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Art advice - 08 August 2018

An introduction to photography

The perfect meeting of art and science, photography allows an artist to capture the world around them in the click of a button. But fine art photography, is more than just documentary; it is, as the name suggests, a fine art. In this blog we will look at not only what this means, but also consider some of the key terms that accompany the fine art photographs on our online marketplace.


A fine art photographer will not only have the ultimate technical skills to create a perfectly framed, lit, and developed image. They also apply a creative and critical eye in order to elevate their imagery beyond what is presented to them and communicate a message.

To help explain what fine art photography is, perhaps it is easiest to compare to other photographic categories. For instance, take journalistic photography, which is factual in its nature; its purpose being to capture imagery in order to report on the latest news and world events. Alternatively, consider commercial photography, which is the creation of photographic imagery to meet a commercial brief, these images tend to have a specific purpose which is linked to financial gain e.g. for use in a company brochure, or advertising campaign, featuring product placements.

Fine art photography, by comparison, aims to creatively communicate an emotion or message, and there is a myriad of ways in which the artist can choose to accomplish this. A photographers subject choice, focus, colour treatment or production technique are just some of the expanse of creative choices open to them. Just consider the equally beautiful by opposing styles of Barry Cawston's Suburban States - with its hyper-realisic style and saturated colours, compared to Gareth Haywards delicate Hybrid I with created by layering multiple photographic images to create a new fantastical butterfly-like winged creature.


So, now that we know what fine art photography is, here are some of the key terms and phrases that are used to explain the techniques or creative decisions a photographer has made:


turner_barnes_gallery-gareth_hayward-hybrid_1_small-photographyAn edition is a predetermined number of prints at a specific size from a single image, printed at exhibition quality. Each editioned print should be individually numbered (e.g. 5/10), signed and dated, either on the print itself or on an accompanying certificate. Often an ‘Artists Proof’ will exist separate to the edition and is usually the first or last to be printed. Editioning is more common among contemporary photographers and gives the collector an assurance of authenticity. So, while you are browsing photographs to adorn a wall at home, you can be confident that you’re purchasing a limited edition of a photograph, rather than a mass-produced product.


Otherwise known as a Chromogenic Colour or Colour Coupler print, C-Type is the generic name for a modern colour print. Colour sensitive layers of emulsion on the paper respond to the colour information in the negative when the light is shone through it. After the initial development, chemical compounds called dye couplers are added to form a layer of hues that produce the full colour image.

Digital C-Type / Lambda / Lightjet

The Lambda, or Lightjet, is a C-type printed from a digital image file (captured digitally or scanned from a print or film). The image is projected onto light sensitive paper using sophisticated laser technology.


 Las memorias James SparshattA form of black and white printing that uses platinum instead of silver salts. Platinum is reduced from light sensitive iron salts to form an image as platinum particles become embedded in the paper. Known for their wide range of subtle tonal variations and fine grain, platinum prints have a significantly longer life expectancy than silver prints. Pallidium is often used as an alternative to platinum, giving similar results. James Sparshatt's stunning photograph Las memorias is an example of a platinum print (and one of our faves!)


Polaroid is film that develops moments after exposure giving an instant positive or negative print that is completely unique. Polaroid has many creative possibilities such as experimenting with emulsion lifts and image transfers. Emulsions lifts involve soaking the Polaroid in hot water and separating the emulsion from the photographic paper. The emulsion can be then shaped or stretched onto a new piece of paper and worked into using paint and other media. Image transfer is where the Polaroid is prematurely peeled and then placed against a new receptor paper to develop normally. Andrew Millar's I See Now uses a combination of polaroid and gold leaf in his series etherial of works.


Andrew Millar, I See Now, 2017A colour print made by the reversal process from a positive film (transparency or slide), you can also print from a positive film using Ilfochrome, which incorporated a dye-bleach process, resulting in purer and more permanent colour.


A print produced a significant amount of time after the photograph was taken. For example, a 1950s print reprinted in 2000.


A print produced within 5 years of the making of the negative. Valuable to collectors as it is thought to demonstrate the photographer’s initial intention, the print will perhaps reflect process based trends from the time when the photograph was taken. A vintage print may not be the best quality of print available of the desired image, but it is sought after due to its telling properties.


We hope that has cleared up some of the whats and hows of fine art photography, if you are drawn to this medium there are so many styles and subjects to explore and enjoy on our online marketplace or at one of our international fairs.




Main Image:
Tim Hall, Gone Fishing, 2015, C-Type, £280, limited edition of 25, signed, unframed, DURLACHER CONTEMPORARY.

Featured art from first to last:
Barry Cawston, Suburban States, 2017, photograph, limited edition of 15, signed, £1,350, The Drugstore Gallery.
Gareth Haywards, Hybrid I, 2017, limited edition of 5, £700, Turner Barnes Gallery.
James Sparshatt, Las memorias, 2016, palladium platinum print, limited edition of 12, £2,150, Capital Culture.
Andrew Millar, I See Now, 2017, polaroid collage with 24K Crt Gold Leaf and hand applied colour, limited edition, signed, unframed, £100, Smithson Gallery.


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