Fine art photography in its purest sense is an artistic medium. Taking pictures is not a science, it is a happening. It is to whisper a silent ‘thank you’ as the world presents a moment for only you to see and interpret. It’s personal. Fine art photography is the essence of capturing a moment whereas painting is building that moment from your interpretation of what you see and feel. In painting you are in control and can make what you want, in fine art photography you have to wait until the picture comes to you.
I’ve shown this painting or a Rocky Mountain Elk as an example of both where I shot the reference while out on a weekend hike in the Mist Mountain range west of High River, Alberta and then did the painting in my studio in Calgary. This is perhaps the best kind of work to pursue for an artist in that you never know what you’ll end up with. It’s often harder to get close enough to an animal such as this for a really good photograph that you could use but it’s rather easy to get some shots with enough detail and atmosphere to serve as reference for a painting. I usually also do some sketches, usually pencil, at the same time and make notes as well. In those days we didn’t have GPS in our cameras so I always made note of location as well as time of day.
Fine art photography on location
I love both fine art photography and painting. They go hand in hand. I never know whether a shot will end up as reference for a painting or a fine art print when I shoot it. The challenge for the photographer is to compose as much as possible in the camera. Each shoot is carefully staged and I will sometimes wait hours for the right combination of light and mood, often returning to a location when conditions seem right. When I have the shot I want, I will make final edits in the darkroom.
Creating the perfect image often takes longer than doing a painting. In fact it usually does. I’ve created more than 1200 paintings, most in the comfort of my studio with a cup of tea or hot chocolate within reach. Contrast that with attempting to shoot a comparable picture of the same scene. It’s not easy to move a tree ten feet left or right, make that rock and bush a little smaller or make the shadows a little longer.
Studio photography and painting
Setting up a simple home studio can be extremely beneficial to any photographer. Setting up a professional studio requires total total control of light. The first thing to consider is obviously space. I’m different from most in that I’ve turned my large wood-floored suite into a studio. It’s actually funny watching any woman when they first visit. It’s no longer a “home'” in the traditional sense. It’s a studio with printers, tables, lights and shelves all over the place. Well laid out and usable but still very much a “work” space.
I have a large 4×6 plywood panel attached to one wall that serves as my “easel”. It has four lamps on a track bouncing light off the ceiling and this provides a nice, even light across my canvas.
For studio photography I have a setup not unlike the picture to the left except that it’s a “take-down” design that can easily be set up when I want to do serious studio work. Otherwise it’s off in a corner. Being a pre-press specialist in the printing and publishing industries gave me the experience to photograph my original paintings and fully digitizing them. But it’s a lot of work that I probably should farm out.
If you have the space you’ll want to choose a room where you can tightly control the lighting environment at any time of the day or night. No windows or outside light because it’s always changing and that’s a no-no in a photo studio.
When one thinks of fine art photography in the Pacific Northwest, one naturally thinks of wildlife. And what a wonderful paradise for wildlife photography it is. With the right tools you can shoot pictures that are just as good as the pros and one of the most important tools is a good telephoto zoom lens. A really good telephoto zoom lens.
One lens I love is the Sigma 80-400mm F4.5-5.6 EX OS APO zoom. In my experience on a digital camera this lens becomes a tack-sharp 128-640mm zoom lens and it’s only 7.5″ long. As mentioned above, the lens I chose was the Canon EF 70-300mm f/4-5.6 IS USM zoom which becomes a 112-480mm zoom and is even shorter at 5.6″ when locked up. It isn’t fast but it’s very sharp and doesn’t weigh a ton. I remember lugging a 600mm telephoto lens around the Rocky Mountain foothills years ago that had to be at least 14″ long. What an improvement the new zoom lenses are these days.
I can honestly say that the switch to digital has radically improved my own photography and made my life easier. In addition to not having to purchase and lug around film canisters, digital has released me from the chemicals of the film darkroom and given me new, powerful tools to improve each shot I take.
Successful landscape photography contains many different elements. Foremost is light. Light brings shape, depth and drama to your photographs. The successful landscape photographer takes advantage of light and uses it to add drama to the moment.
Your talent and imagination, when coupled with the magic of digital, will carry the viewer along to that place and time that you so beautifully captured. And, believe it or not, a good zoom will make you a better landscape photographer, especially in the Rocky Mountains and foothills where distances are great. A zoom lets you move in to capture and stage a scene, leaving out all the unimportant stuff.
While using Filters on your lenses is no longer a requirement because of what you can do in a good digital darkroom, there are several which can only serve to improve your photographs. A Skylight 1A Filter will bring out the contrast in otherwise flat looking clouds and cut through the haze. It is also a good filter to leave on your lenses all the time as protection from scratches and dirt. It’s cheaper to replace an $80 filter than a $1,000 lens.
A Polarizing Filter does two things: saturate the colours of the image, and reduce or remove glare on reflective surfaces. The one catch with polarizers is that they only work to maximum efficiency at a 180 degree angle to the light source, so if the sun is in front of you, a polarizer will be useless, but if it’s behind you, it will work beautifully. In addition, a circular polarizer will help to cut through surface reflections of water. For instance, if you’re shooting a stream bed or photographing salmon, you may need to cut through the reflection of the surface of the water to get a good, clear image. A circular polarizer filter will accomplish this for you.
A Neutral Density filter can also be very useful. This filter reduces the amount of light that passes through the lens. Putting a Neutral Density filter on your camera allows you to take longer exposures, which is useful when photographing waterfalls and moving water. That’s how you can get that silky look to moving water.
In addition to the basic 50mm lens, or thereabouts, flower photography can combine both macro and telephoto techniques. Sometimes you want to get close to a flower and sometimes you may want to stand back and zoom in. Zooming in tends to flatten your photograph somewhat and, depending on your depth of field setting and aperture, this can keep more of the flower in focus. On the other hand, sometimes its preferred to get in close and almost smell the fragrance. In any case, you will often find yourself using some of the same lenses that you normally use in landscape photography.
Light is important for all subjects and is no different for flowers. Light creates drama and mood that is otherwise impossible to achieve. And I love water drops after a rain. I’ve even carried a small squirt bottle with me on occasion just to squirt a few drops on a flower every now and then. Sunlight shining through drops of water on a leaf or flower can be exquisite. Why wait for it to rain when you can carry it with you?
Canada at night is different from anything you will see during the day, no matter how beautiful the day. Ordinary places come alive, conjuring up memories of other times, other loves. These places lose their secrets and mystery during the day, or hide them in plain sight. But at night they become something else, something special.
Nightfall can inspire a sense of fascination or fear. It can stimulate a sense of anticipation or apprehension and arouse a sense of adventure or foreboding. One thing is certain, going into the night alone forces one to look at the world in a different way, through the one eye that only sees at night. So much is left to the imagination that it forces awareness.