Impressionism (1860-1910)

After 1845, photography began to replace painting as a way to record views of the landscape. Even though the photographs were in black and white, cameras were being taken around the world to bring back realistic views of exotic locations. It’s amazing to think the first cameras were commercially available just after 1840, yet by 1855 even the remote American West Coast was photographed extensively. That sort of quick adoption of new technology is more commonplace today, but the camera was one of the first gadgets to gain such rapid use and popularity.

Traditional realistic landscape painting during the age of Impressionism was still popular and in demand as we could see by Church and Bierstadt above. Although a typical early black and white photograph was not nearly as beautiful as a fine art painting, photography began to affect the artistic preferences and styles of the day. Therefore, at this point in history artists wished to go beyond the super accurate and detailed landscape of the masters and forge a new path.

As with any new form of art, Impressionism was not immediately accepted by serious art collectors or critics. The Salon in Paris didn’t allow ‘impressionist’ paintings until after 1870. The term ‘impressionist’ didn’t even exist until Monet painted ‘Impression – Sunrise’ in 1872. (See that painting below in the Monet section for an explanation.) Many critics said placing a few daubs of pure oil colors on a canvas was not true art. They stated that anybody could do it and that impressionism required only a small amount of talent compared to the true masters. It’s easy to see their point. Compare the previous 15 paintings above to the next 15 below. It would seem as though the skill sets required to create each of these two groupings of 15 paintings are completely different. The same thing goes today with HDR compared to more natural photo processing.

However, art is subjective and Impressionism is all about moods and feelings. Standing in front of the work of a master Impressionist is awe inspiring, but in a different sort of way compared to seeing the old masters. Some works of the impressionists are rather shocking to see because as you move away from them, they actually become nearly as super realistic as the more ‘accurate’ works of the old masters. You realize it took an incredible amount of skill to create such realism with simple daubs of paint!

Impressionism is important to modern landscape photography. Many of the best landscape photographs are Impressionistic in their nature. For example, they can go far beyond the mere recording of a view from a specific location with good light. Some critics even have terms for such basic photographs. They derisively call them ‘record shots’, ‘snapshots’, or even worse, ‘snaps.’

So, if you wish to go beyond recording snapshots, you have to record your impressions and feelings too! There are many ways to accomplish this. You can make a long exposure, which will soften the flow of water or even the wind through the trees or the clouds in the sky. You can move the camera while an exposure is being made, to create a true abstract. You can use selective focus which will soften areas outside the focal point. Other Impressionist techniques include underexposure, overexposure, colored filters, pinhole photography, unusual perspectives and compositions. The list goes on and on. The point is a good landscape photograph leaves an impression and feeling with the viewer which goes beyond what it simply looks like.


Alfred Sisley (1839 – 1899) France

Alfred Sisley was a dedicated landscape painter and did almost all his painting ‘en plein air’ (in the open air.) This is difficult when you consider the best conditions for atmosphere and light often occur when the weather is bad and they often last for mere minutes. He often worked under shelters to keep dry, but it must have been cold and unpleasant, as he would work for many hours or even days on his canvases. Dedication and persistence under less than ideal conditions are good traits for a landscape photographer to have. You need to be able to get out there when you may not wish to be there. You will be rewarded with many fine images you can later enjoy on your computer or on your wall!

Sisley-Early_Snow_at_LouveciennesEarly Snow at Louveciennes, Alfred Sisley (1871 – 1872)

One can imagine Sisley out here on this street with his easel and paint working in the cold on a gray day after what was probably the first snow of the season. The leaves are still on the trees and there are many people on the street despite the cold weather.

The colors are muted and there is little fine detail, yet the chilly feeling of being on this street is quite real. The curve of the street and how it enters the town center makes the viewer wonder what lies just beyond what we can see. When photographing a landscape near a town, try to incorporate a bit of the countryside and show how it gradually turns into a city. Show the turning of the seasons and make the viewer wonder what lies beyond the edge of the visible canvas. Edges and boundaries are important elements in any visual art including landscape photography.


Sisley-Sentier_de_la_Mi-cote_LouveciennesTrail of Mid-coast, Louveciennes, Alfred Sisley (1873)

Sisley chose a much more pleasant environment to work in here, compared to the previous painting above. It appears to be a warm afternoon in the late summer or early fall with some humidity in the air. Once again he uses a path to guide our eyes along and into this world. It’s amazing how a few daubs of paint can convey so much information. This same technique can be accomplished in landscape photography. Sometimes a simple view is the best. Eliminate distractions and unnecessary complexity so you can tell your story as directly as possible.


Sisley-Under_the_Bridge_at_Hampton_CourtUnder the Bridge at Hampton Court, Alfred Sisley (1874)

This is yet another simple view without fine detail, yet the water shimmers with reflected light as the oarsmen prepare to pass by under the bridge. Sisley chose a perfect vantage point so the bridge creates a pleasing symmetry. Try going under bridges, piers, and anything else which looks interesting. Often, a long exposure can create an impressionistic look and feel to such a photograph, so try it out.



Camille Pissarro (1830 – 1903) France

Camile Pissarro was an early adopter of Impressionist techniques and influenced some of the big names in the world of impressionist art. He relied on color and form instead of fine detail. Sometimes, he even used a palette knife (no brush) from beginning to end. The younger Impressionists then refined Pissarro’s ideas and techniques into the Impressionism we know today. There’s something to be said for adopting a new technique or technology in the early going. Although you risk failure if you guess wrong, the rewards of being in the right place at the right time are often worth the risk. If impressionism hadn’t become so popular, few people would have known of Camille Pissaro!


Pissarro-zwei_schwatzende_Frauen_am_MeerTwo Women Chatting by the Sea, St. Thomas, Camile Pissarro (1856)

Pissarro spent the first 12 years of his life in St. Thomas, so he knew the land and the people well. This seems like a simple view but it strongly conveys a moment of time is a realistic way. We can feel the heat and the bright light on this peaceful day. Although many of the examples in this book depict dramatic light and violent nature and people, there are times when a peaceful mood is needed. When creating a landscape photograph with a quiet feel, use soft light and an even softer landscape. Notice how the hills are rounded out, the path looks easy on the feet, the sea is smooth and the sky is featureless yet warm. Look for these elements and your image will put your viewers at ease.


Camille_Pissarro,_Boulevard_MontmartreBoulevard Monmartre in Paris, Camile Pissarro (1897)

Pissaro knew how to create a cityscape. He chose this extra wide boulevard full of carriages and people which seems to stretch to infinity with a slight curve at the end. He also chose a nice high vantage point to see far into the distance, but not too high as to lose detail in the foreground. Also, he chose a day with dramatic fluffy cumulus clouds, which not only look good in the sky, but reflect light into every inch of the city. When creating a cityscape image, chose your composition carefully. Even little details like a car or tree that’s cut in half at the edge of the frame can cause a distraction. This can ruin the effect you are trying to convey. Move around and take your time.



Paul Cézanne (1839 –1906) France

Paul Cézanne began his artistic career creating Impressionist works and then his art evolved into more Post-Impressionist works. He inspired another new movement called Cubism, which broke up elements and reassembled them to expose symbolic meaning from a variety of physical viewpoints. Cubism led to the Surrealist movement.

Each of these steps led artists further and further away from the super realistic works which were in vogue not long before. In fact, many works in these new movements which represented the landscape didn’t look like landscapes at all. Don’t hesitate to experiment with different techniques and ideas when creating landscape images. You may strike upon something important which might lead to a new movement in photography!


Paul_Cézanne_096Landscape with Viaduct (Mont Sainte-Victoire), Paul Cézanne (1885-7)

This simplified landscape lacks detail but it’s pleasing to view, so detail doesn’t seem to matter. It’s more like a beautiful wall decoration designed to make an interior look good. However, Cézanne still loosely followed the classic rules of composition with a road leading the eye into the valley town past a foreground forest. Pleasing colors and composition are sometimes all you need. Perhaps in foggy but colorful conditions, you can create a pleasing soft landscape. Or, you can use a soft-focus to achieve the same effect.


Paul_Cézanne_148Annecy Lake, Paul Cézanne (1896)

This painting is even more abstract than the previous one with everything reduced to the bare essentials. Yet it works because of the pleasant color and the reflections deep in the lake. A bold and well-lit tree on the left gives the painting plenty of depth. A landscape photograph doesn’t have to be complex to work well. Sometime keeping it simple is the way to go.


Paul_Cézanne_113Montagne Sainte-Victoire and Chateau Noir, Paul Cézanne (1904-6)

Cézanne continues what seems to be a regression into an almost child-like level of detail in his 60’s. However he is pushing the limits on what can be achieved in the fewest number of strokes. This is no accident. If you step back from this image, you’ll see a rather startling level of realism which doesn’t seem possible upon first inspection. When you are out with the camera in the landscape, see how far you can push the limits of detail, yet still convey your subject. There are lots of creative things to be done with simplicity.



Claude Monet (1840 – 1926)

Claude Monet was the quintessential Impressionist painter and is considered to be one of its founders. He had talent at a young age but didn’t enjoy traditional art schools. When the Franco-Prussian war of 1870 became too dangerous, Monet went to England and studied the works of Constable and Turner. The way those two artists used color and impressions of the landscape influenced Monet to experiment with how to improve techniques which could make a painting convey an impression. He eventually returned to France via the Netherlands in 1871 and contributed to the birth of the Impressionist style.


Claude_Monet-Jardin_à_Sainte-AdresseTerrace at Sainte-Adresse, Claude Monet (1866-7)

Six years before the official first ‘Impressionist’ painting, Monet and some of his friends were already moving in that direction. This painting has elements of realism in the accurate lines and forms, along with elements of Impressionism via the daubs of brightly colored paint. The viewer can imagine the warm breeze blowing the flags on a summer day. We can also imagine that perhaps this is an introduction, based on how the man and woman are sitting next to each other with the two people standing having left their chairs on the opposite side of the group of four chairs. Perhaps they didn’t know each other since they were sitting so far apart? Whatever the story, Monet knew how to tell a good one in a single image. Again, telling a story is one of the most important things you can do in a landscape painting. Never forget that fact!


Claude_Monet,_Impression,_soleil_levant,_1872Impressions, Sunrise, Claude Monet (1872)

This is the painting which started the impressionist movement, though at the time it’s doubtful Monet considered it to be anything but an enjoyable experiment. At the time, Monet entered paintings into a show for newer artists painting in a new style which hadn’t been named. He hadn’t even named this painting, but when asked for a title for the show, he couldn’t say ‘A view of Le Havre’ because it wasn’t an accurate view. So Monet decided to call it ‘Impressions – Sunrise’ for lack of a better thing to call it. An art critic, who thought that common wallpaper was better than this painting, used the phrase ‘impressions,’ in a derogatory way and the word stuck!

The critic was right in a way even though this painting would sell for many tens of millions of dollars today and is well loved. It’s a basic painting, but the impression it has left started a revolution in the art world. One can can just imagine the frustration in the mind of the critic as this revolution took hold, leaving many ‘fine art’ paintings from skilled artists unsold! As a landscape photographer, you have to go with what you love. You can’t pretend to be something you aren’t. Monet could have attempted to follow the standard line and paint super-realistic works, but he followed his heart. The results speak for themselves!


Monet-montorgueilRue Montorgueil, Paris, Festival of June 30, 1878, Claude Monet (1878)

Monet chose a perfect vantage point for the best view of the festival. It’s alive with color and movement. The vanishing point makes the canvas appear three dimensional with almost infinite depth. Even though there isn’t much detail, it’s difficult to imagine a painting or even a photograph of this genre having more impact on the viewer. As a photographer, it’s possible to get these sorts of effects by experimenting with long exposures ranging from 1-second to possibly 1 minute. This can be done with dark circular neutral-density filters. These filters don’t affect the color, but the darkness of them requires a longer exposure. They range from 1-stop of darkening power up to 10-stops. The 10-stop filters are so dark you can barely see through the viewfinder, but you can do a 1-minute exposure in the middle of the day. That creates an impression of the scene compared to a normal shorter exposure. Lee Filters is has a square 10-stop glass filter called ‘The Big Stopper’ you can slide into a filter holder like a graduated filter. It’s entirely dark so it will work like a circular filter only you can put it on much more quickly.

So head out to a festival with a dark filter and see what you can do!


Claude_Monet_The_Cliffs_at_EtretatThe Cliffs at Etretat, Claude Monet (1885)

Monet chose a difficult time of day, with the sun to the right and behind the canvas as opposed to a more classic time of day with the sun over the water to the left with the cliff directly illuminated. Yet it looks great because of the reflections of the sea stack in the water. The lesson here is not all photographs have to have a golden sunset in the frame to be beautiful. So try something different. For example, if you are on a west facing coast known for sunsets, try getting there at sunrise and pointing away from the sun for a completely different look to your photograph.


Claude_Monet-Graystaks_IGraystack. (Sunset) , Claude Monet (1890-1)

This painting is part of a huge series Monet did over a long period of time. He painted these haystacks at every conceivable time of year and lighting condition. As a result, this series is one of the most recognizable set of paintings in history. If Monet had just done one, people may have liked it but when viewed as part of a series it takes on more significance. Earlier in this book, we have seen other series by great artists. This one is different because it isn’t merely a 4-season study. It’s an intense examination of a subject under numerous conditions. Monet also did this with his cathedral and water lily paintings.

So, try a big series for yourself. It can be especially effective to choose an iconic place close to where you live or work. It doesn’t have a be a world-famous place, but rather something which stands out and looks quite different depending on the time or the weather.


Monet_Water_Lilies_1916Water Lilies, Claude Monet (1907)

In what is probably his most famous series, Monet interprets his Lilies in every conceivable way. There’s often no horizon, but only the pond and Lilies. Although most landscape photographs are rather wide views of the land, sea and sky, there are times where a closer inspection is quite effective.

Ansel Adams called them not abstracts but ‘extracts,’ or portions of a landscape. In a photograph, these small portions can be made into their own separate works of art. This is a popular thing to do these days because a photographer or painter can create a more decorative piece for a wall. This is because the picture may consist of only one main color or shade, with strong patterns and lines, and that may closely fit with the theme of a room. A wide angle landscape may have many often conflicting colors and shapes.

Another nice thing about creating extracts is you don’t need a perfect sky, only even perfect light. Sometimes a cloudy day can be best since the light will be softer and less blue. So, although you may be chasing around ideas for a grand landscape at sunset, you can use the rest of the day looking for smaller patterns which can be a complete work of art. And the smaller the portion of the landscape you capture, the more creative you can become.


Claude_Monet_Weeping_WillowWeeping Willow, Claude Monet (1918)

Here is yet another example of Monet eliminating almost all detail and replacing it with mood and light. It almost looks like some of Turner’s works from 80 years earlier. To get an effect like this in a photograph, a long exposure might be worth a try with a very dark neutral density filter. Trees and other plants swaying in the wind can paint your photographic canvas for you if you give them enough light and time. Composition is still important, but light and movement are also important!



Pierre-Auguste Renoir (1841-1919)

Pierre Renoir was primarily known for his incredible portraits which seem at close inspection to be daubs of paint. However, as you back away they become so real it seems like the subject is ready to climb right out of the canvas! Although early on he could barely afford paint, he became one of the leaders of the Impressionist movement and perhaps the finest painter of the group. If you enjoy photographing people, Renoir has a lot he can teach you!

Renoir also painted the landscape, and the results are equally as stunning. However there are few photographs of these works in the public domain. He along with Monet were among the first to observe that an object in shadows doesn’t have the same color as the same object in sunlight. The object in the shadows shows reflected light from the sky. This is known as diffuse reflection. Newton may have discovered this first.

So on a day with a blue sky, the shadows will appear to have a blue tint, rather than the color you would normally think the object should have. This is especially important after sunset, when an entire photograph can appear to turn blue since the landscape is in the shadow of the Earth! The best way to solve this problem is to photograph with lots of clouds in the sky. Clouds reflect the entire spectrum of light and make shadows look more evenly lit.


Pierre-Auguste_Renoir_083Monet painting in his garden in Argenteuil, Pierre Renoir (1873)

Monet was a lucky guy to have Renoir paint his portrait! The entire scene is full of vibrant color and the artist is in a classic pose, ready to paint. The lesson for photographers here is to get a good self-portrait of yourself when you are out shooting the landscape. This sort of photograph is perfect for your website or just for fun. And if you can get a famous photographer to do it, all the better!


Pierre-Auguste_Renoir,_Le_Moulin_de_la_GaletteDance at Le Moulin de la Galette, Pierre Renoir (1876)

This painting is so vibrant, it almost seems like the people, light and shadows are moving before our eyes. This is the beauty of impressionism at its best. Notice how everyone is lit with alternating bits of shadows and dappled light? That’s what creates the feeling of movement.

Try to capture movement in your landscape photographs by whatever means possible. The sea and land are dynamic things. That energy should come across in your photographs. You can use long exposures, filters, camera movement, transitions of light and mist and numerous other techniques to achieve a dynamic look. Experiment with your mind and your camera!



Modern Landscape Painters (1900-Present)

Although modern painting has mostly turned away from traditional landscapes in favor of other genres, there are still numerous modern painters who are great painters of the landscape. Since an artist must be deceased for at least 75 years in many countries before his/her works go into the public domain, they aren’t included in this work. So spend some time and explore the modern masters of all genres of landscape painting.


Salvador Dalí (1904 –1989)

Every landscape photographer should explore the works of Salvador Dali. Although he preferred to paint surreal landscapes and focused on the human psyche, he had the talent and skill of draftsmanship to rival the old masters. It’s good to have him in mind when you try to create surreal landscapes using long exposures and unusual perspectives.


The End, for now…







Romanticism and Realism (1800-1890)

In the late 1700s in Europe and a few years later in America, numerous advances in the sciences led to new ideas about how the Earth was formed and about the position of humanity in relation to the universe and our own world. Forward looking people began to realize the Earth is an ancient place. A new fascination arose regarding the natural world. Also, as people migrated to the larger cities, people wanted to be reminded of the beautiful countryside, far from muddy city streets full of horse droppings, running sewage, and air full of coal soot and smog. Most of today’s modern cities are clean and livable in comparison. Innovation created new wealth, and these people wished to adorn their walls with objects of beauty including landscape paintings. This new outlook created the perfect conditions for landscape art to assume the highest position in the minds of the wealthy art collectors. Religious themes assumed a less important role as a result.

A new generation of landscape painters arose not only to meet the demand, but also to create landscape art for its own sake. During the first half of the 1800s, landscape art became more realistic, even reaching levels of hyperrealism as artists strove to bring back dramatic vistas from every corner of the world. In the second half of the century, photography began to have an impact on landscape painting and changed it forever.

The first movement of this century in landscape painting was Romanticism. The irony is Romanticism was a reaction against the stark realism of modern science during a period of scientific advancement! It emphasized emotions such as awe and rapture. So the move into nature that occurred because of scientific discoveries led to a deeper probing into human emotion regarding our natural surroundings.

The second movement of the century in landscape painting was Realism. This happened at the same time as Romanticism but usually with different artists in different places. While some painters were seeking romance in the landscape, others were precise students of the form and function of the natural world. Today’s photographers also fall into similar categories at times. The realists strove to faithfully record the landscape, plants and animals for posterity. Even the Realists would embellish their works by combining the best things from different locations into a single canvas. But accuracy in the details was important. The ironic twist of fate is that during this latter part of this period, photography inspired a new drive to produce realistic works of art because painters could take photos to serve as replacements for sketches. Then, photography replaced much of the market for realistic paintings as time went on.

The third movement of the century was Impressionism. Impressionism became a new way to create an emotional reaction in the mind of the viewer. It was a reaction to the stark realism that some people felt lacked emotional impact. To them, a landscape meant nothing. This later led to Cubism and Surrealism and other modern art forms as people stretched their imaginations further and further.

Caspar David Friedrich (1774 – 1840) Germany

Friedrich is considered to be the most important painter of the German Romantic Movement. He emphasized dramatic sublime moments in his works and also the contemplative moments as well. He often did this by placing human figures admiring the view into the painting so the viewer could take the place of the figure and experience the moment as well. His popularity had its ups and downs both in his life and afterwords. He died penniless, because his style of painting went out of favor in his later years and he was considered out of touch with more ‘modern’ styles of art. After that, his work fell into obscurity but was rediscovered by a new generation of surrealist and other artists. Then, the Nazis, used his art for their own purposes and after World War II, his work fell out of favor once again. Currently, there’s a resurgence of interest for his impressive works as people remove the baggage surrounding his art and see it for the astounding work which it is.

