Skip to main content

Create Art Through Photography

Lesson 6 of 16

How Technology Improved Art's Work

Art Wolfe

Create Art Through Photography

Art Wolfe

Starting under


Get access to this class +2000 more taught by the world's top experts

  • 24/7 access via desktop, mobile, or TV
  • New classes added every month
  • Download lessons for offline viewing
  • Exclusive content for subscribers

Lesson Info

6. How Technology Improved Art's Work

Lesson Info

How Technology Improved Art's Work

I'm talking about my early years, and there's was a photo of me standing on top of a mountain with a four-by-five. You know, back then you needed a four-by-five for the big landscapes, or at least I felt you needed. Today, we have have cameras that are like four-by-fives. You know, they've got multi, you know, multi-pixeled sensors. And so, I use of of them. I shoot with Canon, but there's a lot of great brands out there, but I might as well speak to what I use. And one of my most recent cameras is the 5DR. And it's a great camera, simply because I'm shooting subjects that are appropriate for it. For landscapes, for the book Primordial there's a lot of detail in this landscape you're looking at. So to have a camera, like a 50 megapixel camera, is great, it's not the big cumbersome cameras that we used to have to have. So we, as I said before and I'll say it again, we live in a great time to be Photographers. The competition between the major camera brands, we're all benefiting it, rega...

