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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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!
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.