Caspar_David_Friedrich_Chalk_Cliffs_on_RügenChalk Cliffs on Ruugen, Caspar Friedrich (1818)

This unusual composition was possibly done to commemorate the artist’s honeymoon, with his brother tagging along on the right side of the canvas. Friedrich seems to be looking over the edge either to admire the view or to retrieve something which had fallen. His posture increases the feeling of being on the edge of a tall cliff, which is further enhanced by the brilliantly lit and jagged cliffs themselves. This scene is almost like something you might see in a computer generated landscape, or a scene from a movie on an alien world. When you see an extraordinary view like this, photograph it! Always make sure you take your camera wherever you go because you never know what will happen.


Caspar_David_Friedrich_EveningEvening Painting, Caspar Friedrich (Year unknown)

Friedrich used the light to probe the normally dense forest in a way which could only be done at this time of day. Imagine photographing this scene at mid-day with the sun high in the sky. The forest would be dark while the light would be on the outside of the scene and only in the tops of the trees. Use the light to your advantage by positioning yourself at the best place where the light can show the structure and form.


The_Abbey_in_the_OakwoodThe Abbey in the Oakwood, Caspar Friedrich (1808)

Could this look any more modern? It was not popular in his time, but today we can feel the dark and eerie heaviness which can send chills down the spine. Not all landscapes have to be pretty to be effective. Friedrich painted many such scenes, especially as he got older. In landscape photography, we can capture such scenes when it’s dark and foggy, or even at night. The weather should be ‘bad’ and the light should be low. The best photos are often created when you would least like to be outside!



Caspar_David_Friedrich_032The wanderer above the sea of fog, Caspar Friedrich (1818)

In what’s possibly his most famous work, we see the wanderer (hiker) in a contemplative moment. Much has been written about this painting, but it seems to be about reaching the pinnacle, looking out and gazing at the grandeur of it all. It’s a metaphor for any accomplishment. He uses almost every element that a landscape can have. Today, this hiker might be the photographer, perhaps getting to the best spot, ready to get out the camera and begin working. Put on a ten second delay and photograph yourself in a similar circumstance!

Perhaps he hiked through a dark and hopeless fog before sunrise to reach this spot in the hopes of finding this sublime light and atmosphere. Half of the fun of doing landscape photography is seeing beyond the obvious. In this case, a thick fog halfway up a mountain might make most people turn around and go back to the warmth of the campfire or hotel room. But a great photographer will press on in the hopes of seeing the sublime!


Caspar_David_Friedrich_Sea_of_IceThe Sea of Ice (The Wreck of Hope), Caspar Friedrich (1818)

This painting was inspired by the famous expedition by William Edward Parry from 1819 to 1820 in search of the Northwest Passage. Due to the prevailing artistic tastes of the time, this painting went unsold until after his death in 1840. Today it’s recognized as a masterpiece. The lesson to be learned here is when you show someone or a group of people your photography and they don’t approve, don’t despair because tastes change. If you like it, that’s what counts!


Caspar_David_Friedrich_013The Stages of Life, Caspar Friedrich (1835)

Here we see children, parents and a grandmother enjoying an afternoon out. We also see small boats and larger seagoing vessels. One good theme in landscape photography is showing different phases of the lives of plants, animals or even geologic evolution. This could be younger and older plants or trees. It could also be young sharp mountains in contrast to older weathered hills. Juxtaposing the young and the old is a great way to show realism and inspire thought in the viewer of your work.


Caspar_David_Friedrich_016The Giant Mountains, Caspar Friedrich (1835)

This classic view is a textbook example of how to show distance in a painting. The foreground is full of contrast and color, while in the background; color and contrast fade away. This atmospheric effect gives the impression of ever-increasing distance. Hazy and humid days are perfect for creating depth in a landscape photograph. Be on the lookout for it, but you must first plan out your composition. Since many of the best views require a long hike, you may want to scout out your locations ahead of time when the light and conditions aren’t right. Use Google Earth and other software. In this way, you will be prepared to capture the best moments.



Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775 – 1851)

Turner was England’s leading romantic painter at the same time Caspar Friedrich was popular in Germany. Unlike Friedrich however, Turner evolved with the times and became increasingly impressionistic as the years went by. Turner was also renowned for his fantastic watercolor paintings when he was young. He was known as “The Painter of Light.” Even back then, this phrase had been overused but it certainly applied to Turner. His paintings not only used light in dramatic ways, but they evolved to become only about the light. Some art critics call him the greatest landscape painter of all time. Of course everyone can have an opinion but he was certainly one of the best at what he did. In the eyes of the public, he put landscape painting into a position of being the highest form of painting. This completes the evolution of landscape painting from being just used as a background, to being the entire reason for creating a painting! Art for art’s sake.

Turner_JMW-Transept_of_Ewenny_Priory,_GlamorganshireTransept of Ewenny Priory, Glamorganshire, Joseph Turner (1797) watercolor

This isn’t a landscape and not an oil painting unlike most of the other examples in this book. However, it’s a perfect example of a classic use of lighting effects which can be used to photograph cityscapes or deep canyons. The light and smoky mist casts an atmospheric glow from right to left while a second light source enters the frame from the left side. This creates the feeling of an enormous and cavernous place. Mist and fog are nearly essential when it comes to the construction of a photograph featuring architecture or cityscapes. It’s good to call a composition, a construction because the photographer is constructing the image from nothing. If you wish to create a good image, you should have as many tools available as possible. And this includes mist and fog.


Turner_Buttermere_Lake_with_Park_of_CromackwaterButtermere Lake, with Park of Cromackwater, Cumberland, a Shower, Joseph Turner (1798)

Many of Turner’s paintings were rough and lacking in detail, but done in such a way that the viewer is left with an internal feeling and impression of the place. The best photos of this lake convey the same sense of grandeur which you see here. Over the next 100 years, landscape painters studied Turner and went on to become even more Impressionistic and later, Surrealistic. When creating a landscape photograph, don’t be afraid to try new things, even if people don’t like them. Your vision is as valid as anybody else’s. Perhaps someone will see something in your work which will inspire them to reach to new heights. Why not be the giant whose shoulders someone will stand on?


Joseph_Mallord_William_Turner_017Lake Lucerne, Joseph Turner (1802)

This is a classic use of atmosphere and mist, which makes the viewer feel like the distant mountains are far off in the distance. It looks a little like the classic older paintings and sketches from China and Japan shown earlier in this book. Turner was a great student of the masters. You can easily see people in the foreground, which also enhances the feeling of depth since only the biggest features can be seen in the background. The steam boat and the arc of reflection in the lake are also important elements of this painting. When photographing the landscape from a high vantage point, it’s still important to move around to find the best composition. If you were photographing this scene, moving to the left would allow the foreground to block the reflection in the lake. Moving to the right would eliminate the foreground entirely! So this composition is a good compromise. that’s why this scene is so well composed.


Joseph_Mallord_William_Turner_081Hannibal and his Men crossing the Alps, Joseph Turner 1811

This rough view is also all about mood. We can see the men in their perilous march across the Alps. This feeling comes from the overwhelming black storm clouds which nearly block the light completely. Sometimes the best landscape photographs are created when the weather is at its worst. So resist the urge to stay inside when the action is outside! However, since storms can last for a long time and have no good light at all, you have to time your outings for when the storm is just beginning or just ending. Usually, the best conditions are at the end of a storm. In this way, you have bad weather, mist, rain, and possibly sun or moonlight all in the same photograph. More drama often leads to better photographs.


Turner_Dido_Building_CarthageDido Building Carthage aka The Rise of the Carthaginian Empire,, Joseph Turner (1815)

The photo of this painting is overexposed, but you get the point. This scene may look somewhat familiar to a few paintings earlier in this book. In fact, Turner was a big admirer of Claude Lorrain. Turner supposedly once cried as he looked at a Claude painting. He announced that he will “never be able to create a painting like that.”

Turner wanted to be buried after being wrapped in this painting! Thankfully, his estate fought to not allow this to happen and they succeeded. Turner sure came close to Claude Lorrain in this work. It shows that although Turner was known for his rough painting style, it was only a style. He was capable of incredible detail and realism. In landscape photography, the same thing can happen. You may become excellent at creating realistic landscapes and yet move on to long exposures, selective focus, HDR, Photoshop manipulation, or other styles of landscape. And that’s fine!

Also, don’t be afraid to imitate the style of a photographer or painter you admire as you are learning photography. Nobody owns a particular style, view or composition. And the simple act of imitation will often lead you to learn quickly and move on to new forms using your own newly-found vision. If Turner can do it, so can you!


William_Turner_-_Crossing_the_BrookCrossing the Brook, Joseph Turner (1815)

Supposedly, Turner used his daughters as models for this Claude Lorrain inspired painting. No model release required! Don’t hesitate to use willing family members in your photography. And again, don’t hesitate to imitate the masters.


Ausbruch_des_Vesuvs,_1817Eruption of Vesuvius, Joseph Turner (1817)

Once again, Turner almost splashes the paint onto the canvas in a violent way, which is perfect for translating the violence of Vesuvius onto the canvas. It seems like the world is ending. And for those people in AD 79, it was! If you are confronted with harsh conditions, don’t be afraid for the photograph to end up looking harsh too. Not all landscapes are ‘pretty’ or subtle. Let your image tell the story of how it felt out there.


Turner-The_Burning_of_the_Houses_of_Lords_and_CommonsThe Burning of the Houses of Lords and Commons, Joseph Turner (1835)

Can a disaster look beautiful? Turner makes this conflagration into a beautiful work of art for sure. He includes the firelight reflecting off of the Thames and the bridge. And the light also helps to silhouette the people watching it all unfold. The lesson for the landscape photographer here is to always have your camera with you, so you can capture the unexpected. Technically, Turner didn’t have to personally witness this event. Many other artists did renditions of this fire and most didn’t witness it. They can either paint from memory or even from imagination. But in landscape photography, it’s assumed you were there and the camera recorded the event as it happened. So be ready for anything. It doesn’t have to be a disaster, but possibly a great sunset, or a tornado. You just never know what will happen.


Turner-rain-steam-and-speedRain, Steam and Speed – The Great Western Railway, Joseph Turner (1844)

Despite the small amount of detail in this painting, it still stands today as one of the most memorable landscape paintings in history in the minds of many. At the time however, many art critics were quite harsh in their opinions. This was a new form of art. It was not a landscape in the traditional sense, but rather an impression of the feeling of the speed of the new technological innovation of the steam powered locomotive. Over the next 20 years or so, more artists began to paint in an impressionistic sort of way, but not until after 1870 in Paris did impressionism become a critically accepted form of art.

The most striking elements in this painting aren’t only the train approaching through the mist, but the light under the arch of the bridge and the feel of technological innovation. You can apply this lesson to the cityscapes of today as major cities grow increasingly vertical. Why not show them off in the most dramatic way possible? So wait for a foggy or misty day with the sun breaking through the mist, and head to the city to make some dramatic cityscapes!



John Constable (1776 – 1837) England

John Constable is today regarded perhaps as England’s best-known landscape painter, though he was not financially successful during his lifetime. He wished to paint pure landscapes, which were still not as economically popular as portraits and older themes. Today, even the best landscape photographs don’t get the attention of a revealing portrait or other more human oriented artistic genre. Visit a fine art photography gallery selling expensive works. You’ll rarely see beautiful landscapes. So perhaps times haven’t changed as much as we would like to think! Still, landscape art and photography is a much beloved form of expression.

Constable specialized in local scenery because not only did he know it best, but he could also be there to witness the best light. He said, “painting is but another word for feeling.” This is a common and important theme in landscape photography too. The best-loved photographs convey the feeling of what it’s like to be there.

He believed in painting directly from nature instead of from memory or from composite sketches and studies. This went against the prevailing fashion trend of the time, which inspired artists to create art from imagination. As a result, he had to be there at the scene to witness the light before he could paint it. An important lesson which landscape photographers can learn from John Constable is, the best photographs can be made locally, right where you live and work. This is simply a matter of odds. If superb light occurs on only one day per month, chances are you won’t see it during a two-week vacation or even a serious photo expedition. However, you can be ready for good light on every day of the year in the place where you live!

Constable_DeadhamValeDedham Vale, John Constable 1802

This is a classic view of the landscape of central England which can still be seen today in some of the less developed rural areas. It implies a warm summer’s day which might be spent on a picnic with friends and family. Although Constable painted accurate scenes, they still inspire the imagination to come up with ideas such as a picnic in the open air. That same imagination can be inspired when viewing a landscape photograph. Therefore, choose an idyllic location for your photo with an open view into the distance as we see here.


John_Constable_023Lock and mill in Dedham, John Constable (1820)

This view contains a nice mixture of the natural landscape with the human element of industry. The mill grinds the grain, which is harvested in the more natural fields beyond. It’s still possible today to capture such a scene photographically whenever you visit a small agricultural town. Try to include bits of the natural and the human world in a harmonious way.


John_Constable_The_Hay_WainThe Hay Wain, John Constable (1821)

This classic view seems to have it all, from the glorious sky all the way down to the dog watching it all happen. It seems idyllic yet you can see the difficulty of living the simple life. Today, this painting inspires nostalgia for a simpler time, but back then, it was just life. Constable adeptly showed an open view of the fields where the hay was grown, and the cart, which will transport it to market. Then, when you consider the cottage with the people and dog, this painting shows the entire life cycle of the time. In landscape photography as well as fine art painting, showing the entire cycle of something is a common and successful theme. So, try to find cycles of things. It could be the water cycle as we see several times in this book, or any other cycle.


John_Constable_Study_of_an_elm_treeStudy of an Elm Tree, John Constable (1821)

This is an absolutely stunning work in its clarity and near photographic realism! Yet, it’s just a simple tree trunk with a forest behind. Few people would mind this painting being on their wall because it brings nature indoors. A good landscape photograph doesn’t have to be complex to be good. When you are looking for something to photograph, try to visualize it on your wall. Does it work for you?


John_Constable_017Salisbury Cathedral from the Bishop’s Grounds, John Constable (c. 1825)

This painting shows a lot of planning and forethought. The composition is pleasing because of the way the trees naturally frame the cathedral, and by the way the people and animals are interacting with the environment. The couple on the left is enjoying the view, while the animals are living off the land. And all of this is set under a sky full of billowing cumulus clouds which reflect light across the canvas.

As a photographer, it might be easy to walk right past this view in search of something even more grand. However, a few steps to the left or right would render the view chaotic and not as pleasing.

Yet, with your camera (or Constable’s eye and canvas) in this exact spot, the results are perfect. Composition can never be underestimated. You could be on a workshop with 20 people, and when the photos are reviewed later, you will find that no two people took the same shot even if they were just a few feet apart. The lesson here is even a few inches can matter, so try to be conscious of your composition. Every detail counts.



Johan Christian Claussen Dahl (1788 – 1857) Norway

Dahl is regarded as the father of Norwegian landscape painting because he brought the classic techniques of the old masters back to Norway from Germany. It was essential for aspiring painters from across the world painting in all genres, to make the pilgrimage to places like France, Italy, Holland, England and Germany. There, they studied the great works and developed their own vision. Fortunately today we can all do this via the internet! Then, after studying, we can go immediately to the field to work on our photographic technique.

Dahl.I.C.1820Avaldsnes Church, Johan Dahl (1820)

In addition to the open composition and view, what first catches the eye is how this captures that brief moment when the sun is just below the horizon, yet the last rays are catching the clouds and even the top of the Church. As always, the light plays a big role here, yet it’s a unique role because light is always different from season to season and moment to moment. In landscape photography, the last or first moment of sun provides an almost unique opportunity, but only for a moment. So be ready!


I.C.Dahl_VesuvOutbreak of the Vesuvius, Johan Dahl (1826)

Nearly every serious landscape painter during this time period had his or her version of an erupting Vesuvius. This one is different in that the viewpoint is from the backside of the mountain. Most paintings show the view from the harbor in the middle right of the frame. When you are doing landscape photography, don’t shy away from the icons. Nobody owns these views, so just try to do something new with them. The difference could be the perspective, the composition, the light, or any number of elements.


Johan_Christian_Claussen_Dahl_003Lyshornet in Bergen, Johan Dahl (1836)

It’s unknown whether Dahl painted this view ‘en plein air’, or from sketches or memory. He would have to climb thousands of feet with his gear in rugged terrain to reach this spot. And then the weather would have to cooperate. Regardless of how he did it, it’s an excellent view that was well worth the effort. Little details like the goats in front of mist, and the lakes bring this view alive. Take your camera along on your hikes because you never know when you may witness something special. It’s rare to see a good landscape photograph from such an inconvenient place, though travel is easier now than back when this painting was done. There may even be a tourist pullout on this spot today!


Frogner_Manor_by_I._C._Dahl_for_Benjamin_WegnerFrogner Manor, Frogner, Oslo, Johan Dahl (1842)

It’s almost as though the manor is intentionally tucked into the trees on top of the hill, but this was a choice of composition. Dahl placed the manor there by moving around to get the viewer’s eyes focused on it so we can then look down the brightly lit hillside and across the lake to the bridge. When planning your photo, take command of the situation and guide the eyes of your viewers to the most interesting places.


Dahl-HolmestrandFjord at Holme Beach, Johan Dahl (1843)

Once again, Dahl is capturing the sun right on the horizon but there’s still enough light to reflect across the water. It’s a perfect moment of serenity. If you wish to capture a scene like this, it’s best to plan it out ahead of time. The sun is only like this for about 30 seconds, so get there ahead of time and compose your view. Then you will be ready to press the shutter release at just the right moment. If you have to rush, all might be lost.


Dahl-Copenhagen_Harbour_by_MoonlightCopenhagen Harbor by Moonlight, Johan Dahl (1846)

As we have seen in earlier examples, moonlight presents unique opportunities to add drama to a scene. Here, Dahl shows how the accustomed eye can see a moonlit landscape almost as well as during the day. Light reflects off the building to the right, which frames the scene. Even with the technology of today, we would need a long exposure of more than a few seconds to capture enough light. And then, the people would be gone or appear as apparitions. Still, we can use moonlight to our advantage in landscape photography. Learning night photography is a matter of trial and error. You must experiment to learn the subtle techniques of nighttime photography. And you must go out often to get enough practice. This is one area where landscape painters still have an edge over photographers. New advances in high ISO imagery will eventually allow us to make a short-exposure photograph at night which looks like this.



Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot, (1796-1875) France

Corot was a late bloomer, only taking up painting after the age of 20. This is unusual for such a well-known master painter. However, once he took up painting he did little else for the rest of his life. He enjoyed painting in a realistic manner, faithfully reproducing what he saw before him. He was also one of the first artists to take up photography, which led him to use an almost monochromatic palette. He didn’t enjoy bright and shocking colors, which were becoming popular with the impressionists later in his life. He liked accuracy, composition, form and tone more than anything. Eventually after many years of not being recognized, he became well known and wealthy from his art. For a landscape photographer, the lesson from Corot’s life is you can start at any age and that you don’t have to crank up the saturation to produce fine works of art!

Venise,_La_Piazetta_(Camille_Corot)Venice, La Piazzetta, Jean-Baptiste Corot (1835)

This view of the much-photographed plaza in Venice almost appears as a photograph created in the late afternoon sun. The light and composition do all of the work since the colors are muted. In cityscape photography, the angle and quality of light are important even if not much of the sky is shown because of the tall buildings. Also, the position of each building is important. One thing many people may notice in this painting is how much this area has sunk in the 175 years since this painting was made! It commonly floods now. Photographs are also an excellent way to preserve and record the past. If you see something that’s changing, like a glacier or a growing city, create a landscape which will remind you of how it used to be.


Jean-Baptiste-Camille_Corot_011Memory of Marissel, Jean-Baptiste Corot (1866)

Few things are more mysterious than a path through a forest leading to something half hidden in the distance. The tower makes the viewer wish to travel the path up to the front gate. In landscape photography, a path to mystery is a great way to engage the viewer.


Corot.villedavray.750pixVille d’Avray, Jean-Baptiste Corot (1867)

Corot placed people in many of his landscapes. He was trained to do that by his teachers, whom were inspired by the likes of Claude Lorrain. Human figures are a controversial subject in today’s landscape photography discussions. Some viewers and critics like people in landscape photos because they make them feel more real and show scale. Others think people in a landscape are a distraction since there are other ways to show scale. There’s no correct answer, so make up your own mind and tell the story as you see fit. Another thing to notice here is how there’s a bit of impressionism in the form of little splashes of pure paint. This was 1867 which was when impressionism was beginning to grow in popularity. However, Corot kept realism at the center of his focus during his entire career.


