[ PS : A related article written 4 years back about my frame of reference for digital post processing and indication of how I processed each image in my galleries is here.
I think Nature Photographer
is a generic title which badly needs some qualification in terms of intent
behind the photography that we do. Absence of such qualification is often the source of explosive arguments
among nature photographers and audience of our work on ethics of post processing, fair representation of nature, boring copy,
sterile imagery, zero creativity etc.
We see mix of two categories of nature photographers and their respective audience. One stream of nature
photographers who focus more on documentation and the natural history while the other stream of nature
photographers who focus more on nature photography as a form of art. Discussions about digital ethics arise
when one takes both the paths simultanoeusly and shares his work without stating which image belongs where. I think it
is very important for a nature photographer to clearly state where he belongs to avoid meaningless
criticism of the work by the group to which he does not belong to or the work in question does not belong to.
Very interestingly it is a painful decision for nature photographers too to clearly state where they belong !
We as nature photographers often tend to keep one leg in art boat and the other one in natural
. We want to make an image of that one unique rare species of the bird and also we
want to make an artistic monotone image of a flying egret using extensive use of burning and dodging and other post processing
techniques necessary give it a feel of art. We tend to create mix of work and present it to two
different audiences together who have completely different scale of measurements. When we present these two
different stream of work to generic group of nature photographers or nature photography audience we get to hear
criticism from both - about unethical post processing, digital manipulation, twisting truth etc to
boring photo copy to creativity starved images to noble thoughts like 'can nature photography ever be
an art' !
Isn't it better to state where we stand and define the intent behind our imagery ? What is our primary focus as a nature photographer ? Natural history or art ?
Often it is not an intuitive task for a viewer to decide. To make sure the end product can still be called as a photograph
in artistic creations
photographers often focus on retaining the photographic feel while using extensive post processing like selective burning
and dodging, selective blurring/sharpening, cloning elements that does not add to the composition etc. This part real and part post processed feel does
not go well with natural history audience. They seem to think they are seeing the half truth and they start raising "concerns" about ethics and integrity of the photographer. The
fact however is that the photographer never made that image for a natural history person to look at and share his generous critique !
I have seen several criticism of Nick Brandt's work as digital manipulation. For me his work clearly does not belong to the world of natural history and there is no
point in criticizing it as digital manipulation. It is meant to be enjoyed as an artistic end product yet belonging to the world of photography.
Photographers' interest in this case is creation of work of art. Questions related to
whether he has used extensive burning/doding/selective manipulations are definitely misplaced and irrelevant.
Similarly if you search net you will see several discussions about can nature photography (photography in general) ever be an art.
I think such discussions keep mostly natural history work in mind. The world of natural history does not care for such thoughts and such criticism does not belong to them either.
Now, back to the topic of whether we are in art boat or natural history boat, it is clearly an individual's choice. Should we be in one of them only ?
not necessarily, as long as we clearify our stand on different creation of ours - free mixing of our work might cause confusions. Being a nature photographer
for more than a decade I feel it is a tough decision to focus on only one path. I know where I want to be but I can't leave the other stream. If nature photography
is more than a time pass for you, if it is a passionate hobby, if you want to show your signature to the world then I think time will force you to make a decision some day.
For me as a photographer that day has arrived and I have almost made up my mind.
Here are some images I made which illustrates simultaneous journey in two paths so far and related notes to drive home some of these points.