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The Art of Nature Photography

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Introduction and Background

Art Wolfe

The Art of Nature Photography

Art Wolfe

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Lesson Info

1. Introduction and Background
Meet instructor Art Wolfe in the first lesson. Follow his story of how he started, from growing up in a family of photographers to studying as a painting major to climbing Mount Everest. Learn where Art finds inspiration in the natural world -- and how to find what inspires you.

Lesson Info

Introduction and Background

Here's, how it's gonna play out? I'm goingto talk for the first ninety minutes, a slight show called integrated life it's a little bit about my history and how I derive inspiration, and then I'm gonna walk you through my my life basically. And then the second ninety minute lectures, more tangible tidbits about how to improve one's work got it. So a couple months ago, I did a ted x talk and your tots for ted x is like fifteen minutes, and then they play off state, and so I thought, all right, what can I do to kind of tease the audience? And so I show this shot this is from a book called vanishing act and it's that that entire body of work was trying to hide the animal in plain sight, and you can see this little bird hit amongst the leaf litter up in the arctic and the very next slide show our slide was this shot of a model in a studio, and so is there any possible way of connecting the dots? And that was what my mission wass for this particular ted x talk, so I'm going to start I'm goin...

g to answer that during the course of this ninety minutes section, but I'm also going to show you where I came from. My father was from new jersey and during world war two he joined the navy and he was stationed in bremerton washington and worked off assad aircraft carrier during the south pacific and he became the photographer on that aircraft carrier so he was using old four by five crown graphics which were new at the time and then he met my mother who had immigrated to the states from vancouver, british columbia they married they had three kids my older sister my older brother and me that's my cousin johnny so think about this I grew up then in a family of photographers because after world war to my father taught my mother how to take pictures with the four by five they were wedding photographers and so as a little kid you kind of I grew up with cameras everywhere I could remember my mother hand tinting black and white photos with cotton swabs dipped in dies that was what a color photo was in the mid fifties so fast forward thirty years later forty years later I want to put together a slide show that shows a little context of where I came from I said to my living relatives give me all the photos that you took of me when I was growing up and they came up with this photo and the next photo I'm eighteen years old there are no photos so the analogy is that cobbler's children have no shoes and that's my photos I don't even remember supposing I must have been for maybe, but I knew what I was thinking. I look into the face of that little kid I I I know what I must have been thinking because of that expression says I want to get rid of this basket because that's not my style. I don't remember a time I wasn't fighting with my brother and sister, so sitting on a porch quietly and demurely wasn't my stop no, I will really wanted to be out in the woods. We were surrounded by woods and wooded ravines and west seattle in the fifties there were dogs and are there were cows and sheep and horses in our neighborhood. So that's what I remember playing in the woods by the time I was seven, I had a little bird book, mammal book, tree book I know virtually every fern in the forest, every bird in the forest, every mammal to this day I was a little naturalist without even knowing what a naturalist wass here's the second photo I'm eighteen years old now I'm walking across a log in a cascade river I had just got in a car and I went beyond the wooded ravines of seattle out into the foothills of the cascades and the olympics when I got that car, it was freedom for me and so back then when I was eighteen I was fishing a lot, but I love the forest. The other thing that I can remember is that over as I was growing up, my mother took a correspondence course in dry everything was through the mail rather than internet and so as she started doing lessons that came through the mail, I got a little watercolor set little set up brushes and I started painting as a little kid and I then became the school artist in grade school. I was designing all the posters for the events halloween and so forth, and by the time I was in junior high and I was around thirteen years old, I had two teachers that had immigrated from the midwest to the west coast and along with them came little black and white photos of the farmhouses they grew up. They gave me those little black and white photographs and I turned them into paintings of their houses and I framed a matter them sold them back to the teachers for thirty dollars a piece at thirteen years old and that was incredibly important. If you think about that that I was able to create a piece of artwork and sell it at thirteen years old that gave me the confidence that whatever I could create from my imagination or replicate I could make money from it and that's a huge part. I think my history so as I was progressing through my teens and early twenties, I stayed with it. I really thought, at that time I would be a watercolor painter. I would stretch campuses and go out to the coast or the nearby shores of puget sound very close to where I live today and paint three or four hours quick watercolor studies, photography still hadn't entered my mind. My parents were wedding photographers, but the way they would roll their eyes at the end of a wedding shooting four by five, I thought, no, I'm not going to do that. And then I started, uh, I enrolled at the university of washington, and I declared being a painting major, and that was like a revelation for me. Because after three years of electives, to call yourself a painting major was a major move. And once I enrolled in the university of washington, we studied everything from in our history, from cave art thirty thousand years ago, all the way up to modern abstract expressionism, and my work started getting more and more abstract. I was painting less from what was in front of me and mohr from what my imagine nation would do, and then I experimented with oils I could remember to this day that I was so impatient with oil paint that it took days to dry that my mom would come home from work