CreativeLive's The Art of Nature Photography with Art Wolfe by Todd Henson

The Art of Nature Photography with Art Wolfe. Image credit: CreativeLive

The Art of Nature Photography with Art Wolfe. Image credit: CreativeLive

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Art Wolfe is one of the photographers I most look up to. Not only is he an amazingly skilled photographer and artist, but he loves teaching and sharing his work and has a great personality and skill at conveying his passion. I have been fortunate to attend one of his seminars in the past, and highly recommend you try to attend one. But if you’re not able to, the next best thing are his presentations on CreativeLive. And as an added bonus, if you purchase the CreativeLive classes you can rematch the presentations anytime you want. I often go back to these videos when I’m looking for some inspiration.

Art’s CreativeLive class, The Art of Nature Photography, consists of 12 videos totaling almost 5 and a half hours of content. The first section is about 90 minutes and consists of 3 videos. It is a lecture Art calls An Integrated Life. He talks about his life and career and how he got to where he is now. He shares those things he finds inspirational and what has influenced his work over the years. He studied art in school, learning about the great painters throughout history, and this has greatly affected how he sees the world and creates his photographs and artwork.

He also talks about a fascinating project of his called The Human Canvas. In this project he hand paints and arranges nude figures into various poses on a hand painted background, then photographs the entire scene. It’s an interesting process and a beautiful result. This project came about as a natural progression throughout his career, from studying the great painters, to creating photographs of natural subjects, to looking for abstract and creative scenes, to now creating an entire scene where human figures blend into an abstract background forming shapes and patterns.

The next section is also about 90 minutes and consists of 3 videos. Art discusses topics centered on helping you improve your own work. He talks about the types of lenses he likes to use and why. Art quite often uses wide angle lenses, getting in really close to a subject to place it in the context of the wider landscape. He really likes his 70-200mm lens, a nice mid to telephoto range, to zoom into the more intimate details of a scene. This is a very versatile lens, also useful for some wildlife photography when you’re able to get in close or want to show the animal in its environment. And he will sometimes use other lenses and accessories when the situation warrants it.

Art discusses how to find your subject and how to work a scene. Sometimes it takes time and several photographs before you narrow in on the actual subject of the image. Keep working the scene, and be open to surprises, especially to anything that might evoke emotion in the viewer.

In the last video of this section, Art presents what he calls the Ten Deadly Sins of Composition, which is a playful way of sharing things that should often be avoided to help create stronger compositions. As with all photography rules, these are not hard and fast and can be intentionally ignored to great effect.

The next 90 minute section of The Art of Nature Photography is a critique session, where Art is presented with photographs submitted by an online audience for review. He discusses strengths of the photos and points out areas where the photographer could improve the image. In some cases he thinks the image is great as it is and presents what he thinks might be the next image to try, and other ways to look at the scene. These critiques are a great way to learn. We get to see how Art thinks, what he sees in a scene, how his eyes walk through it.

To end the class Art shares 3 episodes from his great television series, Travels to the Edge. I have the entire series (both seasons) on DVD, so these were not new to me. But if you have not seen any of the series then this class gives you 3 good episodes to see what it’s all about. In each episode Art travels to a different part of the world, learning about local cultures, customs, and wildlife, and photographing it all. It is part travelogue, part nature documentary, and part photography lesson. I love this series.

The 3 included episodes from Travels to the Edge are:

  • Japan (season 2 volume 1): Art travels to Honshu and Hokkaido islands where he sees amazing snowy scenery, with a mix of culture and nature. He visits several shrines and temples, photographing monks and festivals. He photographs some of the winter wildlife of this part of Japan, including whooper swans, red-crowned cranes, and macaques. And he photographs landscapes such as Mount Fuji at sunrise.

  • Bhutan (season 2 volume 4): Art learns about the country and buddhist culture of Bhutan and gets the opportunity to photograph architecture, people, festivals, wildlife and scenery. He visits monasteries and photographs monks in several settings. He travels to a location where he can photograph black-necked cranes. In another location he photographs a traditional archery competition, and also a dance festival with several performances.

