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How to get Photography to Art

Maybe you have heard the sentence from other photographers: "Photography is art". But fact is: Photography is not always art. There are a couple of essential requirements we need, to get our photography to art - but then it gets much easier than lots would think.


#1 Create Something New

A very important requirement for getting out an artwork is to create anything new.

The difficulty for photography is here, that if we just capture reality, we don't create anything new. How difficult it might be to paint or to draw, it is easier to create something new with that, because a painting or a drawing is always an abstract version of reality, what makes it to something new.

To get photography to art we should think about how we build up our composition, so that we tell another story than just "This is reality".

This photograph was taken by my dad around 40 years ago. It shows my grandfather, who was an artist and a professor in art, with me - showing me where I had to look. This photo is not art, because there wasn't created anything new. It is just a capture of reality.


#2 The Integrity of the Artist

A masterpiece in art needs to have integrity of the artist included. In the simpliest way this means, that it is all about how the artist interprets the scene he wants to paint, photograph, sing - whatever.

As a painting or drawing from reality is always at least an abstract copy of reality, it automatically contains the integrity of the artist.

This drawing was made by me as I was three only, and it was created on that same day as the photograph above. It is a portrait of my grandfather. And now here comes the shock: This is art.

Why? I created something new and there is the integrity of the artist already included, as it is my interpretation of my grandfather back then.

It is definitely not the best artwork in the world, but anyway - it is art.

But when it is so easy to bring art into drawing - how can we bring art into our photography?

To get photography to art we need to create anything new and we need the integrity of the photographer. Both can be managed with an according composition. But let's have a look which further ingredients we need for getting out even a masterpiece in art.


#3 Emotions

As my grandfather was called up to the 2nd world war in 1938, they didn't give him a gun, they gave him a penicl and paper and he should draw maps. This gave him plenty time to engage with this horrible time back then, to engage with the people at the Russia crusade and unbelievable: He had even time to paint. Finally he found out due to that bad time, that emotions can bring a painting to a quite strong artwork.


#4 Expression

But emotions alone are not enough for getting art. We need to express them. When I look at the paintings and drawings of my grandfather, I see that his painting style totally changed over his time in the war. There was much more emotion expressed, lots of them had this sort of bittersweet mood and show the war from a totally different side.


#6 Story

Now we know, how easy it is to bring a drawing or painting to art - but how can we bring art into our photography?

Well, we need to create anything new, we need the integrity of the artist, we need the expression of emotions. If we just capture reality, we just get - a capture of reality. But if we start to tell a story with our photograph, it will get to art.

For me the "Gestalt Theory" of Max Wertheimer and Kurt Koffka contains a very important perception here:
"The quality of the whole is different from the sum of the parts".

When we have a look at this photograph, for instance, which was taken by me this winter:


I photographed this scene out in the field - in reality. But it is not a capture of reality only. Yes, there is a tree, there is fog, there is hoarfrost everywhere on the grasses and also on the tree. But all elements interact in a way together, that I saw the story of a dancing ghost tree. Early in the morning, before people arrive this area, ghost trees seem to dance out there on that place. This is the reason why the image title is "Dancing Ghost Tree".

Again: The quality of the whole is different from the sum of the parts.

Characters are not most important - much more important is how they interact to each other.


#7 No Art by Accident

Another requirement for me is, that we don't get an artwork by accident. There are exceptions, where we suddenly get a composition served straight in front of us and we just have to expose - but these are exceptions. If we see the story, we see the composition and we can take the shot. In most cases, building up compositions for telling a story is a healthy amount of effort. It is so easy to press the shutter release button, but the true handcraft of photography is to tell a story with a composition, that supports that story.

And this is even how I would define art:

Artistry photography is not all about bringing your photographs into a painterly style. Artistry photography is finally all about creating anything new, the integrity of the artist, evoking emotions at the viewers through expression. And this all can be done by teling a story.

So let me wish you a fantastic time of story telling out there in nature ;)


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Landscape Photographer & Photography Artist

Generations after Gustav Klimt

"Reality is boring, there exists already enough outside of my images."

Christian Irmler - great-great grandnephew of Gustav Klimt (6th degree)


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