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  • Manon Douard

What is Fine Art wedding photography ? (version 2024)

Hello there,

Some time ago now, I wrote an article explaining what I thought Fine Art wedding photography was (didn't have the time nor the motivation to translate it yet so you'll only have the newest version !).

I'd like to write about it today because once again I no longer agree with myself. It is not because I've done further research but simply because my photography practice has evolved, and with it my understanding and interpretation of what Fine Art wedding photography is. I'll even put the year is today's article so I can write another one three years from now when I'll change my mind again.

The Fine Art movement, born in the 40s, is basically about how photographers want their craft to be considered and accepted as art. Until then, photography has an exclusively commercial function. Photographers carry out commissions: studio family photos, wedding photos, advertisements, etc. No one imagines photographs displayed in a museum the way paintings are. That's what the Fine Art Movement is at its core: a desire of photographers to elevate their craft to the level of art and to have it considered as such.

Therefore, the initial movement is more about a vision of what photography is as a craft than a particular aesthetic.

photo d'une table de mariage dressée dans la cour d'une masseria italienne au coucher du soleil

Fine Art in wedding photography

My previous definition: luminous, uncluttered with white or pastel tones

In wedding photography, Fine Art became an aesthetic movement in its own right, for (supposed) reasons I list in my first article.

Here are those characteristics :

- Light - photos are (very) bright

- Staging, editorial approach and a clean atmosphere (no busy backgrounds but minimalist and tidy environment)

- White or pastel colors

I concluded my article by saying that these characteristics make it easier to understand why Fine Art rendering is described as refined, timeless and elegant.

What's wrong with this definition

I still agree with the elegance/timelessness dimension of Fine Art because, for me, it flows naturally from the work of composition and minimalist approach. What makes it possible to date an image are the objects or details present in it. If you remove from a photo the elements that refer to a specific era, you naturally give the image a timeless dimension, in the sense that you can't date it.

As for elegance, I believe it comes from the fact that many Fine Art photos are posed - whether editorial poses like magazine models, or a deceptively casual rendering that is actually at least partly posed.

On the other hand, I had associated the Fine Art movement with a luminous, white aesthetic, with pastel colors, and that's what I want to come back to, because I now think that Fine Art isn't just that. I even don't think we really care about colors at all.

It's hard to explain this change of vision without talking a little about my own evolution.

Note: I'm obviously not a reference in the various artistic trends in wedding photography, but I really enjoy researching and analyzing them, and my definition of this or that trend changes with my own understanding of photography.

Note 2: do you feel the impostor syndrome oozing from this kind of note ? I mean girl, grow a backbone already.

My evolution in wedding photography

To me, photography is a bit like skiing (give me a minute, it'll make sens, or it won't, not sure where I'm going with that one), i.e. I discover something that suddenly totally changes my practice. It took me years to figure out how to stop the snowplow, but when I did, it was a revelation (that 8-year-old clearly felt like she was a comet). Same thing happened 15 years later with a private teacher who taught me how to carve. Each time I feel like I'm rediscovering the whole sport, because something I didn't understand at all suddenly becomes clear to me.

This year, what changed my understanding and analysis of wedding photography was the discovery of chiaroscuro, which made me question 1) my photographic practice 2) my definition of Fine Art.

My approach up until then: to insist on uniformity in the rendering of all the images in a given story...

portrait en pied d'une mariée dans les marches d'une masseria italienne le jour de son mariage

For several years, I tried to systematically create the same aesthetic on my images on the entire reportage no matter what light or what time of the day. I believed that a professional reportage should be consistent, and to me consistency meant systematically standardizing the atmosphere of my images. The aesthetic I was trying to create was the one I associated with Fine Art: very luminous, very white, and a rendering of diffuse, outdoor light.

You see this picture? That's what I was trying to achieve. Constantly.

Let's be clear: I still love this very white, very soft, slightly warm aesthetic, and when I'm outdoors, it's what I always go for spontaneously.

... And failing in certain lighting conditions

I had problems especially indoors. Because indoors, you inevitably have a specific kind of light:

  • It's more uneven, since light enters a room through windows, i.e. openings that are smaller than the sky (logical). Therefore the light is less diffuse and 'harder'. It naturally creates contrast. Not quite what you're looking for if you're going for this very clean, bright and soft aesthetic.

  • There's often less light, of course. Unless you're using a glass roof, you're bound to have more shadows indoors than outdoors.

