TALKING IMAGES 27 – HAVE BLURRED SKIES AND WATER BECOME A PHOTOGRAPHIC CLICHE?

 

 

Sometime last year, and I can’t now recall exactly when, this was the question asked by an opinion poll in the magazine Amateur Photographer (AP).  10% or 20% of the respondents to this poll (and I can’t recall the exact figure) thought the answer to be “yes”, and I agreed with them. It took no soul-searching on my part to come up with this answer but, then, I’m the first to acknowledge that my views (on many things, as it happens) may not be mainstream, and so there it was.

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pier-498523_1280

Photo credit: Pixabay

QUOTE FROM JEREMY WALKER

However, in the 18 Feb 2017 issue of AP, the respected landscape photographer Jeremy Walker, talking about taking parties of clients on photographic explorations of the wilds of Iceland, wrote the following:

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Basically there are shots to be had, but there’s a danger of getting overloaded with blurry long exposures.  It seems to be what people want to go and do.

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ARTICLE BY DOUG CHINNERY

And now has come this.  Other than AP, which I subscribe to and regularly devour, I don’t usually read photographic magazines.  I’ve tried some of them, but in reality they’re really not up there with AP‘s quality, and they simply don’t shake my tree.  However, recently, I have bought a couple of issues of Outdoor Photography magazine and, despite it going on a bit to much about landscapes – well, outdoors, it would, wouldn’t it? – there have been some real nuggets in it.  And, coming from the same stable as the B+W Photography magazine I have praised extensively on this blog, it is very well produced and has some wonderful photography.

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Anyway, going through the issue 215 of Outdoor Photography, I came upon a long article by the photographer Doug Chinnery, entitled Understanding Exposure.  Well, I had a fairly good idea what this might be about and, the first pages were just as expected – working with a tripod in Manual exposure mode, using Neutral Density Graduated filters, paying strict attention to the histogram, etc etc.  OK, no question at all, this is one way of doing things – and one on my most deeply felt convictions about photography is that there are no rights and no wrongs.  There are simply the ways in which  I – or you – do things.  We are all different, each one of us.  And whether we do things one way or another, and whether we use this bit of kit or that bit of kit, or this post-capture process or that post-capture process – Canon, Nikon, Holga, film, digital, wet plate, pinhole, you name it – we are all photographers, and that’s all there is to it.  And the only real question is whether the resulting images look good – first to ourselves and, someway second, to others too.  That’s all there is – and never let anyone tell you to the contrary.

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Enough preaching!  Anyway, I read on through Doug Chinnery’s article, and came to a piece on the limitations of light meters, and the exhortation always to use Matrix or Evaluative metering – and then, under the heading ANOTHER PATH, I was hit by a bombshell!  Never one to do things by halves, I’m quoting here the first three paragraphs, verbatim (and I’m putting the whole of it in red font, as I think it such an important piece of thinking – especially the first paragraph) :

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While making beautiful, technically crafted photographs is absolutely fine, some find that they can convey little in the way of soul, story or emotion.  The images will tend to have full detail in the shadows, and the highlights will be bright but not ‘blown’.  They can be seen as simply beautiful images of locations, enhanced by fine compositions and good light.

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For many of us, though, our creativity begins to search for ways to inject to inject something more into our images.  Using our understanding of exposure and being willing to stray from convention will allow us to explore this need.

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Once we realise that no one is hanging histograms on gallery walls, we can free ourselves from some of the constraints some would place upon us as to what a “correct” exposure is.  I would suggest that a correct exposure is simply one that realises our personal creative vision for an image.  It bears no relation to what a light meter or histogram is telling us.  Convention tells us shadows have to show detail, and highlights must not be blown, in the same way we are told images must be sharp or comply with certain compositional rules.  Once we accept that this is not necessarily the case, the creative fun can begin.

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And he goes on to say that this thinking has had profound results.  For a start, his tripod is now largely a thing of the past in his landscape photography – which must mean, not so many blurred shots of clouds of water, although the article does include an absolutely beautiful, 2.5 second, handheld image of rolling hills.  Gone too is the need for front to back sharpness.  And he is now using aperture priority exposure automation with – wait for it! – a mirrorless camera system!!!  Wow, I can’t believe I’m reading this stuff!  I don’t know what to say – well, that’s not true, I do know what to say – WAY TO GO, MAN, WAY TO GO!!!!!

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And while revelling in all this euphoria around making creative exposures, an important point to make >>> using a camera with an electronic viewfinder (EVF) (or using any camera’s LCD screen, comes to that) lets us see the results of such creativity at once, rather than having the guess the effects of such changes when using an optical viewfinder.  I’ve found the large, bright EVFs on the Fujifilm X-T1 and X-T2 cameras superb.

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CONCLUSIONS

Well, as always, my first conclusion is that photography has no rights or wrongs, and that no one has the right to tell photographers how to take pictures.  For me that’s a very fundamental given, and I am certainly not going to tell anyone that they shouldn’t blur their images’ skies and waters.  If that’s your thing, do it.

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I have presented another photographer’s picture at the top of this post.  There’s no question but that its very beautiful.  Its gorgeous, calm, a work of art.  But I have totally lost count of the number of photographs of jetties going out into waters that have the consistency of (in this case, bluish) milk that I’ve seen over the years, and I have only to go to poster shops to see still more.

