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5 Things Photographers Can Learn From the Old Masters of Painting

5 Things Photographers Can Learn From the Old Masters of Painting

Artwork has arguably been round virtually so long as people have. The second we discovered to mark one thing for others to see and interpret, the second artwork was born. Fortunately for us photographers, we needn’t go fairly that far again to start studying from the historical past of artwork. In truth, we solely have to go so far as the “Previous Masters.”

Previous Grasp Who?

To these not sure as to who the ‘Previous Masters’ have been: they’re the painters that labored in Europe previous to the 1800s. Extra particularly, it refers back to the ones who have been working on the prime of their recreation, and lots of of their items will nonetheless be displayed in galleries around the globe to this very day.

At a time earlier than social media and advertising, these artists needed to closely depend on easy uncooked expertise and talent to succeed. Actually, one might argue that it was solely really nice artists that did succeed again then — you couldn’t merely purchase your solution to reputation, nor might you rent any person to “end” or “retouch” your work.

There have been no shortcuts to success again then. You truly needed to put time and dedication in to succeed.

What Might We Probably Study from Previous Work?

The rationale I point out this barely cheeky jibe on the present state of artwork and images is that I’m wondering how many people may have our work seen in 100 years? Not many, I’m guessing. So with this in thoughts, any paintings we maintain in excessive regard now from 100 or perhaps even 4 hundred years in the past deserves some critical consideration.

You don’t get your work displayed and admired for hundreds of years until you critically knew what you have been doing, and I really feel we will study lots from taking a look at their work.

On this article, I goal to take a look at the work of some Previous Masters and see what made a few of their work so profitable on the time. What did they do this caught the eye of the viewer? What tips did they use to steer the viewer’s eye? How did they inform a narrative in a single body?

#1. HDR

Now earlier than you all depart in disgust on the very point out of HDR, let me clarify. For these unaware, HDR stands for Excessive Dynamic Vary, which in actuality interprets to little or no pure black shadows and little or no pure white highlights in your shot. In impact, you employ instruments like a number of exposures or a number of lights to make sure that each a part of your picture is evenly lit.

Executed poorly, your picture will look flat and visually very complicated. This system was painfully overused within the mid-2000s and now has a reasonably dangerous status each time the time period is muttered in darkish corners of digital camera golf equipment throughout the globe.

So how on earth have been the Previous Masters utilizing HDR again once they have been arguing over whether or not squirrel or badger eyelashes made for higher paintbrushes? Properly, painters have a singular trump card and that’s their capability to color any space of their canvas no matter brightness they need.

Leonardo Di Vinci was a grasp at deciphering mild and he would typically use his ‘inventive license’ to convey the unattainable in his outside portraits. Check out ‘The Virgin and Baby with Saint Anne’ under.

The Virgin and Baby with St Anne by Leonardo da Vinci 1508

As these of us who’ve ever shot portraits outdoors will know, getting properly uncovered directional mild in your topics, in addition to a appropriately uncovered background, is hard.

Within the left picture is Leonardo da Vinci’s unique portray and on the correct is an interpretation of what this scene might have seemed like had it been taken with a digital camera.

Painters have been masters at someway by no means overexposing their backgrounds and naturally that’s as a result of they didn’t have to fret about one single publicity, they might use no matter brightness they needed of their backgrounds.

We as photographers have to bear the identical issues in thoughts as a result of having element within the background of an outside portrait is almost all the time preferable to blown out highlights identical to we will see within the right-hand picture above.

One solution to get even publicity all through your shot is to make use of HDR. With HDR, you’re taking a number of photographs at various exposures after which merge them later in publish. That is high-quality for landscapes, however for portraits, the topic will probably transfer between photographs and the a number of exposures will not often line up. The choice to that is to easily expose the shot for the background after which add further lighting on the topic within the foreground to even out the publicity of the shot.

Within the pictures under (thanks to my ever-patient spouse that allowed me to take these check photographs to point out you), you’ll see the truth of capturing outside.

Within the prime left picture, we’ve got our topic appropriately uncovered however the background could be very overexposed. Within the prime proper, we now have the background appropriately uncovered to point out colour and element however now our topic could be very darkish and underexposed. Lastly, on the underside, I added some further lighting in order that we will now get an correct publicity on each the topic and the background, concurrently.

