Photography is one of the most fluid forms of wall art. It’s a form of art that is constantly evolving thanks to the rapid advances of technology. Photography is widely available to consumers of any financial bracket. But when it comes to selecting what photograph hand, one can be at a loss.
In the world of photography, there are as many themes as there are letters in the alphabet and picking the right image for your interior might be harder than previously thought. Rest assured we’re here to guide you through them by picking out only the best and popular photography themes such as mouth-watering food photography, mesmerising architectural photography, inspiring travel photography, and more.
1. Black and White Photography
Black and white photography is a timeless theme. Its fundamental components of light and shadow require a lot of skill to master. Photography first started with black and white images and gained favour with photographers like Henri Cartier-Bresson, Ansel Adams, and Robert Frank. Even with the wide availability of digital photography and colour photography, more and more mode contemporary photographers choose black and white photography over colour, like Sally Mann, Diane Arbus. And the American fashion photographer Richard Avedon.
Black and white photography, also known as monochromatic photography, focuses on form, shape, and the contrast of black and white. These elements also better define the subject. Colour no longer becomes a distraction. Black and white photography is a method of art favoured by the great landscape photographer Ansel Adams. In the past, the American photographer has said, “I can get a far greater sense of ‘colour’ through a well-planned and executed black and white image than I have ever achieved with colour photography.” Dorothea Lange, famous for her black and white portrait Migrant Mother, 1936. The powerful portrait highlights the suffering people experienced during the Great Depression in the United States.
Black and white photography has never gone out of style. Black and white photography can be used in many different situations resulting in images that are more impactful than if they were taken in colour. Of all the elements of black and white photography, perhaps lighting is most essential. The Australian photographer Trent Parke says, “I am forever chasing light. Light turns the ordinary into the magical.” Whether it’s photographing architecture, people, food, or nature, black and white photography provides a new perspective on the subject. Despite advancements in colour photography, black and white photography still remains an immensely popular theme among photographers.
2. Architectural Photography
Architectural photography isn’t only for budding architects but also admirers of urban environments. This photography theme is full of abstractions and geometric shapes. The photographer’s mission is to capture architectural buildings aesthetically while also accurately representing the subject, whether it’s the exterior of a building or interior space, as well as bridges, roads, and other city structures. Architectural photography allows people around the world to experience buildings they may never have the chance to visit in person. From the Sydney Opera House to the Eiffel Tower and beyond, there is no shortage of great pieces of architecture around the world, and those who long to photograph them.
It’s not surprising that many photographers specialise in architectural photography. Symmetry and structure have drawn in some of the most talented people with a camera, like Julius Shulman, best known for his photographs of architectural buildings created by Frank Lloyd Wright and Rudolph Schindler. Through emotion, lighting, and atmosphere, architectural photographers represent the visual concepts and constructions of architects. Many architectural firms now hire photographers for commercial purposes, whether that’s to publish the images in a visual portfolio of the firm, brochures, or their website.
View from the Window at Le Gras, the oldest photograph to exist, was taken in 1826 and is an example of architectural photography. There are quite a few factors that go into creating a memorable photograph that depicts architecture. Much of it focuses on the architectural subject from a unique angle. Don’t be surprised if you come across a building, for example, the Sydney Opera House, that has been photographed from different perspectives. Oftentimes, this enhances the subject while also providing a unique take on it. Different perspectives can also bring out minor details in a building or interior space.
Like art, architecture is categorised by art styles. Some buildings are designed after Art Nouveau, Baroque, and Gothic art. Many churches in Western Europe are designed in either the Baroque style of architecture or the Gothic style. The Milan Cathedral in Milan, Italy, has the striking design of Gothic art and attracts interest from amateur and professional photographers from around the world. Some buildings are unappealing and look like the worst cases of brutalism architecture, then other buildings transform into works of art. As the Danish architect Arne Jacobsen says, “If a building becomes architecture, then it is art.”
3. Travel Photography
Nothing gets you out of a rut like travel photography. The rise of social media has made everyone who travels anywhere and everywhere a budding traveller photographer. Still, travel photography doesn't simply mean pointing the camera and capturing what appears on the LCD screen. According to National Geographic, each location has a unique look, character, and ambience, and it is the photographer’s job to capture all these elements. So what is it about travel photography that has captured the interest of amateur photographers and pros alike?
