Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Realism revisited

The subject of realism in a photographer's work, their images, seems to vary with the photographer, but it always seems to come back to a general single philosophy. I've already written one post about my view that I keep hearing in workshops or reading in articles. And it's more and more beginning to bug the film out of my camera.

And? It's the idea that in wildlife photography and even some types of macro photography images should represent realism, meaning the images should present the subject in all facets as realistically as possible. I don't disagree with that, and it's somewhat followed in other types of photography such as street photography and photojournalism. And we know all the rules disappear in other types of photography, commericial, studio, portrait, fashion, architecture, etc.

So why is it that it's ok to throw the rules away for nature and landscape photography? I know why, because hyper-color or saturated images sell prints and display in magazines. But they're unreal. And the photographers who do focus their work on realism in nature and landscape images take the heat for those that overwork their images into surreal ones. And this is my rant against those who not only suggest it but almost demand it.

Why the revisit? Well, while waiting to go to a routine appointment I stop by a local chain bookstore that has a large magazine selection, inlcuding 2-3 dozen photo magazines. And while purusing one I came across an article about Moose Peterson, the outstanding wildlife photographer. And he reiterated his philosophy just as I wrote, realism with wildlife and surrealism in nature and landscape.

He even said he barely uses Photoshop with his wildlife images but he'll use every tool with nature and landscape images. And this just bothers me to no end. I put a fair amount of work trying to present my nature and landscape images as I saw them then and there. I focus on the capture of the best original photo and the minimalist editing for the image, mostly to fix my own errors than the scene or subject, such as dust, over/under exposure, etc.

The article went on to say he (Moose) wouldn't move a branch if it was a wildlife shot, it takes away from the reality he saw and wants to capture. But he said he wouldn't hesitate to do that and more if it was a nature or landscape image. What happened to realism? We want to see an animal different than a forest or mountain scene?

Not long ago a wildlife photographer caught a lot of criticism when he altered the stripes on a photos of zebras to cover a deformity, but we wouldn't criticize him if he altered the colors, leaves, bark, underbrush, etc. of a forest. Why is that? And they recommend shooting raw so you can take advantage of all the tools to alter images?

I once listened to a wildlife photographer who said the same, even suggested taking 2-4 shots of the same scene to composite them into one, even borrowing from other images to enchance elements missing or not correct in your nature or landscape image. So seeing his and Moose's nature and landscape images will you really believe their images are what he saw at the time? And something you could see if you were there?

And I've written that I shoot mostly jpeg for the very reason or realism, it teaches me to do your best in the field than relying on Photoshop to fix my own stupidity in the field. I don't rely on raw format to overcome my own shortcomings. It's a carry over from film, where you learned to think in the field. It challenges me to do my best then and there, pure and simple. And yes, I do shoot raw occasionally, but less than 5% of my photos.

And while I know it's not a full use of my camera's features, it's not what I'm in photography for. I enjoy the process of seeing and capturing and I'm learning the production side, the photo to image process. And shooting jpeg in any of type of photography forces me to think all the time in my photography, the same as I did with film.

And I know many photographers do present their nature and landscape work for realism, or just only a shade away. This is especially true in large format which is still predominantly film where the knowledge is very important and critical, and most of those photographers produce images within the realm of realism whether it's fine art, studio, portrait, nature or landscape.

Anyway, that's my perspective on the issue. I'll still shoot for realism.

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