and I had already put some of my open oil paintings in the oven and turned it on high tow accelerate the drying process and the third weeks to come the house smelled of turpentine and oil I never heard the end of that one at the same time I was in college I went beyond the wooded ravines of the cascades in the olympics and I started going up the slope to the very edge of the glaciers and at that point friend of mine's father worked at boeing we got enrolled in a climbing course offered by two boeing employees and though we never worked for boeing we got involved and I learned to climb properly to get up on the slopes tto learn to belay to use ice ax crampons get ourselves out of crevasses and by the end of that I started leading climbs up mount rainier so during the week I was studying about van gogh and matisse and on the weekends I was climbing and eventually my father gave me one of his old four by five crown graphics and I started photographing pictures from the top of the mountains so all of this my whole life is really a linear line people think all you've got so many different things going on and in fact it's just one it's a line from when I was young all the way to today it's two passions nature and art and I haven't wavered from that point so I learned about whether climbing mount rainier you start to look at lenticular clouds that build up over the mountains this is a shot from cadaver gap looking from twelve thousand feet down south towards mount adams I was at home in the wilderness and after college I started getting the work up on the walls of ari I many of you may know that or eddie bauer or any number of outdoor stores in the northwest but ari I was the really big store and I really started selling work initially photos a wood docks are those black and white photos from the top of the mountains and my sphere of friends extended into the climbing climbing community because a state with the boy ing camera club and the bowing climbing club and so I started booking him with their qur'an dimwit choir and famous climbers at the time into our clubs to give speeches now it's odd to say this but I grew up next to jim whitaker the first american to climb mount everest. I delivered paper as a boy next door to their house so everything's connected that six degrees is very much in evidence in this one and eventually, after several years of growing and becoming a photographer I was invited to participate on the first western expedition allowed into tibet by the chinese government because boeing was selling planes to the chinese in the early eighties. And we parlayed that into an invitation into tibet, which up into that point had been closed off to the west and up the northeast region mount everest. So I went there as expedition photographer to learn how to photograph at great altitude from sixteen thousand to twenty five thousand feet is the zone that I worked in so there's a whole different ballgame from photographing and the moist, wooded ravines of the northwest tio being in the death zone, as they say, and working in extreme cold. And so these were photos that I was learning as a photographer to shoot with foreground middle ground. I'll talk a little bit about that in the second lecture, but I had a great time. I had a great time, but it was three months living above sixteen thousand feet. I never was warm. Well, I lost forty five pounds, forty five pounds. Now I went over there a little chubby because everybody buys you your last dinner before you go by that that fat went away really, really quick, but I love the experience I learned about taking a long exposures, as you know, earth is rotating in space, the stars are moving across the sky, so eight hour exposure over mount everest. You know in high school I study a lot about history and I knew all about the chinese red guard and the fact that they occupied tibet and that in many cases the buddhist monasteries were destroyed and there was a monastery right in the very valley that was kind of a bombed out shelter. So amongst the whole process more so than ever dreaming about climbing mount everest I wanted to see what tibet was like I wanted to see what the tibetans were like so among the first portrait of the a mountain people I was shooting on everest and in many cases people have never been photographed before because they would just stare towards you they would have eye contact with you they didn't even know what a camera wass quite honestly so after the expedition many of us went home some of us lingered a little bit in china and in the years before everest as I was an art major and a painting major at the university of washington and by the way on this this little guy here some of us stopped at kuantan and in the years before I studied about the great chinese masters and japanese masters you just study everything along that continuum of art history and I look into these paintings of these chinese masters and I always thought oh my god they were so imagine imaginative because they were creating fanciful landscapes landscapes that surely did not exist in the real world, and then I went to launch on and I really didn't realize they were much more literal than I ever believed to be possible. In short, if you imagine this artist this person that was an art major living on an ice cube for three months above sixteen thousand feet, you're never warmest blue sky, grey rock and white snow and suddenly now I'm walking in a landscape of swirling mists and twisted, contorted pine trees. It was, in short, like walking in a giant watercolor landscape, so this first lecture this first part of this lecture is about history and inspiration and the inspiration part starts now because when I came home from everest in nineteen eighty six two years later, I bought an old house in west seattle and old house and nobody wanted to buy and the reason wass it was covered in english ivy head to toe you could not see the house, nobody basically wants to buy a house they cannot see, but I did because I saw the view from that house and I saw the wooded ravine to the north of it and I said, I'll pitch a tent in the grass, but I want that view and so I bought the house, and within months I hired them largest mobile crane the city had at the time a crane that could go two hundred feet up in the air crane that could lift twelve ton granite rocks covered in moss. In short, I was trying to replicate kuantan, the place that inspired me, and this is a thing that I've done my entire life. I draw from things that inspire me. I incorporated into the world into the world. I live into the work I do, but the world I live and so wan chon it was I was going to bring a little bit of that, and over the thirty years since the