My interview on Take & Talk Pics


Rob Krueger at Take & Talk Pics and I recently recorded a conversation in which we talked about about ‪‎art‬‪‎photography‬, business‬ and life‬.

If you’d like to find out more about my work, my background and philosophy listen to the 30-minute recording here.

New Artist Statement – Insight into passion and process

I’ve recently completed a major overhaul of my main Artist Statement.

For all artists, working in any medium, writing about our work is an essential practice that carries surprising power. The artist statement is usually written after producing the visual works, as a way to explain the motivation and rationale behind the work. Often, collections, series and bodies of work may have their own individual statements. Sometimes a statement will be written in advance, to guide the production of a series.

The process of creating a statement also has incredible informative value toward the production of future work. When we dig deep to find answers, the process of writing our main Artist Statement can be challenging—to say the least. I reckon my current version underwent at least three dozen revisions. Below is one of my later drafts, before I really started the severe edits that resulted in the final version.

(I’m sharing this draft because this gives deep insight into how and why I do what I do, and why I’ve chosen this path in life. Much of this material was cut for the final, concise version; still some people might be interested in more detail…)

As always, thanks for your interest in my work, and please get in touch if you have any questions or there’s anything I can help you with. — Cheers, Nat


Visual beauty and good design influence our happiness and well-being. Beauty can be found everywhere, but it’s not always obvious. Contemplating abstract imagery is beneficial for our minds.

My work is about discovering, sharing and appreciating the captivating, interesting and surprising imagery that can be found in any kind of place, natural or manmade. (more…)

Developing Your Photographic Design Skills

Riomaggiore Photograph by Nat CoalsonSome photographers believe great shots happen mostly by luck – just keep making lots of pictures and you’re bound to get some good ones. It’s true that when you shoot frequently you increase the possibility of a happy accident; a “grab shot” that works, and regularly practicing your craft as a photographer is the key to improving your skills and the quality of your images.

However, it’s also important to understand that successful photographs most often express clear intentions of the maker. Like other forms of visual art, good photography is fundamentally based on effective design. Composition is part of the photographic design process, but it doesn’t end there. You can learn how to make better photographs using long-established principles of design.

When you’re preparing to make a picture, the first, most important question to ask yourself is “what is this a picture of?”. Clearly identifying the main subject or theme of a photo is key to its success.

Next, you need to eliminate everything from the frame that doesn’t contribute in a meaningful way to the main subject. In photography, usually less is more.

Nat_Coalson_Design_Fig_2Many photos fail to engage viewers because the photographer tried to get too much into the picture. When possible, provide some opportunities for the viewer’s imagination to interpret the meaning of the scene; this engages the viewer in a personal way.

TIP: Always be sure to scan the edges and corners of the frame for distracting or unwanted objects!

Once you’ve decided what it’s a picture of and gotten rid of all distracting elements, the next step is to apply your own sense of visual design and aesthetic style to create the strongest composition possible.

Your choices will be based on the position of the camera relative to the subject matter and how you place the frame edges in the optimal spot to create the best photographic design for the objects in the scene. The frame itself is the most important tool in designing a photograph.

You should also understand how the viewer’s eye will travel throughout the picture and make conscious decisions for how you want this to happen. Where does the eye go first? Where does it come to rest? Do the graphic elements in the picture work well together?

TIP: Generally speaking, you need to make sure that there are no elements in the picture that compete for attention with the main subject matter.

Use the fundamental elements of photographic design to create your composition. The following elements are the basic “building blocks” that combine to create a picture.

Points: places where the viewer’s eye changes direction while traversing the image
Lines: created by points; can be visible or invisible
Shapes: created by connected lines; shapes are flat without depth and dimension
Forms: shapes with shading applied; show depth and dimension with light and shadow
Patterns: repeating, geometric shapes
Textures: random, organic features that communicate a tactile sensation

One way to begin seeing the basic elements in any composition is to draw lines to identify shapes and arrows to indicate direction. This technique will help you understand how the viewer’s eye travels around the frame and can help you identify elements in the picture that may be distracting from the main subject.

These outlines can be real or imagined: you can print the photo and use a pen to trace the shapes or bring the image into Photoshop and use the brush tool to paint the outlines as shown in the example figures. After you’ve physically drawn lines on pictures for a while, you’ll begin to readily see photographic elements and their interactions without needing to actually trace their outlines.

Photographic Design Example

Note: though my examples are scenic images, you can use this technique for any kind of photograph.

In future articles you’ll learn specific techniques to use the photographic elements to their greatest potential. For now, start learning how to see what’s really making up the picture, simply in terms of basic graphics.

Art Term: Giclée

One of the most misunderstood, and perhaps controversial, terms you’ll hear around the art world is “giclée”. It’s used in reference to a type of art print and is based on a French word meaning “to spray”. A giclée print is an inkjet print; however, there’s more to the name and the story behind it.

The term was coined in the early 1990s, when digital inkjet printing first started to be used to produce art prints. Prior to this time, screen printing (serigraphy) and offset printing (lithography) were the primary methods used to make reproductions of artworks.

At the time (and maybe still to this day) there was a common notion that inkjet prints had questionable value in the art market, and for understandable reasons. Early inkjet prints were rarely of very high quality. Colors were inaccurate; detail was often lost in the reproduction. Worst of all, most early inkjet prints could not be expected to survive very long before their colors started fading or shifting.

For these reasons, along with skepticism and misunderstanding about this newfangled digital printing, people were dubious about purchasing anything made using the inkjet printing process.

Humble beginnings

In the early days, there weren’t very many printers capable of producing fine art quality prints. Iris printers, a product line developed by legendary digital imaging company Scitex, were among the first. But it wasn’t long before other printer companies, most notably Epson, joined the fray. (Over the past two decades, I’ve made fine art giclée prints using Iris, Epson and Canon printers, all with excellent results. Printers from other manufacturers, including Roland and HP, can also make fine giclées, provided the inks and media are up to snuff.)

Epson 11880 495px

Epson Stylus Pro 11880. One of the best printers ever made!

The term “giclée”, then, was intended to give a fancy name to a better quality of inkjet print; one that might be expected to have archival qualities—and the resulting value—that artists and collectors desire.

Today, you’ll hear the word giclée bandied about very casually. What’s important to understand is this: while all giclée prints are inkjet, not all inkjet prints are giclée. In the fine art world—including fine art photography—correctly using the term gicleé means the print was made using archival methods and materials.

You get what you pay for

A consumer-grade inkjet printer costing $200 can’t reasonably be expected to produce fine art giclée prints. The main issue is permanence – how long the ink and paper (or other substrate) will faithfully preserve the image. (When a color begins to change, it’s referred to as fugitive.) A giclée made to archival standards can survive 100 years—or even much longer—without significant change, whereas a lower quality print will start to degrade within a few years …or sooner!

Most often, it’s a print on canvas that’s called giclée. In the case of fine reproductions of original paintings, giclée also often describes a print that has been embellished, by hand, with paint and/or other traditional mediums. Also, a giclée reproduction of a painting should match very closely the color and values in the original work—no easy feat.

But technically, a giclée can be a print on any substrate, so long as it meets archival standards. in other words, you could accurately refer to a fine print on archival watercolor paper as a giclée. But this is not the most common usage of the word.

Read the fine (art) print

If you’re a photographer or artist ordering prints from a service bureau and hoping to sell them as giclées, ask about the printing process. Be sure the materials are to archival standards. If you’re a collector or art specifier, the same rules apply, and the price of any print should always be relative to how it was made. If something is labeled giclée it should reasonably be expected to last for generations to come!

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