Friday, January 2, 2009

An Ordinary Day

It was a dull and ordinary day, but you couldn't tell it by the images. You would have thought the sky and setting sun was magnificant, the wispy clouds beautifully creasing the edges of the sky, golden from the sunset, and the land a warmth you rarely see when the river flowed like silk, the rocks just shaded so you could see the detail, and the trees slowly fading into the darkness. It was beautiful whoever stood there.

Or at least that's the image they made in Photoshop to make it appear that way. Actually it was just another sunset where everything was getting dark. The only beauty was the sky as the sun set over the horizon. It was short-lived and quickly turned dark. Nothing spectacular, just dark, almost too dark to make my way back to the car and go home.

Isn't that always the case? You see a beautiful image, know where it was taken, and when, but when you get there it's not the same? Somehow the scene isn't what you saw in the image? It turns out to be just another dull and ordinary day, or sunrise or sunset as many image show. You stand there wondering what the hell is going on, except you really know but just didn't want to believe it.

I'm not going to arue against making beautiful landscape and nature images. Hell, they sell well for prints, for calendars and in books. But I will argue those images aren't real, aren't really images but simply marketing images for an idea the photographer wanted you to believe than what was real, what was really there when they were standing there with the camera.

I'm also not going to argue there aren't many scenes that are beautiful and are captured realistically on film or with digital images. As the saying goes, been there done that. I make no bones about the fact I'm an ordinary, observational photographer. I shot what I see and present what I thought I saw. Nothing more and hopefully nothing less. Just what was while I was standing there.

This isn't new with digital cameras, nor is it new with all the tools in Photoshop and other photo editors. There's been saturated and super saturated films for a few decades, Velvia is the best example. And photographers have always worked their images in the darkroom to enhance the prints to look better, more engaging, more highlights, etc.

It's as one professional landscape photographer said in a workshop, "Realism in wildlife photography is a requirement, but in landscape and nature photographer, everything is game and the goal is to make the image sell." And he went on to describe how to "punch up" landscape images in Photoshop.

Personally I was totally baffled. Not by the reality it's done, but by the arrogance he excluded one type of photography from alteration in the name of realism, but then threw out the honesty in landscape photography. He basically said landscape in photography is a market for images that sell ideas than scenes. It was like the morning on a cold winter day, clear and biting, and so real.

I left the workshop at the end of that session and didn't go back for the rest. While I know this is true, I know it's not true for me and for many landscape photographers who like capturing and presenting what's there than what's imaginary. But then all the outdoor photography magazines sell issues on how to "improve" your landscape and nature images.

And amost all the landscape books show the same, minus a few great landscape photographers, most notably Galen Rowell. Yes, he improved his images, but not to the degree the vast majority did and does. He strove to capture first and present second, but mostly he wanted you know see what he saw standing there. The witness the act of his being there, not imagination.

Yes, it's the reality of photography today. We can't be happy with what we see but what we want others to think we saw. After all, can you sell a dull and ordinary day?

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