garden has become better and better and better. This sunday, I have well over fifteen hundred to two thousand people coming through on a garden tour, and I'll be there greeting people because when I'm not photographing, I'm working in the garden. The garden is therapy for me. It's got all the elements of what I really draw from in my nature photography, it's got water and motion and sound. The garden is filled with elements of designed that I will talk about later. I could, in short conducted today workshop in my garden alone, and we won't run out of ideas. So is it just simply because I like a pretty landscape, or am I doing something larger than that? And the answer is, and I only discovered this recently because you don't plan out your life to the degree that you know everything that's going to happen to you, but in retrospect, when I come into that garden I have created an environment that nourishes my soul if you think about this, I spend in the inordinate amount of time strapped to cult coach seat sometimes in the middle, sometimes surrounded by people bigger than me and it's not the best world simply because everything small and compressed and I will have crossed between north america and europe fourteen times this calendar year. So a lot of time on plane, so when I'm home I am home and I am surrounded by things that up with my spirit I have to be operating on a really high level of efficiency and productivity and spirit spirit more than anything so when I'm home everywhere I look it's reminds me of what I love and that's critical and that's what I expels when I teach this is but part of overall ah siri's of seven hours that I conduct around the country and I talk a cz much about life and passion as about conducting, you know, compositions or creating compositions so in that old house and nobody wanted, I pulled off the I v and I underthe house that was built in nineteen ten a tudor style house and then I started working on the garden, which was initially just a flat grass yard with rhoda den drums on the uh margins and I replaced it with japanese pine, red pine, japanese maples, waterfalls, mosses, ferns of the northwest all the firms that I could identify what I didn't expect and what I did not plan on is when I built that and I put in the water feature that re cycles in a very efficient way it brought all my neighbors out of the forest I put in expensive coy and the raccoons ate the coy I put in mauritius pensive coy the hair into a koi and then I put electrical fence and really expensive coy and the river otters ate the coin so I put in one dollar goldfish nothing it's the goldfish nothing it's the one dollar goldfish so raccoons this was photographed in one of my bonds I'd pine trees two weeks ago so it's amazing that if you create a nurturing environment a rich environment you share the environment with all the animals that want to eat your food but living on your prop. So every animal that you see here was photographed on my property. I put up bird boxes below the kitchen I've got a screech owl family living there ah bardal comes at night and sits on a rock in the pond and looks at goldfish but doesn't eat fish a sharp shin hak comes every other day and takes a bird so I love that that I didn't plan on it but it's really a cool aspect, so creating a nurturing rich environment that keeps me running on a high level it also is really comforting to know that I've created an environment I planted over five hundred trees I've planted over a thousand sort fern I pulled off all the english ivy, the invasive english ivy that was killing everything and now it's a robust rich environment I surrounded this old house with a deck I put it on over the years and modern kitchen and I'm not boasting about this this is sweat equity it wasn't expensive house it's not an expensive house and the artwork in it is not expensive but it is filled with artwork that I've collected over the years and as I say and I say and I say I've created an environment that virtually every room, every view from the house up listen my spirits when I'm home, I'm home and I'm being I'm absolutely is like plugging in electricity and charging I keep the house really open because I support in oran in amount of groups including the sheldrick elfin orphanage out of east africa, we do fundraisers for wildlife conservation and a host of other groups that I support, so I keep the house open and spartan to allow for a numbers if I sit up in my bed, I look west to the water, the mountains and the sky that's why I bought the house nobody wanted, and in it I've filled it with things I've collected cheap art, but beautiful hand, you know, bettina carvings, and from new guinea to africa, australia, my house is filled with memories, I would say, I have a asian aesthetic, as many artists that have lived in the northwest do we've been influenced by our close proximity to japan? On a good day, it's seven hours from tokyo to seattle got goodwin's, that's, a very short flight, and so, mark toby and morris graves and other artists that have lived here in the northwest oh, had that influence of the east, and I'm the same way I, in fact, so much so that I actually like every couple of years, taking a small group of people to japan in the middle of the winter, and we photographed the shinto shrines, the beautiful, surreal landscapes and things that kind of epitomized asian aesthetic. I'm learning all along the way every book project ever worked on, as you'll see in a few minutes had a different style to it, I would have shot this shot in the past that orange was so garish tomb I earth toned aesthetic and yet, as I have progressed and I've learned, studied, evolved, become more mature as a photographer, I start to open up my imagination. I see more things. In short, I'll never stop learning and that's a critical thing I want to say is I don't look at myself has achieved great things. I lay back and say, okay, there's, nothing to conquer. I've always move forward. I've always evolve my work, and I always know that next year I'll be a better photographer. So that's a part of a mission I've been doing this for forty years and on as enthusiastic to go to alaska next week as I was forty years ago. So I think that's part of the whole psychology of nourished by environment and passion and evolving your work. I shot like that. I would not have shot before, you know, blown out background. And yet if I tell myself that's not just a straight father that's ah that's origami paper those thin japanese maple leaves that's, origami that's a sarah graft? Yeah. That's the ticket it's a sarah graph. So you know, it's what you think of the work, you create things that I want a shot ten years ago, I'm embracing today

