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Create Art Through Photography

Lesson 13 of 16

How to See & Make Art in Exciting New Ways

Art Wolfe

Create Art Through Photography

Art Wolfe

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Lesson Info

13. How to See & Make Art in Exciting New Ways

Lesson Info

How to See & Make Art in Exciting New Ways

So wabi sabi is a Japanese term that refers to the randomness of nature, and the impermanence of nature, but it's also a balance. This is not a pattern, but there's a balance of opposing angles that fill the frame, as I've been talking about. Filling the frame with content so that your eye can navigate evenly throughout all of these abstractions of subjects. To me, it reminds me of something in the Greek history. And I'm not quite sure whether I've seen shapes like this on a Greek urn or not, but whenever I look at this, I'm thinking Greek. Here's grass that I arranged. This is a playing field. This is a great lake. This is on the edges of Kyoto. It's a natural lake that was filled with lotus blossoms, but at the end of a long winter, a brutal winter, all those delicate stems have been bent. And on a clear morning, a calm morning, it becomes this huge play field for a photographer to discover subjects. So I love this. I love this more than any mountain scape where you're taking a bunch...

of students and shooting yet another mountain vista or sunset over an ocean. Here the challenge is to frame the shot and look at it, and every step, left or right, forward or back, spaces open up. And the idea, the intent then is to have the eye move evenly throughout the composition, as I've been talking about. It's a great abstract landscape. Then you start to notice the frayed window curtains in old houses in Palouse, this beautiful area of eastern Washington. You look at the way a palm frond has scratched the surface of a cardboard box in Havana, Cuba. And once you get into Lightroom and saturate the color, you're turning that thing that nobody would ever look at into something akin to a piece of art, if you care to look at it. Now, many of you are shuffling in the seats thinking, oh my god, what have we got ourselves into? We want to know about technology and photographing an eagle diving, but this stuff? I'm stepping a little too far. No, I'm really not. There's so much art in the landscape around us, we fail to recognize it and see it. And the minute you start to consider things that you haven't considered before, that's when your work, that's when your eye, your intellect is moving forward. Because, yeah, we can all live with, in the age where our cameras are doing most of the job on exposure and everything else. But it still takes that seasoned eye, that clever eye, that starts to see and notice lines, patterns, textures, movement of the eye, and it's a great thing to show people something that they like, that they're standing right next to it, but they don't see it quite the way you just photographed it. Communication, inspiration, surprise, this is a landscape in southern China. It's the most beautiful man-altered landscape I've ever seen. A thousand years it took the Chinese, the hill tribes of south China and north Vietnam, to make these terraces. But from a viewpoint on a mountain above, late afternoon light, it's this beautiful, beautiful man-altered landscape. Or an aerial over rivers in central Iceland become tendrils of beauty, there's a delicateness to it, a sensuousness, these words really talk to the strength of what you're seeing. I just have demonstrated how I'm using line, inspired by the works of Jackson Pollock, and Pablo Picasso, another great artist, to fill the frame with content. I'm trying to avoid void areas where there's no content whatsoever. Another way to achieve balance is playing with positive and negative space. You know, after photographing Adelie penguins so many times over so many years, I've never quite shot it as straight on like this. But that curvature of the head of the bird, and that curvature below the chin are working together. Positive space is generally the subject, negative space is what lies beyond, just to simplify it. And when you can play with that negative space, and it works hand in hand with the positive space, a balance occurs, your eye stays exactly where I want. So I start to look at subjects in graphic ways. I start to squint my eyes in rendering it into spaces and shapes looking beyond the obvious. When the foreground and the background kind of match each other in space and content, it becomes graphic and it becomes art. So these are tufas along Mono Lake. And that is the way I saw it. But the way I presented it is the way I try to look. I try to look how this intrusion of light into dark, and dark into light, creates a dialogue between the two. It's easy to say, it's hard to do. It comes with experience. You start to analyze everything in front of you. You start to look at the body of work, the bodies of bodies and how that works with the background. And the more you can do that, the more you're on your way to achieving more sophisticated, more graphic, more appreciated work. When I critique, when I evaluate work, I'm always giving a nod towards people that have thought out a subject quite well. And the more stronger it is, on a graphic level, the more I appreciate it. Here's a great example of that. This is the edge of a shrine in Bali. The bird serves as a great element for scale. But it's the intrusion of blue background, that negative space, that works hand in hand with the positive, or the edge of the shrine. One works with the other. Okay, so to say it in a different way, I went out to the edge of the Olympic Peninsula, just to the west of here. I piled up these rocks to see if I had the manual dexterity to do it without smashing my toes. Check, got that. Toes are in check. I'm pretty impressed myself. You know, that's hard to do actually. So I got it. Then I got into Lightroom, post capture, render into black and white, played with the lights and darks, and rendered it into a very graphic image. But that's not why I was doing this. It's playing with the shapes, making these shapes as important as those shapes. And to do that, I had to go in tight. So I put on a telephoto lens and I went in there. Now I'm at the point where those whites are as important as the dark. It was a lesson to teach this, but all along the way I was learning it. So every step left or right, moving