Impressionist photography is a unique genre that encourages artists to break the rules. Blurred subjects, movements, crooked lines – use them all in this creative process.
The impressionist style might look complicated, but it’s actually quite easy to master. And it’s a fun way to express yourself without having to worry about guidelines.
What Is Impressionist Photography
This is a prime example of impressionist photography. Even though the subjects are blurred, a few words might come to mind when you study this image: butterflies, vibrant colours, and life in motion. What do you like the most about this photo?
Impressionist art is usually associated with abstract paintings, and for good reason. The art movement came into being in the 19th century.
Famous impressionist painters include Claude Monet, Camille Pissarro, and Vincent Van Gogh. Compared to the detailed paintings of that time period, this art movement stood out.
The name itself came from a painting by Monet that he named Impression, Sunrise.
Impressionist paintings consist of quick brush strokes that resemble motion blur and bokeh. In essence, the style itself is an impression of life.
Impressionist photo techniques focuse on capturing atmospheres, changing light, and movements without prioritising sharpness. To this day, many photographers attempt to do the same thing, whether in camera or in post-processing.
Impressionist photography can also be used to capture feelings of love, longing, excitement, or peace. You can easily express yourself by photographing a subject that means something to you.
Is Impressionist Photography Ideal for You?
Impressionist photography is one of the few genres that doesn’t follow any rules. In fact, it goes against most rules. For example, instead of holding your camera steadily, you’re encouraged to move it around.
Impressionist photography is ideal for artists who:
- Like working with a limited amount of equipment (all you need is a camera!);
- Enjoy experimenting with unusual photography techniques;
- Focus on capturing atmospheres and movements in their work;
- See potential in abstract compositions;
- Appreciate the art of emotions.
If any of these points stood out to you, you’ll find a lot of creative freedom in this genre. If not, give it a try anyway.
I enjoy sharp detailed photos. But I’ve found a surprising amount of comfort in abstract photography. After experimenting with this genre, you might feel the same way too.
What Are the Right Camera Settings for Impressionist Photography
All you need to create an impressionist photo is a camera (or even a smartphone) and your imagination.
While the gear is simple, the settings get a little more complicated. Here are a few camera settings that will make your shooting process easier to manage. These are especially useful if you’re a beginner.
Eva Polak is a professional impressionist photographer. She says that shooting in either aperture or shutter priority mode will give the best results. Your camera will prioritise either aperture or shutter speed. This way it will find the best settings for you without wasting your time.
If you’d like to have more control over your photos, though, shoot in manual mode.
Your camera doesn’t have either of these modes? Then you can recreate some impressionist techniques in an editing program like Photoshop. You’ll find a few mini tutorials for the tilt-shift and zoom techniques below.
Now that you’re more familiar with impressionism, let’s dive into a few helpful tips.
Impressionist Photography Tips
1. Find Potential Subjects by Studying Your Environment
Even simple indoor activities, like dancing or walking to another room, can be used in an impressionist photo.
You don’t need to travel the world or go to an extravagant place to find a subject worthy of your attention. Impressionist photography opportunities exist everywhere.
Your subject can be a butterfly in a park. A falling snowflake in your neighbourhood. Or even a child riding a bike in the distance.
You have to train your eye to look at the world through an impressionist point of view. Then you’ll find these creative opportunities.
Think of black & white photography. Since the world doesn’t look monochrome to most of us, we have to teach ourselves to visualise it.
To do that, all you have to do is study your surroundings. Take a break from work and go for a walk. What’s the busiest place in your area? What about the quietest place?
Where can you find movements that could become the stars of your next photo?
2. Capture the Essence of Movement Using Panning
Panning will make your subject stand out in a busy place. If this photo were sharper, the man on the bike wouldn’t have been the star of this composition.
Panning is a very popular and simple technique. The trick is to move your camera along with your subject.
This will only work if your subject is moving fast and if you can predict their movements. Your results will either look completely blurry or have a very sharp subject.
Either way, the background will look like an interesting abstract painting.
