Saturday, March 3, 2007

Realism


This is one of my first serious photographs about Mount Rainier National Park, taken in the early 1990's, and has always been one of my favorite images, partly because it shows the reality of nature, always in transistion, in dynamic equilibrium as a scientist would say about the nature of things. This tree has split from the weight of the previous winter's snow. Every few years I go back to this spot to see how the tree is doing, and although I don't have some images to show you (in one of many boxes of slides somewhere), I can assure you the tree is still alive and growing. The top that was split and bent over finally touched the ground and regrew up as a a new tree. For fallen trees it's called a parent and child trees.

My purpose in photography is trying to present what I saw with the image as best I can. I'm not a fan of saturated or dramatized landscape or nature images, popular with books and calendars and with some professional photographers. They like to sell images and prints with the old-fashioned photography term of "pop." This is dramatized in this Don Paulson image taken from from a popular hikng trail. The image is beautiful if you're not familar with the scene and location, but to me, while beautiful, it's all wrong. Why?

First, look at the light in the distant trees and on the mountain. It's a late fall afternoon sun, so why is the foreground not in shadow? It should be, so the photographer increased the brightness of the foreground meadow. Why isn't the snow in the shadows darker? It should be, but the photographer heightened the snow which brightened the snow in the shadow. Why is the vegetation so bright? It shouldn't be, being a late fall afternoon. Why is the clouds so colorful? They would be lightly or subtly colorful, just not as brillant. I'm not against this photograph, but if you plan to go there to see this, you won't.


Compare that photo with mine above or this one taken on a late summer afternoon. My images are more flat, but also more realistic, meaning it's likely what you'll see. It occurs to me rarely is nature so brillant with heightened colors as you will see with nature and landscape images, which is a sore point with me for one reason, which was discussed at a photography workshop last November, namely where does realism belong in nature and landscape photography.

The workshop was lead by a noted photographer Scott Bourne. He emphasized that in wildlife photography realism is paramount, as is documentary and street photography and photojournalism, but anything is acceptable in nature and landscape photography. While I can say it's what's being done I do not agree with this philosophy or logic. It's sells prints, books and calendars, but it's a disservice to nature and landscape photographer who do strive for realism.

And while I've met Scott Bourne over the years and respect and admire his work, I do disagree with what he taught at this workshop. He showed how you take multiple images in the field, called bracketing, to ensure you have the shadows and highlights captured in at least one image. I'm not against this because it's recommended. He showed people how you can interlace or layer multiple images of the same scene to add or replace parts or colors in the image. In short, he simply said you can invent an image which didn't exist when you were standing there.

It's not what I strive for, and I've met other photographers who agree, and while they work on their images to enhance them, they don't go overboard as the example image. Several examples are Pat O'Hara and QT Luong. It's a fine line between realism and enchancement, and another between enhancement and saturation, and the judgement of the photographer. And my point is simply to use judgement when you see an image that seems too good to be real. It isn't real, but the photographer's imagination.

1 comment:

  1. It would seem reality just can't compete.

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