It’s in these situations that just a little technical information is required to make sure a dramatic shot in comparison with a really blown out background or a really darkish topic. This greater dynamic vary in imagery is a talent painters inherently took as a right on the time, nevertheless it’s a talent that we trendy photographers should completely perceive if we ever hope to create evenly uncovered portraits of individuals outdoor like they did tons of of years in the past.

#2. Utilizing Colour to Separate Foreground and Background

In recent times, the development of capturing every little thing wide-open at f/2.eight or wider has been rampant. Don’t get me fallacious, I do it too and I just like the look it provides, however why? For some, the very shallow depth of area is a method of separating themselves from the iPhone era. Earlier than Portrait Mode, the tiny smartphone lenses couldn’t precisely create any depth of area of their photographs, so the whole lot in a telephone shot appeared in sharp focus. Bigger lenses and sensor sizes permit for a shallower depth of area and as such, capturing every part wide-open separates your imagery from the straightforward ‘snapshot’.

Extra importantly than this although, shallow depth of subject is a good way to regulate and information the viewer’s journey round a shot. If you’d like the eye to be on the topic and never the background, you make the background blurry and the viewer has no selection however to focus on the topic.

On this picture of mine, I’m utilizing a large open aperture to separate my mannequin from the background with a shallow depth of subject.

Within the shot above, you’ll see that I’m utilizing a really shallow depth of subject to throw the background out of focus in order to pressure the viewer’s consideration onto the topic.

Sadly, the Previous Masters didn’t have this potential. In truth, it’s very uncommon to see a portray the place each facet of it isn’t in sharp focus, it’s actually solely when cameras got here alongside that this turned a extra artistic visible component in imagery. So as a result of painters had all the things in focus of their pictures, that they had to make use of alternative ways of guiding the viewer the place they needed them to look they usually did this with shade.

Check out the 2 photographs under to see what I imply.

Lot and His Daughters by Orazio Gentileschi 1622Joseph and Potiphar’s Spouse by Guido Reni 1630

Within the prime picture, we see Orazio Gentileschi utilizing very daring and brilliant colours on his topics but behind them we see nothing however drab, gray rocks and dust. It might sound apparent, however this can be a very highly effective method of making a transparent separation from foreground to background and guiding your viewers gaze.

Within the picture under it, we see the other occurring. On this portray we see that Guido Reni has truly used a really daring shade behind our pale topic who can also be wrapped in muted and uninteresting colours. Once more, this attracts the viewers consideration the place he needs them to look.

Apparently, on this portray we additionally see the other occurring with the opposite topic within the body. They’re wearing orange and the background behind them is darkish and gray. It’s cleverly not fairly as apparent because the mischievous Potiphar’s spouse and that’s as a result of she continues to be the primary focus on this body, not the recoiling Joseph.

This portray is definitely the most effective examples of using shade to separate and information its viewer, and this doesn’t even start to take a look at how sure colours are getting used to inform a narrative right here both. A very exceptional research of shade, for my part.

So how can we apply this data to our images now? Fortunately, it’s far simpler to make use of colour to separate topics from the background than you may assume, and on no account does it imply you shouldn’t additionally use the shallow depth of subject in addition to this shade separation. The truth is, they typically go hand in hand, particularly with busier backgrounds. You’ll typically discover impartial backgrounds and colourful topics in business trend photographs in addition to e-commerce, they usually merely use white backgrounds to make sure most consideration on the clothes.

Within the photographs under from Rankin and Mario Testino we will see this use of white and muted backgrounds to maximise the influence on the themes.

On the left is a magnificence picture by Rankin – Right here Rankin is utilizing a really clear separation of topic to background, a lot so the truth is that the background appears to vanish solely. On the correct we’ve got a style shot by Mario Testino and once more, it’s very clear to see the impression color has when separated towards a muted backdrop.

Conversely, we will use colourful backgrounds to spotlight and isolate the topic and it’s this system you’ll typically see showing in my very own work. Within the two pictures under, you’ll see me clearly utilizing colour to separate the foreground and background. On the left, a transparent daring colour is seen behind the mannequin in stark distinction to her white gown and on the suitable I’ve coloured a location in a daring blue to closely distinction the pink of the styling within the foreground.

