Is there such a thing as "pure" nature photography? And how does Photoshop fit into that idea?
By Rob Sheppard
…lying in the sense it is used here…simply implies that a difference exists between a photograph and the subject it depicts. In most uncontrolled photographs [or common snapshots] this difference becomes a negative factor, for the uncontrolled photograph usually creates a lesser impression of what was apparent to the eye.”
That latter statement is important and the idea was explored a bit in “Digital Horizons” in the January/February 2006 issue. Feininger correctly points out that the reality we see and what the camera records are often quite different—sometimes our eye does better than the camera, sometimes the camera does better than we do in seeing what’s really in front of us. So, we control the image in many, many ways. Here are some examples:
Changing ƒ-stops for depth-of-field effects.
Using flash for shadow brightness.
Choosing shutter speeds to portray movement and action.
Using a grad ND filter to balance the brightness in a scene.
Using a polarizer to remove sky reflections from water.
Changing focal lengths to affect the appearance of perspective.
Shooting at different times of day to change the light on a subject.
Changing film type or color space to alter how colors are presented.
Photoshop is also about control of the image. This can be good or bad control, helpful adjustments or “tricks,” but it definitely controls how a photograph portrays the subject.
Feininger continues talking about control in this way, “Uncontrolled photographs show only [the medium’s] inferiority. But if a photographer knows how to control his medium, he can utilize its superior qualities to impart through his photographs more than an observer would have been able to see in the subject itself. Skillfully used, photography becomes a means for discovery and the camera an instrument for widening the range of our visual experience.”
“Skillfully used”—that applies to how every pro nature photographer I know uses the camera, regardless of the recording medium used. That also applies to OP readers who strive to learn how to more skillfully use their cameras and lenses. “Skillfully used” doesn’t mean pointing the camera in the general direction of the subject and expecting to get a great shot because of the “purity” of the camera.
“Skillfully used” means thoughtfully and wisely using photographic technology to create an image that best interprets the scene for the purposes of the photograph. Using a wide-angle lens to photograph a flock of spoonbills at a distance generally isn’t thoughtfully or wisely using photographic technology. Choosing a high-ISO film or digital setting when one isn’t needed isn’t wisely using photographic technology when shooting a landscape with beautiful sky that would then be marred by grain or noise.
“Skillfully used” also applies to Photoshop when it enhances a nature photograph so that it can help us better discover and see the world around us. Photoshop for the nature photographer isn’t about tricks and cheap manipulations. It’s about thoughtfully and wisely using digital photographic technology to create an image that best interprets the scene for the purposes of the photograph.