rdless of you shooting Canon, or Nikon, or Sony, or whatever the brand may be. We all benefit from this competition. And so I select certain shots that... There's no grandeur here, there's no beautiful sunset or herd of elk, but there's beauty in the sub, I can't say that, in the detail. Remember Porky Pig, when he would get stuck on a word, he would just change? Well, I am Porky Pig. (audience laughter) Anyway, these are kind of those kind of shots that just require study and detail. Line, texture, pattern to capture them. I'm often using these 50 megapixel cameras. And it's so nice to be able to make a print, it's so rewarding to take a picture and blow up a print, 40 by 60 inches. See it with great detail on the wall, and it's a relatively small camera. You know, they are designing cameras for people like me. Aging boomers. You know, we want lighter cameras, we want lighter lenses, that we're still traveling, we're just getting a little older. So, I'm doing a book called Trees, Trees of the World. But it won't be like a catalog of trees, it will be a celebration of trees in all their beauty and it'll be sensuous, and all those kind of words apply to what this book will be and that will come out next year. So a lot of what I'm shooting is with these larger pixeled cameras. And then when there's spectacles, like all these walrus laying on a beach along the Katmai Coast. Yeah, it would be a shame not to shoot 'em with really detailed cameras. So sedentary subjects. When I need to act fast, when I need to move the boundary forward using high ISOs, fast shutter speeds, shoot in the evening, I'm going to go to the 1DX Mark two. This is a relatively new camera. But these higher end cameras, yeah they're expensive, but what they deliver... And I'm again, this is not why you're here, to hear a sales piece, but I might as well be very candid. These cameras are transforming the way I can shoot, and I'll make a very strong case about that. So, advanced sensors mean higher ISO, and why does that matter to most people? Because I think higher ISOs enable faster capture, frozen moment in time. You saw the entire book called Rhythms From the Wild, which was very long shutter speeds and impressionistic. I could get that with this camera. But there are a lot of things that have to be shot fast, to catch that frozen moment in time. Things that I can't really record with my naked eye, I can capture on film. So, higher ISOs mean I can shoot at ISO 4, think about that. For those of you in the audience that are wildlife Photographers, when I first started out, I would have ISOs of 25. The animal had to be dead before I could get it in focus. (audience laughter) So now, we live in a time where you can get, you know, a whale coming out of the water, or birds in flight, or altercations, or any number of things that require a really fast shutter speed, and we can get it. And that is a great thing, you know, it's the reason for going back to the Amazon to shoot hyacinth macaws. Or, recently I was down on the Gulf Coast photographing these sandhills flying by, and every you know, feather detail is right there. So there are reasons and there are needs for photos like that. They'll feed various books down the road. So, yeah, high ISOs means faster shutter speeds. I think that makes a strong case, right? It's pretty obvious. Look this drama happening, I was just in the right point, right time. These two lionesses had grabbed the back leg of a cape buffalo, and suddenly the herd turned back and they were trying to protect that one buffalo. And there was this beautiful dance between predator and prey. And notice that I'm not showing bloods and guts and all that kind of thing, because simply put, I don't like to see it myself. But I love the drama, it's almost like a ballet that's historic, and long-lasting between the predator and prey. And these lionesses need to feed their cubs, and we all like lions, right? So this is part of nature and the necessity of life. But I love that drama, capturing the drama. It's emotionally affecting, it's beautiful. There are details like this mud pod down in the mountains of Bolivia and Northern Chile, there's several geyser basins and these things explode at amazing speed, I've never been able to get it before I had this latest camera. So the speed with which I can capture it, 2,000th of a second, you just click, click, click, and you know you're gonna get it because by the time you see it and you click, it's over with. So you just anticipate and shoot. So it's great to be able to shoot snow falling. Historically, you could never shoot snow with slide film and get a sharp shot, it would always be long exposures and almost looked akin to fog. It's like, is that snow falling? You can't tell. Now we can freeze a snowflake in the air. And that's just a different way of seeing the snow the way we see it, but we could never capture it in the film days, or even, you know, the digital cameras up until about three or four years ago. And now those faster shutter speeds enable us to shoot. And it's a great thing to go back to Antarctica for your 19th trip, and have a new subject to shoot. It motivates you. And so, a shot like this I could never historically have gotten. So I love these new cameras. And if you take the color out in post-production as you'll see later on, you've got Shackleton's expedition. So yeah, it creates the illusion of history when you take the color out. To have a penguin with snowflakes suspended in air. Historically I love the stars. You know, when I was on Everest in the winter of 84. I'd take an eight hour exposure as earth is spinning in space, the stars are moving across the sky. And so in an eight hour exposure, this is what you would get, but it would be three months until I got back home before I could confirm whether I got the shot. Today, you can see right away if you got the shot, and we're not shooting stars like this anymore. We can, there is software that can replicate this, but now we can shoot pinpointed stars. So this was shot about 15 years ago above Dead Vlei in Namibia. I only had, I had to guess where the Southern Cross was, because when I started the exposure it was right at dusk, I had to leave the camera. I had a camera that had a little motor on the back that could turn itself off eight hours later. I had to be 65 kilometers away from this camera when it was taking this eight hour exposure of the Southern Cross. And I fortunately guessed right. Today we have ways of discerning where the starts are, whether we see it or not. So technology keeps advancing in the field of photography. And in a shot like this shot on Pescaro Island in Bolivia, in the Altiplano I just took a headlamp and painted the cactus one after another, after another during a eight hour exposure. So yeah, today we can shoot pinpointed stars. Think about this. About 15 years ago, I was deliberating whether to buy a little machine that I could put on top of my tripod that would move the camera in the same motion as a star, to attain a sharp shot of a star. That's the only way we could do it. But you could never have anything from earth in the same shot because if the camera's moving, anything in the shot that's stationary would become blurry. So it was an impossibility. So now we can shoot the Milky Way rising above a geyser basin in all its glory. So new technology breeds new subjects, which is the essence of evolving photography in one's own work. So yeah, great times. I love shooting shots that emotionally inspire. When people look, and they kinda go, "Oh," that's what you want. That's what we, as Photographers want to connect to our audience. And in Namibia, with that tree book, you can see this quiver tree, that would be a perfect subject for that book. And I shot that three or four years ago. Or rising above Mount Rainier, this Milky Way shot in the month of August. So, stair trails. Live view focus enables us to shoot and focus on the mountain, this was just two weeks ago in Norway. And suddenly, the Aurora came out, but the mountain was so subdued, that I could hardly see it. So I used live view, and was able to focus with better light on the