Jean-Baptiste-Camille_Corot_030Landscape Castelgandolfo, Jean-Baptiste Corot (1870)

This is also a little impressionistic, with the daubs of paint everywhere. It feels like a summer breeze is blowing. Don’t forget to use wind as your ally in a landscape photograph. Nothing has to be static. You can use a ½-second or even 1-minute exposure to let the trees and plants blow around a bit. This creates a photographic form of impressionism which lets the view imagine the blowing breeze on a summer’s day.



Thomas Cole (1801-1848) United States

Thomas Cole was born in Lancashire England and moved to America with his family when he was 17. He was a romantic painter but also a realist who studied nature down to the extremely small details. He was the founder of the Hudson River School which was devoted to the showing of an idealistic view of the American landscape and beyond to the newly wealthy patrons in America. He may be the most well known American landscape painter, along with his student Frederic Church, and Albert Bierstadt who are included in this text below.

Thomas_Cole-Expulsion-Moon_and_Firelight_1828Expulsion – Moon and Firelight, Thomas Cole (1828)

This is an extremely unusual composition, yet the numerous light sources and intricate structures are impossible to overlook. It just grabs the eye and nearly forces the viewer to be transfixed. Don’t be afraid to create a landscape photograph which violates the rules of composition. Sometimes it’s for the best!


Cole_Thomas_The_Garden_of_Eden_1828The Garden of Eden, Thomas Cole (1828)

Here is another example of a common theme, which Cole decided to call his own. Even though it had been done a thousand times before, he created a unique version which makes you look at the story in a new light. Instead of a Middle Eastern Garden of Eden, he went for the ‘Tropical Jungle below the Andes’ type of look and feel with the towering palms and mountain peaks framing the scene. Don’t be afraid to make your own version when you are photographing famous locations. It just may be just as good as or even better than the most famous views! Then probe deeper for more unique perspectives.


Distant_View_of_Niagara_Falls_1830_Thomas_ColeDistant View of Niagara Falls, Thomas Cole (1830)

This is the kind of scene which made Cole famous among the newly rich back in the city of New York. He traveled up and down the Eastern Seaboard of the United States creating idealistic interpretations of scenes, which the city dwellers might only see once in their lifetime during a big vacation. Cole brought these exotic views and memories back to civilization. When doing landscape photography, try to visit exotic locations and bring back memories which inspire the imagination to dream. Even a local beach can be exotic if seen with excellent light. And your local locale might be considered exotic by those in far away places.


Cole_Thomas_The_Course_of_Empire_Destruction_1836The Course of Empire – Destruction, Thomas Cole (1833-36)

This is the fourth in a series of 5 incredible paintings. Go online to see the rest. The series is a must-see. It follows the evolution of an empire from a pastoral setting to the peak and decline back to nature again. Notice the enormous statue on the right has no head! The powerful have fallen.

As a landscape photographer, a series is a great way to show change and perspective in a way no single picture can convey. You can’t help but feel strong feel emotions when you follow this series from beginning to end! All that work and effort, lost. Emotions are important in landscape photography too as we see again and again.


Cole_Thomas_The_Oxbow_(The_Connecticut_River_near_Northampton_1836The Oxbow, Thomas Cole (1836)

Every grade-school child learns about erosion, where a young and turbulent river matures into a peaceful winding stream in a wide-open valley. Cole shows the entire erosion cycle all in one picture. The rain falls, which erode the hills and knock down trees, feeding an increasingly silt-laden river. He also has the canvas split into a stormy side and a sunny side, which allows the eye to explore the difference between the two extremes. A good theme in landscape photography is to show geological processes in action. It can be big waves striking a rocky shore, or a waterfall eating away at a cliff. These sorts of scenes are fascinating subjects for a photograph.


Cole_Thomas_The_Return_1837The Return, Thomas Cole (1837)

It’s difficult to witness, yet alone photograph this kind of light in real life. Painters have the luxury of not having to witness the entire grand scene. Yet on this canvas, Cole manages to render the scene so realistically that he must have witnessed similar light at various times. An example of the adept use of light is how he painted one dark horse with the feet in front of the light while a white horse is against a darker background. What a master’s touch! He does similar things with the people and everything else in the scene. This shows complete mastery of the light. Although landscape photographers have the luxury of not having to personally render every pixel, we do have to witness it all happen at once. So look for areas of contrast where you can highlight important things just as Cole does in this painting.


A_View_of_the_Mountain_Pass_(Crawford_Notch)-1839-Thomas_ColeView of the Mountain Pass Called the Notch of the White Mountains (Crawford Notch) , Thomas Cole (1839)

A landscape painting or photograph can teach us a lot about geology, like how the water carved this notch. Cole includes some fog in the notch just to bring more detail to the area. This is a tranquil and idyllic setting which looks even better because of the mist and light. Those two things should be pursued when photographing the landscape. The best time to see a scene like this is most likely at dawn just as a storm begins to clear. If you just endured a stormy night, look out the window at first light and go out if things look promising. You never know when you will witness something special. Have locations scouted out ahead of time, since there’s little time at sunrise for experimentation and investigation.


Cole_Thomas_The_Voyage_of_Life_Manhood_1840The Voyage of Life – Manhood, Thomas Cole (1840)

This is the third in a series of four masterpieces showing our cycle of life. This series is also a must-see on the internet. Not only are these paintings dramatic as a series, but also each one stands strongly on its own. When doing a series of landscapes, make sure there isn’t a weak link in the chain. Each stage is important and a weak image will spoil the feel of the entire series.




Ivan Aivazovsky (1817 – 1900) Armenian /Crimea

Ivan Aivazovsky was a financially successful landscape and seascape artist who painted more than 6,000 works during his lifetime. He was unusual in that he was prolific and each work was highly detailed and of the highest quality. His timeless seascapes and landscapes bring millions at auction today. Some artists like Picasso were also prolific, with Picasso himself referring to some paintings as ‘afternooners’, meaning he took just an afternoon to complete them. One Picasso just sold for over US $100 million! And many of Picasso’s works look like they were done with a few strokes of his brush.

The works of Aivazovsky however are so imaginative and finely polished that it’s difficult to figure out how he could have done even half of them in a single lifetime. As a landscape photographer, don’t feel like you have to produce quality and quantity like Aivazovsky. Just go at your own pace. Quality should be the first goal.

Aivazovsky,_Ivan_-_The_Ninth_WaveThe Ninth Wave, Ivan Aivazovsky (1850)

This is the Wikimedia commons image which was chosen for the cover of this book/series. The cover shows the center section because the book cover has a portrait orientation. The potential survivors of this shipwreck probably aren’t enjoying the incredible light show because they are fighting for survival by clinging to the one remaining mast. This depicts a classic theme when thinking about the sea. It can be beautiful and deadly, often at the same time. When photographing the seascape, try to show the beauty and the beast of the sea. Time the waves for that small moment when the light pierces through the waves, as it does in this painting. It’s extremely difficult to do, but give it a try. And never turn your back to the sea!


Aivasovsky_Ivan_Constantinovich-Chumaks_in_Little_RussiaChumaks in Little Russia, Ivan Aivazovsky (1870-1880)

In this painting, a warm and glowing light almost hides the fact that it must be extremely cold for this long wagon train which seems to stretch back into an infinite horizon. The angle of light is perfect for showing the detail of the cottage and illuminating the people standing in front of the darker shadows. In painting and in landscape photography, the beginning or end of a journey is a successfully time-tested theme. It doesn’t have to be a journey like we see here, but a journey of anything from water in a river to the mysterious rocks on the Racetrack of Death Valley, California.


Aiv_Black_Sea1The Black Sea, Ivan Aivazovsky (1881)

The endless sea is a fascinating and self-contained topic. It shows us how small we are compared to the immensity and power of nature. There’s no need for a foreground rock or a background focal point. This is all about something timeless. Try doing this yourself from a bridge or other high vantage point. To make a successful seascape photograph which looks like this, you will need some extra good light on the sea and a superb cloudscape above. Big waves and wind can help too, as well as a place to shelter the camera. Without anything solid as a reference point, these other elements need to be extra strong to draw the viewer’s attention and hold it on your photograph.


Ivan_Aivazovsky_-_Ship_in_the_Stormy_SeaShip in the Stormy Sea, Ivan Aivazovsky (1887)

This painting has all of the elements of a dramatic seascape. The storm is whipping up dangerous waves which are beautiful yet deadly at the same time. The people are abandoning ship, yielding to the power of nature in the hopes of surviving to see the next day. The ropes are frayed and snapping. The seagulls are better adapted to a life at sea than humanity, so they are doing just fine. Perhaps they are waiting for the cargo to spill out so they can have a good meal. Or perhaps they are just riding the roller coaster of turbulence created by each wave. In the foreground is a mast, perhaps the last remnant of a previous shipwreck at this same location.

It would be nearly impossible to capture a scene like this with a camera. The salty spray would cover the lens in a second and the rain and wind would drive water into the camera and shake it so violently that no sharp image would be possible. It would seem as though no sane photographer would dare volunteer to go shooting in these conditions. However, there are some insane photographers who might give this a try! A waterproof housing might help here. The most difficult conditions sometimes yield the most dramatic images. So taking at least some moderate risk is something to consider.

One good way to deal with salty spray is to bring a clear plastic bag to cover the camera and lens. While the bag is still over the camera, you can get your settings correct for a good exposure. Then, remove the bag only briefly when the moment is right for an exposure. In this way, you don’t have to clean off your lens and filters as often. And it’s nice to clean them off while still under the bag and be ready for the next shot.




Frederic Edwin Church 1826-1900 United States

Frederic Church was born in Connecticut and became a young student of Thomas Cole. He became successful at a young age. That success attracted a benefactor who financed a trip to South America so Church could produce art which attracted more investors to the benefactors’ business ventures. Church returned to America and began to produce huge and finely detailed paintings of exotic locations which astonished viewers and brought him financial success. That success led to more travels and more painting. One thing led to another.

Many of Church’s paintings are so impressive it’s difficult to believe a human being could produce such works. They have the fine detail of a 10-inch wide painting created with a fine detail brush, combined with the dramatic impact which can only be seen from 10 feet back or more.

Church once placed a painting in a window frame with curtains and special lighting so viewers could sit on a bench and imagine looking out a window to the Andes Mountains. This was the closest thing that people had in those days to modern movies and other high visual impact activities. He sold that painting for US $ 10,000, which was the highest price of an American painting to that date. You could buy a big house in a wealthy neighborhood for that amount of money back then.


Frederic_Edwin_Church_-_Storm_in_the_Mountains Storm in the Mountains, Frederic Church (1847)

This painting almost has a photographic perspective to it. It’s the kind of view which couldn’t be imagined in a studio but must have been seen in person. We can imagine the sturdy looking tree snapping in hurricane force winds during an intense storm. Then the storm clears and a peaceful mist is illuminated in the valley below. Many great landscape photographs also tell stories of dramatic weather, so when a storm strikes, be prepared to head out as soon as it clears. Find the damage and evidence. There are opportunities out there just waiting for you.


Frederic_Church_-_The_Cordilleras,_SunriseThe Cordilleras, Sunrise, Frederic Church (1854)

To someone living in the American Northeast or in Europe, this must have been an exotic vision. Church makes the fruiting palm tree a bold focal point, made even more dramatic by the fact that many northern viewers had never even seen a palm tree out of doors. The pathways and the water allow the viewers to navigate this landscape in their minds, transporting them to this faraway place. These days, it’s difficult for a landscape photographer to impress viewers by an exotic location. Millions of camera carrying tourists scour the planet on their vacations and upload these views to the internet for all to see. So, an exotic location isn’t all it takes impress people these days. You need the location and a sublime moment. The soft light and the pleasant composition in this view are still impressive to this day.


Frederic_Edwin_Church_-_Tequendama_Falls,_Near_Bogota,_New_GranadaTequendama Falls, Near Bogota, New Granada, Frederic Church (1854)


Waterfalls are a popular topic for classic paintings as well as contemporary photographs. This view even looks like a photograph. Notice how Church has the mist in the sunlight with only reflected light in the foreground? This enhances the drama of the falls to the point where it almost seems to be moving. When attempting a photograph like this, the foreground may often be almost completely black because the camera can’t capture the dynamic range in brightness between the brightest and darkest parts of a view. So only attempt this when there are a lot of clouds in the sky, reflecting light into the darker areas. Experiment with different exposure times too.


Frederic_church_-_niagara_fallsNiagara Falls, Frederic Church (1857)

Church chose a high vantage point looking away from the sun to show the entire falls and include a bit of rainbow and light striking the falls in the background. This is carefully composed to allow the viewer to get a sense of the grandeur of this place. When photographing a waterfall, you may have to scout around the entire thing before finding a good composition with a good angle of light. Or you must wait for the right time of day. The extra effort will be worth it. Don’t just settle for the standard views with all of the other tourists! But don’t ignore the standard views either. There might be a good reason why an X lies on the ground ordering you to make the photo on this spot!

Also, the panoramic orientation was a good choice for this painting.


Church_Heart_of_the_AndesThe Heart of the Andes, Frederic Church (1859)

This is the first in a long series of enormous, yet finely detailed canvases Church executed depicting an exotic location which must have stirred the imagination of every viewer. Church shows the entire water cycle, originating in the snow-capped Andes and flowing down the valley to the tropical lowland waterfall. Can’t you almost smell the humidity?

A grand landscape often includes wide-ranging elements which tie together into a single unified package. When creating a landscape photograph, you can accomplish this by using a wide-angle lens and consciously moving around to make sure you have everything within the frame. Could you imagine if Church had only painted the right half of the distant snow-capped mountain peak, cutting off the left side? Make sure to not cut in half any important elements! It’s easier to do than you think when you are in the excitement of the moment.


Frederic_church_twilight_wildernessTwilight Wilderness, Frederic Church (1860)

This is another photo-realistic painting that’s both subtle in color, yet dramatic in its grandeur. Church waited for the sun to set on the land but still illuminate the high clouds, which reflect into the water. High clouds are best for that dramatic last splash of red. Lower and middle clouds don’t have the same effect. Remember this when waiting for a sunset. If you have lower to middle clouds, don’t expect a dramatic red sunset unless high clouds are above them. The best light with those lower types of clouds is more like ½ hour before sunset. The thicker the cloud cover, the more likely the best light will be with the sun higher in the sky. Also, the light is affected by what lies beyond the horizon. If there’s a high cloud in front of the sun just below the horizon and out of view, it will shade out the clouds which you can see, rendering them dark. Here, Church shows the best conditions for a red sunset, a clear open sky to the west allowing the sun to illuminate the underside of high clouds.


Frederic_Edwin_Church_The_IcebergsThe Icebergs, Frederic Church (1861)

This was another extremely exotic subject to paint during this period of time. Even here, Church includes lots of extra interest above and beyond mere icebergs in perfect light. Notice the arch in the lower right with the light coming through it? See the reflected light on the ice on the left side and what looks to be the mast of a shipwreck in the foreground? These are extra details Church added to go above and beyond what was required in a standard fine-art painting. When searching the landscape for a good view, go above and beyond simply recording the view. Include extra elements which will surprise your viewers and make them point and say to a friend, ‘Hey, look over here!’


Cotopaxi_churchCotopaxi, Frederic Church (1862)

Church didn’t visit Vesuvius in Italy, but there are a few nice volcanoes in the new world such as Cotopaxi in the Andes of Ecuador. He left out all signs of human habitation in favor of a view of nature in its most raw and powerful state. It looks so accurate that he must have seen this volcano (or one like it) erupt in person. The composition flows nicely both up from the peak and down to the falls with some nice symmetry between the plume of ash and the cliffs to the right. Symmetries work well in landscape photography. They can be from reflections or from more hidden relationships such as the ash and cliffs here which seem to frame the sun and its reflection. Sometimes they aren’t obvious, so you have to search them out. Sometimes they are so subtle you don’t recognize them until you get home and review your photographs. It may have just felt ‘right’ at the time and only later do you realize why.


Frederic_Church_ChimborazoChimborazo, Frederic Church (1862-66)

This original painting is over 7 feet long, yet when you look at it from 1 foot away; you can see things inside of the hut and even individual blades of grass behind it! At first when you look at this, you don’t even notice the subtle but immense snow capped peak in the distance. Then once you notice, you can’t ignore it. Church used the technique of lowering the contrast on distant objects to imply a sense of depth. Landscape photographers can do this on a hazy, foggy or misty day. This depth makes you realize the mountain must be enormous to appear so large from such a long distance away.

Church became extremely analytical at this stage of his life and this painting is the result of extensive studies of this mountain and the jungle in oil paint, pencil and also notebook from numerous angles, times of day, and weather conditions. He wanted realism and not just a pretty picture, though this painting is a composite of his studies. All of that effort surely paid off. When you see this painting, which is at the Huntington near Pasadena in LA, it’s easy to appreciate the workmanship.

Extra effort can pay off for the landscape photographer too. Don’t hesitate to return to a spot over and over under a wide variety of conditions to study a place and obtain the best view possible from that location. Of course, the best view isn’t always practically possible, but it’s enjoyable to try.


Frederic_Edwin_Church_Aurora_BorealisAurora Borealis, Frederic Church (1865)

With Frederic Church, every time you think he could never paint a more exotic painting, he proves you wrong! The aurora almost glows with a radiant light, which seems to help this ship navigate through the ice clogged waters. If you ever travel to near the North Pole or the South Pole, don’t hesitate to get outside at night, even if it’s cold. You may have to do a long exposure with noise reduction turned on to avoid extra blobs of noise. Even if it’s uncomfortable, give it a try! You may have to try several times before you get it right, and that effort may take an hour or two, so dress warmly. Also, don’t forget to find an interesting view to go along with the sky. If it’s too dark at night, you may want to find a good composition while it’s still light outside.


Frederic_Edwin_Church_-_Rainy_Season_in_the_TropicsRainy Season in the Tropics, Frederic Church (1866)

If you wish to photograph a rainbow, many things need to happen simultaneously. First, the sun should be behind you of course, but the rain needs to be in front of you. This often means you need to get wet first before the sun comes out to illuminate the raindrops. And it’s often still raining when the rainbow comes out. So bring an umbrella and something to cover the camera. A clear plastic bag works wonders because you can set a proper exposure time while it’s still raining because the light comes through the bag. A wide-angle lens allows you to capture the entire rainbow rather than just a portion of it. A full rainbow is usually more dramatic than a partial one.

Also, you should scout out a good view and composition in advance, so you aren’t fiddling around during the few seconds when the rainbow is at its strongest. Be careful with polarizing filters. Sometimes if they aren’t turned correctly, the rainbow disappears or they look too strong and unnatural. It’s best to not use a polarizer so the photograph looks natural. That’s good advice in general unless you want to see detail under the surface of water.

Of course, there’s a lot more to this painting than the rainbow. The view contained within the rainbow is perfectly lit by the mist and sun working together. The brightest spot appears to be a large waterfall, which is a great way to show the water cycle and how it happens. The brightest spot in the photo of this painting is overexposed. In the actual painting in San Francisco, there’s plenty of detail in the bright areas. This shows how limited the dynamic range is in modern cameras!


Frederic_Edwin_Church_El_Rio_de_Luz,_1877El Rio de Luz, Frederic Church (1877)

Can you feel the humidity and mist rising into the fragrant tropical air? Can you even hear the monkeys and birds? Part of what makes a photograph resonate with people is what they can imagine. Notice the open view to the distance lining up with the Moon? That conjures up the need for a canoe and oars to go see what’s beyond the opening. Create a sense of mystery in your photos and you will want to look at them over and over even though you created them yourself!



Albert Bierstadt, (1830-1902) United States

Albert Bierstadt was born in Germany and moved to the United States with his parents when he was just three years old. He later studied painting in Germany and then with the Hudson River School painters in New York.

While Frederik Church was on his adventures in Central America and the arctic North after 1850, Bierstadt headed west to paint the vast American West. At this point, the west was just opening up due to the California gold rush. He was one of the first painters to expose viewers back east to the wondrous landscape of the west. And he did it in a big way, creating enormous paintings with extreme detail and accuracy while using artistic license to add some dramatic elements.


