Sometimes I am asked what the difference is between a commercial photograph and a fine art photograph. I will attempt to give you my opinion in a clear and concise manner.
A commercial photograph is about the subject, and a fine art photograph is about the meaning. I’m making a bold statement, so an explanation is in order.
We are inundated with images every day. Most are geared to seducing us into parting with our hard earned money. These commercial images are usually a clear representation of the item for sale. Technically correct and beautiful, they can be very effective indeed. They are in no way designed to make us think beyond the image presented. Their purpose is to have the public recognize and desire the product. Think about Pottery Barn catalogs, or billboards of beautiful jewelry.
Fine art photography is not concerned with selling a product (other than the image itself). The concern is with evoking an emotion, reaction, or memory, while at the same time, adhering to standards of technical excellence. Some of the best fine art photographs allow the viewer to project their own opinions onto the image. Fine art images can be of places, people, animals or things. The subject is not as important as meaning behind it.
Here are two very different images. The first, taken in the manner of a commercial photograph, is an accurate representation of a marble and a bottle. I created this image to be nothing more than a visual treat. You probably look at it and think “I like those colors” or “that’s a pretty picture”. That’s fine. That’s what the image is intended to do.
The next photo is part of a fine art series I am shooting this summer. It is a tunnel. When you look at it, you may ask yourself “where does it go?” or “what kinds of things have transpired in here?” You might think about hope in the light beyond the tunnel, or you may even be scared standing alone inside the darkness. The photo poses questions and elicits a reaction from each viewer.