back of the LCD screen. And then later in post-production, I opened up the mountain, I brightened the mountain. So that's how I got that. And focusing on the stars. And it became very apparent that I need to start to use live view, in very low light situations. When I was photographing these trees it was completely dark. Had to use headlamps to negotiate the dead trees on the ground. But if you take a long exposure, and it's properly lit, then you've got something like this. But I needed to use live view to focus. So that's an advancement. Higher ISOs enable greater depth of field, that's critical. That's really critical. Because back in the day, this was now shot in film years and years ago. I would say probably 18 years ago I was on a mountain side of one of the lakes near Interlaken, Switzerland looking down a slope at a lake with this heard of ibex in the foreground. And when I was shooting this, it took me two hours to sneak my way down, slowly sliding in the grass. There were very aware of where I was, because they could see me in full view. But the fact that I just moved an inch every couple of minutes and just remained low to the ground, they accepted my presence. So I'm shooting down at them. But I made the choice to shoot this at F so that all horns of these ibex would be in focus. Consequently, it's a one second exposure, and their mouths are moving. Every single mouth on every ibex is blurred, because they're chewing their cud. So today we wouldn't have that problem, if that became a problem. So today, I can now use higher ISOs, F22, get every penguin in focus, and in a shot like that I think it's necessary to have every thing, every element, every baby king penguin into focus. Because it's a pattern shot. It's a textural shot, every feather is clearly delineated, if there were huge areas within that frame that were out of focus, it would weaken the overall impression. So higher ISO cameras enable greater depth of field to smaller F stops, everything comes into focus. And this, I could never shoot a shot like this five, six years ago. So depth of field matters in a lot of the subjects that we look at. All of this is coming back to me after I did the book Patterns, which was migrations. You know, I shot that body of work in the early 90s. But that style of shooting patterns still resonates today. So when I see opportunities like herds of animals like these walrus, yeah, I'm gonna use a smaller aperture opening, a fast shutter speed freezes their motion. You know, a shot like this requires every duck to be equal. That's what completes a pattern. A pattern is nothing more than repeating a similar shape. So all these ducks become a pattern when they're all equally focused. Or, in a shot like this of these egrets on boats in Kerala, India. You know, if just one or two were in focus, then the rest were out, it would weaken the impression. So depth of field really is critical in a lot of these shots. And this is the shot I shot in Namibia years ago, where every animal I wanted to get in focus, but they were all moving around. So I ventured into the higher ISOs. I started with 2,000, then I thought, alright, I'm gonna shoot this at ISO 4,000 and probably have to throw it away because it's gonna be filled with noise. But in fact, in broad daylight there was almost no noise. And whatever little noise there was, I was able to remove it in Lightroom, mitigate it in Lightroom. And suddenly, I'm so happy I shot that at ISO 4,000. And to this day, when I mention that when I'm teaching classes, people are reluctant to go there. They're thinking, "Oh no, it's gonna be so noisy I can't use it." Well, case in point. Tack sharp images, great depth of field. I wanted every animal within that frame, the complexity of that to be equally important. And so, you make them equally important by having them in focus. And so forth, and so on. So a higher ISO means greater depth of field. Those mountains are part of the habitat. I'm giving equal importance to Mount Fairweather, the classic mountain behind these stellar sea lions in Glacier Bay, Alaska. So landscapes, herds of animals, Saudus being fed, yeah, entire depth of field is right there at F22. Now where would you focus in something like this? Is it really the closest Saudu, or is it somewhere else? And it's usually a third of the way in with a wide angle it's about there. I'm not focusing on him. Focusing there, stopping down F22. And so people who are reluctant to use F because of a little thing called defraction. But in modern cameras defraction becomes less of an issue. So I am frequently shooting at F22 without hesitation, and I'm getting sharp shots. Yes, F16 is slightly sharper than F22, but unless you make a giant, giant print and compare the two, you and I would not really see much of a difference. And sometimes that F22 gets that last Saudu into focus, which is, to me, more important. I'm sitting in the back of a jeep in Bandhavgarh National Park in India looking for tigers. We stop at a rest stop for a couple of minutes, some wild peacocks come out of the bush that have been habituated to tourists. And they're right below me in the jeep, and I'm thinking I'm gonna shoot that beautiful pattern. So I bounce up the ISO to 4,000, down to F22, every part of this abstract of a peacock is in focus, but it looks like a studio shot. So again, high ISO, depth to field, all of that matters. Certainly for portraits, where you're moving in on a friend of yours, or an animal, or in this case, this king penguin. From the tip of that beak to the back of its shoulder, that's pretty good range and I'm pretty close. That's critical for focusing, not the closest part of the beak, but somewhere around here, stopping down at F22. Pop, everything's in focus. That's how you get these things because if you look at this shot of this rock hopper penguin, if the whole back part of it was out of focus, it would look less than perfect. And in a shot like this, I'm abstracting this bird, I want it as symmetrical as I possibly can get it, I want it stylized, I want it perfectly quaffed and in focus. So a shot like that, it's critical depth of field. And big 'ol bear. So portraits of animals, herds of animals in patterns, landscapes, depth of field matters. And so those higher ISO cameras, those finer cameras can do it. Image stabilization is something that we've been seeing in cameras for a number of years now. And when they first started coming out, I was using them because there's no place to put a tripod on the back of an elephant when you're in India photographing tigers. So you have to rely on that image stabilization and it has really proved valuable. Here in the Pantanal marsh of Brazil, I'm photographing from a boat, and there's three other folks in the boat moving around. But through my body, and the image stabilization you can nail this jaguar that's come out to the river's edge. Or, back in India, this tiger that's shot from the back of a jeep. So this whole sequence was shot last year in Western Tanzania. Crocodiles coming out of the water and not a single shot was shot with a tripod, it was all hand-held. I was reacting fast. You know, hippos are the most dangerous animal in Africa. Some could argue a mosquito with malaria is more dangerous, but these guys chomp people. You know, they come out of the river, they're aggressive, they're bullies. And so, they are sharing a diminishing pond in the dry season with crocodiles, which are another fierce man-eating animal. And so you've got this standoff that's changing by the moment. I'm standing there with hand-holding a one to 400 lens, which you'll see in a minute, using image stabilization, higher ISO, all that technology. I could never have gotten this with film or even a tripod, because the tripod would have been a little cumbersome, there was no place to put the tripod. I'm balancing over the river, hoping not to fall in with these guys. And I got a whole sequence of animal shots I've never been able to shoot before. And it was using all that technology. So new technology means new subjects, which keeps me getting out of bed and moving on with projects that I love to do.