There’s an important role that travel photographers play in the world and it’s not only at the behest of travel companies wishing to sell flights. Travel photographers present our world in a unique and different light. They highlight the beauty of the world. They present it from different perspectives, enhancing the smallest of beautiful details. In short, they inspire us to see experience beauty around the world.
Travel photography suggests a wide range of subjects all under the umbrella term of ‘travel’. But there are travel photographers who specialise in wildlife photography, capture surf competitions around the world, almost forgotten rural towns, as well as run-down urban environments, and more. Many of the moments caught by travel photographers can never be constructed. Instead, travel photographers immerse themselves in the world around them and, with the help of good lighting, time, and patience, they capture some truly memorable images of the world around us.
4. Flower Photography
The presence of flowers in any home or office space can inspire beauty, romance, and passion. The wide palette of colours adds beauty to any space they inhabit. However, while a bouquet will become less fresh over time, a floral photograph lives on. For Yoichiro Nishimura, photography mainly has to do with the Japanese art of flower arrangement, also called ‘Ikebana’. Nishimura’s photographs are starkly back and white and emphasise the forms of the flowers.
Flowers are a common artistic subject and flower photography is a subject that can be easily cliched. It may be surprising just how many different ways photographers can represent this muse. Perhaps these photographers take inspiration from paintings out of the Dutch Golden Age, where artists painted bouquets bursting from vases. According to the National Gallery, flower paintings were prevalent in seventeenth and eighteenth-century Dutch society. Two examples are Jacob van Walscappele’s Flowers in a Glass Vase (1670) and Jan Brueghel the Elder’s Bouquet (1599). Evoking the bursting Dutch bouquet is photographer Aberlardo Morell.
In his series Flowers for Lisa, Morell experiments with bouquets of flowers, and photographs them in many different ways, always building and learning from his ideas. The Dutch Golden Age also resonated with the photographer Alanna Airitam, whose series The Golden Age features flowers in a significant role. Her photographs almost look like paintings that came from the Dutch Golden Age, especially the way Airitam lights her subjects and the bouquet of flowers they hold, like in Saint Monroe.
In France, the Impressionist artist Claude Monet obsessed over the flowers in his personal garden in Giverny, France. He painted hundreds of artworks with flowers as the subject. Today, thanks to the advancement of technology, flowers are being explored by photographers and not only painters. Flowers in photography has remained a popular theme among experienced and budding photographers, not only skilled botanists. Thanks to the many different shapes and forms of flowers, they are easily likened to the varying bodies of people. Imogen Cunningham dramatically lit her floral still lifes in shades of black and white. Oftentimes they looked like female bodies.
One of the first photographers fascinated with flowers as a subject was Karl Blossfeldt. The German artist is best known for his close-up shots of flowers, shot in black and white. Between 1898 and 1930. Blossfeldt amassed a collection of photographs in the thousands. MoMA credits Blossfeldt’s “clarity, precision, and apparent lack of mediation of his pictures” for his acclaimed flower photographs.
5. Sunset Photography
Sunset photography captures a sliver of nature and brings it inside the home to be admired by everyone. Sunset photography is also known as Golden hour photography. The golden hour is a short window of time after sunrise and then again right before sunset. Golden hour emits a beautiful golden hue that has a flattering effect on subjects ranging from portraiture, landscape, and cityscapes.
There is a big difference between sunset and sunrise in photography. There appears to be more photographers tackling sunsets than sunrises mainly because a lot of photographers are morning people. Indeed, it’s quite hard to ask someone to wake up at the crack of dawn, haul their gear outside, in the crisp morning, and wait patiently for their shot. Shooting at sunset has more advantages than shooting at sunrise, without a doubt.
Sunset photography falls under landscape photography. A large number of sunset photographs are taken in open spaces, so nothing distracts the shot. British photographer Paul Reiffer travels the world to capture the sun as it sets. Having visited seventy-five countries, Reiffer is only given fifteen minutes a day to attempt to capture the winning shot. Reiffer says, “The light and colours you get at sunset and sunrise are completely different to the rest of the day. You get stunning colours in the sky and water.” Indeed sunsets make for some truly unique and beautiful photographs.
