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Pictorialist Photography Techniques

Updated on April 3, 2016
LuisEGonzalez profile image

I enjoy photography and have been doing so professionally and independently for over 30 years.


22 April 2008 (original upload date)
22 April 2008 (original upload date) | Source
Source | Source

Pictorialism is a photographic genre or style in which the photographer tries to emulate a work of art, mostly paintings, in a photograph. This philosophy can be seen as a reaction to the ease and often effortless process of taking photos by anyone with a camera.

The purpose was to demonstrate that photography was more than this, that it was a tool used by an artist to show artistic talent and impressions. The photograph was a carefully constructed single, original product, and just like a painting, a true work of art.

The emphasis is not so much in the subject or the scene that's in front of the camera, but that the photograph is of the highest artistic quality. Photographers that use this technique are more interested in the aesthetics of the image and the emotions that it brings forth.

In short the finished product comes first and the subject matter second. This technique was an attempt to truly bring photography into the fine art genre. Eventually the movement divided and a more realistic style or movement emerged known as Photo Session, where photography was to be recognized as a true art form on its own merits.

"At the turn of the century Pictorialism would give way to the Photo Secession, a group of photographers whose purpose was the elevation of photography to a fine art.

The group sought to bring photography into its own aesthetic, moving it further away from the realm of painting.The group began to stress purity in their photography, thus turning away from painterly approaches like hand manipulation."

This style was very popular in the 1800's but slowly declined after the 1900s. Today some photographers still apply this technique. The majority of these images are edited with photo editing software programs to add a softer focus (softening), to add or lessen contrast, to add different tones, such as sepia, to add or lessen the image's sharpness (unsharp mask).

The main capture medium at the heyday of Pictorialism was black and white, although color was sometimes used after it became available, because of its tendency to bring a nostalgic feel to the shot. Some innovative photographers have combined Pictorialism photography and Cosplay photography, in which subjects dress in fancy costumes of eras long gone, and the photographer poses them in a manner that tries simulate old time photographs, complete with the tone and colors common in those times.

With the proper digital manipulation, some of these images are virtually indistinguishable from actual brush & paint works. Some photographers that specialize in this type of work, still process their negatives and prints the old fashion way, completely by hand.

They can remove details and borders from the negatives by "scratching", manually coloring the negatives and prints, sandwiching several negatives together, toning them, applying a diffuser to soften the focus and lessen details and so on.

This obviously takes a lot of painstakingly slow work, but the results resemble a painting more than it resembles a photograph and do have a tendency to be cataloged as works of art. Quality images done with this technique tend to fetch a higher price than regular photographs.

As it was from its inception, this technique had its market withing the art world. These images are often sold to art galleries, some are used in the production of greeting cards, emotive posters, by photography publications, and less seldom by museum curators and art reproduction services.

(CC BY-SA 3.0
(CC BY-SA 3.0 | Source | Source

Photographers involved in this technique look at photography as more of a true artistic impression than as anything else. The argument compares an artist using brush, paint and canvas to create a work of art, while the photographers use a camera, film to do the same.They see the camera as a tool, like a paint brush that is used in the creation of art.

" its principles were first established by H. P. Robinson in Pictorial Effect in Photography (1869). Robinson asserted that photographic art should imitate the conventions of academic painting, and his own photographs showed a disposition of elements—figures, foreground interest, peripheral framing, and background closure—that marked such work as a purposefully constructed picture rather than a spontaneous or serendipitous transcription of nature. A photograph might be ‘taken’ from nature, but a picture had to be ‘made’,."

Unlike times past, applying this technique does not require the use of a large room, developing and art supplies, nor does it require long hours of careful image manipulation by hand. This can now be easily accomplished thanks to the advent of the digital format and the many photo editing software programs widely available.

Many more articles that offer tips, technical advice and photography project ideas!


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© 2011 Luis E Gonzalez


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    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      5 years ago from Miami, Florida

      teaches12345: Thank you. Glad you think so

    • teaches12345 profile image

      Dianna Mendez 

      5 years ago

      Digital technology has made a big impact on how we see life through pictures. Your examples here are very impressive on this technique.

    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      8 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Through My Lens: Thank your comments are appreciated

    • Through My Lens profile image

      Through My Lens 

      8 years ago from MA

      Great hub! The photos are amazing!

    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      8 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Thanks for the wonderful comments. They are all appreciated.

    • neakin profile image


      8 years ago

      Awesome! I did not realize the difference either! Very impressive Hub!

    • Cardisa profile image

      Carolee Samuda 

      8 years ago from Jamaica

      I am just loving your hubs on photography, it's a hobby of mine. Thanks for the lesson!!

    • moneymakingmom profile image

      Beverly Johnson 

      8 years ago

      Really amazing photos. I was instantly impressed.

    • David Warren profile image

      David Warren 

      8 years ago from Nevada and Puerto Vallarta

      Great Hub! Loved the photos' as well as the information. I have recently taken the plunge and have been experimenting with HDR and tonemapping with Photomatix. I tried several "free" options but decided Photomatix was well worth the purchase in the end. Voted up and awesome!

    • LuisEGonzalez profile imageAUTHOR

      Luis E Gonzalez 

      8 years ago from Miami, Florida

      Lynn you are officially my number one

      Thanks for the comment.

    • profile image

      Lynn S. Murphy 

      8 years ago

      Wow! These are amazing. I didn't realize the difference. Some day............ lol!


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