5 Things to avoid saying to a Fine Art Photographer

If you are not a regular to art shows or do not actively collect art, it can be easy to be impressed with someone’s work but say the wrong thing, especially if that artist is a photographer and you are not familiar with photography as an art form. I will list five things in no particular order that you shouldn’t say to a fine art photographer, and ideal alternatives.

1. You take nice pictures!

This a big no-no for two reasons.  First, there is much more to photography than pushing the shutter button.  The camera “takes” an image.  The photographer creates a photograph through knowledge, experience, lots of time, miles, money, and sweat.  And sometimes blood and tears.  Secondly, we always cringe when we hear our hard work referred to as “pictures”.  These are photographs, a much more respectful term.  If you want to turn this phrase around into one of the greatest compliments you can give to a fine art photographer, say “You create some beautiful photographs!”  Remember, photographers create photographs, we do not take pictures.

2. What kind of camera do you use?

This is most often asked by people who are learning photography or are wondering why their photographs do not “come out like they should”.  To be honest, it doesn’t matter what kind of camera is used.  What matters is the emotional appeal that you get when you view the artwork.  Would you ask a painter of a beautiful painting what kind of brush or paint they used?  So instead, say “I love your style (or technique), could you tell me more about it?”

3.  It must be nice to travel around all the time and take pictures!

Photography as an art is much more involved than it appears.  A very little percentage of our time in fact is spent creating photographs, compared to the amount of time it takes to prepare and sell those photographs.  An excellent phrase would be “All your hard work has really paid off!”

4.  Do you do weddings?

I understand the reasoning.  You have a wedding coming up.  This is an excellent landscape (or whatever) photographer, so they must also be a great wedding photographer.  If you can hire him/her, that’s one thing off your list!  The problem is that  wedding photography and fine art photography have little in common.  It would be like asking someone who paints water lily’s if they will paint your house….  either creating a painting of your house, or literally paint your house.  If you must know, it’s better to ask “Do you do commissioned work?”.  If they do, they’ll probably go into all the details that you want to know.

5.  I have a picture I took the other day on my phone that’s kind of like that one (you point to a framed photograph on the wall).

A similar line is talking about a photo you took just the other day of the most beautiful such-and-such ever, usually a sunset.  If you’ve read points one through four, I probably don’t need to explain why this is a bad line, unless you are just trying to pick a fight or offend the artist.  Unless that photographer is offering lessons, don’t bring up your photography skills.  If you think you are a better photographer (and it’s certainly possible), then a better approach is to say “Thank you!” and walk away.

On the Wall: Museum Series on Canvas

This month I released my “Museum Series” which is a limited edition of ten and has a price structure that increases after each of the series is sold. This series is very exclusive and is catered for the collector or decorator that is looking for something that isn’t run-of-the-mill. And what better way to introduce my new series than with my latest print of the month, Canyon Island.

Canyon Island photograph

Canyon Island

Canyon Island is unique in that it is what you might call a “vertical panorama”. Therefore, it’s not intended to be hung over the couch or the entertainment center. Instead, it works perfectly at the end of a hallway or on a narrow wall where no other large artwork will fit. (Note that my Museum Series is ready-to-hang and does not require a frame or any assembly.)

Canyon Island on wall

Canyon Island (Museum Series) on wall in my home.

Photography “Manuipulation” and Black and White

At art shows I am often asked if I “use Photoshop”. The underlying question is “Do you make changes to the photograph after the camera has captured it?” I believe I have already commented on the fact that if you are one of the 99% of people that take a photo in the .jpg file format, the camera has already made changes to the photograph so that it is acceptable. Likewise with film, if you send it to a lab, they are applying those same changes to your photograph. I simply choose to make those changes myself so that I can impress my own style and desires into the photograph, and not the camera or someone in a lab.

Guadalupe Sunrise

Guadalupe Sunrise – This is not how you would have seen this scene in reality.

However, I thought that bringing only so-called black-and-white photographs to show would quell this line of questioning. The photograph contains only gray tones, which is obviously not reality, so the original capture absolutely must be modified. Even if you are shooting monochrome (black-and-white) film, that film choice itself is an alteration of reality, not to mention the many aspects of composition itself. What you are seeing in the print was not how it was, because we see in color. But to my amazement, some people still ask this question.

Bodie

Bodie – Also not reality. A real place, but not how you would see it if you were standing right there.

To be clear, I do not look down at those who ask the question. I’m simply trying to figure out the best way to answer, so that I can help them to understand. Perhaps, like the original question of “Do you use photoshop?”, the art viewer isn’t really asking what they want to know, but the lack of knowledge of the process of photography (as an art) limits their ability to ask the “right” question. Or perhaps they are seeing other photographers’ work that is obviously “enhanced” via over-saturation and they would like to avoid adjustments altogether. Or maybe they are trying to determine why their own photographs fall short of what they are seeing other artists produce. Whatever the case, just as we accept that a magician doesn’t really use magic and instead has some sort of secret mechanism to amaze us, I hope that we, as a society, can get to the point where we accept that camera’s are not magical and that fine art photographs are created by the photographer.