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!