Ordinary Landscape

The other day, we had a proponent of “creative landscape photography” presenting at the photographic society. His results were outstanding. I even approved of some of his philosophy, which is saying something.

But … some of his decisions in the execution of that philosophy seemed off.

It’s great to hear someone ignoring the maxim “get it right in camera”, espousing instead the idea of “getting good data at the scene” and affirming the role of post-processing to polish the result instead. I believe strongly in the very same thing myself.

It seems strange that such a philosophy would lead to rejoicing in a camera’s dynamic range – no matter claiming to have recovered 4 stops from the shadows, it would still have been done better by HDR at the scene – where the data comes from photons working in the hardware’s optimum performance zone.

It seems strange that one would criticize such a camera for “not seeing the same way we do”, and go on to say that we need to enhance the impression of depth by using lower contrast in the distance.
The sensor’s response curve is smooth; it will accurately reflect the relative contrast in areas by distance. The only way it would not is if one’s processing were to actively include tonemapping with localized contrast equalization. Left to its own devices, the result will accurately reflect what it was like to be there – one of the greater compliments a landscape photographer could receive.

The problem is not with the landscape; it’s with the way that photography should aspire to relate to the landscape. “Creative” seems to be a euphemism for multiplying and enhancing every aspect, be it strong foreground (make it a yet stronger perspective with a tilt lens), contrasty light (more contrast slider), colour (still more saturation and vibrace to breaking point) and so on. The results create impact but without story or message; visual salt without an underpinning of a particular taste.

Of course we know that “realism” is a phantom. It’s true that no camera will capture quite the same as anyone sees. However, let me introduce a new word: believability, precisely the quality that one could have been there at the same time. That seems like a valid goal.

Have some believable landscape images – they mean a little to me; that suffices.