Jake Hicks utilizing colored backgrounds to separate the themes.

You possibly can take this colour separation principle one step additional by sandwiching your topic between shade as properly. In my picture under, you’ll see that I’ve artificially coloured the background behind my topic, however I’ve additionally artificially coloured the quick foreground in comparable colours as properly. This system of sandwiching the topic between shade like this may be simply overdone, but when used along side a shallow depth of area, the viewer has no selection however to be engaged with the topic.

Jake Hicks utilizing each color within the background and within the foreground to separate the mannequin from the scene.

#three. Composites

You could be considering that ‘composites’ is a comparatively trendy time period, a phrase used to explain a puzzle of photographs rearranged to create a completely separate piece. Certainly this has solely been really potential with trendy digital software program? Nicely, because it seems, composites is merely a contemporary phrase however the act of bringing a number of parts collectively to type a singular piece has been round virtually so long as artwork itself.

In our trendy digital world, we frequently use composites as a approach of bringing a number of photographs collectively for various causes. Perhaps we’re making an attempt to create one thing that finally doesn’t exist in the actual world, or perhaps we’re merely making an attempt to deliver collectively various exposures of a single scene that may ordinarily be close to unimaginable to seize in a single body.

However regardless of the purpose for a composite, we’re often making an attempt to create an unimaginable shot, a shot that merely doesn’t exist in actuality. It ought to be no shock then, that artists have been doing this for hundreds of years and if it was ok for them, it’s ok for us.

One of many core causes for bringing a number of parts collectively in work was typically on account of bigger work that had many, many topics concerned. Artists not often received 10 essential individuals to face round and pose on the similar time in order that they have been typically painted individually till your complete portray was full, successfully creating an unimaginable shot. However a number of topics wasn’t the one cause for composite portray like this.

Under is a portrait of a person. The id of the person is definitely unclear and it might even be a self-portrait of the painter himself. This portray was made by Italian artist Paolo Veronese (Paolo Caliari) in 1576 and though it’s assumed that that is what the topic seemed like, the environment themselves are completely made-up.

‘Portrait of a Man’ by Paolo Veronese (Paolo Caliari) 1576

Again then it was quite common to fee a portrait of your self simply because it nonetheless is as we speak and again then, identical to as we speak, it was quite common to have sure points of your portrait ‘enhanced’. On this occasion it’s believed that this portray was made in southern Italy and in that space, there have been none of these timber we see current behind the topic.

Extra importantly, although, the gentleman is confidently leaning towards a plinth alongside huge, fluted greek columns. There have been no such columns anyplace close to this city in Italy, then or ever. This was a way typically utilized by artists because it gave them the power to say one thing concerning the topic. On this occasion, we see within the carved reliefs on these plinths beside him, scenes that give us hints to his career, background and even army rank. As I stated, this was a quite common follow, however this picture we see earlier than us by no means actually existed in actuality.

One other nice instance of composites from the Previous Masters was in nonetheless life portray. The portray of nonetheless life topics upon a desk was extremely common, nevertheless it wasn’t till Jan van Huysum got here alongside within the early 1700s and commenced creating unimaginable work that their reputation skyrocketed. Jan Van Huysum was nothing in need of a genius together with his brush and at his peak, he actually couldn’t paint quick sufficient to maintain up with the demand for his beautiful work.

However what actually stood Jan Van Huysum’s work aside, was his means to seize fruit and flowers in distinctive preparations. Up till that time, painters had painted what was within the fruit bowl or vase in entrance of them however in an period earlier than the fridge, you have been beholden to the seasons and what was in bloom on the time. Jan Van Huysum did away with that notion and introduced collectively one of the best fruits and flowers from all year long right into a single portray.

‘Fruit Piece’ by Jan van Huysum 1722

Jan Van Huysum picture ‘Fruit Piece’ from 1722 merely by no means existed and it’s a unprecedented assortment of fruit and flowers that by no means sat in the identical place directly. For those who ever get the prospect to see the work of Jan Van Huysum I urge to test it out as his talent is nearly unbelievable. The element on this piece is nothing in need of breathtaking up shut. In truth, his capacity and method have been so extremely coveted that he all the time labored alone and by no means allowed guests to his studio.

