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22 Jul 2016

What Makes a Great Impressionist Photo?

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From the choice of subject matter to the use of appropriate techniques, there are many factors that contribute to the success of impressionist photographs. Although there is no magic formula, there are four elements that are significant ingredients for creating great impressionist photographs.

1 A subject with impact; something that captures the viewer’s mind
There is an infinite variety of things to photograph. Naturally, different subjects appeal to different artists. The subject matter does not have to be obviously beautiful, colourful or complex to work as a successful image. Similarly, your choice of subject should never be governed by preconceived notions about what makes a good image. There is no magic formula. You should always attempt whatever inspires you and try out new ideas.

I never go looking for specific subjects. When on location, I rely on exploring, looking and experiencing, all the time being open to any ideas that present themselves. Usually, I find that I don’t have to explore for very long, and that there is no shortage of ideas.

tree by eva polak

2 A dynamic composition that supports the emphasis on the subject being expressed
Creating impressionist images doesn’t mean just using impressionist techniques to capture your subject. You still have to use your sense of composition to present your subject in the best possible way. Somehow you need to bring all elements of the scene together and create order from the visual chaos.

You need to suggest a mood by careful composition using colour and shapes. I begin by recognizing the main lines and shapes. Good composition is all about considering one part in relation to another and making them work as a whole. A successful composition will hold the viewer’s attention and help him or her to discover the meaning and story of the image and its individual qualities.

[bctt tweet=”Good composition is all about considering all parts of the image and making them work as a whole.” username=”evapolak”]

3 Effective use of lighting
Impressionists were fascinated by the effects of natural light on colour and form. They took every opportunity to portray the fleeting interaction of light and subject. Your camera is a perfect tool for such exploration. Light can make you see everyday things differently. It is all due to the effect of light and its magical qualities.

Learning to see light well will help you make better pictures of everything around you. The best light is the light that accomplishes what you are trying to showcase in the frame. It is the influence of light, above all other qualities, that infuses a scene with special mood and atmosphere.

sunset Eva Polak

4 Invoke an emotional response in the viewer
The essence of the impressionist photograph is that it should ignite or stir an emotion.
When you look at your own images, every so often you might come across one that stops you, slows you down, and invites you to explore or engage more deeply. It might make you smile, think for a minute, or take you back to a place in time. Your job, as an impressionist photographer, is to create more photographs like this. You can start by asking yourself this specific question: What do you want to feel when you look at this image? Take a few minutes to slow down and become absorbed by the scene. Treat it as a meditation. Close your eyes, feel the warmth of the sun, and tune into the sounds around you.

Take notice of whatever it is that attracts your eye and triggers an emotion. Notice what type of emotion you are sensing. Be in touch with your emotions. If you photograph what you feel, this will show in your work. Usually, my feelings and reaction to a subject are influenced by a quality of light. Many of my photographs are of subjects that I happened to come across at a particular moment in time. They present themselves and in consequence, I have to respond quickly to capture that fleeting moment.

birch tree by eva polak.jpg

As you can see the success and impact of a photograph is largely determined by the decision that you take at every stage of the photo-shoot and beyond. In making these decisions you have the freedom to interpret in your own and individual way the particular qualities and features in the subject matter that most impress and inspire you. This is what makes the image yours, what makes it original.

If you can communicate your feelings and ideas successfully, and stimulate a respond from other people viewing the work, then that is a mark of a good impressionist photograph.

Creative exercise
Begin looking more closely at the work of the photographers and artists that you admire. Analyse what it is about their work that draws you in. Is it their subject matter? Is it their use of light, their composition, or their compelling storytelling?

As you begin to determine what elements draw you to their work, give yourself assignments to incorporate these elements in your work. Your aim should not be to exactly recreate their work but instead to borrow elements and ideas that inspired you. Take elements that you like and leave those that don’t fit your style or vision.


If you wish to have your impressionist photography skills taken to the next level check  out my course Impressionist Photography Advanced. This six-weeks long workshop will give you the skills and inspiration to take your work to new heights.