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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 rewatch 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.