The father of Pictorialism Alfred Stieglitz once said, “What atmosphere is to Nature, tone is to a picture,” and we couldn’t agree more when it comes to making painterly photographs. A good portrait is like a well-composed image that closely follows the aesthetics of painting, and the Pictorialist movement from the late 19th century and early 20th century believed so. Portraitists can learn a thing or two from another Pictorialism pioneer such as Gertrude Käsebier by adopting a soft-focus technique akin to the brush strokes with the Petzval 85 Art Lens — the essential art lens for crafting that otherworldly vintage aesthetic.
A Soft Touch
One of the main characteristics of a pictorialist photograph is its softness. The renowned 19th-century British photographer Julia Margaret Cameron’s soft-focused portraits depict subjects feathered and brushed smoothly to blend against the fading background. You can follow in the footsteps of Cameron and create swirly bokeh with the Petzval 85 Art Lens play around with a narrow field of view to make other elements turn into spherical aberrations.
Many Pictorialists believed that the invention of the camera heralded the dawning of a new paintbrush. As a consequence, they treated their photographs as paintings by applying the same concepts learnt from painting.
Chiaroscuro refers to the presence of dramatic contrasting light and shading which expresses a mood, and it was a style adopted by many Pictorialists. The effects are best seen in the works of Henry Peach Robinson. With it’s maximum aperture of f/2.2, you can use the Petzval 85 Art Lens to adjust contrasting light with the during dark or low-lighting conditions to create flawlessly finished masterpieces.
Building an Atmosphere
To complete the Pictorialist look, you need to create an interesting atmosphere. Apart from color, lighting, and tonal values, texture also plays a significant role in mood-making. Take inspiration from Pictorialist Clarence H. White’s ethereal portrait of a woman feeling the breeze in The Sea. We recommend pairing your Petzval 85 Art Lens with the Special Aperture Plates. The teardrop and the honeycomb plates are particularly useful for adding dramatic brush strokes to your photographs.