From Painting to Photography

I am not a painter, at least not at this time. But as I strive to improve the artistic quality of my photographs, I have begun studying basic painting techniques and composition. I found an interesting list of guidelines in Tom Hill’s book, The Watercolorist’s Complete Guide to Color, that also can be applied to photography with only minor modification. I’ve become intrigued by searching for the common principals of creating visual art.

From Tom Hill, Basic Painting Guidelines (p. 15):

  1. Why do I want to paint this painting? What’s my reason?
  2. What is the absolute essence of what I want to convey?
  3. Do I understand my subject (or this essence) well enough to be able to interpret it? Or, should I study it more, before I start to paint?
  4. What are the minimal elements I can incorporate in my painting and still have it convey my meaning?
  5. How can I rearrange necessary elements to further improve the painting—to make it say what I want it to say even better?
  6. With a plan in mind for drawing, value and composition, how can I use color to make my painting work best for me?

Asking similar questions while preparing to make a photograph will almost certainly improve the quality of your outcome. Not asking these questions, either consciously or subconsciously, will likely yield a snapshot that falls short of its potential. The first three questions may be adapted to photography by simply replacing “paint” with “photograph”. The last three require a bit more reinterpretation. I am assuming that you do NOT alter the image using Photoshop, other than basic adustments that mimic the common manipulations done in a darkroom (e.g. exposure, contrast, dodge & burn, etc.).

Basic Photography Guidelines:

  1. Why do I want to make this photograph? What’s my reason?
  2. What is the absolute essence of what I want to convey?
  3. Do I understand my subject (or this essence) well enough to be able to interpret it? Or, should I study it more, before I start to photograph?
  4. What are the minimal elements I can incorporate in my photograph and still have it convey my meaning?
    • When painting, you can easily choose to omit distracting elements. When making a photograph, elements may be omitted or hidden behind other objects by changing perspective (moving your camera).
  5. How can I rearrange necessary elements to further improve the photograph—to make it say what I want it to say even better?
    • Consider changing both perspective and focal length. Changing distance to near objects and focal length can have a dramatic effect on our perception of element relationships by compressing or expanding distance between near and far elements.
  6. With a plan in mind for shapes, value, and composition, how can I use color to make my photograph work best for me?
    • Instead of drawing the outline for a painting, pre-visualize your photograph’s abstract shapes and lines. Although photograhers cannot choose or manipulate color to the same extent as a painter, the resulting color may be dramatically altered by controlling the environmental influences. Choosing time of day (e.g. “magic hour” light) affects color temperature (warm or cool light); an overcast sky and rainy weather saturates the color of intimate landscapes; adding a polorizer filter is often beneficial to saturate color and reduce reflection.
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3 Responses to From Painting to Photography

  1. MyMaracas says:

    Excellent advice. Thanks for this post.

  2. Pingback: Photographic Resolutions - Dave Carlson Photography

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