Class Description

Photography is more than just a click of the shutter as it can create a statement or evoke a feeling and thus becomes a powerful art form. Internationally acclaimed photographer, artist and educator Art Wolfe joins CreativeLive to teach creative professionals how to see and make art in exciting new ways. 

In this class Art will share:

  • How to maximize photographic opportunities while traveling to unique and beautiful photographic destinations.
  • The best ways to take those special images efficiently. 
  • His favorite technological advances and how he uses them to enhance his creative vision. 
As a special segment, Art will preview how knowledge of art history provides a creative foundation and show students how to apply these principles to enhance their own compositions. He will also include a live critique of student images and, using Adobe® Lightroom® CC, will guide students through the editing process to transform the images into stronger artistic statements.



Thank you, Art Wolfe and Creative Live for this outstanding and astounding invitation to open my eyes and mind to a new way of thinking based on classic elements of design. This set of video lectures is a rich feast for the brain and heart willing to consider change. Art explains the elements of design such as texture, line, etc., and then shows how he has applied those basic principles. He explores metaphor, ambiguity, graphic design and negative/positive space--all with eye-popping examples. Wolfe takes us through the galleries of the Impressionists, Abstractionists, and Pop Artists to show how visiting our local art museums with a photographers eye can teach us to see in new ways. I love the way he shows, for example, a Mondrian or a Jackson Pollack or a Hokusai painting and then segues beautifully into examples of his own work inspired by those greats. Never does Art lose sight of the mission he has in this series, which is to inspire serious-hearted photographers to rise to new visual heights in their own work. He has a way of seeming to say, "Look. If I can do it, you can do it. Here are my secrets--let me break them down for you." To me, it was a privilege to take this class--my brain is exploding, and I'm itching to get out and shoot! Thank you so much, Art Wolfe and the Creative Live team--you are both amazing! Sandy Brown Jensen Eugene, Oregon

JIll C.

After watching Art Wolfe's presentation for just a short while, I have an almost irresistible urge to pick up my camera and get out into the world to look for the abstracts that can make stunning images. His body of work is simply stunning, and his verbal patter is mesmerizing. He proposes to find beauty in decay, and to train our eyes to see what others overlook. This is not a technical class, and there is no discussion of gear or camera settings. I found it very inspiring, and his ideas will surely help me to overcome the lethargy that has overcome my photography hobby.


Wonderful lecture with tips and tricks of how he shoots, what gear he uses, suggestions for comp, and samples of how he processes a RAW file in LR. Art was just as awesome as I had heard he was in person. I'm a professional photographer and definitely came away with many new tips, perspectives and inspiration to see your image differently and to look closer at the less obvious scene. Thank you Art for sharing your talent, its so very much appreciated!!