What Are the Best Camera Settings to Capture Fine Art Photography

Image of a graveyard and church ruins transformed into a fine art photograph
Fine art photograph of a graveyard

When we reflect on fine art photography, we need to have different approaches to express our creativity. You need to be different!

A unique photograph means capturing not only a beautiful scene or portrait but capturing an emotion, a message, capturing a story.

A fine-art photograph, to explain in simple words, is the conception of the photographer to express through visual representation.

But to capture a fine art photograph that can stand up, you need to be creative and have an approach that can alter reality with your unique photography strategy and have to consider experimenting with camera settings.

You don’t have to follow specific rules to photograph fine art; that is the idea, to express your creativity and imagination and imprint on a photograph.

However, there are a few settings to consider if you want to stand up for your fine art photography game.

Let’s go a bit over the settings, shall we?

Lenses to use to capture fine art photography

50mm lens

A 50mm lens on a full-frame camera or a 35mm lens on an APC-S camera is the closest to capturing reality without the image being distorted by the focal length.
I always found that using a lens with this focal length and aiming for fine art may capture another perspective of reality (while completely eliminating the focal distortion).

Of course, in fact, many lenses with different focal lengths are going to work just fine. It really depends on the scene, after all. Other fine art photographers may have different opinions. But at least this is what I use.

giant statue silhouette in front of a huge fire

As an instance, this photograph which nicely can represent fine art was taken with a prime lens of focal length of 105mm

One thing to mention: I always LOVE shooting with a prime lens (fixed focal length) because of the clarity and shallow depth of field resulting from a very large aperture — As an instance, my favourite lens is a Nikkor 50mm f/1.2 manual focus lens.

The aperture of the lens

The aperture really depends on the photographer approach and style. But as a guideline, I found out that photographs taken with a large aperture for a very shallow depth of field always pops in fine art.

As an example, I always use f/1.2, f/1.4, f/1.8 when I have a fine art concept in my mind to photograph.

branch image captured at f/1.2 aperture
Image captured at f/1.2 aperture

In my opinion, you should always use manual focus when aiming for fine-art photography with a shallow depth of field.

It will assist you better at focusing on shallow depth of fields because the focus area is very narrow, and often the autofocus may miss, but you manual focus per your concept, and it doesn’t always have to be in the right place. Remember to be creative.

The shutter speed of the camera

The shutter speed is not a primary setting when aiming for fine-art photography. You either have a fast shutter speed to instantly capture the moment, such as 1/120s or faster, or you take the long-exposure approach if you have motion in your frame that will benefit (e.g. flowing water in the background, people moving etc.).

If you are aiming for long exposure fine art photographs, match the length of the shutter speed with the scenery you are part of. For example, with people moving in the background, I would go with a shutter speed between 1 and 5 seconds, whilst flowing water may benefit better from 20+ seconds shutter speed for a silky texture.

Keep in mind that if you are aiming for long exposure fine art photographs during the daytime, you may need an ND (neutral density) filter to block some light going into your lens and to help you slow down the shutter speed.

As mentioned, it always depends on context and scenery.

ISO. Does it matter?

ISO does matter. A lot.

ISO CHART in photography
ISO CHART Created by Gabriel Mihalcea (lovelyscape)

In most cases, you may want to go with low ISO, such as ISO100, to avoid any image noises; however, I’ve seen some concepts where fine art photographers are using high ISO to their advantage to give a noisy touch to the image.

ISO needs to be balanced right with the aperture and shutter speed in order to capture a right exposed image (not underexposed nor overexposed). Still, suppose the lighting conditions are not good, and your shutter speed is too slow to capture handheld. In that case, you may want to consider mounting the camera on a tripod or raising the ISO to facilitate the shutter speed (unless you widen the aperture).

In any case, many fine art photographers may capture with an ISO of 100 and add digital noise in post-processing software such as Lightroom or Photoshop for better control over the noise.

Post-processing your fine-art photographs

When it comes to post-processing, this is the part you may have to put most of the work. Remember, your imagination and concept shape a fine-art photograph, and it has to be out of the ordinary.

Go beyond the basics of post-processing. Go to a point the image will pop differently from everything you have ever seen, even if the raw photograph doesn’t shape it much.

As to give you a good example, look at the first image from this article, the one with the graveyard. The image was pretty boring out of the camera, just an old church and a graveyard. But I went above and beyond the simple techniques of post-processing, and although I did not touch photoshop, everything was done in lightroom. This is the concept I had in mind to spark the image into a lovely fine art photograph.

Also, black and white photographs are quite prominent in fine art photography.

Have a different approach.

As with every photography niche, to stand out from the overcrowded world of photographers, you need to be different. You have a different approach, use your own photographic style, and make sure you deliver high-quality concepts.

Don’t be the standard Joe. Use your imagination, and you can make a huge difference.

Before wrapping things up, I want to underline that having your own concept and approach to fine art photography is the core step into creating your unique portfolio and adding massive value to your photos.

In conclusion and TLDR of "What are the best camera settings to capture fine art photography".

Let me go for a quick TLDR here:

  • Use your own imagination and photographic style to capture fine-art
  • Is better to use wider apertures such as f/1.2, f/1.4, f/1.8 etc for a shallow depth of field which often is prominent in fine-art photography
  • As for shutter speed, you can go with fast shutter speeds or long exposure photographs. Both may work just okay in fine art photography
  • ISO, in general, should be 100. You can play with the ISO to add image noise in your photographs to spark the fine art image you have in mind, but it's a better approach to just use ISO100 and if you want to add noise, add it digitally in post-processing
  • Post-processing is your friend. Even a quite boring image can be sparked into a fine-art photograph with heavy post-processing and alteration.

In conclusion, fine-art photography should mostly not follow any photography rule, because is the concept of the photographer on how to create the image which can be redefined as the fine-art photograph.

Thank you for remaining until the end of this post. I hope to see you around. Take care and stay safe!

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