And the bush has friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him, In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended, And at night the wonderous glory of the everlasting stars.

Banjo Paterson (1889)

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Modern Nature Photography - Like Ordering Pizza

Is any talent needed for good nature photography? Any skill or knowledge? Give a young kid a long lens, good camera on auto and some instruction in Photoshop and he will probably produce an award winning photo.

I sometimes come across some wildlife photographers during my birdwatching. Modern warriors with long camo canons, with multiple shots firing every second that make it sound like a bad day in Iraq. 200 shots later, yep I should have a good one! Not good enough? Photoshop will make that perfect! Was any skill or talent really used? Were the camera and computer the real photographers?

I feel sorry for the professional photogaphers who really do know their stuff and make a living out of it. With so many award class photos out there taken by the advanced cameras and computers, the pros must really have to work hard. That special shot is now needed, of a lion dragging a gazelle while a croc pulls at the other end and a vulture sits on top, during a beautiful sunset and a bushfire in the background at an African waterhole.

High class photos now flood the internet and blog sites, with some animal species it seems like only the background or angle changes. They all start looking a bit the same.

Don't get me wrong, people going out in the fresh air doing nature photography is great. Many would say it increases our appreciation of nature, but I'm not so sure. The general public still seems very ignorant of ecological processes and issues, even after the hundreds of television nature programs and David Attenborough films over many years. Some photographers I know have no idea of what animal or plant species they are taking a photo of, it's just a nice photo!

Do many modern photographers really care about nature or is it just the quick photo? The early nature photographers carried their big film cameras into remote wilderness areas and developed a real love for these areas, often fighting intense campains to save these places.

The Ansel Adams, the Olegas Truchanas, early great photgraphers who knew how light, film and camera worked. They did not fire off 200 shots to get a good one and then play with it in Photoshop to make it perfect! They had to know their art, and photography is an art. They often had one shot and you had to get it right! Film was expensive and you didn't know what you got until you developed it.

A challenge for modern photographers - put your camera in manual, take one shot per minute and don't play with it in any form. Maybe even just take black and white. See how good you really are.

I have seen many poor, often blurred photos on blog sites, but with many followers leaving comments on how wonderful the shot is! Have we become use to our pizza diet of photography? Many of these people even copyright their photos. Why? Do we have a false sense of how good we are?

Actually, unless you're a professional why copyright and lock your photos away? I have many slides and photos and jpegs that just sit stored away. Who see them? Usually after an intial showing to family or friends they just sit there getting old. When I die someone will probably throw them out or just delete them! So much for my precious photos. If photos are on the web, maybe it's better to share them and if someone use them so what? They may just remain in use long after you're gone.

Yes photography is fun and a great hobby at what ever level you're at, but maybe we should learn how to be a good cook, instead of just ordering a pizza and thinking we made a great dinner.

Please leave some comments about what you think on the modern digital nature photography age.


Wilma said...

I absolutely understand your position and share much of it; but I have a live and let philosophy in photogrpahy, life, the universe, and everything. ;-)

I do technical and microscopic photography for my profession (scientist) and nature photography as a serious amateur. I feel fortunate that I learned photography in the dark(room) ages as a poor graduate student. Each shot was expensive! I was forced to learn the theory of light, optics, lenses, silver halide chemistry, etc. I can still remember the hours in the darkroom printing out all the copies of the electron micrographs for my dissertation. I even processed my E6 Ektachrome slides and printed Cibachrome prints. It was challenging, and it was tedious, it was exasperating, and it was such a thrill when things turned out just as you had envisioned them. Boy, those were the days!

But, you know, these are the days too. I love to push the limits and I love to be able to try out all kinds of funky things with my camera, and lenses, and lighting, and accessories, with no serious financial consequences. But my previous experience with f/stops, exposure times, knowing how long I can handhold a given lens with no shake (no, I don't have motion stablizing on my digital camera),are invaluable for my experimentation.

I take nature and other photographs for my own personal pleasure now and began to post them on my blog so that my family (scatterred aound the globe) and friends (also scatered aroung the globe) could follow along. I don't use Photoshop on them, but I do use Google's Picasa to straighten, crop, adjust the histograms, and on occasion to sharpen. I love to be able to extract all I can from a digital image, and again, the theory of digital imaging that I learned for my professional life in scientific photography enables me to get the most out of a digital image. But just as in capturing images on a confocal microscope - a true photographer/scientist makes the original image as good as possible; you should not rely on post-capture manipulations to "create" your data!

My preference is to take pictures of things that other people can't see because either they can't get there or because I have a different perspective (a different way of not "getting there" I suppose). I can't imagine being one in a multitude of photographers as you have illustrated in your blog! The thought fairly horrifies me. I fail to see the point. But it obviously means something to the multitide ... (at least it keeps them off the street).