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In a way, I see parallels here with my full frame fisheye lens.  By which I mean that fisheyes can produce excellent images, but there is not the slightest doubt – in my mind at least –  that they are not something to be used frequently because, unless used with a vast creativity that I’m not sure I possess, their effects can quickly become formulaic and, in short, a cliché. 

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Basically, I’m hoping for more originality and diversity of approach.

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What do you think?

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About Adrian Lewis
Photographer working in monochrome, colour and combinations of the two - with a great liking for all sorts of images, including Minimalism, landscapes, abstracts, soft colour, people, movement, nature - I like to be adventurous in my photography, trying new ideas and working in many genres. And I'm fond of Full English Breakfasts and Duvel golden ale, though not necessarily together.

14 Responses to TALKING IMAGES 27 – HAVE BLURRED SKIES AND WATER BECOME A PHOTOGRAPHIC CLICHE?

  1. Meanderer says:

    Yes – although very beautiful, I find such images a little bland with nothing of the photographer in them. I wonder if it’s about the quality of perfectionism – and perhaps clubs and judges encourage and look for this, but since I studied 19th Century German poets and artists I’ve always agreed that art forms (including photography) might be more about ‘becoming’ and never reaching perfection – more about the journey. For me the little imperfections in an image are what give it its soul. As I’ve mentioned to you before, I also believe photography and other art forms to be about communicating at another level. We’re baring our soul without realising it!

    Like

    • Adrian Lewis says:

      I think bland a good word, such images are formulaic really, and who wants to work to a formula? Intrigued!!! to hear of you studying German poets – ever read any John Le Carre – George Smiley and you have a lot in common!!! 😉 Oh I agree, both re imperfections, and the baring our soul bit. Thanks for your thoughts – vielen dank as they say!!! 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  2. alan frost says:

    Couldn’t agree more with the sentiments expressed in this post. I’m afraid that camera club judges also have something to answer for here, as they don’t understand the creative use of blown out highlights, and or no detail in shadow areas and if an image isn’t critically sharp from front to back then ‘low mark’ here we come!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Alan, this is a terribly sad state of affairs, isn’t it. What you’ve outlined is one of the main reasons I’ve kept clear of camera clubs and I’m saddened to hear that my fears are correct – basically, I think that photography and the appreciation of photographs (as with so many of the arts) are so subjective that the idea of ranking photographs against each other is a non-starter. On the other hand, I think that blogs are a wonderful way of getting images out to the world – and of meeting people with non-camera club mentalities. Thanks for your input, my friend, I value it. Adrian 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • alan frost says:

        I may have made a rather sweeping statement, but there is a formula and it’s hampers creativity in my view. As much as I enjoy the social side of being a club member, the art of being a photographer is often lost in the desire to get a high mark. As you rightly say a good photograph is in the eye of the viewer, but first and foremost it was taken to give pleasure to the person who pressed the shutter in the first place.

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        • Adrian Lewis says:

          Absolutely right, Alan – and let sweeping statements abound if they’re on target! Of course that mindset hampers creativity (and hence enjoyment), any formula does. Personally, I can’t imagine creating a photo with the aim of getting high marks, it must really be soul-destroying. But that’s the thing, as you say, our main aim is to create photos that we ourselves, as the photographers, enjoy; then if others enjoy them too its a (very nice) bonus. Very good hearing from you. Adrian

          Liked by 1 person

  3. bluebrightly says:

    I’m with you, of course, on the no rights and wrongs. I love the third “red” paragraph. What a great way to put it, too – no one’s going to a gallery to see a histogram on the wall (though I bet that’s been done).
    When I was newly arrived to this area (5 yrs ago) I joined a photography group that meets to critique photos and does trips sometimes. I also took one informal half-day workshop, both were attempts to make connections with like-minded people. Everyone else had Canon or Nikon DSLR’s and my camera was (and by extension, I felt, myself) was an object of real disdain, even pity. I was interested in freer, more creative work with whatever camera I had, but there was no place for that in these groups. Then work intervened and there was no time anyway for get-togethers, so I went my own way. I suppose somewhere out there, there’s a group of more open-minded people (surely there are more mirrorless users now) but it’s been here on WordPress that I’ve found the camaraderie. Thanks for building on that, Adrian.

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    • Adrian Lewis says:

      Oh, there are many, many more mirrorless users now, be assured! And I’m very much with you on the open-minded thing, there’s no other way to be! VERY glad that WordPress provides you – as it does me – with a channel to like minds.

      I’m APPALLED to hear of your experiences with the photography group but, simple fact is, there are many unimaginative souls out there. I really can’t get into camera snobbery, and equally so “camera cosmetics” – one camera was described as being “drop-dead gorgeous” recently >>> I just want something that does the business – and, in certain situations, I’m still using my “long-obsolete” Canon G11 compact – I just want tools for photography, its as simple as that.

      Keep on keeping on, my friend – I love your images, and your thoughts + attitudes too. Adrian 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  4. paula graham says:

    I also think that blurry watery shots have had their day!

    Like

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