Class Description


  • Improve your composition in landscape photography
  • Develop an eye for better nature photography
  • Find --and grow -- your inspiration
  • Go from nature lover to nature photographer
  • Spot creative shots even in popular places
  • Fine-tune composition with the unpredictability of wildlife photography
  • Tell a story through fine art nature photography


Spend a day gleaning insight from a nature photographer with five decades of experience shooting on every continent, Art Wolfe. This special one-day class includes two 90-minute discussions, 90 minutes of student critiques, and three episodes of Art's documentary series Travels to the Edge.

Go beyond basic nature photography tips and dig into the psychology of nature photography and what takes an image from a snapshot to fine art. Learn to find your inspiration, break the rules and see the story inside grand landscapes. This is not a class for taking textbook plain nature photography from a boring list of landscape photography tips -- it's a class designed to help you find your own unique voice to capture your own fine art prints of landscapes, wildlife, and culture.

After this class, you'll have the confidence to experiment, to work for the shot, and to capture the story in nature photography.


  • Beginning photographers shooting landscape, wildlife and nature
  • Intermediate photographers ready to refine their eye
  • Advanced photographers looking for insight from a top nature photographer


Art Wolfe is a nature and conservation photographer with a background in fine art and painting, a start which continues to influence his work to this day. Often described as a "prolific" nature and wildlife photographer, Art has published more than 80 books of photographs, along with images appearing in major publications such as National Geographic Magazine, Smithsonian, Audubon, and more. Art has received numerous awards, including Nature's Best Photographer of the Year. He also leads a documentary television series Travel to the Edge. When he's not traveling nine months out of the year (including leading photography tours), he's teaching and working with his stock agency and production company in Seattle.

Class Materials

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Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

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What a fantastic use of time! My photos improved dramatically since this course. I found it so useful, I recommended it to 3 people, and am coming back to purchase. My favorite segment was about composition, which is where I really needed the most help. I'd previously subscribed to the take a hundred shots and hope one turns out well. Now I think much more carefully prior to the shot, and the quality of the photos is on a completely different level from what I'd taken before. Then entire course was excellent, and I really appreciated the segment on audience submission critiques. It helped me to internalize the concepts he'd taught, and to develop a keener eye. Art Wolfe truly is a master. His photographs have the ability to stir the emotion deeply and soothe the ailing heart. Mr. Wolfe is a great instructor too. Concepts were presented clearly, and illustrated well. I am so thankful to have participated in this course. Thank you, to Art Wolfe, for sharing insights into your talent, and also thank you to everyone involved in making this course widely available. I cannot recommend this course highly enough!


I have always loved you CreativeLive, for being there in so many ways to teach me how to do better what I love to do. And, so I doubly thank you for re-featuring this and, thus. allowing me to buy this at a no-brainer price. I live in New Mexico. I have struggled to discern how to photograph New Mexico in a way that it hasn't already been photographed. It's like the Eiffel Tower. This class has SO helped me think about how to do that. I LOVED how Art Wolfe talked about how he started as a painter and how that has influenced how he captures his photography. I'm going to really start thinking about that and experimenting with this. New Mexico has had MANY painters, besides Georgia O'Keefe, whose work I love. I'm committed to studying them more and being influenced by their work. I haven't been photographing landscapes here very much, because of how much New Mexico has already been photographed. But this class has helped me think about how to do that more powerfully.and uniquely. And also, total kudos to the videographers of the last three segments of this class. Just watching these videos and Art Wolfe narrating this is worth the price of admission. So, in short, being a New Mexican who aspires to photograph her beloved New Mexico in a way that is different and more powerful, I think this class will inspire and focus me going forward. Thank you!

a Creativelive Student

I enjoyed your presentation and critiques so very much. I was able to watch it all but decided I would love to watch it again. I bought the class. Art's sense of humor was enjoyable. I loved his time working with his models and oh my what he was able to do with them artistically was so incredible. I learned so much through his critique. I went to our local Barnes &Noble; and was shocked they didn't have any of his books. I will continue looking for them as I would enjoy having some of them for inspiration. I also want to thank creative live as I have enjoyed your programs so much and I continue to spread the word about your classes. Thank you. Frances