What can we, as photographers, learn from fine art?

Chiaroscuro.

In our photography we use well established rules to help us compose our images. Although one shouldn’t be too restrained by so called ‘Rules’ they do provide a starting point, when learning, to compose a pleasing image. These compositional rules have been well established for years and been used by artists.

There are also other aspects of fine art that can be helpful in creating a good image with impact. We have discussed in the past how we can use ‘figure to ground’ in photography to make a subject stand out by contrast against the background.

Many Street photographers adjust their exposure value to create dark shadows devoid of any detail which creates a dynamic graphical shape within the image. They may also use direct light to illuminate the main subject within that dark graphical shape.

This method of creating an image with strong contrasts between light and dark is known as Chiaroscuro, an Italian word literary meaning ‘Light-Dark’. In painting it is used to suggest volume and modelling in the subject.

A master of the use of chiaroscuro was the artist Caravaggio. A good example of his is ‘Calling of St Matthew’.

Calling of St Matthew by Caravaggio

There is a god video that explains his use of light. See: https://youtu.be/R1lcb_7gj5k

A favourite contemporary artists of mine who also demonstrates a good use of light in their pastel paintings is the Canadian artist Sally Strand.

In her words she explains her use of light within her paintings:

I relate to small moments of life that are often overlooked. These moments resonate with me because they are familiar—we see ourselves in them. They sometimes suggest things beyond the obvious. Painting mundane objects or tasks provides me with a challenge to portray the commonplace in a compelling way, to make the usual unusual and worthy of notice. ‘

This is also a good video where Strand explains how she sees the different light values: https://youtu.be/axlnVZjCjNA

Here are some examples of Sally Strand’s work:

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