There is much more that I could write, but I will stop for now. I might write more later! You have written a very thought provoking post and I am interested in what others have to say about it.


Heather said...

A very thought-provoking post indeed, Richard. While I am by no means whatsoever a pro photographer, I do take my photography seriously, so here's my input.

"Some photographers I know have no idea of what animal or plant species they are taking a photo of, it's just a nice photo!
Do many modern photographers really care about nature or is it just the quick photo?

Speaking from my own personal experience, 95% of the time when I'm taking a photo of a bird or a flower or a bug, I'm doing so because the subject matter genuinely interests me and because I want to have a better understanding of it. For me, taking photos of nature, especially of smaller things, like flowers and bugs, allows me to "see" them even better than if I were just walking by and noticing said flower or bug. For me, it brings me closer to the subject, and often gives me at least a better appreciation for it, if not a better understanding of it.

As for snapping off many photos, I can be guilty of that, especially with birds. With living creatures, you just never know what they're going to do, and you can't predict the exact moment when that birds tongue might stick out and grab for the food. Most digital photographers could probably stand to learn a little restraint with the shutter, myself, included - but on the other hand, who is it hurting to take all those photos?

"The general public still seems very ignorant of ecological processes and issues, even after the hundreds of television nature programs and David Attenborough films over many years." Yes, you're right here, and I'm still not sure what the answer to this is. It's a disconnect that has been under my skin for some time, and I don't know how to make sense of it nor what to do about it. I would love for my photography to educate the public about nature in a real way, but I'm still trying to figure out the way to make that happen.

Denis Wilson said...

Hi Richard
As a Blogger, the photo (even if a bit blurry on occasions) only gets posted if I can use it to illustrate something, or to explain an aspect of the biology of whatever I am writing about.
I also take many macro images of plant parts to illustrate things which most people see, but ignore.
So, it isn't always about the "image" at all. Its what the image shows me which interests me - and hopefully other people.
Words and understanding are what Natural History reportage ought be about.
Attenborough understood that. That's why the BBC indulged him with all those massively expensive filming sessions in rainforests, or the Antarctic - which of course he did not photograph. It was a way to justify allowing him to explain things to people.
That's why his series were called "Life on Earth", etc not "Photos of Life on Earth".
To me, the image is a means to an end, not an end in itself.
I guess that is why I am not and never will be a professional "Photographer".
Denis Wilson

NicoleB said...

Good article.

I've always been a nature loving girl and when I started with Photography I often didn't know what I was shooting, but started looking it up and learning.

Those crowds you show in the pictures?
I would avoid them like the plague.

Thank goodness I live usually in areas where not so many 'nature photographers' roam around.

If 200 shots for one bird and hours in Photoshop make them happy, fine with me.
Not my piece of cake.

I post quite a few crappy shots on my Site and yes, they have a watermark on them.
Just last months a magazine here in this beautiful region in Egypt simply printed one of our wedding shots in a stupid article and no,I do not appreciate that.
If they had asked, different story.
If people ask, they can have my original files.
No problem at all.
I just don't like the grabbers and especially not the ones that in the end DO make money with it.

Just my thoughts about that ;)

I sure do wish that more people would really appreciate the Beauty of nature when they are out and about with their overpriced equipment,but I'm afraid, that you are right and most of them don't even see what they shoot :(

S.C.E. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
S.C.E. said...

Hi Richard. I disagree somewhat with those opinions, please don't take what I write personally, I know you're playing devils advocate.

I think in the past Wildlife Photography was an elitist hobby. The lens/camera/film/development cost a small fortune and it took real skill and experience to get that perfect shot. Now it's a much more level playing field, gear is more affordable to the unwashed masses and like you say we can fire off many many shots and not worry about wasting film (as well as tarting them up afterwards on the computer). A lot of old pros probably don't like this as their work has been demystified. The world moves on. Sorry but it's true.

And anyway Pros have computers and use Photoshop too. Saying we should use only Manual Exposure and Focus and not fiddle with the images on a computer is like saying we shouldn't send an e-mail, rather we should sit down with a quill and ink and write on parchment.

Digital photography has changed everything. I enjoy taking photos of birds. I know what these birds are and the the conservation issues surrounding them. I've been birding since I was 10, I only picked up a camera as I hit middle age. I don't think anyone, pro or otherwise, needs to be telling me what I should and shouldn't be doing with my hobby. End of discussion as far as I'm concerned.

Anyway pros have nothing to worry about me taking away their business with my crappy old photos. I have no problem with people saying my blurry photos are great, they're only being friendly.

Hey I love pizza by the way.

yen said...

interesting and thoughts proviking...