6. Portrait Photography
Perhaps no other form of technology quite shook up the art world in the nineteenth century like the invention of photography did. Art, before this time, captured the portraits of wealthy clientele, usually having them appear stern, serious, or elegant. There were some artists, like Frans Hals during the Dutch Golden Age, who experimented and captured unorthodox expressions. The camera would end up freeing many painters from the conventions of art. Artists during this time would go on to form movements such as Impressionism, Cubism, and Abstract art, and would be part of the period called Modern Art. Meanwhile, photographers experimented with the camera.
Portrait photography aims to capture the personality of a subject. For some photographers, this means capturing the soul. As a result, photographers have had unique results when capturing people. Some of the most famous portrait photographers include Annie Leibovitz and Steve McCurry. Leibovitz’s practice involves getting drawn deeply to her subject. She says, “A thing that you see in my pictures is that I was not afraid to fall in love with these people.” McCurry’s photograph Afghan Girl brought him fame around the world thanks to the striking image of his subject.
One of the greatest portrait photographers of the twentieth century is Yousuf Karsh, an Armenian-Canadian photographer. His black and white portraits of giants in film, literature, politicians, and more, has had him recognised as Canada’s leading portrait photographer. Today, the term ‘selfie’ is shorthand for a self-portrait photograph. The first ‘selfie’ was believed to have been created by Robert Cornelius in 1839. To sum up this theme of photography, Paul Caponigro says, “It’s one thing to make a picture of what a person looks like, it’s another thing to make a portrait of who they are.”
7. Food Photography
Food photography isn’t only for all the foodies. Food photography can inspire a number of things from different people, whether it’s a healthier way of living, having a home full of colour. Food photography is considered still life. Photographers aren’t the first artists to use food in their art. See the work of Paul Cezanne, Jacopo da Empoli, and Luis Melendez.
The world of food photography has opened up thanks to more and more food venues relying on social media to spread the word about their brand. As a result, there is more food photography than what there was twenty years ago. To stay ahead of the competition and to keep photographs looking tiresome and done, food photographers have had to break boundaries in how they represent a simple dish of food. Food photographers play with a number of ways to best represent food in a photograph. The New Zealand photographer Henry Hargreaves has a portfolio of food photographs that are often funny and with an edgy message.
Food is often brightly coloured, whether it’s the deep reds of a pomegranate, or the rich green of an apple, and to flatten these colours would almost be blasphemy. As a result, the idea of dark food photography emerged to best showcase this theme. These photographs have a dark or shadowed background, so the viewers’ attention remains on the food in the foreground. Many of these food photographs have dishes placed on dark wooden tables, which also gives the photograph a rustic feel. The Slovakian photographer Evelyn Bencicova uses a muted backdrop to further exaggerate her food subject.
One of the most famous examples of food photography is Harold Edgerton’s Milk Drop Coronet Splash (1936). The still life photograph captures a milk drop just as it hits the surface and forms what appears to be a crown. Edgerton began photographing drops of milk in 1932 and continued to experiment with the subject for another two decades. The British fine artist photographer Mat Collishaw created a series of food photography that inspires chills. In 2001, Collishaw began photographing the last meals of inmates before their execution and styled them like seventeenth-century Dutch still life.
8. Urban Life Photography
Urban life photography describes photography of all aspects of an urban environment and focuses on the interaction between the people and the environment. Many photographers are drawn to urban photography thanks to the geometry around them. The rise in documenting urban life became possible when photography became more accessible in the mid-1800s and has become even more popular in the last ten years.
Urban photography and street photography are different from one another. While urban photography is a more stylised or artistic approach to an environment as a whole, street photography consists of candid shots. As mentioned, urban photography involves capturing the geometry of the space. George Byrne, an LA-based photographer, creates visually compelling images of urban environments, rich with geometric shapes.
Urban photography also acts as a comment on contemporary life. Some of the first urban photographers were Eugene Atget and Edward Steichen. In the mid-twentieth century, Robert Frank’s photographs of urban life mesmerised the public. Frank was a witness of changing times. His photography book The Americans (1958) is considered to be an important piece of history thanks to his unique insight into versatile urban and rural landscapes. Another significant urban life photographer is Henri Cartier-Bresson, who travelled widely and always carried with him a 35mm film and camera. Cartier-Bresson remained present in every moment, attentive, with his finger on the pulse of the atmosphere.
