It’s midway through the London Olympics as I write this article. Just as athletes become faster, higher and stronger with each successive games, the world of photography moves on. Due to advances in digital technology and software we can create bigger, cleaner, sharper, more vibrant and detailed images. Less tangible perhaps is the flow on effects of these technological improvements but I believe they have led to unshackling imagination, vision and ideas.
Landscape photographer Marc Adamus is always quick to acknowledge his greatest inspiration Galen Rowell. The reality is that today Marc’s imagery exceeds his idol in virtually every way. Clearly context is important. Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “Mario’s Bike” is a good example of this, a deserved classic and one of my favorite images. However, if it was shot today, would it be making the same impression in several decades time? Or even now? I doubt it. Personally, I think the degree of blurring in the entire image would be deemed unacceptable if the capabilities today’s camera equipment were employed. I’ll bet that Cartier-Bresson would have similar thoughts had he been practising his craft in the digital age. I don’t subscribe to the idea that technical deficiencies can always be overcome by a brilliance in other ways. I remember many years ago a pianist was going back out to give an encore. He asked my opinion on what I thought he should play. His preference was the first movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, a work that I knew he hadn’t performed for a long time. My advice was not to play it but he went ahead and it blew up in his face. Why? It didn’t matter that the piece was played exceptionally well for 99% of its course. The problem was the one jarring incorrect note that everyone in the audience would remember the performance for. Some errors are fatal.
Amidst all these technological advancements and wizardry, without personal vision and the ability to make people feel something, the longevity of a photo will be limited to a few wow comments, some likes on Facebook and then quickly forgotten. We can’t all be Henri Cartier-Bressons or Galen Rowells but in 20 years time, when the photos we take today are outdated in technical quality, it’s going to be vision, inspiration and the feelings evoked that are going to dictate whether they’re still significant or not.
Keep abreast of technology and practise good technique – master and utilize them to make the best quality photos you can as well as to push your imagination and ideas. Technology is now. Vision is forever.
This is an image that has fallen out of favour a few times over the years, only to be resurrected each time by a re-imagining. The Twelve Apostles are the Australian equivalent of Mesa Arch. Pretty sunset shots with great displays of colour are nice to have; the only problem is that they are a dime-a-dozen and unsuitable for my purpose of building a portfolio of distinctive work.
When I showed up for my first sunrise shoot here in 2007, I immediately realized something special was happening with the light. The scene was receiving both front and back lighting from the setting moon coupled with the glow of first light. It was an opportunity to use unique conditions to make a familiar scene new. I used a 3 stop reverse neutral density filter to keep the sky dark during the 78 second exposure.
It turns out that the actual in-the-field capture was the east part. My initial effort was to present this as a nighttime landscape – dark, low contrast and with a murky white balance. The result was quite striking and showed the Twelve Apostles literally in a new light. But without the processing skills and software I possess now, I realize my vision was hampered back then.
The mental list of goals I had for this rework included the following :
- change to a cooler white balance to contrast with the warm light on the cliffs and Apostles
- selective contrast adjustments to make the rock stacks pop out of the darkness and make the patterns of flow in the ocean stand out more
- increase fine details in the rocks
- reduce noise
The result is cleaner, sharper and has a more appealing balance of contrast in lighting and colours. Evolutionary rather than revolutionary changes perhaps but the image now takes pride of place among my personal favourites.