The point of panning is to capture the essence of movement. And it will help you emphasise the quickness of your subject’s motion.
3. Sit Still and Let Your Subjects Do the Work
Set your aperture to f/5.0 or anything larger than that to get interesting long exposure photography results. The larger your f-number, the longer it will take your camera to take a photo, and the more motion blur your photo will have. This will result in smooth lines like the ones above.
Instead of panning or moving your camera all over the place, you can sit still and observe. This works very well if your subject is a dancer.
The one thing you should pay attention to is framing. If your subject leaves the frame, you’ll have an incomplete photograph. Again, you need to be able to predict your model’s movements.
When it comes to dancers, all you have to do is make sure the entire stage is in the frame.
If you want your entire photo to look blurry, don’t use a tripod. If you want to take a photo like the one above, you’ll definitely need to use one.
4. Create Depth and Mystery by Defocusing
Blur can create interesting abstract shapes. It’s also pleasant to look at.
Use the smallest f-number you can to take the blurriest photos possible. An aperture of f/1.2, f/1.4, or f/1.8 will give you the best results.
Once you do, find a composition you like and manually focus away from it so that you get a result like the one above.
There’s no limit to what you can do with the blurred technique. You can use lens blur to photograph landscapes. To mysterious silhouettes or figures. Or to fill your frame with beautiful bokeh.
If you want to take your blurred technique to the next level, combine it with freelensing. You’ll have to take off your lens and hold a part of it against your camera to create a tilt-shift effect.
Part of your photo will look blurred while the other will look sharper.
If you don’t want to use the risky freelensing technique, you can use the tilt-shift effect in Photoshop. Go to Filter > Blur Gallery > Tilt-Shift. There, you’ll be able to control the amount of distortion and blur in your photo. Though this won’t look as perfect as a photo made with a real tilt-shift lens, it will definitely give you interesting results that might inspire you to experiment in Photoshop more often.
5. Take a Photo Mid-Zoom
Combine the zoom technique with a beautiful foreground to add an extra spark of colour to your photo.
If you have a camera with a zoom lens, you can take interesting photos. Zoom in and press the shutter at the same time. This will create the illusion of movement. It’s like what you’d experience while driving through a tunnel.
If you don’t own a zoom lens, you can still recreate the effect. Quickly move toward or away from your subject while taking a photo. And since it’s impressionism, you don’t have to worry about blurry results.
The zoom technique will work best with still subjects that can fit into your frame. Examples of this are plants, fruit, and eyes.
Just like the tilt-shift effect, the zoom effect can be recreated in Photoshop. Go to Filter > Blur > Radial Blur and select Zoom under Blur Method. Unfortunately, unlike the tilt-shift section, this effect won’t let you preview your results. You might have to try this effect a few times before you get the results you want.
6. Shoot Through a Foreground to Add Layers to Your Photo
The red berries make this photo more visually appealing. The leaves frame a part of the image. Without them, the sky would look empty and dull. Details like this can enhance or destroy a composition. The more you practice, the easier it will be to find the perfect foregrounds and subjects for your photos.
Many abstract paintings consist of colourful layers that add depth to the subject. You can do the same thing. Shoot through foregrounds that complement your subject.
Pay careful attention to your foreground. If it’s too bright or vibrant, it will overshadow your subject.
It’s easier to find appropriate subjects out in nature. Outdoor colours naturally complement one another.
The bright red leaves at the bottom of the picture add depth to the image. Because they’re similar to the subject in shape and colour, they don’t take anything away from the picture.
Impressionist photography won’t improve your conventional technical skills or teach you how to take sharp photos. What it will do is inspire you to embrace your imagination and help you find comfort in breaking the rules.
Do you want to look at photography from a different perspective and enhance your imagination? You’ll find an abundance of inspiration in this genre.
It doesn’t have to become your favourite photography niche. But it will change the way you look at photos and what you can achieve with them.
For more artistic photography ideas, check out our article on how to turn photos into paintings with these awesome apps!
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