Closeups of the ‘Fruit Piece’

I’m positive you want little recommendation on the place to search for inspiration for modern-day composite photographers, and there are definitely many nice composite artists on the market to selected from proper now. However right here’s a number of to get you began: Renee Robyn, Dave Hill, Erik Johansson.

And keep in mind, if compositing was ok for the Previous Masters a whole lot of years in the past, it’s definitely ok for us at this time.

#four. Composition and Main Strains

Granted this one ought to come as no shock, however composition and lending strains have been an enormous a part of the artwork world for some time now. However though you see this as apparent, robust composition is so typically missed in trendy images in favor of merely recording what’s in entrance of you. I see too many present photographers get wrapped up in sharpness, megapixels and colour stability to make sure they completely recreate what’s in entrance of their digital camera as precisely as attainable. Sadly, none of this stuff will end in a ‘nice’ photograph, identical to the right body gained’t make an incredible portray.

As photographers, we must be excited about telling a visible story and to try this many nice artists will use composition and main strains to take our eyes on that visible journey round a body. Merely plonking your mannequin within the middle of the body isn’t going to chop it, and utilizing a colour checker, a $2,000 razor sharp lens, and a 100-megapixel digital camera won’t ever change that.

Let’s check out some Previous Masters work and see what they did with composition and main strains.

‘The Night time Watch’ by Rembrandt van Rijn in 1642

This portray of ‘The Night time Watch’ by Rembrandt van Rijn in 1642 is probably going some of the studied work of all time, as artwork college students throughout the globe talk about its artwork tropes and it might simply fill a whole article all by itself. But when we simply briefly take a look at composition and main strains alone, you’ll see how Rembrandt clearly makes use of form, type, and objects to create main strains that each one lead us to the middle topics. That is a type of parts in paintings which will appear apparent as soon as they’re proven to you, however to the unknowing viewer’s eye, that is an extremely highly effective visible software.

Within the portray under, we see a barely extra complicated use of main strains.

‘The Martyrdom of Saint Andrew’ by Charles Le Brun 1646

Within the portray above, ‘The Martyrdom of Saint Andrew’ by Charles Le Brun we will clearly see very robust main strains all through this shot and should you proceed to take a look at this picture, increasingly more repeating shapes and symmetry begins to seem. Look once more and see if the abundance of triangles begins to turn into extra obvious. These very robust strains and balanced symmetry is extremely arduous to do in such a sophisticated piece and the extra you take a look at this, the extra compositional parts that begin to emerge.

There’s in fact nothing mistaken with the fashionable pictures which are being produced right now, however chances are you’ll nicely wrestle to discover a trendy picture that comes near this degree of compositional complexity.

As I beforehand talked about, examples of hanging composition and main strains are more durable to seek out in the present day than you may assume. Don’t get me flawed: in fact it’s on the market, however I feel it performs much less of an element in current imagery than it has accomplished traditionally.

One of the well-known photographers for composition and main strains is Henri Cartier-Bresson as his work within the 1930s is a part of virtually each self-respecting photograph coaching bible on the market.

Pictures by Henri Cartier-Bresson

As we transfer additional ahead in time, it turns into more durable to select hanging types of composition as so many different elements type part of our trendy images repertoire. An amazing place to start out although is the work of Mikael Jansson as his work will typically include many putting parts of composition.

Photographs by Mikael Jansson.

#5. Chiaroscuro

Lastly, we’ll check out one in every of my favorites: chiaroscuro. For these not sure of what that bizarre phrase means, chiaroscuro comes from the Renaissance interval of artwork and is a phrase used to explain mild and shadow. The Renaissance artists used dyed paper after which utilized white gouache to create their works which resulted in a closely contrasted picture.

This closely contrasted paintings was seen once more as woodcuts which resulted in solely two tones getting used; the ink on the woodcut and the floor it was to be printed onto. Chiaroscuro is simply a phrase few artists would use at present, however the extra trendy time period for this closely contrasted fashion of lighting, utilized in each cinema and nonetheless images is ‘low-key lighting’.

