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.
Posted in Growth | 3 Comments

Wildlife Up Close

We’re stuck in a pattern of short, gray winter days here in northwest Montana, so I am catching up on blogging about events and photos from last summer. Most of my images have been landscapes, but I want to expand my portfolio and skills to include wildlife in my nature photography. I had an excellent experience with a landscape workshop at the Rocky Mountain School of Photography (RMSP) earlier this year, so I signed up for another workshop titled “Wildlife Up Close” in August 2009. The camaraderie among our eleven workshop participants was as rewarding as the new skills that I had learned!
Our workshop was held at the Triple “D” Game Farm in Kalispell, Montana and lead by Neil Chaput de Saintonge, who is one of the founders and owners of RMSP. A game farm offers significant advantages for an accelerated learning experience, not the least of which is that you are assured of seeing a diverse group of animals in a short period of time. The best game farms for photographers are those that specifically cater to photography and artists. They understand how to create an optimal environment for excellent photos and are experienced in coaching those of us who are learning the ropes.
The grey fox was among the fastest of all the animals we photographed. I learned to love the fast continuous exposure mode of my Nikon D300 camera (about 6 images per second) to capture the fox’s action! I also appreciated the effort that Triple D puts into creating natural photogenic environments for capturing great images.

We had an opportunity to photograph a bobcat kitten, which definitely rivaled the fox for speed and challenge in capturing a good composition. Overall, learning to respond quickly to fast animal action was my greatest challenge during the workshop. More practice is needed with action photography…

We also photographed this 2 year old grizzly bear. The Triple D kept us safe behind a wire fence with a camera-height gap for photography. We were only 50 feet or so away from this grizzly bear!
I approach landscape photography in a contemplative manner. Mountains don’t move, so I have time to observe the shapes, patterns, and light while creating a composition. All of these elements are equally important in wildlife images, but the contemplation occurs while planning for a shoot and the desired composition may come together for only a fraction of a second. It is essential that you are intimately familiar with your camera’s operation and the technical aspects of photography, so that concentration is focused on composition and capturing interesting behavior.
I intend to get out and photograph wildlife in the “wild” next year in Glacier National Park and during a trip to Alaska planned for September 2010. I’m looking forward to the new year!
For more of my Triple D workshop photos, see
Posted in Montana, Wildlife | 4 Comments

Living in the (creative) moment

I aspire to be more creative and more artistic, and to make better photographs as a result. I’ve collected a few quotes about this topic, both to share them with you and to enable me to re-read them often. Learn to apply a Zen concept of living in the moment while you press the shutter button and share that experience with others. And when you view a photograph or painting, be mindful of the moment in which that image was made. I welcome your comments with similar quotes or original thoughts.

From Photofocus blog:
“When I look at an image, I want to be able to see the photographer’s journey. I’m not interested in a mere snapshot. I want something more. I want to know that the photographer LIVED that image. That they breathed it, tasted it, smelled it and felt it. I want not only to know the photographer was there, but that they were ALIVE in that scene…that it was part of them.”

Also from Photofocus, Three Things You should Know About Creativity:

  1. If you want to be more creative, start loving yourself enough to give yourself permission to fail. In fact, better yet, don’t even worry about winning or losing. Just DO.
  2. Don’t focus on NEW – focus on authentic. Being original isn’t being new – it’s being you.
  3. And riff. Go out there and jam. Try this and that and then invert it all. Go crazy. Do something you’ve never tried.

Dorothea Lange:
“A camera is a tool for learning how to see without a camera.”

Posted in Growth | 5 Comments

Watery Wednesday

Welcome to my photo blog! After much procrastination getting started, I was inspired by Tammie Lee’s posting of a photo for Watery Wednesday. I met Tammie last week at our local Glacier Camera Club. Obviously I could not wait another day (today is Wednesday), so here is one of my Flowing Water images. I expect to make more postings about memorable photographic experiences from the past few months, but will focus on the future and new ideas.

This photo was made of Rattlesnake Creek near Missoula, Montana.

Posted in Montana, Water | 5 Comments