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

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

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

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.

Washington, D.C. Cherry Blossoms - 2016 by Todd Henson

Cherry trees along the tidal basin in Washington, D.C.

The Washington, D.C. tidal basin and surrounding areas are home to thousands of cherry trees that bloom each spring. During this time D.C. hosts the Cherry Blossom Festival, Sakura Matsuri Japanese Street Festival, Blossom Kite Festival, and many other events with ties to Japanese culture. This time also draws large crowds of people to the tidal basin to see the cherry blossoms in bloom. It really is a beautiful sight and well worth the trip. For smaller crowds I prefer to visit on a week day, but sometimes the timing doesn’t work out and it has to be on a weekend. This year my brother and I visited on a Saturday very close to peak bloom, and as expected there were large crowds all around the tidal basin.

Swan boat in the tidal basin, Washington, D.C., cherry blossoms in the background

From a photographic perspective, I find myself most inspired when alone or in smaller groups. I have a more difficult time making images around large crowds of people, so this trip was a challenge for me. One thing I often don’t do much of, but would like to try more in the future, is incorporating the crowds of people into more photos. I most often look for quieter scenes, waiting for a clearing in the people, but sometimes the people can really add to the shot.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial from a distance, surrounded by cherry blossoms.

Kayaker, and photographer, in Potomac River just outside tidal basin, cherry tree in the background.

One of the newer additions to the tidal basin is the Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial. In previous years I had tried to capture the main portion of the memorial by itself, but this year I tried to incorporate other elements, such as the cherry blossoms. While walking around the memorial I noticed you can line it up with the Washington Monument, which was nice. I would like to try this again with different weather. The day we were there the sun was very bright and the sky cloudless. This creates very high contrast scenes, which can sometimes be nice, but I’d also like to try making some images in softer light.

Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial surrounded by cherry blossoms.

Black and white photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial and Washington Monument.

Further along the tidal basin is the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial, which is full of statues, murals, waterfalls, and carvings. There’s a lot to see in this memorial. It’s well laid out, with various sections separated by walls with walkways between them. It can feel like walking through a museum of memorials.

Black and white photo of statue in Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.

Black and white photo of statue of Eleanor Roosevelt in Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.

Black and white photo of statue of Franklin Delano Roosevelt and his dog in Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.

It’s not uncommon to stumble across photo shoots of various sorts, from portraits to weddings, and sometimes people dressed in more traditional Japanese fashion. Some of the photo shoots can be bigger productions with multiple people, light stands and reflectors, whereas others are just a single photographer and a single model.

Woman posing for a photo shoot at the Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial.

Woman posing for a photo beside the Japanese Pagoda.

People also love to pose in front of the various monuments, memorials and statues. It’s fun to stand back and watch as one person after another poses in the same spot.

Black and white photo of the Thomas Jefferson Memorial.

Another very popular spot along the tidal basin is the Thomas Jefferson Memorial. It’s a beautiful building that stands right along the tidal basin, with steps leading up to the memorial. People gather on the steps in large numbers. Sometimes tents are set up for events along the water, but not this day. I’ve always enjoyed making images of the statue of Jefferson in silhouette. Sometimes I can get just the statue, other times it’s full of people.

And, of course, there are the cherry blossoms, themselves. Japan gifted thousands of cherry trees to D.C. in 1912, which eventually led to the annual Cherry Blossom Festival and all the other fascinating events surrounding it. Over the years I’ve enjoyed traveling to D.C. to see the cherry trees. Some years we’re early and see mostly buds, other years we’re late and see mostly falling petals. This year we visited very close to peak bloom. I look forward to seeing what next year brings.

Cherry blossoms along the tidal basin in Washington, D.C.