushing it a little further, with style, tone, and even separation between the subject and background. The tiniest shift in details of color, texture, form comes loaded with meaning and mood. In addition, I feel that I get a feeling/mood when I look at this image but I still don’t really have enough information, or that I desire to see it pushed further. It appears as if she is holding a dried petal to her chin. It’s hard to make out exactly what is happening. The subjects body language and posturing is crucial in telling me more about this moment. I prefer the message to be subtle, but not lost upon me. Knowing that the theme is ‘FOREST’, perhaps are there more images to help tell the story? Or various images reflecting different moods and places in the forest. This image reflects a space in the forest, but I also envision tall trees, green canopies or even fallen trees when I think of the word forest. There are so many directions to take this further. If you’re going for a warmer feeling, allowing more light into the scene would emphasis that. I see a great start with this image and I want to see more and know more.




Hi Lisa,

Thank you for submitting your work. Being successful through fine art photography can be a very challenging, but personally rewarding experience. That means that the work is very personal to the artist and it can be difficult to find the niche market that it can serve. A focus toward fine art is more than making something look more moody or interesting. Establishing a career in fine art photography means that you have a strong and valid concept. I’m glad that you are looking into a theme of “Forest,” but you’ll need to be able to describe your imagery in more detail than a vague description. What is it about the relationship of the subject (a model) to the location (nature)?  People become interested in fine art for what it says through it’s visuals. What the visuals say about the message is important. How the photo speaks to people and what it says in more important than what it shows.

If you look at the technical aspects of your image, it’s pretty good. There’s a clear center of focus and a nice color aesthetic that informs the mood. It’s not as “dark” as you initially described it, but that may be a difference in the value that you consider “dark”. The time of day with the warmer sunlight in the background doesn’t give it a “darker” mood than if it was during the dusk after sunset. Giving it a colder tone can change the feeling. In regards to the sunshine in the background, it does tend to pull my attention away from the model. Not but much since the model is wearing white, but it does compete for the attention.

The model’s interaction with the surrounding nature gives me some thought with no clear messaging. What does her expression say about the location? Her posture seems unnatural and forced. It sends a message that she was told to “stand here, hold this, put your hand there.” This can be seen in the hand held out and flowers tilted in an awkward position. Consider what you are saying with your model. What is the messaging? What story does the model provide for the audience? is this a forest queen? Is she heartbroken? What is her relationship with the flowers? There is a disassociation with the flowers that could have provided a stronger message.

I would encourage you to look into Alexia Sinclair as there is a subtle influence of her work in this image. But consider how she is responsible for every detail of her work. The gesture, the pose, the framing, the design, the aesthetics; all of it provides a visual work of art. And what does it speak about? It uses aspects of the renaissance art to provide contemporary aesthetics of beauty and fashion. There is a fascination and seduction for the antique of luxury.

I think your image holds my interest, but I encourage you to stay focused on the details of what I am suppose to see from your image. What is the story that I am to know? There are many distractions that take away from the messaging. Is it the model’s attention? No, she is shadowed more than the dress. Is it the flowers? No, they do not have much compositional structure to bring my attention to them. Is it the crown? No, it is lost in the details of the background. Is it the location? No, there is no strong focus to its composition or focal point of interest. All these things are elements of the image, but they are not working to add to the concept. Rather, they pull my attention to a variety of aspects, stories and themes. Thinking more about your messaging can develop a particular criteria that your images will include. This will allow your work to represent a clearer concept and transform it from just an interesting piece of art to a purposeful work of fine art.

Portrait Photography Critique



My name is Andreas Perminow from Norway and I would be grateful for any guidance I can get to improve my photography and retouching. I currently enjoy taking pictures of my kids and family and sometimes take photos of friends and family as well.

Lately I’ve considered taking paying jobs as a photographer, but I´m still uncertain if my skills are at the level they need to be for me to be confident enough to charge someone for my work. It would be great to get an online photography critique in order to help strengthen my confidence. 


EXIF INFO: Canon Eos 6d, 50mm, 1/100, f1.4, ISO 200


Welcome to Professional Photo Critique Andreas! It’s good to see our online photo critique site is reaching people all over the world. I’ve never been to Norway but it’s been on my bucket list for years. Let’s dive into your beautiful image and see if we can’t give you some sound advice.

Let me begin first with where I think you could improve. While I appreciate your use of a warmer tone, I really like the original background. I’d love to see what that would look like if you warmed it up. I understand that there’s a dark pattern in the background on the shadow side of his face. It was a good decision to remove this because it takes depth away from the shot. Light on light and dark on dark generally flatten an image and the exact opposite help give the image depth. So I appreciate the change you made.Another technique that gives the image depth is having a complementary color contrast – this means if you have warm tones in your subject, to have cooler tones in your background.

