How many times do you walk away from a scene saying ‘I couldn’t see a good picture? The tourist location is generic by definition – everyone standing in the same spot will get the same photograph as you; but this does not mean it cannot become a unique artistic photograph. The key is ‘What you do to the photograph’. We tend to stop short – we expect the camera to do all the work; create the finished image. This is totally unrealistic. It is the ability to ‘create’ pictures not ‘take’ pictures that defines the creative photographer. Being creative is the artistic input that creates a personal photograph which stands out; essential today in a world awash with millions of generic images. The skill of a creative photographer is to gain inspiration from a scene that may at first glance, appear uninspiring, but see the creative potential of what it could become. The camera is the starting point; to capture the assets for Photoshop where we create the final image.
‘Seeing a good picture’ is not judging the scene in a literal way, but ‘seeing creatively’; imagining how you can transform the scene – before you take the photograph. I run landscape photography workshops, personal training in photography and Photoshop retouching that take you through the whole digital photography workflow from the camera to print, that teach you everything required to create the photographs shown on this website. All landscape photography workshops are available all-year round, booked-on-demand and one-to-one tuition. I teach you an artistic photographic workflow of ‘Capture then Create’, of ‘Compose the Subject, Shoot the Light, Print the Mood’ – a digital workflow that frees you from being a prisoner of the camera and frees you from the restriction of making literal and generic images that don’t stand out. How to communicate your ideas with high aesthetic quality and executed with technical perfection.
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?
Our subconscious is an enormous database of memories and personal experiences built over a lifetime. If we create a photograph that triggers a personal memory or experience, then we instantly create a connection with the image and form a bond; captivated as we study it. This connection creates the important emotional response. Photographs must first grab our attention, then captivate our attention and keep us prisoners. Photographs that captivate us, demand we psychologically walk into and around them providing us with a rewarding personal journey involving our imagination; by searching, exploring and discovering. They trigger our imagination. Photographs without an emotional response stop us entering; like hitting a glass door, we go no further. We leave, giving the image no more than a momentary glance. There is no reward, no reason to invest effort in looking further. Images that fail to create an emotional response, fail totally.
On a visual, craftsmanship level, the ability to captivate the viewer largely depends on our ability to create an optical illusion of a three-dimensional world; something we psychologically accept as an image of reality. Photographs with a three-dimensional quality draw us in to see beyond the literal, printed tones on paper. However, if the craftsmanship is poor, our brain rejects the illusion and we remain outsiders, disconnected. Create the illusion well and we enter a whole new psychological world. Optical illusion is purely the product of technique. Communicating light and spatial depth are the two greatest assets for creating that three-dimensional optical illusion. Light communicates the life and soul of the scene, the atmosphere, mood, drama and emotion. However, reliance on technical quality alone, is a common mistake. Technique is a means to an end; emotional response, not the technical quality alone, defines the good photograph.
Would you write a story without an idea first? – No, it would create a meaningless collection of words, nonsense to read. So, why take a Photograph without an idea! The result is a photograph – with nothing to say. Even worse still, the modern fashion in digital photography, shooting hundreds of frames from different angles, then choose the best frame after the shoot. All you end up with, is hundreds of frames – with nothing to say! Volume won’t make quality; you’re depending on luck. Thinking, planning and observing first, will produce quality. My landscape photography workshops, place enormous emphasis on transferring the questions you ask while editing your images after the shoot, to being THE questions to ask while at the camera; while you have time to make changes. I teach you how to invest your time wisely in shooting one extremely high-quality photograph with clarity and purpose, editing your ideas at the camera, not at home afterwards.
Why ‘Landscape Photography Workshops – Yet, I photograph architecture. Photographing architecture contains all the same elements and problems of the landscape, just compacted into a smaller area, making it easier to see, teach then learn how to create light, the three-dimensional optical illusion with spatial depth and form, as well as all the aesthetic techniques passed down from the old master painters. This approach to creativity requires a fundamental change in your whole approach to photography; from a fragmented ‘shoot, edit, polish’ approach to a far more holistic approach. After running workshops for a few years, I realized what clients were really wanting to learn was not the Photoshop skills, but learn aesthetic skills – aesthetic quality was what was missing in their work – they just couldn’t put their finger on it. Landscape photography workshops teach how to integrate ideas with technical perfection and aesthetic quality.
David Osborn | Professional Photographer, London, 2020