  • South Georgia Island (season 1 volume 4): This is one of Art’s favorite locations. To get there he had to travel by boat over a wild stormy sea. Once there he was able to photograph landscapes of amazing scenery and wildlife. And South George Island is full of lots of wildlife, such as king penguins, elephant seals, nesting albatross, fur seals, and macaroni penguins. He was able to get so close to these animals he often used wide angle lenses to emphasize the animal in its environment.

Check out Art Wolfe if you’re not familiar with him. I own several of his books, the Travels to the Edge series on DVD, and several of his classes from CreativeLive (including this one). I think he has a lot to offer, especially related to seeing the artistry in nature and the world and capturing it in compelling and emotionally impactful photographs.

If you could use a little extra inspiration consider investing in Art Wolfe’s CreativeLive class, The Art of Nature Photography.

Singing Barn Swallow - The Story Behind the Image by Todd Henson

Singing Barn Swallow. Open wide!

When I photograph a bird for the first time I focus initially on just trying to get a good enough image to identify the bird. I have some interest in the nature and biology of wildlife, as well as in photographing it. Then I work on getting the best image I can at that time and in that setting, trying to get closer, picking a better background, moving around the bird until the angle of light is as pleasing as possible. After I’ve captured a nice image I start looking for interesting behavior. Every animal exhibits interesting behaviors. You just have to be patient and spend enough time with them. I guarantee, if you do this you will see some interesting behaviors.

The little barn swallow in these photos was a fantastic subject. Swallows are very interesting birds. They tend to move around a lot, and when flying perform some incredible acrobatics. I often try to photograph these birds in flight, but it’s very difficult. As you can see, I did not manage any flight shots at this setting.

Barn Swallow looking this way with head to the right. Notice the forked tail.

Barn swallows are also very beautiful birds. They have a metallic blue head, back, and wings that just shine in sunlight. And the front of their face and chest are a gorgeous rust orange tone that gets lighter further down the body. I love their forked tail, another distinct feature of barn swallows

Side view of Barn Swallow

I was lucky to have several convenient perches very close to the boardwalk I was on. And barn swallows in this area are not at all afraid of people, so I was fairly close to this one. It would sometimes take to the air, fly around a bit, then return to one of the perches. I spent almost 10 minutes photographing the bird at this specific perch, and another 30 minutes or more at another perch.

Barn Swallow looking up into the sky

You can see a range of behavior in these photos. In one the barn swallow looks straight up to the sky, mouth slightly open. I don’t recall what was in the sky that day. It might have been an osprey or a great blue heron, or perhaps another barn swallow. In other photos the swallow is just looking one way or another. In one it began flapping its wings, but unfortunately I wasn’t prepared for this and ended up cropping the ends of the wings. But I include the photo to show the different behaviors you can see.

Barn Swallow flapping its wings

My favorite behavior of the day was when the barn swallow faced me directly and began singing, almost as if it were serenading me. You can see right down its throat. And notice the nice little catch light in the left eye (the bird’s right eye). The sun was behind me, providing front light to the swallow, and allowing the eye to reflect the light of the sun. I often try to position myself similar to this to place a natural catch light in the eye. There’s something about catch lights that really bring a photo to life. Take a look at a few magazines some time, look for catch lights in the eyes of the people or animals in the photos. I bet you’ll see at least a few. Portrait photographers often try to include catch lights in the eyes of their subjects, sometimes placing flashes or strobes for exactly this purpose.

My favorite behavior: Singing Barn Swallow

I love these little birds for their bright colors, beautiful form, and graceful movements. And I love them for their bold and brave behavior, allowing me to get closer than with many other birds. I hope I’ve been able to pass on a little of my excitement for these wonderful birds.

For another example of interesting bird behavior see my post about a stretching female red-winged blackbird.

Review: The New Art of Photographing Nature by Art Wolfe and Martha Hill with Tim Grey by Todd Henson

Front and back cover of The New Art of Photographing Nature by Art Wolfe

Front and back cover of The New Art of Photographing Nature by Art Wolfe

This post contains affiliate links and I will be compensated if you make a purchase after clicking on my links. This is at no extra cost to you.

