The photography of Ansel Adams is like none other – his renditions of the American West capture much more than the rising moon or the mountains of Yosemite. They represent his sacred vision and mindset; they are works of art. Taking snapshots of the great outdoors is one thing, but rendering photos in a distinctive, creative style is quite another. Here’s a closer look at what makes nature photography stand out as fine art.

Emotional impact

Artistic nature photographs often have a dramatic focal point, like a waterfall or a solitary tree. The imagery is compelling, which is created through stylistic elements such as lighting and the arrangement of space. A soaring eagle set against a luminous open sky, for example, can instill a sense of emotions, such as freedom, transcendence or even loneliness. Black-and-white nature photography can also create a dramatic mood and convey a sense of raw emotion, as can the use of color. Different color shades and saturation can be combined to form a vibrant composition that draws the eye toward the subject of the photograph.

Expresses an idea

An artistically rendered nature photograph is usually set up by the photographer and conveys a message. A close-up shot of a deer gazing into the sunlight, for example, requires effort and timing on the part of the photographer — and this intimacy with wildlife can highlight a sense of reverence for the natural world and the importance of conservation. Of course, fine art photography can occur by happenstance, such as when a bird alights on a backyard tree, the lighting is just right, and the photographer is able to take a series of quick shots. But most likely, nature photography that is a work of art has been created with foresight and intention.


Fine art nature photography is often manipulated, from setting up a specific camera angle to adjusting the saturation of color during the editing process. Craft is important, whether the photographer is capturing the everyday setting sun or the extraordinary mountains of Yosemite. There are foundational elements of photography and design to understand, such as the use of texture, colors, shapes and lines, as well as knowing how light is altered depending on the weather and the time of day and year. Perspective and the right choice of camera lens must also be considered. To create fine art, talent is essential, but a photographer should also have technical expertise in using a camera as well as creating imagery that stands out as a unified piece of work.

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