Looking_Down_Yosemite-ValleyLooking Down Yosemite Valley, California, Albert Bierstadt (1865)

One big advantage to the accuracy of Bierstadt’s work is you can go back to the same spots today and see how things have changed. He accurately shows El Capitan and the Cathedral Rock spires, but what’s striking is the lack of tall pine trees and the wide open view. When this painting was done, Indians inhabited this area and they used to burn the fields, keeping down the growth of pine trees. Also, natural fires would burn unchecked all summer during the dry season. They wouldn’t die down until the cool rains of the winter season. Today, such a view isn’t possible because the US national Park Service stops fires as soon as possible, so the sparse trees have grown into dense forests. Sometimes that leads to intense and unnatural fires due to a buildup of unburned dry wood over the decades.

The striking part of this painting is the realistic and dramatic use of sunlight filtering into the valley and how it strikes the cliffs and landscape below. Even the water is reflecting the light. When people back east first saw Bierstadt’s work, they must have been in awe, thinking it to be a case of artistic license gone awry! Today, people speak the same way about the use of Photoshop. Sometimes a photo is so good people won’t believe the camera actually captured it in the way presented. So, when processing your photos, try to keep things as natural as possible. Keep the drama isolated to what you can capture in the camera.

If you do decide to create a fantastic artificial world, let people know about what you did. There’s nothing wrong with doing anything you want in Photoshop. However, you must be honest with yourself and others. Many people enjoy seeing a surreal and high quality manipulated image, as well as the work of a surrealist painter like Salvador Dali.


Albert_Bierstadt-Looking_up_Yosemite_ValleyLooking up Yosemite Valley, Albert Bierstadt (1865)

This is a view looking back towards the spot where the previous painting was conceived. When creating landscape photographs, move around and show landmarks from different angles and perspectives. Make them into a series. Show them at different times of year as well.

Again, the open view shown here with a few scattered oaks is completely closed off now by a tall forest of pines. You can see a few pines in front of the bottom of the falls. From this spot today, the pines have grown much larger and nearly obscure the falls completely. By 2040, you won’t be able to see the falls at all! You can still see El Capitan and the last bit of falls from the shore of the Merced River This view must have been visualized in the late morning judging from the angle of light. If you want to see an open view today, you need to go right up to the river in the middle distance. See below for what the ‘closer to the river’ view looked like in 2009.


Valley View #1 - Yosemite National Park, CaliforniaValley View #1, Patrick Smith (May, 2009)

Today, a road and a dense forest exist directly behind this spot, so this is currently the best open view. The camera here is in the middle foreground of the previous painting. Bierstadt did make the cliffs and falls look taller, though he was standing further back and higher in elevation, which resulted in a more compressed perspective than the super wide-angle view shown here. The middle half of this photo represents the view in Bierstadt’s painting above this. Still, you can see how much the trees have grown. Amazingly, the river seems to be in the exact same spot as it was 150 years ago. Notice the field of grass just beyond the river? Look at it above and in Bierstadt’s painting. You can see the same slight slope of the river versus the flat field of grass behind it. Again, unchanged in 150 years!


Bierstadt-storm-in-the-rocky-mountainsStorm in the Rocky Mountains, Mount Rosalie, Albert Bierstadt (1866)

It seems as though Bierstadt intentionally hiked up to an open vantage point (at least in his mind) to get this view. Then he carefully composed the painting so the light coming through the parting clouds to the lake silhouetted those trees in front of the lake. If you wish to accomplish this photographically in the real world, you will have to do a lot of planning ahead of time. You would need to climb up to a point where you hope you would get a good open view of the light and then have the composition ready when the light finally is right. This is easier said than done since you often don’t know where the light will open up. You could wait all day!

Or is this supposition entirely correct? Actually, there are places which seem to collect clouds and other places where if there’s even a small opening in the clouds, a big gap will appear. This is because some mountains can literally block the clouds, allowing for openings to appear in the same spots again and again. If you study the patterns of cloud formation around mountains, you may be able to anticipate where to go and be there at the right time. The trick is to arrive early and study the sky for a while. Watch for patterns and the direction of the clouds. After a while you might be able to anticipate how the light will behave. Become a student of the weather and you will be surprised at how ‘lucky’ you can become!


Bierstadt_Albert_In_the_MountainsAmong the Sierra Nevada Mountains, Albert Bierstadt (1868)

In this view, Bierstadt gets right down to lake level, which makes the reflected light on the lake an important element in the entire painting. Then when the light comes streaming through the clouds, he is ready to capture the light from above and below. These days, lake reflections are a popular theme in landscape photography. If you wish to make your photograph special, make sure to give the foreground some interest near the water. Arrange rocks and grasses along the shoreline by moving into a good spot. Also compose your view to get the trees to appear lit from behind. It’s possible to take charge of random elements and make them your own with some extra effort.


Bierstadt_Albert_Seals_on_the_Rocks_Farallon_IslandsSeals on the Rocks, Farallon Islands, California, Albert Bierstadt (1872-3)

In this painting Bierstadt takes some artistic license to add drama to this scene. The Farallon Islands are about 17 miles west of the Golden Gate and they do have sea lions, seals, steep cliffs and big waves. So one can suppose this sort of a scene is possible, but to have it happen all at once and be able to paint it is close to impossible. He probably created this painting from studies or memory. However, this is a good example of how important it’s to get close to the action and show a wide view when creating a landscape photograph. The sea lions in front look like you could almost touch them. The wave looks huge, which make the gulls and cliffs look far away. Good luck trying to capture light through a wave. It’s difficult, but give it a try. Get ready to shoot and run!


Albert_Bierstadt_California_SpringCalifornia Spring, Albert Bierstadt (1875)

This seems to be a view of the Central Valley of California from the start of the Sierra Nevada foothills, where gold was discovered 26 years earlier. This sort of grand light is rare in California and only occurs just after a storm in the winter or early spring when the ‘after-storm’ showers begin. The light can appear suddenly and disappear within a minute or so and might spotlight small groups of cattle or trees for perhaps a few seconds. With split second requirements like this, you must be ready. And you must be willing to stand in the exact place of your ideal composition for possibly hours just for those few special moments. It’s up to you to decide whether all that time is worth it. After all, you may wait for hours and never see good light! However, if you don’t try, you will never succeed.


Bierstadt_Albert_The_Golden_GateThe Golden Gate, Albert Bierstadt (1900)

This view must be from Baker Beach, on the Pacific Ocean side just south and west of where the Golden Gate Bridge now stands. It was built 35 years after this painting was completed. Bierstadt has taken some significant artistic license to pull this off. But the results are dramatic and awe inspiring. It’s accurate in that there are still sea lions on this beach, and the waves can be huge here. The Marin County Headlands in the distance can look like this at sunrise, and there are cliffs to the right leading to the location of the bridge where the light appears to originate. However, this is an impressionistic interpretation compared to reality or compared to his earlier hyper realistic works. The lesson here is you must allow yourself to evolve and change. Take risks with your photography and unexpected things may happen.


Church and Bierstadt, represent the end of of an era of classical and realistic landscape painting, replaced by Impressionism and more modern forms. Lately, there is a resurgence of this form of landscape art.

Neoclassicism (1700-1800)

This period in art history was about a return to the classic themes of ancient history, but with the newer techniques and the higher education of the artist taking the lead role. In the realm of painting, it was about creating perfect and ideal images which could take the viewer’s imagination back in time. It was not about historical accuracy but rather about creating mythological views of old stories with a modern perspective. This style of ‘looking to the past’ enjoys periodic resurgences with a current trend in modern architecture going towards this style. Not all art in the 1700s followed this style, but it was an important theme.

Giovanni Paolo Pannini (1691 –1765) Italy

Pannini is best known for his impressive cityscapes of Rome and his interior work. His paintings and murals decorated palaces and government buildings, and that’s how he made most of his income. He influenced many generations of Italian painters after him.

Panini,_Modern_RomePicture gallery with views of modern Rome, Giovanni Paolo Pannini (1759)

This is a summary of neo-classicism in a single image! It’s unclear whether a place like this actually existed in real life, but it sure is impressive. Similar views have been painted including one earlier in this book, so it’s quite possible. Here, Pannini shows off his virtuosity by painting numerous paintings within a single large work. Compositions within compositions are common in today’s landscape photography. Sometimes you may see examples of abstracts or extracts of landscapes in the form of a rock surrounded by flowing water, or a well lit tree against a granite cliff. What you can do in a grand landscape photograph is look for these smaller extracts and combine them into a bigger view. To pull this off, you need to have good light throughout the entire scene. So, that rock and tree must fit in well into a bigger landscape, much as each painting above fits into the bigger gallery.


Pantheon-paniniInterior of the Pantheon,Giovanni Paolo Pannini (year unknown)

This is a great example of how to photograph the interior of a large building. Notice the light coming through the famous opening at the top and how it illuminates the interior with reflected light. Pannini painted this scene looking through his own eyes of course, and the human eye can see much greater dynamic range (white to black) than a camera. Therefore a scene like this should probably be photographed using HDR, or High Dynamic Range processing. This is where you take a number of exposures from too dark to too light and combine them into one properly exposed picture. There are many great books on HDR so have a look at them if you wish to learn more about this topic. See the high-resolution version of this painting!


Giovanni Antonio Canal (1697 – 1768) (Canaletto) Italy

Canaletto, is famous for his highly accurate cityscapes. In his later works, he used a camera obscura, to project an image of the desired scene onto a canvas where he would sketch out the scene onto paper in reverse, then transfer it to the canvas to create the final painting. Many other painters also used a camera obscura to assist in the initial sketches so they could complete the paintings indoors.

Canaletto_The_Stonemason's_Yard_1726-30_Oil_on_Canvas_National_GalleryThe Stonemason’s Yard, Canaletto (1729)

Notice the near photographic composition and perspective of this painting. It’s possible he used a camera obscura to sketch out this composition although this is an early work. The light spreads out across the foreground as well as the background buildings with a shady area in the middle. This creates a feeling of depth and realism. Also, this painting is unusual in that it’s an early example of a fine art painting of a working class area of town. A noble man would never be seen here! This shows how a humble subject can be turned into a fine work of art via the creative vision of the artist. In a landscape or cityscape photograph, don’t hesitate to experiment with unusual subjects and perspectives or industrial areas of town.


Canaletto_-_The_Grand_Canal_and_the_Church_of_the_SaluteThe Grand Canal and the Church of the Salute, Canaletto (1730)

This location could be photographed today and might look much the same as it did in 1730! The angle of light across the wall below the dome allows a great amount of detail to be seen. In a cityscape photograph, you don’t need the dramatic light of sunset for the best effect. It’s best to study the angle of light and use it to your advantage.


Canaletto_londonLondon: The Thames and the City of London from Richmond House, Canaletto (1747)

Again, the photo-realism in this painting is incredible. There’s so much detail that the viewer can spend plenty of time looking at every detail. Notice the fine railings along the edge of the river and how the tallest buildings in town are the church and cathedral steeples? And again, he used a sharp angle of light to give depth to the people in the foreground.


Canaletto_(II)_017La Piazza San Marco, Canaletto (year unknown)

Canaletto was a master of the cityscape. The angle of light is perfect and it goes in between the multitude of columns to let us see into the buildings and imagine the interiors. He positioned himself so as to see between the buildings and out to the ships in the harbor. As with most of Canaletto’s paintings, he doesn’t rely on the warm light of sunset but rather what appears to be late afternoon light. This scene also looks the same today, though it’s often flooded.


Francois Boucher, (1703-1770) France

Boucher combined the techniques learned from several masters of painting with his love of the classics of literature. Although he didn’t paint landscapes in the traditional way, his use of atmosphere and the landscape in his backgrounds created stunning images which were integrated into a new style called Rococo. This style allowed architecture, wall art, sculpture, furniture and everything else to be seen as a single enveloping environment for the upper class and royalty.

BoucherFrancois_EuropeThe Rape of Europa, Francois Boucher (year unknown)

This is the third example of this common theme of Europa in this series so far. From a landscape perspective, Boucher used openings in the clouds to cast strong and warm light on his subjects. This is something which can be employed to great effect in a landscape photograph. Look up and watch the clouds pass by, and try to anticipate when a hole in the clouds will allow the sun to illuminate your subject. This subject could be a tree, a hill or anything you wish to highlight. It’s incredible how a beam of light can change the entire feel of a photograph. In this painting it appears as though there may be an opening in the clouds to the left of the frame, allowing light to strike the characters in front. And the entire landscape seems natural because of similar openings in the clouds in the sky.



Richard Wilson (1714 – 1782) Wales

Richard Wilson was an important innovator and is considered to be the father of a rich tradition of landscape painting in Britian. He inspired the likes of Turner and Constable and was inspired by Claude Lorrain and others. He didn’t rely on color or intense light but rather on soft complementary tones which suggest depth and distance. Unfortunately, as of this writing there are few photos of his works in the public domain.

Wilson-avernusLake Avernus, Richard Wilson (1765)

This is good example of a painting by Wilson where he used a gradual softening of tones to produce depth. Notice how the foreground is clear and full of contrast while each successive hill becomes more and more soft in tone? Atmosphere and humidity are important factors in showing depth because that’s how the eye processes and determines how far away an object is. Since a canvas is only two-dimensional, photographers and painters must use all of the tools at their disposal to create a sensation of the three-dimensional depth we experience every day.


Claude Joseph Vernet (1714 –1789) France

Claude Vernet is yet one more reason to visit the Louvre in Paris, where many of his works reside. He was a keen observer of nature and had an incredible ability to capture extreme atmospheric moments and make them look truly natural. Few painters in history were able to integrate the sky, light, rock, sea, ships, and people as well as Vernet. Simply looking at his paintings might assist viewers in viewing the natural world in a new way.

Shipwrec-vernetShipwreck, Claude Vernet (1759)

The sun almost explodes off the canvas just as powerfully as the waves destroy the ship and its crew. This is a classic example of the power of the sea and of the sky overwhelming humanity and putting us in our place in the world. The best landscape photographs are often examples of the raw power of nature and often have no figures in the photo at all. They can leave the viewer transfixed. Vernet has noticed many elements of nature and included them in a way which enhances the drama for the viewer. Notice the rays streaking through the darker clouds, the light on the people to the left, the distant ship in the blinding light, the birds in the sky, and the castle in the upper left? There’s something of interest in every part of the canvas. Think of that viewfinder as your canvas. Try to place something interesting in every part of the canvas.


La_nuit_un_port_de_mer_au_clair_de_luneThe Night; a Sea Port by Moonlight, Claude Vernet (1771)

Vernet uses two sources of light to create two main places of interest to attract the viewer’s eye before it wanders off to explore the rest of this superb canvas. He doesn’t use the rule of thirds since the fire is in the lower right corner and the moon is midway between the top and bottom. Everything happens in the bottom half of this view. In this case, rules are meant to be broken! Vernet was smart to include a large area of darkness at the top because it makes the heaviness of the night feel more immediate and real. Darkness feels that way. Then the moon cuts through the intense darkness so well, people can carry on with their work and play almost as though it’s daytime.

The frame is an important part of any painting and can be important in a landscape photograph too. This simple but beautiful frame is bright and it enhances the feeling of darkness within it. It’s like looking through a window into a dark night. Be careful when framing your work however, because even if a frame enhances your work, it may not go well with a viewer’s wall. Sometime it’s best to show your work with no frame at all. In short, keep an open mind about framing. Every situation will be unique.


Shepherd-vernetShepherd in the Alps, Claude Vernet (1788)

As with all of his works, Vernet has points of interest scattered throughout the entire canvas. He uses a portrait orientation to show light descending from the highest points to illuminate the hills and foreground. When photographing the landscape, don’t forget to try a portrait orientation on views with vertical perspective. Even on views which look good with a landscape perspective, you can still get interesting vertical photographs. Do both!


Thomas Gainsborough (1727 –1788) England

Thomas Gainsborough enjoyed creating landscape paintings more than anything else. However, an artist must pay the bills so he made his living painting the portraits of royalty and the well to do. He did an incredible job of it. Some of the subjects in his life-size and larger canvases seem so life-like, you get the feeling they are looking right at you. He showed the humanity, personality and even humor of each person he painted. If you wish to photograph people or weddings in natural environments, study the works of Gainsborough and other masters and learn to create your own visions.

Since he enjoyed the landscape, he often posed and painted his subjects in the landscape with the wind blowing their hair and clothing so as to create an extra impression of realism and vitality. When he had the free time, he created some of England’s most memorable landscapes, often showing peasants and cottages in a pleasing and idealistic way. It went along with the sensibility of the times where the rich could then relieve their conscience and say the peasants enjoyed their simple life even if in reality, it was harsh and cold in their little cottages. Still, Gainsborough was perhaps the first painter to show peasants as real people who were just as human and worthwhile as the nobility.

There are no high quality photographs of Gainsborough’s cottages in the public domain, so buy a book or search out the internet for these amazing paintings!


Gainsborough-HarvestWagon-1784The Harvest Wagon, Thomas Gainsborough (1784)

This is an example of a difficult life being portrayed in an idealistic way. Despite the struggles of bringing the harvest to market, the peasants all look attractive and healthy. Reality was probably different, but these people look enterprising and noble. The landscape is rich and full of warm light with a nice winding path through it with an open view in the distance. In a landscape photograph, it can be important to show a vanishing point leading to a mountain or other point of interest. This lets the eye wander along so the imagination can be set free.


Thomas_GAINSBOROUGH-The_Marsham_ChildrenThe Marsham Children, Thomas Gainsborough (1787)

Even though these are children of nobility, Gainsborough chose to paint them at play in a natural, almost rustic setting. He loved the landscape so much, he included a lot of greenery with a bit of sky at the top. The light he used is soft and realistic. In any landscape painting, or landscape photograph, light is the foundation. This will be mentioned a dozen more times in this book and can never be overemphasized!


Thomas_Gainsborough_-_View_in_SuffolkView in Suffolk, Thomas Gainsborough (1755)

This is a classic composition with the pond and activity in the lower left third and the bright cloud in the upper right third with a nice open view up the left side. The winding path starting at the bottom invites the imagination of the viewer to travel up to the house in the upper-right side, where there is a elevated view of the open land in the distance through the trees. The water acts as a second path for the eyes to follow. See if you can get two pathways into a landscape photograph. It isn’t easy! See if you can get people and animals into the correct places in your photograph. That also isn’t easy.

Baroque Era Painting (1600-1700)

If the Renaissance was the period of birth of European appreciation of landscape art, then the Baroque era was a major period of growth and experimentation. Techniques which have become popular in modern photography such as the eye-leading technique of repoussoir (guiding the eye) were developed during this period. Pure landscape painting still faced an uphill battle to gain the same level of respect as scenes from the Bible or ancient mythology. However, the landscape continued to make its way into every genre of painting including the portraits of famous people. Even portrait artists needed a solid knowledge in landscape painting so they could create state of the art paintings for their clients.

Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, (1571 –1610) Italy

Caravaggio brought striking realism to the world of painting. Though he didn’t paint the landscape much during his short life, landscape photographers and macro photographers can study his use of light on his subjects. He used dark backgrounds to enhance the effect of that light.

Michelangelo_CaravaggioLute Player, Caravaggio (1596)

This style of painting, with a brightly lit foreground subject against a dark background, became a modern style of painting that’s popular even today. The foreground elements almost leap off of the canvas, full of life. Vermeer also became a master at capturing this sort of light. This technique can be done in landscape photography on cloudy days by waiting for your subject to become illuminated by the sun while a dark shade from a cloud lurks in the background. It requires a lot of patience and a good deal of luck, but it’s worth the effort. This technique soon became popular among landscape painters.

Michelangelo_Caravaggio_065Narcissus, Caravaggio (1599)

This is one of the earliest uses of a dramatic reflection in European painting. He even made sure to realistically show the reflected image as being a little darker than the direct image. When shooting the landscape, look for opportunities to show reflections, and make sure you don’t under use or over use neutral-density graduated filters to darken the upper half of the image. Too much and the top will look too dark in relation to the bottom, not enough filter strength or no filters at all will make the top will look too bright. Salvador Dali did an interesting version of ‘Narcissus.’ No photos of Dali’s Narcissus are in the public domain so it isn’t shown here, but they exist on the internet and in books. Study Salvador Dali online, you won’t be disappointed!


Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1577 –1640) Belgium

Rubens used color and movement to create truly dynamic masterpieces. He was a celebrity during his time and was in demand by the nobility and other art collectors. He was highly educated, which allowed him to paint historical scenes with greater depth and sensitivity. In landscape photography, the more you know, the better your photographs will become.

