I think many of us in photography are striving to be more artistic.
Is photography art?
First of all, is photography ‘art’? Yes. Whoever says otherwise is a pretentious asshole.
What is ‘art’?
To me, art is expression of the human soul. You can produce art in any way, shape, or form. You can make art on a pencil and pad, on your phone, on your keyboard, with your voice, your body, or your mind.
Is there ‘good’ or bad art?
No. There is only art that pleases you, or doesn’t please you.
For me, I would rather make art that pleases me, rather than produce mediocre art that pleases the masses.
In reality, it is very rare that you can make art that the masses appreciate, and you can appreciate too.
For example, in hip hop music, I am more drawn to Jay Electronica than Jay-Z. I’m also more of a fan of Kendrick Lamar instead of any mainstream rapper.
To make more artistic photos is to make photos that pleases you more. That pleases your eyes aesthetically, and pleases your soul.
So some ideas:
1. Perfect your compositions
For me, I am trying to make the perfect composition in my photos. I’ve been obsessed with composition, ever since I started street photography, and was inspired by landscape, and architectural photography. And of course, Henri Cartier-Bresson was a massive inspiration for me.
a) Subtract the superfluous
For me, I’m always trying to achieve perfection in composition by subtracting the superfluous. Therefore, I see myself as more of a minimalist. I think a perfect composition is simple. But it is harder to create simple compositions, than overly busy and complex compositions.
Start off by eliminating clutter. That means try to get the simplest background possible. Cut away from the edges of the frame. Don’t have distractions on the edges of your frame. If you’re starting off in your photo composition, start off with the background then add your subjects in.
b) See your photos as small thumbnails
Another tip: you can tell if you have a good composition through small thumbnails. I make it a practice to look at my photos as small thumbnails in Lightroom. This allows me to see my photos like ‘contact sheets’ — which helps me easily scan through hundreds of photos, to choose the photos with the most soul and the cleanest compositions:
To learn more, check out my contact sheets.
c) Photography is light
Photography means ‘painting with light.’ Without light, a photo couldn’t exist.
So make sure you have the right light in your photos.
That doesn’t mean you have to shoot in natural light, or during ‘golden hour’ (sunrise or sunset). Just have the type of light you want for the certain photo.
For example, if you want more silhouettes, shoot late at night, under some street lights.
If you want warm tones shoot during sunrise or sunset, when the shadows of your subjects are taller than them.
If you want edgy and dynamic photos, use a flash. You can use a flash either indoors, outdoors, or in the shade.
2. Make a series
Good art is (generally) as part of a series. Good art has a concept and theme. Good art has continuity, and a larger message.
I know for me, my favorite photo projects are the ones that are projects. While I love the individual image, I feel that photo projects and books are more artistic. Because they are harder to put together, take more time and work, and really reveal the story-telling skills of the photographer.
For example, my favorite photo projects include:
You can also check out all my photo book reviews.
But when you’re putting together a photo series, you get to put your artist statement on it. What are you trying to say with your photos?
You don’t need something pretentious. Just make it personal. Like how Jacob Aue Sobol photographed his ex-girlfriend, with love and compassion (The Sabine) project.
For me, I’m trying to make my photos more personal. With more soul. This is what has driven me to make the ‘Cindy Project‘ — a photo series documenting my life with the love of my life.
I want to document Cindy in an artistic way. I have been alternating between monochrome and color. For monochrome, I aim for minimalism, form, and emotion. For color, I look for bright shapes, and bold colors.
Ultimately, if it feels like art to me, it is art.
As for you, if it feels like art, it is art.
Some resources to get you going:
- How to Come Up With a Personal Photography Project Idea
- How to Start Your Own Street Photography Project
- Free E-Book: The Street Photography Project Manual
3. Ignore what others tell you
Great art cannot be dictated by the masses. You need to follow your own gut and intuition. You need to (selectively) ignore those whose opinion don’t matter to you for long periods of time. Any great art requires you to seclude yourself a bit, and to come up with innovative ideas in a vacuum.
I know for my personal transformation in photography (like shooting more abstract photography) has happened because I stopped uploading photos to social media. I started to wonder:
What kind photos bring me joy?
Rather than thinking what my social media followers will like.
To evolve in your photography, you need to kill your past self. Purge your social media feed, and start fresh. Re-invent your photography.
Ignore the feedback from others (for a while), until you have a body of work under your belt. Then when you feel like you’re ready, share your art with others.
Don’t expect others to like it. If anything, the more visceral and aggressive the feedback from others, the more interesting your photos are. Great art generally tends to polarize people. People either love great art, or hate great art.
Just think of Andy Warhol’s Campbell soup cans. Think of all the haters that the Beatles had. Think about the criticism that a lot of the master photographers had, like William Klein for having blurry, out-of-focus, and grainy photos. Or Robert Frank for his project on ‘The Americans’ (it was criticized for being vulgar).
Make great art for yourself
At the end of the day, follow your gut, intuition, and focus to please yourself. Great art is putting your blood, soul, and guts in your photos.
Don’t hesitate; be an artist and photographer now.
Learn more about art and photography: