News + Features

2021 RF + WPPI Fine-Art Photography Tips and Trends

June 24, 2021

By Rangefinder + WPPI Staff

© Richard Tuschman

An image from Richard Tuschman entitled “Under The Willow Tree” 2017.

The definition of fine-art photography can be nebulous, as it can encompass any number of styles and genres. In Rf and WPPI’s latest survey over 250 photographers told us about their fine-art practice, and many agreed that the defining factor was its singular expression of the artist’s vision.

“Fine-art photography is work you create for yourself; work you feel compelled to make,” one photographer responded. “It’s not produced specifically for someone else’s usage.” Another commented: “I always tell people that journalism is about the subject…and fine art is about the photographer.”

The survey, part of our monthly educational content to help photographers reset their businesses this year, was taken by photographers in the US and abroad. Three-quarters of respondents were full- or part-time professional photographers, while 15% were advanced amateurs or enthusiasts. Just over half use he/him pronouns; 32% use she/her, 3% use they/them and 13% declined to answer. The majority (68%) were over 55 years old, and nearly 40% of respondents have spent 30+ years in the industry.

While 71% of photographers said they had photographed fine-art or passion projects within the past 18 months, 59% said fine art is not their primary style of photography. For many, it’s just one aspect of their business, or the creative outlet they turn to simply for the love of the medium.

Photographer Lindsay Turner, who has added fine-art portraits to her business, calling it a “game-changer,” told Rf earlier this year: “Most photographers start their business because photography is their passion. I know I did. But I quickly discovered that being a professional photographer is 20 percent being an artist and 80 percent being an entrepreneur.”

Half of photographers told us that they work on both project-based and long-term fine-art series (50%), while 30% exclusively work on project-based bodies of work and 14% only work long term.

Photographer Richard Tuschman, who is known for his dreamy art history-influenced montages that digitally place real people inside dollhouse-sized dioramas, told Rf how his longer creative process fosters more ideas.

“The ideas just bubble up. I almost always get one when I am working on a current series,” he said in April. “That’s the one nice aspect to how long they take to do: I can come up with the next one. I never end up with a terrifying blank page in front of me.”

Though 69% of photographers said they don’t build sets for their work, doing so can provide another creative process that becomes integral to one’s practice.

“I just love working with my hands,” Tuschman said in an earlier interview in 2017. “I like having a part of the process that’s not behind the computer or behind the camera. To build these sets, I find it really satisfying in a sort of primal way.”

Photographers also largely responded that they use Photoshop to enhance their images, with 79% saying yes, versus 21% who do not. When asked what effect they want to achieve with their Photoshop application, half said they are creating an artistic signature edit, versus 11% who said they are looking to add a painterly quality to the work, 11% who said they add surreal elements and 4% who are adding an aged/historical effect.

When selling their fine-art work, photographers responded that their portrait and outdoor photography were popular options for print sales. And overall, 64% said they are finding that clients want something more tangible than digital files.

Photographers Yaneck and Sasha Wasio from Wasio Photography told Rf in 2018 that to make more money with print sales, photographers should educate their clients on their products from the very first meeting. “In this digital age, most people are not familiar with photographic prints,” they suggested. “Discuss with your clients the standard of papers and inks that are used, including factors such as longevity and archival quality. This will help justify the price difference between a print made by a photographic lab from around the corner versus one from a high-end printmaker.”

However, photographers largely said that fine-art sales only made up a small portion of their business, if at all, with 31% saying they contribute up to a quarter of sales, and 35% saying they don’t sell make fine-art sales. 71% said their fine-art sales have not increased over the past 18 months—roughly the timeframe of the pandemic—but for those who did see an increase, 29% saw a 50% or higher bump up, while 21% saw an increase between 21-25%, 17% saw an increase between 25-50%, and the rest saw a tick up below 21%.

Photographers were also asked where they exhibit their work, and the most popular option was through photography competitions (47%), followed by galleries (44%), art fairs (20%), festivals (14%) and museums (9%). However, making sales from fine-art exhibitions can be tricky: 56% said they do not make sales from exhibitions, and 63% said their fine art has not offered them new revenue streams.

For selling digital artworks, non-fungible tokens (NFTs) is still a nascent area, and 98% of photographers replied that they had yet to produce an NFT. “The acronym NFT is more than just a buzzword, especially for artists starting to see some cash from the quickly expanding digital art marketplace,” photographer Lindsay Adler told Rf in April. “The blockchain-based limited-edition digital art and collectable system, however, is confusing, to say the least. Getting started isn’t as simple as uploading a photo online—it involves cryptocurrency, a crypto wallet, gas fees, minting, bidding and more.” If you’re interested in learning how to wade through the NFT waters, see Adler’s guide “10 Steps to Selling Photographs as NFTs.”

Overwhelmingly, respondents offered paper prints in their fine-art offerings (76%), followed by canvas prints (35%) and frames and matte (32%). For their most popular products, paper prints and canvas prints also reigned, but with albums scoring higher than frames and matte.

Photographers favored matte prints the most, followed by satin/luster, cotton and rag, and bartya. The least popular print products were metal prints and digital halide.

While 63% of photographers use a local or nationwide lab, the photographers who print at home prefer Epson and Canon printers. And for paper brands, photographers listed Hahnemühle first, followed by Epson and Ilford. 59% of survey-takers said they provide archival finishes to their products.

Kate and Jason Higdon of Captured Moments Photography have built their reputation by showcasing their prints and wall portraits. “We rarely get asked for digital files,” they told Rf in 2017. “We think it’s because prints and products are showcased in our marketing pieces, highlighted on social media, displayed in our studio, set up at charitable functions for silent auctions, highlighted in other businesses and more. Setting an expectation for prints and products is key to selling them. If you only show images online, especially on social media, people will think that’s all you sell.”

See Our List of Webinar Sessions and Watch Now.

Related Articles:
The Full Reset Series
2021 Portrait Tips and Trends
2021 Lighting Tips and Trends
2021 Photo Posing Tips and Trends
2021 Photography Business and Copyright Trends

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is RF_WPPI_Reset_EmailSignUp_button-1.png
Sign up to receive the newest Reset content.