Ruebens_massacreMassacre of the Innocents, Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1611/1612)

The more you look at this gruesome scene, the more relief can be found in the bit of landscape in the upper left-hand side of the picture. Despite the extremely busy composition, the way Rubens uses light and shading to isolate each body and thing allows us to see each and every detail. If you are faced with a busy landscape, make sure elements don’t blend together by using the light to make each thing stand out. In 2002, this newly discovered painting sold for US $76 million, a record for an old master painting. It’s an incredible masterpiece! Not everybody would want this hanging on their wall, but the new owner sure did. This is why art is hard to define. Everybody has different tastes; so if you wish to have different people like your work, add variety to your photography. Though it isn’t obvious in this painting, the term ‘Rubinesque’ came from Rubens’ penchant for painting ‘full sized’ women.

Peter_Paul_Rubens_060The Château de Steen with Hunter, Sir Peter Paul Rubens (1635–1638)

Here is a classic landscape which Rubens painted in his later life. He turned more to landscape painting possibly because they were more relaxing than the intense work he had done in his earlier years. In this painting, Rubens effectively spread out the elements into a big space so the eye can look at each thing. We can imagine being here at this time. The castle looks like a great place to live, though castles weren’t usually comfortable. Position your most important element in a good spot in your picture so it has room to influence the rest of the scene. Placement is important, as we shall see again and again throughout the history of art.



Adam Elsheimer (1578 –1610) Germany

Adam Elsheimer lived a short life and not much is known about him. However, he developed some innovative ways to paint the effects of light at night, which allowed him to influence some important painters of his time. His art speaks for itself!

Adam_Elsheimer_001The Burning of Troy, Adam Elsheimer (1604)

This is one of the first paintings to accurately depict the effects of firelight in a realistic way. The small light sources, allowed Elsheimer to create well-lit scenes within the big scene separated by darkness. This would be difficult to do with a camera with no flash, even today at high ISO’s, though soon it will be possible. In modern times, night photography is still mostly about long exposures However, you can still isolate subjects by employing light sources to your advantage, even if the scene is dark to your eyes.

Adam_Elsheimer_002The Flight to Egypt, Adam Elsheimer (1609)

Once again, Elsheimer uses small light sources to create small scenes within the picture. He also depicts the moon, stars and moonlit clouds with great accuracy. You can try this on a moonlit night near a lake where campsites and tents can provide little sources of light in a moonlit landscape.



Nicolas Poussin, (1594-1665) France

Poussin spent much of his early career in Italy and was influenced by the classical paintings of Titian and many others. Although he seemed to favor compositional elements such as line and form, many of his works had strong color themes as well. He mostly told stories of tragedy and death in his paintings, but he used lots of landscape scenery as a backdrop. Later in his career, he painted landscapes for their own sake. That was still unusual during the 1600’s. He worked for a Pope while in Italy and for kings in France and did well financially. He had a resurgence of popularity in the mid-1800’s when the Louvre gallery in Paris was opened to the public. Today, he has an entire gallery there devoted to his works.

The_dance_to_the_music_of_time_c._1640The Dance to the Music of Time, Nicolas Poussin (1640)

It appears as though there’s a break in the clouds, allowing a beam of light to shine on the merry participants. The dark background also adds to the effect. A brightly lit foreground makes a difference. The woman who is looking right into the eye of the viewer draws the attention of the viewer! When photographing the landscape, use surprise where you can find it to draw attention.


Nicolas_Poussin_041The Four Seasons: Spring, Nicolas Poussin (1660–1664)

This is part of a series depicting each season, which is a good idea for many landscape photographers to consider. Shooting the same location during different seasons can tell a story much more completely than a single image. In this case however, the other four seasons are in different locations, though the same mountain appears in the background from different angles. In the spring, Poussin tells the story of an earthly Garden of Eden. Landscape photography in the spring is all about new beginnings, so look for those situations during the springtime.

Nicolas_Poussin_043The Four Seasons: Summer, Nicolas Poussin (1660–1664)

Although Poussin has included people performing various tasks, the landscape is the most important element and is almost a slice of life. Can you imagine being here on this average day to see this in person? This is this kind of visualization you want in a photograph.


Four-seasons-autumnThe Four Seasons: Autumn, Nicolas Poussin (1660–1664)

Here as you would expect, the workers are bringing in the harvest. The landscape in which they work is dramatic both in form and in light. The jagged peak in the background is especially eye-catching. When you see a dramatic point of view, choose your moment and photograph it in good light.

Nicolas_Poussin_046The Four Seasons: Winter, Nicolas Poussin (1660–1664)

The harsh realities of a winter flood are depicted here. Life is difficult for everyone. Sometimes harsh winter weather can bring out the drama of a landscape, showing every gritty realistic detail. When conditions are harsh, try to bring a little gritty realism to your landscape photographs.


Sir Anthony van Dyck (1599 – 1641) Belgium

Anthony van Dyck developed a new style of painting royal subjects which became popular for over 150 years in England. It emphasized elegance, style and grandeur, but with an easy and personal style. These portraits often included a highly detailed background landscape.

Charles_I_of_EnglandPortrait of Charles I, king of England (1600–1649) Sir Anthony van Dyck (1635)

There’s an informal style and elegance to this portrait, and it extends to the landscape. The graceful sweep of high branches in a cloud filled sky reflects warm light into the scene. Use a sky full of clouds and light to brighten up the foreground On a clear day, the same scene would normally be in the blue tinted and dark shadows.

Charles_I_with_M._de_St_Antoine_(1633);_Anthony_Van_DyckCharles I with M. de St Antoine, Sir Anthony van Dyck (1633)

The king enters through the arch with style and ease. In a landscape photograph, arches can often be used to frame a subject or focus attention.



David Teniers the Younger (1610 –1690), Belgium

David Teniers the Younger was widely regarded as one of northern Europe’s greatest painters of his time, right up there with Rubens and Van Dyck. His wife was the daughter of Jan Brueghel the Elder and the granddaughter of Pieter Bruegel the Elder. He was well known by the age of 20 and considered a master by the age of 22. Few artists worked with the speed and accuracy of Teniers. He painted over 900 oils, some of the smaller pieces were supposedly finished in an afternoon. But unlike a Picasso, who could turn out several basic pictures in a day, Teniers’ were finely detailed and of extremely high quality.

David_Teniers_d._J._008Erzherzog Leopold Wilhelm in seiner Galerie in Brüssel, David Teniers the Younger, (1651)

David was widely regarded as one of northern Europe’s greatest painters of his time and was an expert collector and buyer of art for the king. This painting is an overview of the works he helped collect for the king for his Gallery. View this large! This painting has incredible detail and perspective and is an absolute masterpiece. Notice how the landscape is depicted in many of the works in the gallery? Scenery was becoming increasingly important and would soon become a separate genre. He even includes a glimpse of landscape through the window.

Teniers_the_Younger_KermessFlemish Kermess, David Teniers the Younger (1652)

Notice how the light comes from the side, spreading across the walls of the house and surrounding the people? Often it’s best to light a landscape photograph from the side. Direct sun in the middle of the frame can be too harsh. Consider the quality and angle of light in your photograph, as a painter would. Plan it out and imagine yourself placing the light source in the best place to illuminate your landscape subjects. Also, include small details like the birdhouse with the little birds at the top of the house.

In photography, you can take advantage of your light source by moving around to include things which will draw interest once people have perused the entire photograph. In addition, see how there are two open spaces in the lower left and right side on the ground? He placed dogs there. You can arrange your photo to avoid blank spaces as well.


Rembrandt Harmenszoon van Rijn (1606 –1669) Netherlands

Rembrandt is generally considered as one of the greatest painters of all time and was considered so during his life. His name is synonymous with eternal quality, and was an innovator when it came to techniques regarding light and texture on the canvas. He was not best known for his landscape paintings because he created mostly portraits and landscape etchings. But when you look at the landscape elements in his paintings and his use of light, he could have been an all-time great landscape painter had the fashion of the times been different. He was a big spender (too big some may say) and created works which captivated the eye of his wealthy patrons.

Rembrandt_Artiest_in_zijn_studio,_1629.Artist in his studio, Rembrandt (1629)

Even at the age of 23, Rembrandt used superb lighting effects to convey the mood of the scene. He painted many self-portraits and portraits of other artists. As photographers, don’t forget to show yourself out in nature creating your photos. Show the details of what surrounds you as Rembrandt did here.

Rembrandt_Abduction_of_EuropaThe abduction of Europa, Rembrandt, (1632)

In this often painted dramatic scene, Europa is carried off to sea as they watch helplessly from the shore. Notice how the important elements are so well lit while the rest of the landscape is in darkness. Also, he even included a reflection of the anguished woman at the shoreline! Details are always what put an image ‘over the top.’ People sometimes ignore the details, but the people who do look closer always admire the extra effort.

Rembrandt_-_The_Philosopher_in_MeditationThe Philosopher in Meditation, Rembrandt (1632)

In this exceptionally well-designed work, Rembrandt used two light sources create a complex composition which ends up with the eye wandering up the increasingly dark spiral staircase. In a cityscape or architectural photograph, you can combine natural sources of light and artificial sources to create richly composed scenes of mystery, drama and warmth. Lead the eye to mystery and inspire the imagination of the viewer.

Rembrandt_Christ_In_The_Storm_On_The_Sea_Of_Galilee (1)The Storm on the Sea of Galilee., Rembrandt, (1633)

Rembrandt was a master at using dark space to enhance the drama of the scene. Here, the light is only on the left side, which creates a dynamic and moving scene while the ominous darkness threatens to envelop them all. You can use darkness in the landscape in such a way.


The_Nightwatch_RembrandtThe Nightwatch, Rembrandt (1642)

Rembrandt truly perfected the use of high dynamic range of contrast to get dramatic results and focus attention on his subjects. This can’t be emphasized enough in landscape photography! Also, there are many points of interest to keep a viewer coming back again and again. In 1715, this painting was unfortunately ‘cropped’ to fit into a smaller space. Two figures on the left were removed, but the strongest elements remain. This photograph of this painting doesn’t have enough dynamic range to capture the detail in the darker areas. This shows how photography still has limits regarding dynamic range which must be addressed.

The_Mill-1645_1648-Rembrandt_van_RijnThe Mill, Rembrandt (1645-1648)

Rembrandt places the main subject into a powerful position; dark against a brighter background. This is different than most of his other works, which rely on a lit subjects against a dark background. It still works well to draw attention to the mill. Then the eye can wander down and view the people who just walked across the bridge to the left and see the other people too. Contrast of any kind can be used to call attention to an important element.


Frans Janszoon Post (1612 — 1680) Netherlands

Post was the first European artist to paint landscapes of the New World. His style was similar to many other painters in his country, but he broke new ground by painting what must have seemed like alien landscapes to people back in Europe.

Frans_Post_-_Paisagem_de_PernambucoView of Pernambuco, Frans Janszoon Post (1637-1644)

What a treat it must have been to see this view for the first time, both in person and as a painting in Europe. Few people at this time north of the Mediterranean coast had ever seen a palm tree, especially a tropical Coconut tree like this. When you’re out shooting landscape photographs, you may not be the first to cast your eyes upon the land in front of you, but you can see it with a fresh perspective and give viewers a brand new view to experience.



Salvator Rosa (1615 – March 15, 1673)

Salvator Rosa was a rebel and had a difficult childhood, losing his father and not being able to rely on his surviving mother. But he learned painting from his brother-in-law and soon was making a living at it. He was one of the first artists to paint romantic landscapes, and early on, he sold many at low prices. However, he continued on because he enjoyed that genre and possibly the freedom which came with it. Although there are few images of his work in the public domain, he was quite influential in the development of landscape artists. So search the Internet for his work, or go to the Louvre!

RosalandscapeUnnamed landscape, Salvator Rosa, unknown date

This is a small reproduction but it clearly can be seen that this is landscape art for its own sake. It’s well composed with an anchoring tree and an open view to the craggy mountain beyond. This is the start of popular landscape painting in Europe. Pure landscape art wasn’t considered important at this time. That might explain why this is unnamed.



Aelbert Cuyp (1620 – 1691) The Netherlands

Aelbert Cuyp was one of the leading Dutch landscape painters of the Dutch Golden Age in the 1600’s. He is most remembered for his large and highly detailed landscapes and seascapes full of sunlight and atmosphere. He sketched and then painted his landscapes, which made them realistic and idealistic at the same time. Many romantic painters did this as well, as time went on.

Aelbert_Cuyp_003The Maas at Dordrecht, Aelbert Cuyp (1660)

Here is displayed the power of the Dutch fleet, complete with sunlight in the sails and sunrays in the sky. Although there’s a lot of detail at the bottom of the frame, he left plenty of room for a big sky. One of the most important rules in landscape photography is the rule of thirds, which is more of a guideline than a rule. In general, it’s good to try to keep the ratio of sky and mountains to land or water at 2/3 or 1/3 (or vice-versa), but as we can see here, there are times where something especially dramatic can be allowed to take up far more than 2/3rds of a composition. This is more like 85% to 15% sky to land, and it doesn’t suffer at all. Don’t be afraid to bend the ‘rules’ a bit, or even shatter them into a million pieces!



Claude Lorrain, (1604/5 – 1682) France/Italy

Claude Lorrain broke new ground in the genre of landscape painting and is often considered as one of the 10 best landscape painters of all time. Although only a few other painters in Europe had begun to paint landscape-only scenery, Claude managed to actually make a good living at it. His work was so prized that he created a Liber Veritatis (Book of Truth), which was a catalog of every one of his works. This allowed people to identify originals from copies since people paid good money for his work. Today, this book is highly prized and a rare glimpse into the life and times of a successful painter. In fact, because the lives of painters were often so well documented, the records are good sources of information into how everyday life was for average people. Even famous painters and artists were often not rich and lived normal lives as they struggled to make a living. Also, they were subject to the disruptions of war and disease, just like most other people.

Claude made it his life’s work to paint secular landscapes at a time when the Catholic Church and the kings had the big money. Pure landscape art was still considered to be a ‘lower’ form of art because it lacked ‘moral seriousness.’ Even today, modern art is all about message and less about realism and natural beauty in the landscape. But Claude started a trend towards fine landscape art, which reached its zenith in the 1800’s. He inspired hundreds of talented artists over the next 250 years in the same way Ansel Adams inspires new generations of landscape photographers today.


Claude_Lorrain-Coast_Scene_with_EuropaCoast Scene with Europa and the Bull, Claude Lorrain, (1634,)

An important element in any landscape photograph or painting is something than makes the viewer wish to ‘live in’ the scene. Here, we can imagine ourselves relaxing and taking in the warm light and the scenery in the company of friends. In this often painted story, the bull will carry off Europa, but for the moment, it’s an idyllic place where the imagination of the viewer would like to be at least for a while. The light coming through the trees is effective and the open view down the middle allows us a sublime view of the sea.

Claude_Lorrain_004Field of Vaccine, Claude Lorrain (1636)

Claude visited and lived in Italy many times during his lifetime. He made sketches in the field and painted on the spot (en plein air – in the open air.) He used these sketches to finish his works in his studio. Even in 1636, most old Roman structures were 1000+ years old and were being reclaimed by nature. You will notice in many of his paintings that plants are growing on the tops of the structures and in the cracks as of the columns and walls. He liked to combine modern characters and styles of his day with ancient architecture. Usually, he painted the landscape and then had artists who specialized in rendering people paint the figures into the landscape to tell the story. He had a large studio with specialists, much as a movie producer might do today. It was a big operation!

Photographers today have to be their own specialists, from the composition to the final processing. If you wish to create natural landscape photographs, you need to master light like Claude does, but also arrange scenes into pleasing compositions and hopefully do it all in a single shot. You can take it one step further and create fantasies in Photoshop like Claude does here. To do that, you’ll need high quality original photos which you can then blend seamlessly together. But you must have the quality work first or no amount of Photoshop skills will help!

Claude_Lorrain_010Port with Villa Medici, Claude Lorrain (1638)

This is a classic Claude Lorrain painting. The sun is placed in a perfect spot to illuminate the entire scene. The light freely travels down the open center. In this painting, there’s a lot of what photographers today would call dynamic range. This is the range of all brightness values of light from white to black. Notice how the shady side of the building in the background to the right is well lit? Reflected light is striking it from the building in the right foreground. Look for sources of reflected light, they can be of assistance.

Claude liked to build drama and light by depicting a glorious golden sunset with the sun shining through the mist and clouds. That warm light invites the viewer to imagine being there feeling the sun on the face and a breeze in the hair. As photographers, try to imagine the sun as a giant spotlight you can place anywhere you want via your choice of when and where you place and point your camera. This only works when there’s mist and cloud, which softens the light. don’t try this on a clear day!

Claude_Lorrain_A_view_of_the_Roman_Campagna_from_TivoliA view of the Roman Campagna from Tivoli (evening), Claude Lorrain, (1644-5)

This is a glorious sunset or sunrise with light coming through the billowing clouds. There are few things more important in a landscape photograph than clouds. Could you imaging painting a canvas, and then finishing it off by painting a flat blue sky with no clouds? So, don’t do that with your photos. (Actually the sky is usually painted first.) Get some nice glowing clouds in there and everything will look so much better. That means waiting for fine light for possibly a long time, but it’s worth it. I’d rather see a shot of my hometown in glorious light than a flat and harsh shot of Yosemite during midday.

Claude_Lorrain_020Landscape with the Marriage of Isaac and Rebekah, Claude Lorrain (1648)

This scene takes place probably a couple of hours before the warm light of sunset, but the sun is still at a low angle and the sky is full of color. Notice how the light filters through the trees on the right to spotlight the people and other things Claude felt were important? Make sure your light strikes the important parts of your photos. It’s easy to see your composition and take the shot before realizing the best part is dimly lit! You may have to wait for that light. Also, it’s important to note that Claude kept an open view down the middle part of the painting, leading to the distant hill in the bright haze.

Claude_Lorrain_030Repudiation of Hagar, Claude Lorrain (1668)

Although the eye usually begins looking at this painting in the lower left where the people are, attention quickly turns to the grand cloudscape above, in this often-painted theme from the Bible. I don’t think this photo does the original painting justice but imagine for a moment that it does. Again, Claude left the middle of the painting with an open view for the light to travel in and illuminate the scene. Make sure to leave an open view outward in your landscapes. Our imaginations don’t like being closed in!



Jacob Isaackszoon van Ruisdael (or Ruysdael) (1628 – 1682) The Netherlands

Jacob van Ruisdel was a student of details in the natural world. He made numerous small studies of details of leaves and trees for example, which he later used in his larger compositions. He was also a student of the great masters of painting who lived before him. This is a common theme among the great people of any discipline of any era. They learned from the best and then applied that knowledge to create their own personal vision. When they began their careers, many great painters tried to exactly copy the works of the masters in an attempt to understand how to execute different methods of painting. However, they weren’t simply copying, but rather perfecting their mechanics and vision so they could push forward into unexplored territory. They stood on the shoulders of giants, as Isaac Newton once wrote having borrowed that famous saying from John of Salisbury in 1159.

jacob_van_ruisdel_bentheim_castleBentheim Castle, Jacob van Ruisdel (1653)

A first impression upon seeing this painting might be, “this is a place where I’d like to live.” And not necessarily in the castle, but possibly in one of those smaller houses. The viewer might like to hike around in this world, looking at the grass and the light in the sky. In your landscape photographs, try to photograph places where you like to be, and where you feel at peace with the world. Take home souvenirs of a moment to see again and again. It can be in your own local area or when you’re on a trip somewhere. Van Ruisdel used the light well. Notice the light on the castle against a darker bank of clouds behind. And also notice how the foreground in the lower left appears faintly lit against the darker background. Use light and darkness to create space and depth in your photographs.

Rough_Sea_at_a_Jetty_oil_on_canvas_painting_by_Jacob_van_Ruisdael_1650sRough Sea at a Jetty, Jacob_van_Ruisdael (1650s)

This is dramatic, and that’s due to the way he used areas of light and dark to increase the contrast and isolate different areas of interest. The first thing the eye may notice is how the most intense waves are striking the head of the jetty, which is brightly lit. The eye goes right there, then across the brighter areas of the stormy sea. Then there’s another area of light high in the clouds, which gives the scene a ‘massive’ feel. Of course, it’s hard to attain this sort of drama in real life, but these elements do occur in more moderate quantities during stormy weather. He even included the ladder steps so the viewer can imagine climbing up to light the lamp at the top.

