Over recent years I have noticed an increasing trend towards what I would call Unbelievable Realism in photography. To my mind, this is most noticeable (and objectionable) in the area of Nature and Landscape Photography.
If you are wondering what I am talking about, it’s the amazing colours and saturations that seem to dominate, increasingly dramatic images. I have a friend who calls this fast food photography and I have to agree. I look at a series of these photographs and find myself skipping through, quicker and quicker, trying to get to the next one to see if it is even more dramatic. At the end, I feel exhausted but strangely never fulfilled. There is seldom more to these images than the immediate hit of colour.
It’s easy to see why this is happening. In the days before digital, you had to work the magic in camera. It was a skill you developed along with your eye for a good image. Now, you still work the magic in camera but it’s only part of the story. For example, if you shoot RAW you can’t stop with the in camera image or it looks dreadful (especially if you use techniques like exposing to the right). At the same time, software for manipulating the images has become increasingly advanced, capable and in some cases easy to use. Magazines and website are also flooded with such images so those new to photography see this as what they need to aspire to rather than developing their own vision.
As a user and enthusiastic advocate of plug-ins, I have to admit that these may be causing part of the problem. These tools make it very easy for people with little experience (who also may not have developed their personal vision/eye yet) to produce dramatic effects. I too have found myself guilty of creating images that have too much impact at times and stray into the area of unbelievable realism. It’s very easy to push those sliders just a little too far and not realize you are doing it until it’s too late.
What I would like to propose is an alternative approach to Landscape and Nature photography where we try to keep it real. In the picture above you can see an image that I have tried to process a number of times. The difficulty I have experienced is that the image, no matter how I process it, has never appeared real to me. Often the grass comes out too green, the sky too blue or the sunset too orange and saturated. The subtlety of colour and the balance between the colours just isn’t right. What unfortunately I am missing is a good reference point to work from. So far the above example is the best I have been able to produce but I think it’s a work in progress.
To end, I would like to pose two questions to anyone reading this:
- Which approach do you prefer when looking at other peoples work, the drama of “Unbelievable Realism” or the subtlety of “keeping it real”?
- Which approach do you try to adopt for your own work?