Martha Cooper took it upon herself to capture the graffiti of underground New York. While graffiti art infamously doesn’t last, Cooper’s photographs preserved these acts of artistic bursts. Cooper became interested in graffiti when she moved to New York in 1975, at a time when so few people understood graffiti. Cooper has photographed many artists creating work on the street, like Invader and Keith Haring.
9. Beach Photography
Water, with all its depth, emotion, energy, and motion, appeals to many photographers. There are stretches of golden beaches found all around the world, from countries like Australia to Italy and Brazil. There’s no shortage of beauty that the beach can inspire, and no shortage of photographers too. As many beaches as there are around the world, there’s also perhaps twice as many photographers enamoured by the natural movements, dazzling colours, and tranquillity of the beach. While it may seem obvious to just point the camera at the stretch of beach and capture the moment, it might look dull. That’s why we leave it to the professionals to capture the best moments the beach can offer us.
In Australia, much of life takes place at the beach. In Victoria, the iconic sights of the Great Ocean Road have attracted tourists and adventurers for decades. There are many budding photographers capturing the Twelve Apostles, and the sleepy coastal towns of Lorne and Apollo Bay. In Sydney, Bondi Beach has received worldwide attention thanks to its picturesque and pristine waters, great surf, as well as being an attraction to lazy sunbathers.
Further up north, the Gold Coast, Sunshine Coast, and Cairns inspire many clicks of the camera. Australian modernist photographer Max Dupain captured many beach scenes. Dupain’s Sunbaker (1937) is a black and white photograph of a man sunbaking on the beach. In the photograph, Dupain says, “It was a simple affair. We were camping down the south coast and one of my friends leapt out of the surf and slammed down onto the beach to have a sunbake – marvellous.”
According to the Economist, photographers have been capturing the seaside since the 1860s, in Britain at least. For thirty years, British photographer Martin Parr has been capturing frolicking beach goers all around the world. Parr says, “You can read a lot about a country by looking at its beaches: across cultures, the beach is that rare public space in which all absurdities and quirky national behaviours can be found.”
10. Surrealist Photography
Surrealist photography captures dreams, emotions, and the unconscious. It inspires within us wonder, curiosity, adventure. Surrealist photography has its origins in Surrealism, an art movement started and pioneered by the poet Andre Breton. The Surrealist Manifesto (1924) describes his motives. According to the Met, “The Surrealists did not rely on reasoned analysis or sober calculation; on the contrary, they saw the forces of reason blocking the access routes to the imagination.”
Man Ray and Maurice Tabard were the first Surrealist artists to use photography as a medium to express their concepts. As a visual artist practising in painting and photography, Man Ray’s canvas was available to any ideas he had. As the NGV states, if it didn’t work for a painting it would make for a better photograph. Ray’s most famous photograph Larmes (tears) (1930-1932) is an example of Surrealist photography, showing glass droplets acting as tears on a woman’s face. Another well-known Ray Surrealist photograph is Le Violon d’Ingres (1924), which transforms a woman into a stringed instrument simply by the clef markings on her back and the form of her body.
In Dali Atomicus (1948), Philippe Halsman photographs the Spanish artist Salvador Dali, three cats and a splash of water in mid-jump. Halsman once said, “A true photographer wants to try to capture the real essence of a human being,” but it seems Dali’s essence could not be captured in an orthodox way. Halsman and Dali collaborated once again to create the photograph In Voluptate Mors (1951), which shows Dali standing before many bodies forming a giant skull.
Surrealism photography continues to inspire photographers from the twenty-first century. It’s unsurprising as Surrealist art and photography often echo moments from our dreams. There are many photographers ready to bring Surrealist photography into the next century. One is the Spanish artist Chema Madoz, best known for his traditionalist surrealist photographs. American fine arts photographer Brooke Shaden has captured all the surreal parts the mind can conjure, leaving us with an eery, haunting, and mystified feeling. These artists continue to act as a bridge between the unconscious mind and mundane lives. As a result, each photographer expresses a unique vision.