Well before photography came into being in the 1800's, artists had been experimenting with composition, light, form, contrast, color and concept. That's why when people ask me how to become a better photographer, I tell them to study painting. By studying the masters of that medium, one can learn a tremendous amount that applies to photography.
I was reminded of that yesterday when I made a trip to the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. There I saw several magnificent paintings by Bierstadt, Sargent and others. The sense of light in the Sargent painting, Alice Vanderbilt Shepard (above) was truly capivating, as is the contrast of the bright areas of the face and blouse against the deep, rich background values. Some of the most successful portrait photographs use this same approach.
And the use of shadow and light in the Bierstadt painting, Sunrise, Yosemite Valley (below) portents the wonderful images by Ansel Adams and other members of Group ƒ64 school of photography. It employs the time honored technique of a strong foreground to bring you into the image, a powerful middle ground to take you further into the composition, and a delicate background that completes the image.