Photography as Art

In the midst of our recent move we decided to take a break and visit the National Gallery in Washington, DC, something we do a couple of times each year. My initial purpose in going was to see the marvelous Vincent Van Gogh painting, “Green Wheat Fields, Auvers” that is being exhibited in public for the first time since 1966.

But the visit turned out to be far more than that, as I happened upon a painting that I had obviously seen before but never really noticed. As it turns out, our granddaughter, Ananda, at age 16 already an accomplished artist, stopped to admire in detail the painting titled “The Bedroom” by Dutch artist Pieter De Hooch.

I have to admit to being stunned by the painting, ostensibly a simple scene of a child presumably returning home and into her bedroom. It was not just the gestalt of the painting that hilt me so hard. It is the myriad lessons it contains for photographers.

It’s All About the Light

Never mind the joyous expression on the face of the child, a moment in time that we can only hope to catch with our cameras. For me this painting is all about light and shadow. I grabbed somme images of it on my iPhone and pasted them on my desktop as a continuous reminder of how those two elements can make or break an image.

In this close-up, notice the light and shadow on the girl’s face. Look at the light spilling along the floor of the foyer and onto the bedroom tiles. Note the brilliance of the tablecloth and the rim-lighting on the vase. Can it get any better than that?

With the incredible tools that we photographers now have at our disposal, from dynamic sensors to HDR techniques, we can get ever closer to capturing the scenes portrayed in these masterpieces, although our medium is different and I won’t even attempt to compare our art to that of fine artists.

Yet, there is even more that I managed to take away from this painting. There are times when we simply cannot capture the play of light as in this De Hooch masterpiece. But, what we record on the sensor is not the end of the story for us. Ansel Adams certainly taught us that. Today we have a ton of post-processing tools available to us. And even then the fat lady hasn’t finished singing.

Printing on fine art papers now give us even more creative ways to manipulate light and shadow. These lessons come at a perfect time for me, as we head into 2014 and I polish my photography goals for the year ahead.

Two things that I will definitely strive to do in 2014; one is to work my images even harder to accomplish the play of light and shadow that turns a photograph into art. The second is to visit more art museums.

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