The Art of Photographing Art
Art is an extremely difficult subject for a photographer. It is an extremely difficult subject by itself. It is beautiful, but controversial, hard work, but pleasant, inspirational, but sometimes manipulative. Art is a mix of trends, technology, and personal history of the artist. It is performed both in theaters and on the streets. It is exhibited in museums, religious site, but also in industrial places. To photograph it means to focus on several subjects at once. You need to keep in mind the artist, but also consider the work. You need to tell a story, but also capture the message conveyed by the art you are photographing. Here are some tips to help you master art photography.
Focus on the Artist
Artist is the source of art. Dance wouldn’t exist without the hard work and passion of dancers. When they are on the stage they are the show. But look at their individual performance, at their face expressions, and at their muscles. That’s the story behind their dance. This is impossible without passion, determination, and energy consumption. Photograph the artist at work. Catch the easel and paints. Focus on ballet shoes. Capture the dust and lights on musical instruments. Photograph strained hands, frowning foreheads, dirty nails, tense muscles, sweat, and any other details describing the artist. Use close-ups and a shallow depth of field. Bring the artist in front of the audience. Try different techniques and perspectives in order to eliminate any unnecessary elements. For example, dance and theater performances look great in black and white photography. Painting wouldn’t be the same without colors.
Consider the Audience
Art conveys emotions. It has the power to change the audience’s mood and thoughts. There are pieces of art you’ll never be able to forget. Photographing how it is reflected on its audience is a very difficult and delicate task. Observe people in museums or attending street art performances. Photograph close-ups with their face expressions. Observe their body language. Try to include in the picture the work that is producing that emotion. The focal point doesn’t need to be in the center of the image. But it needs to be. If you photograph a large crowd attending a concert, for example, make sure your image has a strong focal point and a good balance.
Street art is a great subject for candid photography. You have artists performing live. They can see their audience and sometimes they intentionally change the performance to accommodate the public. There is a lot of energy. Candid photography means photographing ingenue subjects. You need to be patient and prepared. Use light gear and a common lens (a 50 mm will be just fine). There is no time for tripods, changing lenses or adding filters. Observe patters, symmetries, and colors. Again, for music, dance, and theater, black and white photography is usually preferred. In black and white photography you have clean edges, contrast, and drama.
When photographing street performances you may want to use wide angles and deep depth of field. Artist and public need to be seen. The connection between them is essential. This doesn’t mean that the artist should always have success. Actually, in street art, most of the times the artist doesn’t have a lovely public cheering. But this is art too. And this is storytelling.
Art is an amazing source of inspiration. As a photographer you should give yourself time to observe and enjoy art. And, of course, to photograph it. People’s reactions to it are surprising and emotional. It doesn’t matter if they like it or not. Any kind of reaction is good. Art is teaching us to feel, to have opinions, to think. It opens minds and hearts, and changes the history.