About Pictorial Style In Photography

Pictorial Photo by Scott Bourne

For many years, I have studied the work of Alfred Stieglitz. He was a very important character in the development of modern photography and modern art. Among his many accomplishments he owned galleries that gave Pablo Picasso, Auguste Rodin and Henri Matisse all got their first American exposure. He also mounted one of the first exhibitions of photos by Ansel Adams. He married painter, Georgia O’Keeffe and his nudes featuring her have sold for more than $1.4 million.

Sandhill crane photo by Scott Bourne
I call this image “Cranes in the Snow”

My interest in Stieglitz relates to his time as a photo-secessionist. He helped bring the style known as pictorial photography to America. Stieglitz’s radical ideas included using cropping, and delivering images with a softness of detail and delicate use of tone similar to Impressionist paintings he had admired in Europe.

Pictorial style was really aesthetic movement that flourished in particular between 1885 and 1915. Involving some of the greatest photographers of the time, pictorialism was a style of fine art photography in which the camera artist manipulates a regular photo in order to create an “artistic” image.

Sandhill Crane photo by Scott Bourne
I call this image “Misty Cranes On Washi”

I really got interested in this when studying in Japan. I became enamored of the work of artists like Nojima Yasuzo, Takayama Masataka and my favorite – Umesaka Ori.

Adopting as models both traditional Japanese and the newly introduced Western-style painting, they forged a Pictorialism unique to photography in Japan. In the Taisho period (1912-1926), Pictorialist works making skillful use of the pigment printing process and a soft-focus style were produced in large numbers. The style developed there was also heavily influenced by Stieglitz.

The connection to fine art painting is strong and if you’ve followed me lately you may have noticed I am adopting more of this style in my artistic work. Documenting natural history sometimes, I have to play it straight. Almost NO manipulation of any kind. Photographing birds for study in textbooks, guidebooks, etc., I have to deliver the truest color and detail. But when I make art, there are no rules and I have been increasingly drawn to the pictorial style.

In today’s post I feature three images I made at Bosque del Apache, National Wildlife Refuge during my recent trip there. All three are designed to evoke an artistic feeling, similar to a painting. Whether or not this style resonates with you, it would be worth your time to study it. Pictorialism was a springboard to everything that modern photography became and in my opinion, today’s photographers are woefully under-educated about the history of photography.

I like to use history to inform modern thinking for many reasons. It helps me to pay homage to those who used cameras before I did. It helps me to see and think about photography and art in whole new ways. And most importantly, it allows me to FEEL my way to a photograph. I realize this is way to ethereal for most people these days but wanted to share this post with the idea that maybe a few of you will be inspired to try your hand at pictorial photography.

As usual, I am rooting for you.

Pictorial Photo by Scott Bourne
I call this image “Paper Cranes.”


All my pictorial images start in my Olympus cameras. In the case of the images shown here, all were captured using an Olympus OM-D E-M1X body and a variety of Olympus Pro lenses. There is a methodology I use when making these images that would be tough to explain in a blog post. It is a combination of seeing the possibilities in the field and then using camera techniques that embrace and enhance the mood and feeling, without worrying about detail.

Then I bring the images into Luminar 4 where I do my basic editing. Then I use a variety of programs from companies like Topaz Labs to create the painterly effect.

Lastly, I print the images on washi paper from Japan. Since antiquity, Japanese washi has been made from renewable plant resources that grow to maturity in one to two years. When compared to wood-based papers (that take dozens of years to mature and require many chemicals), washi is created with significantly less harm to our environment in a clean and eco-friendly manner.

NOTE: These prints are for sale in extremely limited editions and only through galleries or by contacting me personally. I am the print maker for these images. I do not send them to a lab. The process from order and payment to shipment is approximately six weeks. Email me at scott@picturemethods.com. Each print is $900, including shipping to the lower 48. Contact me for shipping costs outside the USA. There is only one size option. The size is approximately 18″ on the longest side.

Picture Methods has partnered with Hunt’s Photo & Video to bring you the best gear at a competitive price and backed by personal service. Call Alan Samiljan at 781-462-2383 or Noah Buchanan at 781.462.2356. If you cannot reach either one try Gary Farber at 781-462-2332. You will ALWAYS get the best prices if you call the store v. Using the web site. You can also email Noah at: nbuchanan@huntsphoto.com or Gary at: gfarber@huntsphoto.com. Hunt’s has been around a long time and you can trust them. Make sure to mention that Scott Bourne sent you. That will get you the best deal.