Fine art travel photography is a term I coined almost ten years ago, a way to describe this emerging forms of art, if only to myself. But recently, I’ve been less hesitant to use it more openly. It’s a term that blends three core photography specialties, each with their own distinct legacies and legendary practitioners.
What is Fine Art Travel Photography?
The more I use this term, the more I hear the question, “What is fine art travel photography?”
Fine art travel photography presents pictures of landscapes and travel destinations with high artistic quality. These photos will use strong tonal and color choices and striking composition to produce works of fine art while depicting cultural sites, events, and landscape features typical of travel photography.
I’ve put together more of my thoughts on the term below, making a public declaration of sorts for this genre of photography that I care deeply about. Hopefully, this helps raise public awareness and appreciation of this fascinating genre.
The Components of Fine Art Travel Photography
To understand this new genre of photography, we have to understand the movements that led to its creation. When you look online for photography, you’ll find three core genres:
Often, these terms overlap, but they work well enough to define certain photographers and their approaches.
Typically, travel photography involves going to new, often exotic locations. Travel photographers work with a sparse technical set-up to travel light, sometimes only bringing a handheld camera and film.
Their work blends shots of local subjects (e.g. people, animals), cultural elements (e.g. festivals, local food), and culturally important sites (e.g. temples, monuments).
Their lack of elaborate equipment allows for candid snapshots of far away places, bringing a sense of adventure and human connection across expansive oceans and cultural differences.
Landscape photography, as the name suggests, refers to work directly focused on features of the landscape, whether near or far from the photographer’s home.
Landscape photographers often use much more elaborate set ups, as they aren’t trying to capture the quick action of people or animals. Rather, they try to capture the way the sun peeks through the clouds onto the desert below or how Autumn colors burn across rolling hills.
That subject matter explains why tripods and extra lenses are essential elements of their toolkit, and it’s why their process is deeply connected to climate, weather conditions, and time of day.
Fine Art Photography
Fine art photography is the most general term of the three so far. It can encompass elements of both the landscape and travel genres. Though fine art photographers are much freer, working in color and black-and-white, examining the human body, and experimenting with more abstract approaches.
Fine art photographers often play with geometric shapes and shadows of both natural and man-made environments. Still others work exclusively in indoor studios creating phantasms of color, smoke, and sculpted sets.
Compared to landscape and travel photography, the fine art genre is loose and open, as it doesn’t exclude based on subject matter. It really only insists that the photographer is looking to create “fine art” every time their shutter opens.
The Missing Link: Fine Art Travel Photography
After looking at these three aspects of photography, we can see there is a fourth one missing. Fine art travel photography is that missing link. It is an attempt to blend elements of all three genres in a single practice.
If you do research on the topic, you might notice there isn’t a suitable record of it in any major publication or online platform, aside from the odd post that might glimpse the topic.
This lack of use as a term and lack of exposure leads to public ignorance, making fine art photography a kind of unwanted child of the photography world. And yet, this hybrid style has so much to offer. It blends attractive subjects with a high level of precision using the best available set-up — resulting in stunning prints of captivating scenes.
Unlike commercial or fashion photography, this style is looking to create fine art, not meet the expectations of a client or brand. That means the photographer is free to create based on deeper principles, all while using the subjects and techniques of travel and landscape photography.
You could think of fine art travel photography as:
How to Be a Fine Art Travel Photographer
The fine art travel photographer’s work involves traveling great distances, wandering through new locales, and investing long hours on location — all while carrying the more elaborate equipment of a fine art or landscape photographer.
But unlike fine art or landscape photography, this hybrid style is compelled to explore during the days and nights, driven by curiosity and an openness to the unmet, unknown, and undiscovered. There is also no line between the landscape and human world, between the natural and cultural subjects. Rather, for the fine art travel photographer, the adventure itself guides the subject matter of the work.
Such a practice is not for everyone. It is demanding and requires endurance. Generally, you are shooting high resolution images with heavy tripods, lugging around a bag full of lenses and batteries — equipment that require care.
Fine art landscape and travel photography requires the artist to consider a unique balance of concerns. Because of the fine art elements of the style, there is less hand-held shooting than in conventional travel photography. And because of the setting, there is less control of elements than in an indoor fine art photography studio.
This new genre has great potential in the coming years, if people choose to take up these challenges. Travelling has become more accessible in the past few decades, just as high resolution cameras have become more affordable. Creating professional fine art travelling photography is easier than ever.
Not so long ago, a 50/100 Megapixel camera could cost north of $10,0000. Today, you can get one for less than $5000. Now, if you only shoot for online publishing, the file size won’t be as much of an issue, but you still need all the gear and lenses in order to get the desired shot.
It isn’t all inexpensive, unfortunately. This kind of work also includes lodging and luggage and the related expenses that come hand-in-hand with life on the road. But given the savings in other areas, it is not as prohibitively expensive as it once was.
Terminology, struggles, artistic concerns, and expenses aside — travel fine art photography is a beautiful form of art. It borrows the best elements of travel and landscape photography and blends in that mysterious approach of fine art.