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Learning From the Masters – Caspar David Friedrich

I’m back home again after another great workshop in Utah, and was once again privileged to have a wonderful group of students to share both photography and the amazing landscape of the region. I’m working on a workshop report post together with images, but until then wanted to share another creative inspiration.

It’s no secret I think the study of painting is one of the best ways to become a better landscape photographer, and German painter Caspar David Friedrich  continues to influence me greatly as I seek to create and help others make meaningful images. He painted during the 19th century and was most known for his musical, allegorical landscapes that often included human figures in a diminished scale. And most importantly, his ability to portray the landscape in a subjective and evocative fashion was new and unprecedented at the time. Another defining aspect of Friedrich was that most of his work drew from a very narrow geographic location, Dresden Germany, where he lived most of his life. While many of us seek new locations for inspiration, he showed us that interpretation and re-interpretation of familiar landscapes can lead to greater depth, originality, and meaning.

“The most important contribution Friedrich made was to make visible for the first time was what you might call the ‘inner eye.’ In other words that he made us aware that what we see has as much to do with what is inside us as what is outside us. And it’s interesting that he should do this with landscape painting. We think of landscape as being something that is definitely outside us—it is the world, it is nature beyond us. And yet, of course the way we respond to landscape is absolutely connected with our own feelings and thoughts—things that are inside us.” – William Vaughan

When I look at Friedrich’s paintings, I see someone deeply connected by what he saw and felt, physically and emotionally, to degree that made him finely attuned to how his chosen medium could be used effectively. This implies both a mastery of his subject and his medium, a rare but powerful combination that we see in great artists across many disciplines. Two hundred years later, the importance of this combination has only grown.  Our modern medium of digital photography seems easier to master, but as anyone who has tried to convey deep emotion in a photograph knows, technology still falls far short of actually capturing what we feel.

During our workshop in Utah, a student asked how it was possible to actually capture what he saw and felt, and ultimately we can only approximate that via expressive art. But Friedrich came as close as anyone has, in any medium, to convey those subconscious emotions we all feel when we know we’re witnessing something that transcends language, and can only be felt and understood with the heart.

“The artist should paint not only what he sees before him, but also what he sees within him. If, however, he sees nothing within him, then he should also refrain from painting that which he sees before him.

Close your bodily eye so that you may see your picture first with the spiritual eye. Then bring to the light of day that which you have seen in the darkness so that it may react upon others from the outside inwards.” –  Caspar David Friedrich

There is lots to take away from  Caspar David Friedrich and his sublime paintings. Mastery of light, effective composition, and his utter commitment to expressing something heartfelt and personal about his view of the natural world. These are all important ideas we can learn and use in our paths as creative photographers.

Watch this great Youtube series on Friedrich and his work.

Learning From the Masters – Andre Kertesz

“Learning from the Masters” is a regular series where I share useful lessons and wisdom we can learn from others, regardless of their medium. The important thing for me is how we can apply these lessons to photography, and to our lives as creative individuals.

“If you want to write you should learn the alphabet. You write and write and in the end you hava a beautiful, perfect alphabet. But it isn’t the alphabed that is important. The important thing is what you are writing, what you are expressing. The same thing goes for photography. Photographs can be technically perfect and even beautiful, but they have no expression.” – Andre Kertesz

Andre Kertesz was one of the great photographers of the 20th century. He is best known for his poetic vision, unorthodox approach to compositoon and the photoessay. Watch a great BBC video on Kertesz below. Never mind whether the subjects he photographed are your cup of tea, his approach and wisdom on the art of photography is worth contemplating for a long time.

Others on Kertesz

“We all owe something to Kertesz.” – Bresson

“Andre Kertesz has two qualities which are essential for a great photographer. An insatiable curiosity about life, and a precise sense of form.” – Brassai

Landscape Photographers To Check Out And A Book Recommendation

I was recently asked to name some of the best landscape photographers working today, and as you can imagine it’s a difficult question. Luckily it was limited to “living” otherwise it would be almost impossible. I dislike “greatest” lists in general when it comes to artists because it often ignores nuance and originality that often get trumped by popularity.

So rather than do down that rabbit hole, I thought I would share a handful that I think are very much worth checking out for reasons having to do with overall body of work, influence, and longevity. They’ve all been inspirational for me, I think you’ll enjoy their work for sure.

**Bonus: Although not considered a “landscape photographer” in the traditional sense, Michael Kenna is an amazing photographer, and has been very influential for me over the years.

Book Recommendation – Capture the Magic

Need further inspiration? Jack Dykinga has recently released a new book titled “Capturing the Magic – Train Your Eye, Improve Your Photographic Composition” which I picked up immediately and thoroughly enjoyed. Jack is a Pulitzer Prize (1971 Feature Photography) winning photographer that blends large format landscape art photography with documentary photojournalism. He is a regular contributor to Arizona Highways and National Geographic Magazines.

The book combines really great images with his perspective and approach to capturing nature and his passion for the subjects he shoots. And best of all , it’s a joy to read with clear, non-technical talk about what makes images work. What I enjoyed most was his emphasis on visual design and the fundamental principles of composition – light, color, form, and of course the ever important emotional component of the photographer. While these are often passed by in exchange for the latest fads and trends, Jack shows how they can always produce original and inspiring work in the hands of a master. Highly recommended.



“I suffer from a love affair with this planet. My camera is my ticket to a front row seat for the spectacle of nature. It has taught me to see with greater intensity, understand more deeply, and appreciate more fully the blue planet we call home.” – Excerpt From: Jack Dykinga. “Capture the Magic.” iBooks.

Get a copy here

Learning From the Masters – Sebastiao Salgado

“Learning from the Masters” is a weekly series where share useful lessons we can learn from others, regardless of their medium. The important thing for me is how we can apply these lessons to photography, and to our lives as creative individuals.

Sebastiao Salgado is one of the greats – regardless of what type of photography you like. Known for embarking on long term self-assigned projects, his documentary and photojournalistic work about the working class is what has defined most of his career.

In his most recent project Genesis, he has turned his incredible eye towards nature, which was conceived as a potential path to humanity’s rediscovery of itself in nature. He spend 8 years working on it, including 2 years doing research. This recent presentation at TED captures much of what makes him a true master of photography and story telling. I love his passion and single minded dedication to his subject and his message.

“I did not make pictures just because I was an activist or because it was necessary to denounce something, I made pictures because it was my life, in the sense that it was how I expressed what was in my mind — my ideology, my ethics — through the language of photography. For me, it is much more than activism. It’s my way of life, photography.”

Watch the video

Learning From the Masters – Top Photographers Talk About Success

“Learning from the Masters” is a weekly series where share useful lessons we can learn from others, regardless of their medium. The important thing for me is how we can apply these lessons to photography, and to our lives as creative individuals.


How do you achieve success in the photography industry, or any challenging endeavor in life? This group of current photographers offer some great insights and hrad learned lessons that we can all benefit from. Enjoy.