Photography and The Death of Reality
by Rick Sammon
“Reality leaves a lot to the imagination.” – John Lennon
Hey, I know that title is a bit dramatic, but for my first article here on The Luminous Landscape I wanted to do something a bit different – because there are so many great how-to and gear review articles on this site.
Photography and the death of reality is not a new topic, but as we move more and more into digital darkroom enhancements, I thought I’d explore it with the talented readers of this site. One of my goals with this article is to get your feedback in the Forum Section of this site.
Before I go on, I’d like to share a story about Ansel Adams, relayed to me by one of his assistants, the talented John Sexton. Here goes: A man writes Ansel Adams a letter (condensed here): Dear Mr. Adams, I have your books. Your beautiful pictures of Yosemite inspired me to visit this National Park. However, when I got there I was disappointed. The park does not look like that.
So much for reality – and photography.
Of course, I could have entitled this article, Photography and the Birth of Creativity, because since day one, people with cameras have made images that don’t represent reality, even when they tried. That’s due, in part, to the way cameras record light, and how lenses bend light and compress or widen a scene or subject – not to mention that we see in 3D and camera see in 2D.
The message of this article is twofold: One, to get you inspired to make the most creative images ever, and not to be afraid to follow your heart when it comes to digital enhancements. Two, to encourage you to share, or at least mention, your processing techniques when you share an image with others, so they, like the Ansel Adams letter-writer, are not disappointed if they try to make the same kind of image you made at a location or in the studio. I know that is not always possible, and I don’t do it all the time, but it is something to keep in mind.
The image that opens this post is my favorite image from a trip my wife Susan and I made last year along Historic Route 66. It’s an HDR image created from the six images you see above. After creating my HDR image, I added a blue gradient filter to the sky and then boosted the saturation of the image. Then I selectively sharped the image, being careful not to over sharpen the sky.
Even the average exposure (top left) distorts reality. For one thing, we don’t see starbursts with our eyes. For another, because I was shooting relatively close with a wide-angle lens, the sign looks like it is falling over toward the left, which it was not.
I took the image above on a workshop I led last year to the Conway Valley in North Wales, UK.
The location is called Fairy Glen. It’s a beautiful place, but as you can see from the average exposure from my HDR sequence, the scene looks quite different in reality. To create my own reality of the scene, I shot HDR. I also used a Tiffen 2-8 stop ND filter to reduce the light entering the lens so I could shoot at a slow shutter speed. What’s more, after I processed my HDR image, I use the Duplex filter in Nik Color Efex Pro to add a dreamy quality to scene. Finally, I used the techniques (or you could say tricks) of cropping and vignetting to cut out all the surrounding area – so you feel as though you are in the scene.
I, like you, have countless examples of how we, and our cameras, distort reality. Here is another.
Above is an HDR image I created from a sequence of images I shot in an abandoned house. After I created my HDR image, I added a grunge look with Topaz Simplify.
Here’s the middle image from my HDR abandoned house sequence. Once again, reality was altered not only by image processing, but by the distortion provided by my wide-angle lens.
Perhaps the best examples of non-reality in photography are in fashion and glamour photography. Check out this image. Who travels with a hair-and-makeup person, hair stylists, and wardrobe coordinator – and assistant with reflectors and other accessories to make them look good? Fashion models, that’s who.
For young girls trying to look glamorous, the non-reality of photography is very important to keep in mind. The same goes for guys trying to find the perfect girlfriend.
So my friends, have fun making and processing creative images. Just keep in mind that we often create our own reality – which (on another subject) is something Dr. Wayne Dyer talks about in his book, Real Magic.
Rick Sammon helps photographers at all levels make pictures on his workshops and at his seminars. Visit with Rick at www.ricksammon.com.
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Published April 15, 2014