Study Great Art, Then Imitate It

“Imitation Is The Sincerest Form Of Flattery.” ~ Charles Caleb Colton

If you are working on producing images for an advertising campaign, you know how important it is to have the right lighting. Often the difference between a so-so image and a dynamite image is the way you light the subject. Did you use a flash? A combination of flash and natural light? Just natural light? Hey sometimes the lighting outside is so awe inspiring you’d figure a chimp could take a photo that would turn out perfectly.

Like this one in the Keys after a rainstorm.

It’s important to make an effort to study the lighting on your location and make a mental note of the places and times that are best so you can follow through and use those locations for a shoot. Otherwise, you are just grabbing shots, which means you only get a few good ones by sheer luck…not a good career strategy.

So how do you recognize really great lighting?

You head for the nearest museum and search out the paintings by Impressionists and Old Masters. Study how they painted light into their masterpieces. If you don’t have a museum nearby, head to the library and lug home some art books or do a computer search. Ads in magazines are another good source. Tear out ads that convey mood through the lighting and figure out how the artist or photographer created the mood. Work it.

Once you train your eye, you’ll begin to notice both good and bad art. It’s everywhere. For example, here’s a large painting that captured my attention in a waiting room. BTW, disregard the two “cones” at the bottom of this painting. Those are the tops of lamps on tables under the art work.

I was immediately drawn to this work  because of the way the artist painted in the angle of the light. See the slanting rays of the sun and how they fall on the objects and people? Is it early morning, or late afternoon? I’ll never know, but I do know it’s soft. There’s an idyllic feel that is translated to the viewer through the painterly use of the light.

So now I know. I know that to achieve a photograph with soft lighting like this painting, I need to shoot early or late. I have something to imitate. The easiest way to figure out how you can become an artist with the light, is to get out there and shoot during all times of the day. Your images should function as report cards. Which means that before long you will have a solid stack of the good, the bad, and the ugly. Whatever you make, just keep working to figure out when the light is right for a chance at a spectacular shot.

Here’s my offering of two images taken at the same location at different times of the day. Which one is workin’ for you?

 Thought so!

Good shooting.

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