Peter Lik: Comparables and Critiques

July 25, 2022

You Be the Judge!

As I mentioned here, viewers have told me that my work reminds them of the work of photographer Peter Lik, and since Peter Lik and I have photographed some of the same locations in the American Southwest, I thought it would be interesting to do a direct comparison/contrast of our approach to photographing similar subject matter.

Both Peter Lik and I have photographed Mesa Arch in Canyonlands National Park near Moab, Utah many times. Here is one of Lik's most famous photographs of Mesa Arch, titled Sacred Arch:

Sacred Arch by Peter Lik

I think this is an interesting composition. You can see almost the entire span of the arch. The red glow on the underside of the arch, which is only visible just after sunrise, is present, and there is nice color in the sky both above and below the arch. However, the view through the arch is very small in this composition and the foreground rocks, which are not all that interesting as compared to the view of the canyonlands through the arch, take up nearly 40% of the image, while the more interesting formations of Washer Woman and Monster Rock, visible through the arch, are too small, and the La Sal Mountains can barely be seen at all. The blue sky above the arch provides some nice color contrast to the yellow sunrise, but otherwise it is a waste of space. In addition, the use of digital High Dynamic Range (HDR) to even out the exposure of the digital image gives this picture a slightly unreal quality.

Here is one of my photographs of Mesa Arch, made using 8x10 film:

Red Dawn, Sunrise at Mesa Arch
Red Dawn, Sunrise at Mesa Arch by Michael Lynn Roberts

This is also a sunrise photograph, capturing the red glow on the underside of the arch. By composing this photograph as closely as I could to the arch to keep everything in focus, and using the arch to frame the view, I eliminated the sky above the arch as well as most of the stone to the right side. Washer Woman and Monster Rock monuments can be seen clearly against the backdrop of fog and haze in the subfreezing air on this January 2nd morning. The La Sal Mountains are silhouetted against the backlit sunrise sky, and the sky does not detract from the red glow of the arch.

This next photograph is Peter Lik's Stone Temple, a view of Turret Arch framed through the North Window arch in Arches National Park near Moab.

Stone Temple by Peter Lik

Peter LIk chose to make this photograph just before sunset to catch the setting sun as it lights up the left inside edge of North Window. Again, he uses digital HDR (High Dynamic Range) to even out the exposure between the bright sky and what would otherwise be a silhouetted frame formed by the east side of North Window.

Here is my own photograph of the same scene but taken just after sunrise.

Sunrise on North Window
Sunrise on North Window by Michael Lynn Roberts

Here, as before, the contrast between Peter LIk's creative approach and my own is striking. But where the difference in our Mesa Arch photographs is not in the time of day but in the composition, here our approaches differ primarily in time of day. Lik's photo is more subdued because North Window is in shadow, while my photo shows off the red sandstone in the warm sunrise light. Because I had to wait for the shadow to move off of Turret Arch, the sky is blue which provides a striking color contrast with the red-orange sandstone. Both Lik's photograph as well as my own highlight the detailed textures of the east face of North Window.

Now for a change of pace, from the American Southwest to the Pacific Northwest. The Portland Japanese Garden has been called the most beautiful and authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan. The PJG includes one of the most photographed Japanese Maple Trees in the world. Peter Lik first photographed this tree with his 6x17cm medium format Linhof Technorama. Here is the result:

Autumn Spirit by Peter Lik

This famous tree is noteworthy for its exuberant, twisted and gnarled branches and for the beauty of its dynamically colorful canopy during the peak of fall color. Lik's photo captures both of these exceptional features, but the panorama format feels a bit awkward with this subject.

Here for comparison is one of my photographs made with 8x10 film on a foggy morning.

Autumn Flame
Autumn Flame by Michael Lynn Roberts

Finally, Antelope Canyon, a Navajo Nation Tribal Park, is a world famous location for slot canyon photography in the American Southwest. Both Peter Lik and I have photographed extensively in Upper and Lower Antelope Canyon. Here are comparison photographs from both the Upper and Lower portions of the Canyon. The first pair of photographs are from Upper Antelope Canyon. As you enter the walled slot canyon, you find yourself in a large chamber, perhaps fifty feet below the surface of the normally dry arroyo. Depending on the time of day and the season of the year, the colors of the walls can range from orange to pink to blue or even purple as light from the sun reflects off the walls. Blue skies also reflect down into the depths of the canyon. If you turn around to face the entrance of the slot canyon, you see this scene:

Hidden Temple by Peter Lik

Peter Lik's photograph shows the dominant red-orange Navajo sandstone. This is a digital photograph (Nikon D800), not the 30% aspect ratio of Lik's Linhof Technorama camera.

Here is my photograph of the same scene, from my first visit to Upper Antelope Canyon in June 2006:

Doorway to Wonder
Doorway to Wonder by Michael Lynn Roberts

Lik's composition is wider, mine is tighter. On my visit, I was fortunate to have more variety in the colors of the reflected light, likely because the time of day is earlier in the morning instead of at or near high noon.

The last pair of comparison photographs are from Lower Antelope Canyon. As I have discussed elsewhere (here), human beings evolved with a bias to perceive the patterns of faces in sometimes random places. For this stone projection in Lower Antelope Canyon, both Peter Lik and I have perceived the shape of a diving bird of prey. His title is American Eagle. I titled mine Thunderbird in honor of the Native American spirit of power, protection, and strength.

American Eagle by Peter Lik
Thunderbird by Michael Lynn Roberts

Here, our two compositions are almost identical. But I love the added purple color in my own photograph.

So there you have it, direct comparisons of five photographs made by Peter Lik and myself. One Lik image made with a film camera and the other four with a digital camera with all its technological advantages (zoom lenses, High Dynamic Range sensor, variable ISO settings) compared to my vintage wooden 1898 Rochester Optical Company King 8x10 camera and 100 ISO film.

Is one photographer's work superior to the other? Both similar? Too close to call? You be the judge.