PHOTO TIP - Can studying old paintings improve your photography?

I love when the same idea or piece of information comes at me from multiple places.  I don’t know what this phenomenon is called - ("multiple discovery" was all I could find on wikipedia) but I have noticed it many times. Studying the works of master painters for clues on how to improve your photography is certainly not an new idea.  But the concept has recently hit my radar enough times from various sources that I'm compelled to investigate it further.

I’ve started with the work of Canadian landscape painter and member of the Group of Seven, Lawren Harris.  Why Harris?  Two simple reasons; he painted Canadian landscapes and I like his paintings.  

I love to travel and shoot exotic locations but I live in Canada so 90% of the time that’s the landscape I photograph.  It made sense to me to start close to home.  Joe McNally confirmed this wisdom in a recent interview on The Grid saying “You don’t have to go to Afghanistan or Tibet or Siberia to get good pictures.  Identify things that are accessible to you, that are near to you, that you love or that are you are interested or curious about and then start to make that happen.  Even on a simple level.”  (@ 30:10)  Lawren Harris and in deed all the members of the Group of Seven were dedicated to showcasing Canada and their art conveys so appealingly the beauty of the wilderness that is in my backyard.

But more importantly, I like his work.  It wows me. Stops me in my tracks.  And this is the quality I want my images to have.  

So the investigation begins... what is it about his paintings.   My favourites depict winter scenes.  They are minimalistic in detail and have a restricted colour palate.  They have dramatic skies and light.  There are strong contrasts -  the land is silhouetted while the light is almost white.  The shapes are graphic but the lines of the natural elements are smooth and rounded.

When I headed down to the frozen shores of Lake Ontario the other day it was these components that I love about  Lawren Harris’ landscapes that I held in my mind’s eye.  
And while I don’t believe for a moment that the images I came away with hold a torch to Harris’ masterpieces… mine are at least informed by his work. Certainly they share some similarities - the natural colour palate of winter in canada - blue, white and black/grey. Dramatic light and high contrast. Obviously the subject of the lake, ice, snow and rock.   Finally, the composition - a bit of shore line in the foreground to ground it.  Our mediums may be different but our goal is the same -  to stun our audience with the beauty that can still be found even in the cold Canadian winter climate.  

Do you have a favourite artist or piece of artwork?  Have you ever explored what it is you like about that piece?  Perhaps there is a clue in it that which could help your own photography.  

Have a lovely weekend my friends.

 

Morning, Lake Superior, by Lawren Stewart Harris (1885-1970) around 1921.
Lawren Stewart Harris
The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Purchase, William Gilman Cheney Bequest
c. 1921
oil on canvas
86.3 x 101.6 cm
© The Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

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