I really appreciate the organic patterns in the original capture. The locations you find make your image unique (unless of course someone finds the locations where you like to shoot!) and anyone can purchase a digital background set.

The last element of your image I think could be improved is the wardrobe. As photographers, it’s understood that everything that we present in our final image is intentional. Your subject is wearing a white shirt. As a rule of thumb, anything that is brighter in tonality than the subject’s face attracts the viewer’s attention first. It’s best to have your subjects wear something that is less interesting than their face; avoid abstract, interesting designs, lines, patterns and bright colors. What saves your image is that the shirt isn’t incredibly white and you didn’t blow out your highlights.

Your light is fantastic. I love the beautiful catchlights in the little boy’s eyes. They are situated at 10 o’clock and provide an aesthetic lighting pattern on the boy’s face. I really appreciate your choice of warming the color up instead of leaving it colder as in the original capture. I think your depth of field is used to perfection. I enjoy shooting wide open, especially in environmental portraits like this one. Your crop has also improved the image by eliminating unnecessary information and forcing the viewer to engage the portrait’s eyes. The last, and probably most important aspect of this image is your connection with the portrait. The little boy’s expression is fantastic – it’s mischievous and engaging.

And finally, to answer the question posed in your email, I would not hesitate to pay you for your portrait work. You are producing a quality product where you engage with the client, use good light and have a set of Photoshop skills that compliment your photography. You are more than ready to begin making money with your photography. We’d love to see your growth and see some of your work you produce for your clients! Please keep in touch.


I really like a simple, shallow-depth-of-field portrait. The post work on this image has strengthened this portrait in many ways, such as the added warmth and the elimination of distractions in the background. Adding the warm tones makes the image have a much different mood than the original. So depending on the client and purpose of this portrait, one style would be more meaningful than the other. Eliminating the various shapes and tones in the background creates an even background that makes the focus stay directly on the subject, and the nice sharp focus on the eyes.

As for the other post work done on this image, such as the skin retouching and color choice of the background I have some considerations. I happen to prefer a less retouched skin. That is a personal preference that I have. Many clients want that work done, and will choose you as a photographer for that work. The background, I am not drawn to that color. The background tone is too similar to the skin tone that it blends all together. In addition to that, since the background is so clean and now warm, it makes it look like a backdrop instead of an environment. I don’t know your intention, but I prefer having a sense of separation between the subject and background as well as a sense of space/environment. If I was shooting on location, I may in this situation moved my subject slightly so that I wouldn’t have to face as many background distractions. Then from that point forward I would have approached the post edit of the background differently. I would have left the uneven background, if subject was place more methodically in the environment, as well as keep the tone similar to what it is now. I am drawn to the warm skin in a cooler, cyan background. The two colors work together very harmoniously together. Again this comes down to personal style and what your client is interested in.



Hi Andreas and thank you for you submission. I don’t spend much time post-processing opting for getting it in camera, but I do appreciate someone with a good skill to improve the look of an otherwise bland image.

I think you’ve done a lot to this image to improve it. I really like the decision to warm the image as it adds a bit a life into the youth’s smile. The warmer tones adds a more elated feeling toward the subject. This matches with the subject’s expression as it does not reflect a more dramatic and thoughtful style.

There has been a lot of work done to remove the distractions in the background. This brings focus back to the subject. There seems to have been a lot of cloning used to removed these distractions. This appears to have caused a bit of blotching in the background. You can see the blemishes in the gradient on the right corner of the frame as well as the top left corner and left side. The transitions are not as smooth as they should be and the pattern is not as uniformed as it could be. You may consider shooting a smaller section of the wall that can be used as a background plate and then overlaying the subject on top of that image. This would alleviate some of the banding issues while retaining the same lighting aesthetics to the image.

The original image appears to be lit only by a nice window light. The natural light is nice and soft. If you are paying attention to details as a retoucher then you want to understand the locations of the bright and dark areas and their relationship to the viewer. The highlights are pulled forward while the shadows are pulled back in the attention for the viewer. What this means is the brightest spot of the image is what you give attention to. For this image, the brightest area is located on the side of the face to the left of the subject’s eyes. The darker area to the right of the frame pulls the focus from the center of both eyes to the left. Consider brightening just a little bit of the right side to bring back the focus. Or darkening the cheek to draw the attention to the eyes.

Overall there is little that really needs to be done to this image. It’s a great photo in the original that was only improved by the editing. You should consider taking paying jobs as people would be happy to have this type of images of their own family. There are many people who pay for photography with less skill. Having a client see several images from you allows them to make the decision if the price matches the quality of work.