my camera one way or the other, I was creating all these interesting shapes. But those white areas come forward, the dark areas recede. In other words, the negative space now becomes the subject, and the black becomes the recessive or the negative space. So it's playing with perceptions. And the more I can do this, when I'm walking through an environment, the stronger my eye, the more sophisticated my eye becomes to what's around me. It is a challenge, it's not easy to do. But you start to see a forest along the ocean in a more graphic, more nuanced way. I'm moving the bar forward with my own work. I expect to be a better observer of the natural world next year than I was this year. And I have always looked that way, that every year I'm going to get better at composing and finding subjects. This is a grove, this is one tree along the Car-bin-el coast on one of those foggy days. Can you imagine, if you will, that composition without that tree on the top holding your eye in? Our eye goes towards the white areas. And if there's nothing holding the eye in, it's going to exit the frame. So I'm trying to harness your attention. The brightest part of this composition, Wanshan, China, is in the center of the island, center of the mountain range I should say. But, it's just the same as all those other shots. There's a balanced way of negotiating the positive and the negative. In this case, those rock buttes become the positive, the soft mist around them become the negative. So it's playing with positive, negative space, to achieve balance. And there's multiple right ways to do it. There's a few wrong ways to do it as well. This is a close up of rocks along the Icelandic coast. It might as well be a mountain range like you've just seen. But it's the same thing. It's looking for where the eye would go, and my intent would be to hold your eye in. And I think this shot would be more effective if I cropped it that way, because that whole corner starts to pull your eye out of the frame. If it was cropped that way, your eye would stay in the middle. So I've left it that way to demonstrate that. When I was photographing tribes in Africa, look at that beautiful space around these hands. That's a beautiful use of negative space. So I'm shooting, clicking, clicking, I'm looking into the light. I'm trying to use those forms of humans, but there's no detail whatsoever in the humans. And so it's all about that space. If this becomes an interesting shape, and that becomes an interesting shape, then the rest of the photo becomes more graphic, more interesting to me. And I was doing that with a human canvas. You get the fact that they're humans, but it's not the way you usually would see humans, right? So you have to kind of look at that and piece it together. I'm asking you then to participate in the process of looking at my work. I'm involving you to invest in my work. What did I say earlier? Photographers are communicating to our audience. So if I can invest you in that process, it's more successful. Now, I'm gonna give you a bit of a diversion here. I've been talking about positive and negative space, there is another term called negative space, where you don't hear about the positive. And in many ways, the Japanese culture, the Asian culture in general, has done a really good job on playing with open space. So another way of saying it, these are meditation gardens in Japanese temple gardens out of Kyoto. So the intensity of that space is balanced by the expanse of the rocks behind it. That's negative space. So to put it in photographic terms, that rock is in a sea of open ocean, and endless sky, but it's intense, it's concentrated, but it balances the rest of the landscape as in this shot. As I zoom out, you see the expanse of the sky. So that's another way of finding and achieving balance. When something's intense and small, it balances the openness of space. So often when I have subjects like this, the frame is the entirety of this image, which ends here and over there. I'll put the subject off center, like this. And that is a use of negative space. It's a much more Asian aesthetic, to see things, but I'm adopting that as a way of seeing as well. Notice that the stupa in the mountains of the Himalaya is not right in the center. Because when the subject is in the center, when the horizons are in the center, your eye goes right to the center and stops. And what have I been championing? Movement of the eye. So by putting it off center, it puts tension to the frame, but it's balanced by the expanse of the mountains beyond. As I say, it's easy to do and hard to explain, and it's like grabbing a greased pig. But these are examples of expanse of negative space. That was the eclipse down there in south Australia. And at 40 minutes before sunset, I was able to incorporate these ghost gums into the landscape. But it's a tough one when the sun is high and it's much brighter. This is a classic use of negative space. The expanse of these nieves penitentes in the mountains north of Santiago, Chile, at 16,000 feet are punctuated by the descending moon. Having these ibex off center is a use of negative space, as is this. And this is classic. You know, when I first saw this ibex, this gemsbuck I should say, it was, there was no connection to the sand dune beyond. So I ran up this road, and I lined it with the contrast between the shadow and light, and then I put on a telephoto lens, and I brought that sand dune right behind him. So I created an illusion. I created a relationship between the gemsbuck and the sand dunes. But it's a perfect example I think, of negative space. Because every, all the energy lies down here, but that expanse weighs and balances that animal. So forth and so on. Expanse of the sand dune behind these spring bucks in Deadvlei, Namibia. Yeah, here I'm putting the elephant right in the middle. One of the reasons is, it's a big animal in a bigger landscape. Low horizon plays to the strength of the clouds, there's not a lot going on in the foreground. But that elephant is almost uniform, it's almost like a circle. So I'm playing to the strength of that animal and how it looks in the frame. All of these are examples of that.

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.

Class Materials

Bonus Materials with Purchase

Art Wolfe eBook Bonus Material

Ratings and Reviews

Student Work

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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!!