The New Art of Photographing Nature is a great addition to any nature photographer’s library. The subtitle of the book is An Updated Guide to Composing Stunning Images of Animals, Nature, and Landscapes. This is an updated and expanded version of the classic, The Art of Photographing Nature. The book contains photographs created by Art Wolfe and text written by Art Wolfe, Martha Hill, and Tim Grey.

All the strengths I mentioned in my review of The Art of Photographing Nature still apply to this edition. It is still a book about seeing, learning how to see, learning ways to interpret a scene and to capture that scene as a photograph. The book provides examples, using Art’s photos, of the various elements that lead to strong compositions and powerful, meaningful photographs.

Defining Your Perspective: Showing how different focal lengths can transform a scene.

Defining Your Perspective: Showing how different focal lengths can transform a scene.

As with the previous edition, the book is broken into topics, each of which uses several of Art’s photos to demonstrate the topic. Art talks about the photos from his perspective, in some cases explaining why he feels one image is stronger than another, in other cases just talking about the differences.

Martha Hill then talks about the images from a photo editors perspective. She worked as the picture editor of Audubon magazine for 14 years, and shares her experience on what is publishable and why. Art and Martha’s different perspectives can sometimes lead to different opinions about a photo, which can be very insightful.

The Elements of Design: Examples of moving the position of the horizon within the photo.

The Elements of Design: Examples of moving the position of the horizon within the photo.

With this edition we also have sections written by Tim Grey, covering various topics specific to digital photography. These short sections are spread throughout the book. They are useful for making the reader aware of important topics they can get more details on elsewhere.

The New Art of Photographing Nature consists of the same nine chapters as the previous edition, with an extra 10th chapter written by Tim Grey:

  1. Isolating the Subject

  2. Composing the Picture

  3. Defining Your Perspective

  4. The Power of Color

  5. The Elements of Design

  6. Reading the Light

  7. Creative Options

  8. In the Field with Art Wolfe

  9. An Editor’s View

  10. Tim’s Top Tips for Digital Photographers

Reading the Light: Examples of how the direction of light can affect the look of a photograph.

Reading the Light: Examples of how the direction of light can affect the look of a photograph.

Each of the chapters covers multiple sections related to the topic of the chapter. For example, in chapter 6, Reading the Light, the sections include:

  • Quality of Light: Time of Day

  • Understanding Color Temperature

  • Direct Sun vs. Overcast Light

  • Overcast Light

  • Direction of Light

  • Frontlighting

  • Sidelighting

  • Backlighting

  • Reflected Light

  • Spotlighting

  • Low-Contrast vs. High-Contrast Lighting

  • Finding the 18 Percent Gray

  • Expose to the Right

In the Field with Art Wolfe: Demonstrating how atmospheric conditions can create some amazing images.

In the Field with Art Wolfe: Demonstrating how atmospheric conditions can create some amazing images.

Each section usually has from one to several photographs to illustrate the topic, along with a writeup from both Art and Martha talking about the topic. The biggest strength of this book is not just the great examples, but the dual perspectives of both Art and Martha.

The only drawback to this edition versus the previous edition is the print quality of some of the older photographs. Some of them seem darker and less sharp than the previous edition. If you don’t have both versions you may never notice, but having both side by side it did stand out.

An Editor's View: Talking about how to tell a story visually.

An Editor's View: Talking about how to tell a story visually.

Overall, though, I’m very pleased with this book. And I strongly suspect I will go back to it repeatedly over time, as I did with the previous edition. I like to revisit these types of books, reading over sections again, refreshing my memory, relearning topics, and just appreciating the beautiful photography of Art Wolfe.


If you don’t already have a copy of the previous edition then I can strongly recommend The New Art of Photographing Nature. It is a fantastic book for learning some of the skills that can help improve your nature and wildlife photography.

If you do already have the previous edition it’s a more difficult decision. There is new content, but not a huge amount. Some of the example photographs have been changed, and the layout has been updated, so the book does feel fresh. If you read carefully you can find updates that may reflect changes in how Art approaches photography now compared to how he approached it back when the previous edition came out. But this may not be enough to warrant purchasing this new edition in addition to the previous one. I did purchase them both. But whether you should is a decision I’ll have to leave to you.

Check out my Resources page for additional books and classes I own or have read or watched.