There are lots of wonderful landscape photographers that have inspired me throughout my career. Ansel Adams, Eliot Porter, Philip Hyde, David Muench, Galen Rowel – all iconic names that each and every aspiring nature photographer should become intimately familiar with. Their images continue to influence me to see and think about nature and the world around us. Whether through imitation or inspiration, studying their work is always time well spent.
But the study of other art forms, specifically painting, can also provide a much-needed change of perspective for many photographers. Painting provides a tremendous wealth of insight if you’re willing to take some time to look carefully.
Why Study Painting?
We can learn a great deal from painters and their incredible ability to create what we as landscape photographers strive to capture in nature. Although the subject matter may be similar, the way they create their work is fundamentally different. Painters start with a blank canvas and work towards complexity, whereas photographers work in reverse, eliminating and simplifying a scene to its essence.
These are two very different ways of arriving at a compelling picture, but both seek the same outcome; conveying an emotion to the viewer. They are also similar in that both require an understanding of the visual language to be effective. I can tell you that my photography has improved tremendously ever since I started to invest significant time in the study of my favorite landscape painters. Their use of light, shadow, contrast, and storytelling is a lifelong study that will always yield new ideas and insights.
I’ve chosen five paintings that I think are great examples of true masterpieces, and hopefully they inspire you to look at and appreciate this visual art form that is so similar to our pursuits as photographers. It’s no coincidence that most are from the Hudson River School of Painters, some of the finest landscape painters that have ever lived. What can I say, I’m biased since they worked in many of the locations I regularly visit to photograph.
Five Paintings To Study
Of course, this is not an absolute list, but merely my suggestions to get you started. Most importantly, visit museums, read art books in your local library, and take advantage of the internet to discover and learn about painters that inspire you. If you have an iPad, “Art Authority” is a must buy app, a true gold mine for learning about paintings throughout history. Also check out The Athenaeum, a free website that is cataloging the worlds paintings.
The best part is that regardless of whether you shoot landscapes, wildlife, portraits, or weddings, there is a wealth to learn from painters. Take advantage of it, and take time off from Flickr and other photo sharing sites – I promise it will be worth it.
I also lead a unique workshop in the Hudson Valley where we study the painters of the Hudson River School and use their approach to photograph and interpret the landscape in a contemporary way.
Any ideas or suggestions for paintings? Do you have any comments, questions, or feedback? Need more suggestions? Let me know…I’m always happy to help.