Jacob_Isaaksz._van_Ruisdael_006Waterfall in a Landscape , Jacob_van_Ruisdael (1660s)

There’s drama and light in every square inch of this canvas. But yet it doesn’t seem overly cluttered or busy. It’s easy to imagine feeling the thundering power of the falls and the humidity of the afternoon thunderstorms brewing overhead. There are lots of photos of waterfalls using the long exposure technique used to smooth the water, but this water has the effect of a short exposure time as if it were a photograph. Don’t always feel as though you have to smooth out the water. Your exposure time depends on what effect you wish to convey.


Jacob_van_Ruisdael_-_A_view_of_Amsterdam_1665-1670A View of Amsterdam looking towards the IJ from the scaffolding surrounding the tower of Amsterdam’s new Town Hall, Jacob_van_Ruisdael (1660s)

Before there were drones, van Ruisdael scaled tall buildings to get the best views. Sometimes it helps to get up high for a better view. Since Amsterdam is flat, much as New York City is today, the best views can be obtained by going to the tops of the highest buildings. This view has the same effect as some photos made from the top of the Empire State Building in New York City, which used to be called New Amsterdam. In fact, the term ‘Yankee’ is an adaptation of a derogatory English slang word “Jan Cheese, Yan-kees” (many variations of spelling here) that was used to insult people of Dutch descent. The Dutch are well known for their tasty cheese after all, so that should have been a complement! Look again at how he used light to add depth to the densely packed cityscape beneath a huge sky. Also, notice the finely detailed foreground where we can actually imagine standing here looking at the tools the workers used to build the new town hall. Foreground elements are incredibly important in landscape photography, as we will continue to see in the pages to follow. The high-resolution version of this is highly recommended.



Ludolf Bakhuizen (or Backhuysen) (1630 –1708), The Netherlands

Ludolf Bakhuizen was a leading Dutch painter who specialized in painting the seascape and marine subjects in dramatic light. Holland in the 1600s was a center of maritime exploration and the art of the time reflects that status.

Backhuysen_StormShips Running Aground in a Storm, Ludolf Backhuysen (1690s)

This painting represents a new high point in dramatic seascape work up to this point in time. The canvas is 6 feet wide. Expand this photo for better resolution, it’s impressive. We are almost in the ocean here, feeling the stiff wind and hearing the deafening thunder of the waves. Although this is far beyond being real, it’s important in landscape photography for the viewer to almost ‘feel’ the elements being presented. A photographer can accomplish some of this effect by getting close to the action. A long zoom lens will flatten the perspective and give an impression of being far away from the scene. This is why it’s a good idea to use a wide-angle lens and get close to the moving elements. It’s more difficult to use a wide-angle lens close up than standing on the easily accessible cliff with a long zoom, but the dramatic effect is worth it.



Johannes Vermeer (1632-1675) The Netherlands

Sometimes artists aren’t well known until after they die. This is the case with Johannes Vermeer, who was well known in his hometown but not far beyond its borders. We don’t know much about him today. For two centuries after his death, even the art world didn’t know much about his work. However, he was rediscovered and today he is considered as perhaps one of the 20 finest painters of all time. He only produced about 35 paintings we know of, and that may explain his relative obscurity. Those 35 paintings are incredible in their use of light, color and perspective. Most were done inside of his house, using the available light.

Jan_Vermeer_van_Delft_001View on Delft Johannes Vermeer (1660)

Vermeer is known for his incredible interior work, but occasionally he ventured outside to paint views of his hometown. He created a nice curve for his foreground and included lots of reflective water, which is important. Notice how he has much of the town in the shadow of the clouds while some is in the sun? That’s how he created a sense of depth. Still much of the town is warmly lit but dark against a bright sky. It seems like such a peaceful place. One can imagine getting in that boat to visit the town. Perhaps the boat can fit underneath the arch on the other side and proceed on via canal to other parts of the town. This painting makes the viewer think about the possibilities of traveling within the landscape, and that can work well in photographs too.


Jan_Vermeer_van_Delft_011The art of Painting, Johannes Vermeer (1666)

The photographic quality of this painting is striking. Expand and see it bigger! Attention to detail can be extremely important in any sort of photograph. Here, we can see a map on the wall that’s so precisely rendered that art historians have identified it as being accurate, and have even dated it to within a few years. There are too many details to mention here, but the important thing is to pay attention to every detail in your photograph so viewers can spend a long time admiring it.

Vermeer is also showing how an interior artist can exercise complete control over composition and light. This is a luxury landscape photographers don’t have! However, we can wait for good light and compose things in a way where we can claim a bit of control over the elements. And that control makes a big difference. Some people call it a mastery of the subject.



Meindert Hobbema (1638-1709) The Netherlands

Hobbema lived at the same time as Jacob van Ruisdael and his work has often been compared and even confused with his. He also lived near Rembrandt and some other famous Dutch painters. Along with Rembrandt, Hobbema died penniless and in debt despite his incredible talent, which was considered to be at the apex of Dutch landscape painting. He excelled in the details of nature as we see below.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAA View on a High Road, Meindert Hobbema (1665)

Beneath the canopy of cumulus clouds and picturesque trees, a road winds through a small village in the countryside. The light creates a strong focal point as it strikes the house in the lower middle of the frame. It’s a place where one could imagine traveling back in time to live for a while. A winding road, beach, or path is a classic way to let the viewer imagine strolling through the scene. In a landscape photograph, this could be a paved road or a hiking trail. Even rivers can act as a guide through a natural landscape.

Wooded_Landscape_with_FarmstedsWooded Landscape with Farmsteads Meindert Hobbema (1665)

This looks like a painting from the late American painter and expert marketer Thomas Kinkade. Kinkade used a time honored approach pioneered by Hobbema and others hundreds of years ago. The approach is to encourage the viewer to become lost in the idyllic scene. Here, it’s easy to imagine living a peaceful and tranquil life, free of the stresses of modern urban living. Each house is situated in its own little private area, yet the entire scene is open to the viewer. There are still many opportunities to photograph places which will let the viewer feel as though life could be peaceful and simple. But you must search them out.


Meindert_HobbemaAvenue of Middelharnis, Meindert Hobbema (1689)

Nothing is subtle about this strong vanishing point created by the road and the rows of pruned trees. This sort of image is popular in contemporary landscape photography. We can see how it works to direct the viewer’s attention down the path to the end. Then we can look around at all of the interesting things elsewhere in the landscape. Crops are being planted in rows, and a nice looking house is situated along what today would be a driveway. The castle or church in the distance also makes the viewer curious about what lies beyond.

Renaissance Painting in Europe (1425-1600)

The Renaissance, was a ‘great awakening’ not only for logical thought and scientific discoveries, but also for all forms of art including landscape painting. At the beginning of this period, the main topics for paintings were still religiously based with the landscape serving as a minor backdrop to the story being told. Some other forms of painting were being done, but religious painting and the lessons taught were considered to be the highest form of art. Since the Catholic Church had the biggest pot of money and the largest army in Europe, the Church controlled the artists and their content before the 1400’s. The rapid progression in the quality and quantity of painting after 1400 in Europe is quite startling. Just 100 years before, there were relatively few impressive works being painted compared to the renaissance.

A similar reawakening seems to be happening to landscape photography in this new digital age. The quality and quantity of landscape photos appears to be increasing rapidly because of the ease and versatility of digital capture combined with the learning tools and photo sharing websites found on the internet. Some established photographers are upset, because as the supply of decent images increase, the prices decrease. But such is the nature of change.

Benozzo Gozzoli (1420-1497) Italy

Although he was not regarded as being the finest painter of his era on a technical level, he more than made up for it by his creative use of color and non-religious figures and themes which weren’t common in the past. He experimented and pushed the boundaries, and that’s a property the great artists in this book have in common. Many great achievements of the past don’t seem significant today, but when seen from an older perspective, they’re impressive. Even some of Ansel Adams’ photos look commonplace today, though they were ground breakers at the time.

Gozzoli_magiJourney of the Magi, at the Palazzo Medici Riccardi in Florence, Benozzo Gozzoli, (1459–61)

The perspective here is exaggerated, but Benozzo included lots of new elements in this painting which we see in modern landscape photography. The sky with detailed clouds and the dark forests create a good backdrop for this procession. He was inventive, and this is a good lesson for landscape photographers. Use what you have to the best of your ability. Try to do things which haven’t been done before. (And remember this, there are literally trillions of things which haven’t been done before!)

Andrea Mantegna (1431–1506) Italy

Andrea Mantegna was one of the first painters to use a low perspective to make the bigger view seem more impressive. Today, landscape painters can use this to their advantage to create more dramatic images. Mantegna ran workshops, which many photographers do today. Of course, painting workshops were highly complex and took years to complete before you could be considered a master. There were few people with the money to take a workshop just as a hobby. People with money would send their promising children to these workshops and ateliers in the hopes of producing an artist with a lucrative career. Still, most painters were poor, which is a common theme for artists of all types even to this day.

Andrea_Mantegna_036The Agony in the Garden, right panel of the predella of the San Zeno Altarpiece, Andrea Mantegna, (1455)

In addition to the dramatic story unfolding before our eyes, notice how he uses a strong foreground and low perspective to enhance the elevation and position of the distant mountain and the figures in the clouds. A landscape photographer can create an enhanced perspective by keeping the camera lens low to the ground. Most landscape photography seems to be done at eye level on a full-sized tripod, but a high perspective with a wide-angle lens makes foreground objects appear small compared to how they are perceived with the human eye as a person stands at the location. So shorten the legs of the tripod to get down low enough to put some extra drama and perspective into your image.

Andrea_Mantegna-The_Dead_ChristThe Lamentation over the Dead Christ, Andrea Mantegna (1490) Pinacoteca di Brera, Milan.

Although this isn’t a landscape painting, notice the low perspective and how realistic it seems. If the perspective of view were higher, this painting wouldn’t have the same effect because it would be ‘looking down’ on the scene. We wouldn’t see the wounds on the feet and the viewer would feel more detached. A low view adds realism and impact to a picture, so get close to the interesting foreground so the viewer can come along.

Hieronymus Bosch, (1450 – 1516) Netherlands

Bosch is known for the use of fantastic imagery to illustrate moral and religious concepts. There’s a lot of controversy regarding the meanings of his paintings. Regardless of symbolism and context, it’s certain he used his imagination and knowledge of storytelling to create unbelievably fantastic works of art. Many have compared him to the surrealist Salvador Dali, and indeed Dali studied Bosch’s works. Although storytelling was his main theme, he often arranged his characters in a greater landscape. Study his work online, you won’t be disappointed!

Hieronymus_Bosch_Garden_earthly-delightsThe Garden of Earthly Delights, Hieronymus Bosch (1480-1505)

From left to right, these three panels tell the story first of Adam and Eve, then the earthly delights sometimes found on Earth, and finally eternal hell. However, this wasn’t a traditional Bible story. He used different light to set the mood in each panel, with the darkness and fire of hell being where sinners will suffer forever. The lesson landscape photographers can learn here is light and mood can tell a story. Even in the small version of this painting squeezed onto this page, it’s easy to tell where hell resides because of the mood. Landscape photographers can use their imagination to come up with stories and moods based on their imagination. Although the painter can place anything he/she wants on a canvas, photographers have the freedom of composition and choice of time and place to set the mood. Bosch broke tradition to produce the art he wanted, and so can you.

Hieronymus_Bosch_003The upper portion of the left panel of The Temptation of St. Anthony, Hieronymus Bosch (1495-1515)

This scene is happening in a sky of unearthly colors. Bosch’s work shows his boundless imagination. It’s incredible to think that he painted this over 500 years ago. Today his work is becoming popular again because of the surreal nature and almost science fiction theme. He would fit right in on the special effects crew of ‘Star Wars’ or ‘The Lord of the Rings!’ Look up Salvador Dali’s version of “The Temptation of St. Anthony” for a surprise!

Bosch_temptation_st_anthonyThe central panel of The Temptation of St. Anthony, Hieronymus Bosch (1495-1515)

Enlarge this image to see that every character and element of the landscape isn’t what it seems. Hieronymus Bosch was ahead of his time and possibly even ahead of our time! Especially when you think of the conservative art being created in the 1500’s. He was effective at highlighting elements by making them well lit against a dark background. From his time forward, this technique was used and improved in some of the best images ever created. Pure genius!

Leonardo da Vinci (1452 – 1519), Italy

Leonardo da Vinci was the first painter/draftsman to receive true celebrity status and is often considered to be one of the most complete and diversely talented people to ever live. Although his drawings and paintings are still considered to be among the best ever produced, his talents extended to mechanical engineering, military weapons development, flying machines, solar power, optics, anatomy, and much more. His intellect was in demand by kings and the wealthy and powerful people of his time. He used his knowledge and artistic talent to produce anatomically correct renderings of the human body and the outside world. He showed us that with increased knowledge comes an increased ability to create. If you ever get a chance to see his works in person, do it!

Virgin_of_the_RocksVirgin of the Rocks, Leonardo da Vinci (1483)

This damaged early work, now in the Louvre shows his early interest in scenery and the landscape. He used the landscape to dramatically show the traditional religious scene in front of us. He composed the monoliths or rock in the background in between the openings in the rock in the middle ground, and he showed us a bit of the greater landscape beyond. One practical thing to learn here is how to frame things within things. Notice how the distant mountains are framed within the opening of the cave? If you were photographing this scene, you would move around to get those background elements correct before posing the people in front.

Ultima_Cena-Da_Vinci_5The Last Supper, Leonardo da Vinci, (1498)

Unfortunately, Leonardo didn’t paint this as a fresco (into wet plaster), so within 100 years, viewers said it was completely ruined. However, great care has been taken to restore it. Now it’s one of the most reproduced works of art in history. So, the first thing landscape photographers can learn from this painting is you should make sure your prints are comprised of materials which will last for a long time. Find out which inks, papers and other media look good for your work. For this work, Leonardo chose his materials based only on how good they would look at the moment, but this work was almost lost forever. Of course, not every picture you print has to last 500 years, but you should know what materials last the longest. With digital imaging, you can always make another print. The second thing to learn here is how well Leonardo used a vanishing point to convey depth. Notice the perfect symmetry in the lines at the top and edges of this work. If you are doing cityscapes, pay close attention to your lines and vanishing points.

Leonardo-St._AnneThe Virgin and Child with Saint Anne and Saint John the Baptist, Leonardo da Vinci (1500)

This is a drawing on paper! It shows Leonardo’s virtuosity with pencil and chalk. Even in his drawings, light and shade are still the most important elements and he shows us how it should be done. This drawing shows us we don’t need the most expensive tools (cameras) to create great works of art. I’ve seen some excellent work using a simple iPhone or Android Phone camera!

DaVinci_mona-lisaMona Lisa, Leonardo da Vinci, (1503)

Although this may be the most famous painting in history, it’s simple and understated. If you had witnessed it being painted, you might have never imagined the magnitude of its future fame. There’s a mystery to her smile and to the background, which makes the viewer wonder what she was thinking and feeling and what lies beyond in the real world. One of the hallmarks of a great landscape photograph is how the viewer is drawn into the photo to imagine being there. Leonardo was possibly the first painter to draw us in like this. And he keeps us there to this day.

Studies_of_the_Arm_showing_the_Movements_made_by_the_BicepsStudies of the Arm showing the Movements made by Biceps, Leonardo da Vinci, (1510)

Drawings like this show us how important it is to directly study your subjects. So, to create great landscape photographs, it’s also necessary to study your subject. Study how the ocean moves, how the clouds form, how the land erodes and how the seasons affect the landscape. Photograph elements separately and examine them closely. Read as much as you can and then study the elements of a composition directly so you can refine your knowledge and develop your own personal style and vision.


Albrecht Dürer (1471 – 1528) Germany

Albrecht Dürer was a print maker, and painter, who became famous across Europe when he was still in his twenties. He has been regarded as possibly the greatest artist of the Northern Renaissance. He was one of the first European landscape artists, and his woodcuts revolutionized printmaking.

Duerer_autoportrait_(1484)Self Portrait, Albrecht Dürer (1484, age 13)

This is a silverpoint work, created by dragging a wire or a sharp silver object across a surface covered in Gesso (white paint) to expose the darker surface underneath. This image shows Albrecht’s virtuosity at a young age. Some artists develop early in life and some later on. The same goes for photographers. Photography provides a level playing field for people of all ages and ways of life. If you’ve been pursuing photography for 2 years, it doesn’t matter whether you are 10 or 90. You are a two year old! While there are issues of mental and physical flexibility to consider, it’s never too early or too late to take up photography and you can become an excellent artist regardless of age. This may be one of the first selfies ever made!

Dürer_Oswolt_KrelPortrait of Oswolt Krel, Albrecht Dürer (1499)

Not only is this painting nearly photo realistic, but you can see the influence of the far-eastern artists in the bit of landscape on the left side. It could be a Chinese landscape, some of which were imported to Europe around this time. Even back then, artists were influenced by and studied the works of others. Yet Albrecht developed a style all his own.

Duerer_(Der_Reuther)Knight, Death and the Devil, Albrecht Dürer (1513)

This copper engraving was state of the art at this time. Despite it being an engraving, he still used light and darkness to enhance the effect of depth and detail. He experimented with many different ways of doing prints and became a master at it, often employing specialized experts to do things he couldn’t do, which freed him to produce more original art.

Today, we have to decide how our prints should be made. If you wish to do cutting-edge sorts of prints, it will take a lot of time and energy, so you have to balance the time you spend between making prints versus having them done by someone else so you can have more time to do your own photography. Ansel Adams in his later life used to spend a lot of time making prints in the dark room, because he wanted to do them himself. However, he often wished he could spend more time making photographs. Also, notice how Dürer signed his work in the lower left hand corner with the year and D for Dürer. Around this time, most artists began to sign their works. This is a good idea even today, and often it’s a good idea to watermark your images (or use metadata) for Internet use.


Michelangelo di Lodovico Buonarroti Simoni (1475 – 1564) Italy

Michaelangelo, along with da Vinci and Raphael, became a symbol for the Renaissance man. He was a well-educated and forward-looking man who based many of his opinions on information obtained by scientific fact finding instead of ancient logic or superstition. This is impressive considering many people even today base a large amount of their knowledge and value system on unsupported information. Unfortunately, he had few immediate pupils due to his poor personal hygiene and living habits.

He lived to be 88, which was also impressive for the time and even had two biographies written about him while he was still alive. He was so successful and admired he inspired a whole generation of artists and gave birth to Mannerism, or a highly evolved style. He was an incredible sculptor as well as painter, with his statue of David being one of the most renowned works of any form of art in history.

Unfortunately, he didn’t execute significant landscape paintings. It would be interesting to see what he would have done in this genre!

michaelangelo-cistine_chapelThe ceiling of the Cistine Chapel, Rome Michaelangelo (1508-1512)

This impressive fresco looks like it was done in a traditional way, however, Michaelangelo didn’t always see eye to eye with the Catholic Church, so he made a lot of changes, some of which were approved and some of which were slipped in without the authorities knowing. He even made sure the scaffolding covered up certain things when the authorities were scheduled to do their inspections.

So, what can a landscape photographer learn from this work? We know he worked upside down under uncomfortable conditions, painting into plaster which had to be fresh and wet. Sometimes the best works of art are produced under uncomfortable conditions. Just think about those dramatic photos you’ve seen with lots of storm clouds, beams of light, fog, etc. The worst weather often produces the best conditions. In short, a little suffering often pays big rewards. So the next time you see a storm and wish to stay inside, push yourself to go out into the harsh elements (or at night) and see what you can do.



Albrecht Altdorfer (1480 – 1538) Germany

Albrecht Altdorfer is best known as being the first European pioneer of pure landscape painting. Until this time, most artists made their living from the Catholic Church and its members, which had the money and military power. But times were changing due to advances in the scientific method, which led people to more closely observe nature and learn from it. Artists also observed nature more closely and landscape art for its own sake began to emerge as a true art form. At first it was considered a lower form of art because it didn’t have religious significance, but this was the beginning of its ascendancy to its peak in the 1800’s. After about 1900, landscape photography and more psychological forms of painting became more ‘important’ in the eyes or art buyers.

