However, just because you ‘can’ transform a scene, does not mean every scene can become a great picture – it won’t. Creativity needs an idea first, then technical skill to realize that idea into print form – however, there is an essential third skill; aesthetic skill. Aesthetic skill is understanding, then incorporating aesthetic quality into your photography. Aesthetic skill is ‘artistic language’; proven guidelines evolved and refined over hundreds of years. Aesthetic skill turns ideas into beautifully crafted and refined artistic statements – a bridge between your abstract ideas and the cold mechanics of production; technical skills. Without aesthetic skill, there is no artistic direction; production is unguided, without purpose. The result crude and unsophisticated, having no artistic quality. A soulless photograph degraded to nothing more than a graphic rendition. Aesthetic skill links then guides every step from concept at the camera to final print production.
Here lies the biggest problem now with digital photography. Digital cameras make it effortless to get clinically perfect technical images, very sharp and well exposed, giving ‘ready-made’ pictures without needing to think. Digital imaging software made easy with sliders – all this removes the need to understand the aesthetic quality of image making, skill and craftsmanship. Digital photographs worldwide, now have a generic look; as if taken by one photographer. But, how can you make your work stand out. How can you make a good picture, if you don’t know – what makes a good picture! You need to transform your photograph with a set of proven guidelines that help that transformation. Guidelines that incorporate essential aesthetic values into your photography. This is where we can turn to history and the old master painters for guidance. Photography can be the modern evolution and expression of their aesthetic values.
Why the old master painters? Old master painters are history’s most qualified and best practitioners of aesthetic quality with a wealth of knowledge about how to portray concepts like beauty, harmony, light, mood, drama, atmosphere and spatial depth, because the process of painting forced them to be great observers of the world around them; they have to create their paintings from scratch, a blank canvas – as photographers, we don’t. Painters are forced to understand aesthetic quality because it dictates every brush stroke they make to create the illusion of light and form. Their paintings contain a wealth of knowledge and techniques, that we as photographers can learn. Rembrandt communicated light in his paintings – would this not provide invaluable knowledge for how we could portray light in our photographs? Why not learn from them and use those same skills and techniques in our Photoshop retouching as photographers?