The important thing artists who later developed this chiaroscuro fashion was Leonardo da Vinci, Caravaggio, and Rembrandt they usually have been seen as the primary people who stepped away from this HDR ‘look’ of every little thing being appropriately uncovered in work, and explored a stronger, virtually single mild fashion of labor.

In fact, again then probably the most outstanding mild supply after the solar had gone down was candlelight, and it was this mild supply that was seemingly utilized in most of the chiaroscuro work.

‘Matchmaker’ by Gerard van Honthorst in 1625

Within the well-known ‘Matchmaker’ portray by Gerard van Honthorst in 1625 we clearly see the candle in shot and as with so many nice chiaroscuro work, the themes are positioned across the mild supply to create that beautiful mild to darkish to mild to darkish tone all through the body. It’s items of artwork like this and it’s unimaginable use of the low-key lighting that must be seen much more in modern-day black and white images, however sadly this talent is being ignored and sometimes ignored. In case you are even remotely concerned about black and white images, then please make investments a bit time in exploring these chiaroscuro work and their artists and assure you gained’t be disillusioned.

Chiaroscuro was additionally a way that began to get used a bit of extra stylistically in single individual portraits. Within the picture under ‘David with the Head of Goliath’ by Guido Cagnacci in 1645, we see a really intelligent use of chiaroscuro not solely on the topic however on the background as nicely.

‘David with the Head of Goliath’ by Guido Cagnacci in 1645

To me, this a staggeringly stylistic portrait on the time and the very intelligent use of sunshine to shadow makes the picture extremely three dimensional. The diagonal shadow line behind the topic cuts by means of simply as the sunshine hits the face of David after which falls off to shadow once more moments later earlier than once more returning to mild behind him. It’s this lovely play of sunshine that’s as elegant as it’s easy. As soon as once more, we not often see this high-level execution of lighting in our trendy picture making and I really feel it’s one thing many people, myself included, may benefit from understanding extra comprehensively.

So what can we study from chiaroscuro and start to implement right now? At first, we as soon as once more have to isolate our topics from our backgrounds and as artists that create two-dimensional photographs of three-dimensional objects, we have to introduce extra visible depth into our portraits.

I deliver this up as I all too typically see topics disappearing into the backgrounds behind them they usually find yourself getting visually misplaced within the body. Check out the 2 examples under to see the distinction in reference to ‘topic and background separation’.

One mild portrait away from background (left), and one mild portrait near background (proper).

Within the picture on the left, you’ll see the mannequin has no separation from the background and she or he seems to haven’t any form with out that further background mild behind her. Within the second picture, you’ll clearly see the very robust separation that’s now current that leads to extra form and type within the topic in addition to an added sense of depth to the shot.

Each of those photographs have been shot with a single mild, the one factor that modified was how shut the topic is to the backdrop behind her. As I moved her and the sunshine nearer to the background, the sunshine fell onto her in addition to the background and really shortly and simply we created the added depth to the shot with the addition of the sunshine behind.

Granted this can be a very simplistic instance of chiaroscuro being utilized in trendy images however the rules are the identical. Create a way of depth in your shot, not solely in your topic however with the background as nicely.

Closing Ideas

The underside line is, the works of the ‘Previous Masters’ are in galleries at this time and a few of these work have been painted tons of of years in the past, but we nonetheless take pleasure in and ponder them in the present day. In a world the place some photographs final mere seconds at most, it truly is value visiting what makes these artwork items so necessary to our visible tradition immediately.

Parts like a robust dynamic vary, utilizing shade as a option to show depth, together with unattainable parts, robust composition, and interesting mild and shadow have been widespread staples in so many items artwork earlier than. Now these extremely highly effective virtually very important parts of a picture, are far more durable to seek out.

I do know I for one might be making an attempt to incorporate many of those parts into my future work and I might encourage you to do the identical. In any case, if it was ok for the “Previous Masters,” it’s ok for us.


Concerning the writer: Jake Hicks is an editorial and style photographer based mostly in Studying, UK. He focuses on maintaining the talent within the digital camera and never simply on the display. For those who’d wish to study extra about his extremely well-liked gelled lighting and post-pro methods, go to this hyperlink for more information. You’ll find extra of his work and writing on his web site, Fb, 500px, Instagram, Twitter, and Flickr. This text was additionally revealed right here.

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