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.