Tag Archives: brooke shaden

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.