Albrecht_Altdorfer_019Landscape with Footbridge, Albrecht Altdorfer (1516)

This may be the painting which started it all. It’s possibly the first well-known European pure landscape painting. There’s no religious or historic meaning to it. This is landscape art just for the sake of it. Everything is vertical and he used a portrait orientation to enhance the effect. This is an example of a true artist creating pure art. He couldn’t sell it to a church or to anybody looking to enhance their status by purchasing a significant ‘history’ painting. It’s purely a decorative landscape. Perhaps the owner of the property wanted it? Sometimes when you are doing landscape photography, you have to decide what the purpose is. Is it a stock photo you wish to sell? Is it fine art to hang on the wall? Is it pure art, just for your own enjoyment? There’s no correct answer when it comes to art. But this painting does represent the beginning of true landscape art.

Albrecht_Altdorfer_017A Crucifixion, Albrecht Altdorfer, (1520)

Here is an example of an artist who loved the landscape, and painted an image to be purchased by the Church. Despite the classic theme, Altdorfer decided to include a richly detailed landscape. The background almost looks like the Na Pali cliffs of Kauai, Hawaii. He went way above and beyond the call of duty in terms of artistic landscape content here. As landscape photographers, we can put in some extra effort to make a photo better. For example, move around to show a more open view to what lies beyond the foreground.

Altdorfer_AlexanderThe Battle of Issus/Alexander, Albrecht Altdorfer, (1529)

This is simply a massively overwhelming landscape. It starts with a fairly close up view of soldiers in the foreground and reaches back to include the Mediterranean Sea with the island of Cyprus in the middle. Then it continues into the background showing the Red Sea and the mouths of the Nile in Egypt, with a glowing sunset to the southwest. It’s also physically huge in size at about 5 feet tall. Altdorfer spent a lot of time painting each soldier. He made sure it looked powerful from a distance. This is possibly one of the 10 best landscape paintings (with people included) of all time.

It’s good not only for the details, but because he did the research to provide a nearly accurate map of over 1000 miles of land at a time when little was known about how the entire world looked from above. He visualized it as if viewing the scene from an airplane. As a landscape photographer, if you have a lot of detail to present, make sure it looks good at a bigger size. Small prints of this painting, or any detailed photograph are underwhelming because they must be seen large! Simple compositions however, can be seen at smaller sizes.



Joachim Patinir, also called de Patiner (1480-1524) Flemish

Joachim Patinir was a pioneer in landscape painting and lived in what is now Belgium. He was one of the first painters to consider himself primarily a landscape painter, though many of his works told stories via characters which were often painted by his assistants. He was one of the first European painters to use a wide-angle panoramic format.

Crossing_the_River_StyxCharon crossing the Styx, Joachim Patinir (1515-1524)

Charon is the mythical figure who is supposed to ferry the souls of the dead to hell (on the right), or possibly to the fountain of youth creating the smaller river on the left. The large river splits the composition in half and extends on to the ocean. The passenger in the boat must decide between heaven and hell and now the decision is being carried out.

The contrast between the two halves is dramatic, and you can use contrast to your advantage in landscape photography. You can contrast light vs. dark, or smooth vs. rough. There are a multitude of contrasting elements which can be used in a landscape photograph. Many of the greatest landscape photographs have strong contrasts contained within. There’s a lot to see in this painting, which always makes a picture interesting.



Raffaello Sanzio da Urbino (1483 – 1520) Italy

Raffaello (Rafael) was an incredibly prolific painter during his short lifetime. He ran a large workshop which produced many famous painters. Today he is regarded as one of the finest painters of the Renaissance. His students scattered to other areas after the Sack of Rome in 1527, in which 45,000 civilians were killed. You can learn a lot about history by learning about the lives of the painters. War and disease affected nearly every master painter for the last 500 years. They often moved from place to place, fleeing violence and the ruined economies which followed. The most successful painters adapted to changing economies.

Today, we must deal with the ups and downs of the economy but fortunately over half of the world lives in peaceful times. Take advantage of these peaceful times and photograph the world!

Sanzio_01The School of Athens, Rafael, (1511)

Rafael painted this after seeing the half-completed ceiling of the Cistine chapel by Michaelangelo. Even the greats are influenced by other greats. It has all the essence of a modern cityscape or architectural photograph. It has straight vertical lines leading to a vanishing point and open view beyond. He painted it within the (real) arch to give the impression of the indoor wall space extending into the flat painted wall. He used arches within arches to give an effect of great depth. When shooting in the city, use lines and shapes to give depth to what will be a flat print.

Raphael_SpasimoSpasimo, Rafael (1517)

In addition to the dramatic color and expressions of the characters, Rafael included a winding path leading into the landscape beyond. And he topped it off with a nice sunset filtering through the trees. Even though the path to the light takes up a small percentage of the painting, Rafael knew about composing a landscape and how to draw the eye along to the path to the sunset. Leading the eye is important in landscape photography, as we will continue to see throughout the history of landscape painting and photography.



Tiziano Vecelli or Tiziano Vecellio (1488_1576) Italy

Titian was not only a great landscape artist, but also adept at painting all genres from portraits to mythology. He was a student of color and advanced the quality of art to new heights. Look at many paintings created by a master before and after Titian, and you will most likely be able to tell the difference immediately (with some practice) just by the color!

Titian_012Danaë with Nursemaid, Titian (1553–1554)

This is one of many mythological paintings Titian created. His use of color in this work influenced the works of many painters during his time and for the next few hundred years. The volcano is exploding with light and color. It’s as though there’s a spotlight in the foreground, which enhances the contrast with the foreboding background. Color is extremely important in color landscape photography, just as contrast is for black and white landscapes. These colors look natural and not overdone or unnatural. Photo editing software such as Photoshop allows us to enhance the colors to unrealistic levels, and the same can be done with paint.

You’ll notice the true masters rarely go too far with enhanced color, though they often push the limits. When a master artist does create a super-saturated image, everyone knows it’s a work of art and not an accurate representation of reality. However, with a landscape photograph, a certain trust is implied since a photo is supposed to record reality. So it’s probably best to take the tasteful route shown above and work to be there when the colors are naturally rich and dramatic. One exception is with HDR, or High Dynamic Range processing. Often, HDR photographs are intentionally highly colored.

We will see different versions of this scene by different artists and you can compare the similarities and differences.


ActaeonThe Death of Actaeon, Titian (1562)

In his later works, Titian became looser with his brush strokes in an almost impressionistic sort of way. He supposedly applied paint with his fingers when he was close to completion. This was not a good idea because most paint had high concentrations of lead. Many painters died or became sick with lead poisoning.

As photographers, we may often favor one style for a while and then try something new later. Titian was over 70 years of age when he completed this painting, which was quite old for his time. He may have used this rough style because it was easier to do compared to his more youthful precise style of years past. So, as a photographer ages, he/she may not be able to do the same athletically demanding things as in years past, but equally fine works of art can still be produced!


Pieter Brueghel the Elder, (1525-1569) Netherlands /Belgium

Bruegel was one of the first painters to feature the everyday lives of peasants in a landscape setting. Because most artists had to make a living, the subjects of paintings usually featured religious or other ‘high-end’ themes. So Bruegel broke new ground in the field of landscape painting. His extremely detailed works are often used as historical records of peasant life and the severe winter climate of the ‘little ice age.’ Definitely research Brueghel on the internet and plan on spending a long time looking at each painting!

Bruegel,_Pieter_de_Oude_-_De_val_van_icarus_-_hi_resLandscape with the Fall of Icarus, Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1558)

This painting has a landscape photographic composition to it. It’s as though there’s a camera on a tripod just above the horse and plough. The image is composed to include the ship to the right and the hills and trees to the left, while including a lot of detail in front. The sun is bright, to show how Icarus would be in danger from the hot sun. So it’s both a record of the times and an artistic work as well. We can do this with our landscape photographs by looking for slices of life and then waiting for the light to be at it’s best. Brueghel put a lot of thought into this painting as evidenced by the herding dog near the shepherd and the two black sheep nearby. Detail is also extremely important in landscape photography, so put a lot of thought into it.


Bruegel_ProverbsNetherlandish Proverbs, Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1559)


This painting illustrates characters from 100 proverbs popular in 1559. It’s so full of detail, it takes a long time to see it all. In landscape photography, you may not want to have this much detail, but each detail should be distinct from another so the eye will want to explore every nook and cranny. Many people like to go right up to within inches of a big print, so make every detail count.

ChildrenChildren’s Games, Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1559)

This painting is an overview of every child’s game popular in 1559. From a compositional perspective the vanishing point with the distant tower on the right and the view of the river to the left give the viewer a good sense of scale. It gives us an idea of the size of the city and just how many children may be at play in it beyond what we can see. When photographing a cityscape, perspective is important. Showing people doing various things can make a photo extra special. There even seems to be some early hula-hoops in front if they would just put it around their waist instead of rolling them!


Brueghel-tower-of-babelThe Tower of Babel, Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1563)

Once again, there’s an incredible amount of detail in this painting. He uses a standard compositional technique that’s important even today, which is to place the main subject slightly off-center. The tower is huge and he didn’t shy away from painting every little detail with the city and hills a mere backdrop. Don’t be afraid to make your main subject as bold as this, if you should ever find something this interesting in real life!



Pieter_Bruegel_d._Ä._107Winter Landscape with a Bird Trap, Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1563)

This is a classic winter scene. Brueghel pleasingly composed it so the river flows in a nice curve so we can see people fading into the distance on the ice. Notice how the thick atmosphere makes the background fade away gradually. Clouds and mist are a common way to show depth and it’s commonly used in painting and landscape photography.


Pieter_Bruegel_d._Ä._106bThe Hunters in the Snow, Pieter Brueghel the Elder (1565)

The important elements in this painting are the elevated viewpoint and how the hunters in the foreground are almost like more detailed version of the small people down on the ice. In a landscape photograph, you can provide foreground detail to show a close up view of things which are more distant. For example you can show grass close up and a grassy hill in the background so the viewer can imagine being in the foreground and eventually walking up onto the hill. Painting and photography are often about the imagination of the viewer.

Middle Ages Painting in Europe (500 – 1400)

When the Roman Empire declined around the year 400, wealth decreased and war increased. The eastern part of the empire became the Byzantine Empire and was increasingly influenced by Islam and became the most important place along with China for technological and societal development for the next 800 years. Meanwhile, Europe descended into a region of smaller warring states where virtually no lasting progress of any sort occurred. There was progress, but it was destroyed every time. ‘The Dark Ages’ is an appropriate name for this period of time in Europe! The population dropped dramatically by AD 650 and slowly increased to 70 million by 1340, when it was cut in half by the plague. The Catholic Church had a tight control on much of everyday life and art was stagnant. Though there was lots of secular art, it didn’t survive well compared to the religious art, so we don’t see much from this period but religious art. Religious art from this period rarely showed the landscape except as bits of background for the characters of the Bible. So there isn’t much to be learned about landscape photography from studying painting from the middle ages other than setting a scene, which is important in many genres of photography.

Towards the end of the middle ages, signs of life began to appear in the world of art and landscape painting as well as other creative endeavors. As the population of Europe increased after the plagues, economies recovered and so did creativity.

Ambrogio Lorenzetti (Ambruogio Laurati; 1290 – 1348) Italy

The work of Ambrogio Lorenzetti was evidence that the art of Europe in the later middle ages was beginning to improve. But just as improvement begin to take hold, the plague hit and Claimed Ambrogio and perhaps 35 million others out of the 70 million total population. He produced Frescos (paint in wet plaster) which were often secular and included the landscape.

Lorenzetti_govDetails from the frescos in the Palazzo Pubblico of Siena, Ambrogio Lorenzetti, (1328)

Here are scenes of people in natural settings. It may not seem significant, but until this point, few works which depict nature had been created in Europe for nearly 1000 years! There isn’t much depth in this painting but there is color, which will become more important as time goes on. Lorenzetti was ahead of his time.

Lorenzetti_amb-effectA portion of ‘The Effects of Good Government’, a fresco in the City Hall of Siena, Ambrogio Lorenzetti, (1338)

The cityscape here is much more than just a backdrop; it’s also part of the subject. Color, perspective, and shading create depth as opposed to fog and mist. Details are important, and the eye can investigate every building and little window. Often, ‘simple is good’ in landscape photography, but if you are photographing a busy scene like this, make it clean and uncluttered, so the viewer can spend time looking at the details.

Most early European art was similar to these two examples. So we’ll move on to Renaissance painting.

Early Japanese Painting (1338-1603)

The first settlers in Japan are thought to have arrived from Eastern Asia around 11,000BCE or perhaps before. By 300BCE, intricately designed and elaborately decorated clay vessels were being created. By the 7th century, Buddhism from China and Korea became popular in Japan, and most artistic energy was devoted to Buddhism in the form of sculpture, dress, and architecture. Landscape painting in Japan didn’t gain popularity until the Muromachi period (1338-1573.) At this time, large numbers of Chinese works of art including paintings were imported. This profoundly influenced Japanese artists who studied the works and began to produce their own uniquely styled paintings. In 1603, Tokugawa shogunate of the Edo period gained control of the government. They ensured peace by imposing strong rules of law. Peace did come, but at the expense of strict laws about art and many other social activities. Creativity gradually slowed down for over 100 years.

Note: Also included in this section is Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)

Tenshō Shūbun (approx. 1390 -1444/1450)

Early in his career, Tenshō Shūbun studied painting under Josetsu, a Chinese immigrant. Under Josetsu’s influence, Shūbun started studying Chinese Song Dynasty master painters. Japanese painting proceeded to develop its own distinctive style over the next few centuries with its foundations rooted in China. Tenshō is considered one of Japan’s greatest early painters.

Shubun_-_Landscape_of_the_Four_SeasonsLandscape of the Four Seasons, Tenshō Shūbun (approximately 1420-1440

In this scroll, he used white space to create depth, simulating the effects of atmosphere and fog. He created a strong foreground with the small structure and the figures as an anchor for the eye to explore the rest of the scene. Landscape photographs are usually stronger with a good foreground in front. It adds depth and perspective to the entire picture. Strong foregrounds will become a common theme in painting as time goes on. Create a four seasons image of your own!


Shubun_-_untitledReading in a Bamboo Grove, Tenshō Shūbun (1446)

This painting is considered a national treasure in Japan. The sharp edges of the foreground tree and of the trees on the top of the ridge fade into the distance, creating a mysterious feeling. Landscape photographers often try to create a sense of mystery with lighting and atmosphere in this old and reliable tradition. You must often wait a long time for conditions to be right, but the wait’s worth it!

Sesshū Tōyō (1420 – 1506)

(Oda Tōyō since 1431, also known as Tōyō, Unkoku, or Bikeisai)

Sesshū Tōyō studied under Tenshō Shūbun and eventually developed a new bolder style of ink and wash painting which became popular. He studied in China and was influenced by the old Chinese masters; however, he developed a new style which became unique to Japan from his time forward.

Sesshu-View_of_Ama-no-HashidateView of Ama-no-Hashidate, Sesshū Tōyō, (1501-1506)

This is a huge birds-eye view in a style rarely seen before. He took what he had learned and created a new style while retaining the traditional ideas of showing depth via fog and mist. He used bolder and darker inks, which show more detail than before. As landscape photographers, it’s possible to study the great masters of painting and photography and come up with your own unique style. He made a scroll depicting the four seasons that’s 50 feet long! Also, he created two important Japanese Zen gardens.

Hasegawa Tōhaku (1539 – 1610)

Hasegawa Tōhaku is considered possibly the best landscape artist of his time in Japan. He preferred the more subtle and traditional techniques, but still made his unique contributions to landscape art in Japan and the rest of the world.

Pine_TreesPine Trees (right hand screen), Hasegawa Tōhaku. Unknown date.

These panels are also considered a national treasure in Japan and might possibly be the first works showing only pine trees as the entire subject. This is truly landscape art for the sake of landscape art. One of the most popular forms of landscape photography today uses trees and mist for a three dimensional effect. Even though ‘trees and fog’ is a 500-year-old idea (at least), landscape photographers of today can study it and make new interpretations.

Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849)

Traditional Japanese art continued into the 1700s, so Katsushika Hokusai is included in this section. He is best known for his series called “36 views of Mt. Fuji.” It’s a superb series and should be seen as a great inspiration for modern landscape photographers to create similar series of modern landscape subjects. These could be parks, rivers, valleys or virtually anything where numerous views could bring new perspectives to an iconic landmark or place.

Great_Wave_off_Kanagawa2The Great Wave off Kanagawa, Katsushika Hokusai (series 1826-1833)

Hokusai was successful before this series, but these 36 prints made him internationally famous. This image remains his most successful image and is still used today on a variety of products around the world. Although the series depicts 36 views of Mt. Fuji, the main subject here is the iconic wave, which dwarfs the 12,388 ft. (3776m) Fuji. This truly shows how small we are compared to the raw power of nature.

Red_Fuji_southern_wind_clear_morningRed Fuji, Southern Wind, Clear Morning, Katsushika Hokusai (series 1826-1833)

These two images from the series of 36 are quite different from each other. Remember this when you are photographing an iconic place. Any two photos can be almost completely different depending on numerous variables including location, light, season, etc. Do a series of your own! Show your own local icon from as many different angles and conditions as possible.

Early Chinese Painting (403BCE – 1367AD)

The style of painting in China might be the oldest continuing form of art in the world. It began simply as works created by amateur artists who had other jobs in government and had free time to perfect their craft. As in other older cultures, painting began as depictions of people doing various things and telling stories. But then beginning around 220AD, people began appreciating art for the sake of art. For the first time in world history, landscape painting for the sake of the beauty of the landscape became popular.

Xie He, was a writer, art historian and critic in 5th century China. In his book, “Six points to consider when judging a painting”, he defines things much in the same way modern painters and landscape photographers do today.

The six elements which define a painting according to Xie He are:

Spirit Resonance, or vitality. (the enthusiasm transmitted from the artist into the work…and then to the viewer)

Bone Method, or the way of using the brush. (This is true for painting and for how we use the camera today in terms of exposure, light etc.)

Correspondence to the Object, or the depicting of form. (foreground, background objects etc.)

Suitability to Type, or the application of color, including layers, value and tone. (Sounds quite contemporary!)

Division and Planning, (corresponding to composition, space and depth.)

Transmission by Copying, or the copying of models, (Copying great works is still important to developing personal style. Possibly the best way to learn is to copy!)


Gu Kaizhi (344-406AD)

Gu Kaizhi was an author, a poet, and might have been one of the ‘old artists’ to whom Xie He (above) referred. He wrote three books on painting. And he loved the landscape as we can see below.

Luoshenfu_Gu_Kai_ZhiGu Kaizhi (approximately 400AD)

Here are three sections of a super-wide angle view. Landscape photographers sometimes like to do wide-angle panoramas, and the idea probably originated in China in the 4th century AD and before. A wide-angle view allows the eye to travel across the landscape and absorb the finest details, as we might do while standing on a mountain. The figures aren’t in perspective compared to the large landscape because this tells a story about people. But the landscape played an important role and provided a setting of beauty and tranquility in which the story could unfold.

Guo Xi ( 1020– 1090)

Guo Xi is one of China’s most famous landscape painters. He pioneered techniques which allow for multiple perspectives within a single painting. He studied light and how it interacts with mist, which swirls around mountains at different times of the year. He was a model for the great master landscape painters who came after him, because he was a studious observer of nature.

Kuo_Hsi_001Clearing Autumn Skies over Mountains and Valleys, Kuo Hsi (Guo Xi) (1072)

This painting doesn’t rely on color at all. Much like a good black and white photo, it relies on form and depth to provide a sense of reality. Notice how the tops of the hills in back are strongly outlined while the lower parts of the hills behind are brighter and more diffused? This shows how important mist and atmosphere can be in a painting or in a landscape photograph. With no mist, there’s no depth on a two-dimensional print. So, get out and embrace the bad weather. It’s your friend.


Guo_Xi_-_Early_Spring_(large)Early Spring, Kuo Hsi (Guo Xi) (1072)

Mist in the form of white space again provides a sense of depth in what is perhaps his most famous painting. This style served as a model for hundreds of years and continues to this day. Wouldn’t it be great to stand on this spot and watch the mist drift through this scene?

Chinesischer_Maler_des_11._Jahrhunderts_(I)_001Buddhist Temple on the Mountains, unknown artist (11th century)

Notice how the strongly outlined features in front such as the temple and the rocks and trees are set in front of a light background. The background, which could be a little fog, separates the foreground from the mountains in the background. Mist and fog are important in painting as well as in landscape photography. It’s easy to imagine a photographer moving up and down on the hillside to compose this scene with the temple in just the right spot. A painter can place an object in the desired position at will, but a photographer must move around. This allows a photographer to compose a scene just like a painter.

