135 — Photographers — Get Thee To a Museum

Pho­tog­ra­phy pod­cast #135 dis­cusses how going to muse­ums to study painters and paint­ings can improve your pho­tog­ra­phy. After all, both paint­ing and pho­tog­ra­phy are 2D media try­ing to rep­re­sent a 3D world. When pho­tog­ra­phers study the com­po­si­tional and light­ing tech­niques used by paint­ing mas­ters, their own pho­tographs often improve.

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Caravaggio - The Conversion on the way to Damascus - 1601

Car­avag­gio — The Con­ver­sion on the way to Dam­as­cus — 1601
Look how the scene and the sub­jects’ faces are lit, look at the ges­tures of the sub­jects and the over­all com­po­si­tion. Pho­tog­ra­phers can learn a lot from the mas­ter painters that lived long ago.


When it comes to light­ing por­traits in pho­tog­ra­phy, painters have been think­ing about the light­ing for their own sub­jects many hun­dreds of years before pho­tog­ra­phy was invented. Pho­tog­ra­phers can learn so much about light­ing by study­ing the great por­trait painters.


Rembrandt - Self-Portrait - 1630

Rem­brandt — Self-Portrait — 1630 — Rem­brandt is well known for his por­trait light­ing style. The tri­an­gle of light on the darker side of the face is one of Rembrandt’s sig­na­tures. Pho­tog­ra­phers love this light­ing tech­nique and it has become a basic por­trait light­ing style in photography.



Rembrandt - Jacob Blessing the Children of Joseph 1656

Rem­brandt — Jacob Bless­ing the Chil­dren of Joseph 1656 — Lovely light­ing, great ges­tures and inter­est­ing com­po­si­tions work well in pho­tog­ra­phy as well as in painting.


When it comes to pho­tograph­ing moun­tains and other land­scapes, pho­tog­ra­phers often zoom right into them as their first instinct and of course that’s a good thing to do for a shot or two, but then what? By study­ing the com­po­si­tional tech­niques of land­scape painters, we see that they often include lots of ele­ments that com­pli­ment the main focal point in their images.


A.Y. Jackson - Winter Charlevoix County - 1932-33

A.Y. Jack­son — Win­ter Charlevoix County — 1932–33  - We can see that this paint­ing has a moun­tain in the back­ground. But it’s the way that Jack­son ties in the fore­ground and midground with their visu­ally inter­est­ing ele­ments that help make this land­scape paint­ing interesting.


Links /resources men­tioned in this pod­cast:
Out­line of paint­ing his­tory
A. Y. Jack­son
Group of Seven (artists)

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  1. http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2015/07/24/arts/design/24durand-highlights.html Last week we saw the movie called the Impres­sion­ists. Wish we could go to Philly to see this show.

  2. Dave Johnson says:

    I just lis­tened to this pod­cast today and believe that is is VERY ‘True’.

    I thought I’d add that if folks want to dig into ‘pic­to­r­ial’ com­po­si­tion a lit­tle more there is a great free book by Henry Rankin Poore… guess what the title is. :) Ama­zon has a copy but what they pro­vide has no pic­tures. Manybooks.net does not have the book

    Project Guten­burg does have the book with pic­tures that are a touch fuzzy, but ade­quate… this link will get you there. https://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/26638

    Of course, this is about ‘pic­to­r­ial’ com­po­si­tion. It has taken me quite a while to real­ize that pho­tog­ra­phy is about much more that sim­ply ‘pic­to­r­ial’… with that said, ‘pic­to­r­ial’ is pretty much where my heart is. :)

    Thanks for your great podcasts.

  3. Oh, I love this Car­avag­gio paint­ing, all of them in fact. A teacher in Design talked about the “rip­ple effect’ learn­ing somet­ing in one sub­ject that can be applied to another area in our life I have learned , to some point, about lead­ing lines, per­spec­tive, light­ing, from paint­ings that I can use in pho­tog­ra­phy, and if I were to paint again, may have a bet­ter com­po­si­tion and under­stand­ing of light.

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