  • There are fewer supports you can use as reflectors, to bounce the light off. In the photo above, for example, the white walls reflect the light and accentuate the sensation that the light is 'flooding' the environment evenly.

photo d'un marié en train d'embrasser son épouse dans le coup le jour de leur mariage

So I was desperately trying to recreate the same aesthetic of diffused, omnipresent light, even when conditions didn't lend themselves to it. In the end, it was like trying to fit a square into a round hole: if you take a big hammer and hit your hole like a Viking warrior, well, you'll end up succeeding, but the result won't necessarily be as good as what you would have produced without this relentless struggle against the light. My indoor images seemed artificial to me because I was fighting against the natural direction of the light, against where it seemed to be going. And in photography, working against the light is not a good idea. But I was doing it because, in my mind, daring to go for another aesthetic would inevitably break the overall harmony of the story. It would inevitably look uneven, weird, dissonant... No ?


My discovery of chiaroscuro

And then one day, I just quit.

We were inside, it was dark, the weather was stormy, there was no light, and I had to make a choice: trying to recreate light where there isn't any, with the guarantee of making my work less pleasing to the eye, or trying to go for another aesthetic and stop fighting against something infinitely stronger than myself.

Fortunately, this choice took place on a wedding where I wasn't the main photographer. I was there as a second shooter to support the main photographer, in particular to photograph the guests at the cocktail. I was present during the bride getting ready, but my images were not the priority for the bride and groom, which allowed me to step out of my normal routine and take a few risks. I waited until the main photographer had taken his images (he obviously has priority), asked the bride to come and stand by the window, and took a few portraits and detail shots.

détail en clair-obscur des perles sur une robe de mariée

In post-production, I had to go through with what I'd started, so I retouched the photo while maintaining the contrast of the images in this series, all of which have a very pronounced black background.

That's when it happened. The revelation!

(I know. I am being a little bit dramatic but what can I say, I'm French with Italian blood so it runs through my veins).

I discovered two things that have had a big impact on my photography:

1) I love the aesthetic, the rendering, the atmosphere created by chiaroscuro in an image. I'd already started following photographers on Instagram who dared to go into the realm of chiaroscuro, and I found a timeless charm in these images, but I never imagined I'd incorporate them into my practice.

2) Contrary to what I initially thought, high-light retouching and chiaroscuro aren't necessarily mutually exclusive aesthetics, and they can cohabit seamlessly in the same story. Okay, but what is Fine Art then?

photo d'une robe de mariée suspendue à une fenêtre avec le décor en clair-obscur

Could chiaroscuro also be Fine Art?

Alongside this sudden and intense attraction to chiaroscuro, I continued to research and analyze the work of other wedding photographers. I wanted to see if they too oscillated between different aesthetics, if this seemed consistent to me, and if they claimed to be part of the 'Fine Art' movement.

Many international photographers claim to be part of the Fine Art movement, while alternating chiaroscuro with much brighter images. Perhaps to find the 'right' definition of Fine Art, we need to remember what the movement was at its birth: a desire to create Art, which in the wedding industry translates into a desire to create elegant, timeless images. It's the composition and atmosphere of an image that determines whether it belongs to this movement, not the degree of brightness of the image or the colors used.

To achieve timeless, elegant images, the composition is thoughtful, the subjects are generally posed, and the light is worked on to give the image an artistic dimension. But this light doesn't have to be systematically white and diffuse. It can be dark or bright, that's not what counts. Once again, Fine Art is about the vision of photography more than about the looks of the photography itself, even though the vision brings a specific look to the craft.

portrait d'une mariée tenant devant son visage un bouquet de fleurs blanches

Fine Art in wedding photography, definition 2024

In my definition of Fine Art, I do keep the notions of elegance, timelessness and composition. These are aesthetic canons that come, I believe, from the origins of the movement, and they remain the foundation of what would or would not fit, in my opinion, into Fine Art.

On the other hand, I'm revising my judgement on the characteristics linked to luminosity or the colors used. I think that Fine Art doesn't really have any marked aesthetic criteria, that it's more a question of a vision of the photo and the photographer's work, of a certain artistic approach, than of a rendering that would necessarily be this or that.

So your conclusion is basically 'well there is nos specific aesthetic, good luck to you all if you're looking for a Fine Art wedding photographer'. Thank you, Manon, for making things so much easier for brides and grooms who are already struggling to find their way around the different styles of wedding photography.

To help you out, here's a short list of articles that might interest you:

I make a distinction between shooting and retouching because I've noticed that the approach you take when shooting has a major impact on the atmosphere of an image, even before retouching adds the final touch to the photo.

I hope this article was clear. If it wasn't, please let me know (I seem to be juggling with some very complex concepts, so any help you can give me to improve my clarity is most welcome). If you're interested in my work, please have a look at my portfolio or contact me.

Thanks for reading, and sorry for the grammatical mistakes I'm convinced I did here and there trying to explain quite a challenging concept in a language I do not speak without a very French accent. Hope the result was worth the effort! You can see my portfolio on my website and you can contact me here!

See you whenever I gather up the courage to translate another article!


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