Ma Yuan ( 1160/65 – 1225)

Ma Yuan came from a long line of painters. His landscape paintings have strong and precise compositions. The outlines are bold and can be plainly seen across the room. If he were a landscape photographer today, he would be popular on a photo sharing website because the thumbnails would grab your attention.

Ma_Yuan_-_Dancing_and_Singing-_Peasants_Returning_from_WorkDancing and Singing (Peasants Returning from Work) Ma Yuan (around 1200AD, exact year unknown)

Ma Yuan used bold and dramatic vertical lines to show the immensity of the landscape. And he also used fog and mist to create a lot of depth. Each area of interest is like a small self-contained island. As a photographer, it’s good to have important areas of interest separated, rather than in one big confusing clump of clutter!

Ma_Yuan_Walking_on_Path_in_SpringOn a mountain path in Spring, ma Yuan (1200AD, exact year unknown)

Mist and depth still play an important role in this painting. Notice how the hilltops in the upper left-hand corner fade away? The gaze of the man and the bird are pointing in the direction of the infinite mist. Ma kept it simple, and that’s another important thing to remember when creating landscape photographs. If you have strong elements in front, the background can just be a nice soft place.


Xia Gui (1195–1224)

Details of his short life are scarce, but his highly regarded work with black ink on scrolls lives on in the works of his admirers.

Xia_Gui,_Streams_and_Mountains_with_a_Clear_Distant_View,_detailPure and Remote View of Streams and Mountains, Xia Gui (approximately 1220)

This is a great title! He kept the background to the right simple, with the water below merging into the softness of the sky to imply a brilliant light in the distance. The small inlet of water with the figures and the structure show the immensity of this landscape. He made sure the viewer noticed the struggling trees clinging to the cliffs. Wouldn’t you like to be one of those tiny people standing along the shoreline admiring this view? This painting places the viewer right into the scene. The most effective images in landscape photography usually place the viewer right alongside the camera or somewhere in the scene itself. This photo of this painting is probably cut off at the bottom so you can’t see the bottom of the actual painting. Don’t let an important part of your landscape photo be cut off along the edges of the frame! Be careful as you compose your photo.


Xia_Gui_-_Untitled_Album_LeafUntitled leaf from an album, Xia Gui (approximately 1220)

Once again, simplicity is important. It’s difficult to imagine what could be added to improve this. Often figures are added, and there’s one along the path in the lower right side. In landscape photography today, some people like having no people in the scene at all. It makes them feel like they have this private space all to themselves. Sometimes it’s good to have several figures in a scene and sometimes no figures at all. In this case, it’s perfect as it is. Experiment including and excluding people from your landscapes. See what works best in different situations.


Chinese Ming Dynasty Painting (1368-1644)

During the Ming Dynasty, Chinese painting continued to develop with many art schools teaching many thousands of students. Some of those students became masters, whom are revered and copied even to this day. At the beginning of this period, Chinese art continued a 1,000-year tradition of being the world’s center of fine-art painting and art in general. The Middle East was also fertile ground at times during this period. Few works remain however. Europe was stuck in the middle ages, stifled by strict religious traditions, which limited artistic freedom, especially when it came to landscape painting. Only towards the end of the Ming Dynasty period, did the European Renaissance awaken artistic talent to begin to rival those talents in the east.

Shen Zhou (1427–1509)

Shen Zhou was extremely well accomplished in his studies of history and the classics. This knowledge provided him with the ability to envision and design paintings with a classic and traditional style. He also lived during a critical time in Chinese history where he had great freedom for artistic expression. So, his knowledge combined with freedom allowed him to compose classic works and more creative contemporary works (for his time) of high quality and refined style. The same idea holds for landscape photography. The more you know, and the greater freedom you enjoy, and the better prepared you are to envision and create great works of art. Throughout history, most of the biggest advancements in the arts and sciences occurred during times of political peace and religious freedom. Many of us today live in relatively free and technologically prosperous times. As a result, landscape photography is currently enjoying a sort of renaissance due to advances in digital capture and processing as well as sharing and learning on the Internet.

Lofty_Mt.Lu_by_Shen_ZhouLofty Mt.Lu, Shen Zhou (1467)

This painting and many others in this book have an incredible amount of detail, which can be better seen when you increase the magnification of the page or image. Many Chinese artists liked to present views in a panoramic format, both horizontally and vertically. Vertical panoramas (or vertoramas) are often overlooked in landscape photography. However, sometimes they are the best way to present views of towering mountains and waterfalls. Here is a view where a precariously perched wooden bridge almost seems to struggle to stay upright against the towering falls and cliffs. The viewer is left to imagine crossing this river via this bridge and climbing up the vertical path behind it. When photographing a vertical landscape, think about doing vertical panoramas. They can present perspectives no other format can accomplish!

Tang Yin (1470-1524), (Tang Bohu)

Tang Yin was a student of Shen Zhou (above.) and a friend of Wen Zhengming (below.) He lived his life selling his paintings, which made some critics disregard his art because they believed an artist should belong to the wealthy class, free to pursue art for art’s sake. Even today, many fine-art landscape photographers retain other jobs so they can be free from the financial pressures which might encourage them to produce only work which will sell. In addition, some critics today feel landscape photographers who attempt to ‘mass market’ their works to make money are ‘selling out’ and tainting their art. This is also common in music where you might hear complaints that a musical artist has sold out when a commercial features the artist’s music. You must decide how to pursue your goals.

Tang_Yin_003A Fisher in Autumn, Tang Yin, (1523)

Tang combines a bit of a vertical format into this landscape oriented painting. The vertical drop of the cliffs is enhanced by the rushing stream in the middle of the painting, and the way the larger river appears to drop off to the behind the tree. This painting shows the rapidly moving water in a dynamic way because of that drop-off and the waves in the river. The viewer can almost see the waves lapping up against the side of the boat. In fact, the feel is so dynamic the flute player on the left should be a little more aware of the possibility of going over the waterfall, which seems to lurk to the right of the frame! He seems oblivious to the danger. Landscape photographers should always be looking for ways to show the dynamic processes happening in the landscape.

Wen Zhengming (1470–1559)

Many important Chinese painters were serious scholars of history and art. Wen Zhengming followed in this tradition. He had many interests and even helped with the design of the Humble Administrator’s Garden, generally considered one of China’s four greatest gardens today. Designing a well-landscaped garden employs the same skills as composing a well-designed landscape painting or photograph. He preferred to paint simple subjects such as single trees or rocks. That tradition still is strong today in landscape photography. Many photographers prefer to create abstracts, or ‘extracts’ and Ansel Adams used to say.

Wintry_trees_after_Li_ChengWintery Trees, Wen Zhengming (1542)

This vertical format is perfect for showing a meandering stream through a tall forest of bare deciduous trees in the winter. A landscape photographer would have to climb to an elevated position and use a long lens to carefully compose this perspective. Spend the extra time to get the best overview and composition.

The Birth of Painting (35,000BCE-5,000BCE)

People have drawn and painted throughout all of recorded history. Often, the only records which remain of old cultures are those works of art and the tools left behind. Early cave paintings have been dated to be over 30,000 years old. More than 300 of these paintings have been discovered. Most of them depict local animals, objects, and the outlines of human hands. The landscape was never drawn, perhaps because they experienced the harsh realities of the landscape every day as they struggled to survive. Why draw it when you are in the middle of it every day? Food and shelter were of the utmost importance, while art was a luxury item, as it is today.

Although early works of cave art were rather basic compared to what is produced in modern times, the one thing they have in common with today’s paintings and drawings is they tell stories. Therefore, one of the main themes of this book is how to tell a story. Shamen and others often painted in caves in attempts to coax the animals to multiply or to allow themselves to be caught. The paintings depicted stories of the hunt and the hopes for future hunts. They were full of meaning and sometimes color, just as they are today.

As time went by, more recent cave paintings from 10,000 years ago and later, show humans engaged in hunting. Sometimes the animals depicted aren’t roaming the area today. For example, some cave paintings in France show hyenas and lions. Cave paintings from 5,000-8,000 years ago are more sophisticated and tell more complex stories, but the landscape is still missing.

So, step number one towards creating art from the landscape is to tell a good story!


Altamira,_bisonA bison from the ceiling of the cave in Altamira, Spain. 25,000-35,000BCE.

Highly skilled artists created art even in prehistoric times. This cave painting goes far beyond a simple record. Just look at the color and aggressive posture. Movement and drama can be important elements on landscape photographs, so we can learn even from the oldest surviving works of art. The drive to create art could be written in our DNA!



Egyptian Art (5,000BCE – 300AD)

Art is created and consumed only when there’s free time available above and beyond the basic needs of survival. That’s as true today as ever. Civilization and specialization allow cultures to rise above subsistence level. Art in Ancient Egypt rose to a high standard, especially after about 3,000BCE, because the pharaohs had the resources to train, pay and/or enslave full-time artists. These artists didn’t have to find or grow food, so they had lots of time to work and develop their craft. Therefore, the quality and magnitude of art reached new levels of perfection. But the landscape was rarely seen because symbolism was the primary goal of art in ancient Egypt. And the pharaohs dictated those goals. Everything had meaning, from the color of the human figures, to what the figures were doing.

The styles and techniques of Egyptian art remained almost exactly the same (with minor modifications) for nearly 3,000 years. It was all about preserving a record of the times to bring back good memories to the Pharaohs in the afterlife. Not only were works of art on the walls of the tombs and buildings, but they were painted on papyrus scrolls as well. They were portable and could be considered the first fine art prints, which are still created today. Since the climate is extremely dry throughout most of Egypt, many fine drawings and paintings still remain in excellent condition. They contain a significant record of what life must have been like, at least for the privileged people back then.

This is a second step towards creating art from the landscape. Record what you see (or feel) as accurately as is possible. Provide yourself and the viewers with a memorable experience. Photos are really all about memories and imaginary memories.


Ägyptischer_Maler_um_1360_v._Chr._002Two daughters of Amenophis IV; Nofernoferuaton and Nofernoferure, Artist unknown ( 1375-1358 BCE)

Wall paintings from ancient Egypt rarely showed the landscape except in the most stylized of ways. However, movement and action were emphasized to tell the story and bring reality to the viewer. We should do that today in landscape photography. However, we don’t have to worry about creating art for our loved ones after they pass away, as this work of art might have been intended!


Greek Art (2,500BCE – 146BCE)

This period also covers an immense period of time, ending when the Romans finally conquered the Corinthians in 146BCE. Everyone knows about the great sculptures, pottery and architecture of ancient Greece, but drawing and painting began to take on more of a modern form during this period. Unfortunately, although the ancient Romans described many impressive works of Greek art, few works survive to this day. In fact, few Roman copies of Greek works have survived the fall of the Roman Empires. The winners of wars have a way of erasing the past.


NAMA_Sacrifice_aux_CharitesA representation of an animal sacrifice scene in Corinth. Artist unknown (6th century BCE)

This mural is typical of the few remaining examples of ancient Grecian painting. It’s precise and the color remains vivid considering the passage of time. However, this is a story about an animal sacrifice and whatever landscape scenery might have been included in more modern art was considered unimportant and left out of the work. This scene does make one think about what is going to happen to the lamb. Anticipation felt by the viewer can be an important element in landscape photography. It can make the viewer think about a wave’s impending crash on the beach or a storm that’s about to strike.


The Art of Rome (508BCE – 400AD)

The Roman Empire began as a small region in and around the city of Rome in 508BCE. Within 300 years it had grown to cover most of modern-day Italy. By 180AD, it had reached its zenith of power and land area, stretching from modern-day England and Spain in the west to Egypt and Turkey in the east. Although there were many power struggles and problems, a wealthy upper-class arose as money flowed in from taxes which were imposed on the conquered. Also, improved trade and technological improvements increased wealth dramatically. Leisure time and money allowed the arts to flourish for hundreds of years.

The paintings of ancient Rome didn’t focus on the beauty of the landscape, but rather on story telling via wall murals and book illustrations. However, Roman art began to include more advanced concepts such as liner perspective with the inclusion of background landscapes and views. Also, more attempts were made to put subjects into their proper perspective. Perspective was studied extensively to produce the illusionistic Trompe-l’œil (fr: To trick the eye). In this way, walls were painted to appear to extend into other rooms. Flat and low ceilings were made to appear vaulted or domed. Landscapes were painted as if you could see them out an imaginary window.

Wealthy members of society became detached from nature, so there was a need to escape from the confines of windowless rooms in large cities. At its zenith, the population of Rome may have surpassed 1 million before losing most of its population over the next 5 centuries.


Boscoreale1A wall mural at the Ville Boscoreale, near Pompeii, artist unknown (30-40BCE)

Ville Boscoreale was uncovered from the ash deposits of Vesuvius around the year 1900. There are many paintings from this place now in the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art showing expansive scenes depicting imaginary other rooms complete with bowls on tables etc. In this wall mural depicting a cithara player and a girl standing behind her, you can see the attention to detail and color shown by the artist. Detail was important even back then, and it also is crucial in today’s landscape photography. Pay attention to the fine details, especially around the edges of the frame. Your viewers will appreciate the effort.


The Paintings of Ancient India (5500BCE – 500AD)

Painting evolved in India more than 7,000 years ago in the form of paintings on rocks and in caves. Unfortunately few if any of the oldest works remain visible today. However, approximately 2,000 years ago, Indian painting gradually became complex. Around the 1st century BCE, the Sadanga or Six Limbs of Indian Painting were evolved. They are a series of canons laying down the main principles of the art.

These ‘Six Limbs’ have been translated as follows:

Rupabheda: The knowledge of appearances.

Pramanam: Correct perception, measure and structure.

Bhava: Action of feelings on forms.

Lavanya Yojanam: Infusion of grace and artistic representation.

Sadrisyam: Similitude: (Similar reoccurrences)

Varnikabhanga: Artistic manner of using the brush and colors.


These ‘ Six Limbs ‘ were put into practice by Indian artists, and are the basic principles on which their art was founded. The large amount of information about each of these six limbs goes far beyond the scope of this book and is well thought out. It’s also similar to some of the basic principles of landscape photography because it deals with composition, framing, story, color, artistry, etc. look up these words, and “Indian painting” and explore them fully. Learn from the ancient tried and true methods.


Meister_des_Mahâjanaka_JâtakaA mural painting depicting a scene from Mahajanaka Jataka, Cave 1, Ajanta Artist unknown (7th century AD)

This mural is complex. It’s similar to some of the best Renaissance paintings which show dozens of people engaged in dramatic scenes from the Bible or a Greek myth. There are only the most basic signs of a setting, but the attention to quality and story telling is something landscape photographers can try their best to achieve.


Learning Landscape Photography

from the Masters of Painting

A great landscape painter creates images which connect directly with the heart and soul. He or she doesn’t need to wait for perfect light or luck, they make it happen on the canvas. A photographer must wait for the right moment to happen. The masterpieces contained in this book represent the ideal vision of the landscape over the centuries. Their perfection is probably impossible to attain with a camera in the real world, but the lessons you’ll read below will help you to come close!

This book is an overview of the history of landscape painting and what the old masters can teach the modern landscape photographer. It can benefit any photographer at any level who wishes to photograph the landscape. It’s intended to be an introduction to some of the best art ever produced on paper, canvas, walls, ceilings, or any nearly two-dimensional surface. Learning photography from paintings is more direct than learning from photographs. This is because the masterpieces included in this book are the result of pure vision and all skill. Photographs are the result of luck mixed with skill. So it’s possible to develop your vision more directly via these paintings than via photographs.

This book is written from the perspective of the modern landscape photographer. It begins with an overview of older forms of art and what a landscape photographer can learn from them. Then, the focus turns to the last 500 years of landscape related painting and how each artist presented the landscape. Often, it’s possible to learn about landscape photography from paintings which don’t depict the landscape, therefore some non-landscape paintings are included.

Many of the best-loved works of landscape art of all time have been included in this book. It’s organized chronologically by the birth of the artist. Also included are short background historical perspectives on each artist and each individual work. However, this book isn’t intended to be a history of art. It’s a collection of works which can teach us important lessons about how we as landscape photographers can see the landscape. Then we can capture the landscape in our cameras and produce our own works of art.

As you view these paintings, commit to memory the feelings and impressions you have. Then, carry these paintings in your mind everywhere you go. These memories will help you to find the best light and composition possible in any given situation.

The opinions and critiques presented here about each painting come from the perspective of a landscape photographer as opposed to the traditional perspective of an art critic. When you’re able to see a painting through the eyes and and heart of a master painter, you’ll be able to see the world in a more self-aware way. Then, your photographs will reflect your new world view.

Explore the possibilities of what these masters can teach you by researching these artists in wikipedia and other high quality sources of information. Buy large format printed books of their works if you can. Below each painting is a description of the work and lessons which can be learned and put to good use when photographing the landscape in the contemporary world. As you look at each painting and read about them, make notes about your impressions. Come up with unique ideas you can try on your own. This is how you can develop your own vision, or add to it!


All photos of the paintings in this book are in the public domain. They originated on the wikimedia websites. Specific dates and the titles of the works of art presented here also originated at wikimedia. There are minor date discrepancies between websites and fine art books, so some of the dates below may not be exactly correct.

No blocks of text have been cut and pasted into this book from any source! This book is the author’s own interpretation of the lives and works of these artists, and how their work can influence and assist you to create your own artistic landscape photographs.

How to Learn Landscape Photography from the Masters of Painting

First, develop your vision via study and practice

A strong individual viewpoint and vision are key properties which will enable you to create your own unique art. Vision goes far beyond the mere seeing of a thing. It extends to becoming conscious about how you feel about your subject and how you wish to translate those feelings to others. The best way to develop your vision is to see and learn as much as you can. This should be augmented by lots of practice in the field. You have to learn and practice at the same time for your vision to take hold in your mind. Sometimes you do this in isolation and sometimes in large groups. It takes a lot of time and energy to develop your vision, so don’t worry about an immediate and significant goal. A popular estimate is it takes about 10,000 hours of learning and practice to become a master at anything. Even Mozart worked hard for 10,000 hours before producing his first highly regarded work at the age of 21. So enjoy the lengthy process and keep your mind open to all possibilities.

There are millions or perhaps billions of possible visions which can be developed within the genre of landscape photography. This is especially true in the realm of the grand landscape, which is an extra-wide view including much of the sky and the immediate foreground. Just look at the work of a large group of landscape photographers or painters and you will see that no two individuals are alike. Even if there were a billion photographers whose portfolios you could review all at once, each would still be unique. So the important thing isn’t to worry about having a ‘vision’, because your vision will evolve naturally over time. The more you know about the outside world and your inner self, the stronger your vision will become.

Do what the masters did using your own vision

The great masters of landscape art created paintings and drawings which could transport the viewer to the world contained within. They encouraged the imagination and emotion of the viewer by guiding the eye from one place to another to tell a story. A true masterpiece can leave the viewer nearly speechless. Although most photographs don’t need to attain that level of mastery, you can reach into the minds and hearts of your viewers by learning from the examples of the masters.

In modern times, people are more readily transported to other worlds via movies, music or photography instead of painting. However, the great master painters have laid a solid groundwork for us to stand upon. Painters created the landscape from their own imaginations, and landscape photographers have a lot to learn from them. The visions of the landscape you’ll see below have stood the test of time, and are excellent examples of how to photograph the landscape today.

After you view nearly 200 of the best-loved classic landscape paintings of all time, some common themes and elements emerge. Many of these themes are taught today in photography books and workshops aimed at all levels of expertise. This element of timelessness is no coincidence, because these artists were students of the human mind and soul. Those elements have changed little over the centuries.

These themes and elements apply to photography just as well as oil painting.

1. Light and emotion are important elements in the creation of a great landscape painting or photograph.

2. Tell a good story, even if it’s just about the thrill of witnessing a spectacular moment.

3. Record what you see (or feel) as accurately as is possible.

4. Design and create scenes which allow the eye and imagination to wander.

5. Compose images and use atmosphere to create a sense of three-dimensional depth.

6. Study the Masters who came before you, and then create your own vision. Even Leonardo Da Vinci studied the masters before him.

7. Be a master at your craft and with your equipment, just as the masters did with their paint and brushes.

Keep it simple by training yourself to look at the world around you through the mind and heart of an artist. You can read endless numbers of tips and tricks about photography and go nowhere. However, if you can see and feel as an artist, the rest will follow!