Since the publication of Landscape Painting, many photographers have commented on how helpful they found the guidelines on site selection and composition. A recent book review in Outdoor Photography put it this way: “Just as they [painters] have to struggle to discern light, form and composition, then photographers, too, have to work with the same basic ingredients in order to come up with a compelling image.” Read the complete review below.
I cover these “basic ingredients” in Chapters 6, Site Selection, and 7, Composition. In brief, they are: differentiation, the ability to differentiate colors, values, and shapes from another; spatial cues such as patterns of light and shadow (which suggest volume), scale, overlap and perspective; and composing through the picture window. Poor photographs — lacking these essential cues — always make for poor reference.
Painters need to be careful, though. Photographs can fool us. They present a type of realism which we readily accept as a close stand-in for reality. So it becomes easy to overlook things like flatness and ambiguity. A particular photograph might work really well on its own terms, but give the painter lots of trouble because of its lack of differentiation and spatial cues. In other words, you can get away with things in a photo that you can’t in a painting.
For example, the photograph at right offers some luscious colors, even the suggestion of a foreground, middle-ground and background. But it would serve as a poor reference for a painting. At midday, defining shadows are scarce and the scene lacks differentiation. We can accept this lack of differentiation in the photo because it looks so real, but the painter who tries to turn it into a painting will struggle with the lack of differentiation and spatial cues.
Landscape Painting reviewed in Outdoor Photography, October 2010 What? A landscape painting book in a photography magazine! There are probably few of us who regularly delve into painting literature in search of inspiration for our photography techniques, but the obvious parallels between the two disciplines means that photographers can learn a great deal from brush-wielding artists. Just as they have to struggle to discern light, form and composition, then photographers, too, have to work with the same basic ingredients in order to come up with a compelling image. In this beautifully designed, clearly-written book, Albala (who has been teaching landscape painting for over 20 years) takes us through the fundamentals of the painting process, from selecting a good site and perspective, and the secrets of good composition, to how to use light and colour. Of course, this is all done from the painter’s viewpoint but I would be surprised if there was any outdoor photographer out there who would not gain some fresh insight from glimpsing the world from behind an easel. – Steve Watkins, Editor
from Landscape Painting: Essential Concepts and Techniques for Plein Air and Studio Practice
Chapter 6 – Site Selection
Chapter 7 – Composition
Chapter 10, Working with Photographs
on this Blog
Evaluating Photo Reference for a Series