On the subject of reality

It occurred to me to expand on my last post, specifically the part about image manipulation.  The last post and the image in the post had to do with using a polarizer filter.  By using the filter – one filter, nothing else – I was able to capture both the sky and the tree line the way I remember it.  Since I photographed both of these photos a few days ago, I think my memory is fresh enough to discuss them. 

As I mentioned in my last post, I could have taken these photos and processed them either by HDR or by a similar photoshop layer method.  By manipulating the images in raw format, I could process one photograph to show the shadow detail, one for the medium tones, and another for the highlights.  By combining all three photographs, I could get the best possible tones.

Again, that’s not how I do things.

The human eye can see far more tonal ranges than the camera can capture.  Because of this, we’ve grown accustomed to the range that the camera can show, and anything outside that range attracts attention.  I’m not condemning HDR – in fact, I’ve seen some great images that wouldn’t be possible without the HDR manipulation.  For example, check this out – http://photography-on-the.net/forum/showthread.php?t=909967 .  I love the evocative quality of this photographer’s image, and I don’t think he could have captured it without some post processing work.  Scroll to the end of the thread to see his re-cropped image after he received some critique on the composition. 

That said, I don’t like HDR.  I would never use it for my work.  In my opinion, it looks fake.  I’m so used to seeing the limited range that the camera can capture that an HDR image reeks of unrealistic.  More than anything, I want my work to reflect what I see.  This image of the trees and the clouds is almost exactly what I remember – in fact, it’s that combination of “I can’t believe I just saw that” that made me turn the car around and walk to the middle of someone’s field to try to photograph what I saw. 

Do the clouds look realistic? No, because we don’t usually have clouds like that here.  Was the grass really that green? Yes, we’ve had enough rain lately that the foliage isn’t crispy.  Is the sky really that shade of blue? Yup, it’s the middle of summer in the afternoon, it was truly that color and maybe even a bit darker.   In fact, if I wanted to make it look more “realistic” I would have to do a good bit of manipulation to dampen down the effect of the clouds.  

It wasn’t the ideal time to take a picture – the afternoon sun was harsh and the shadows were deep with lack of detail.  Even so, that’s what I saw.  And every time I see these pictures now, I’ll remember the heat of the sun on my shoulders, the harsh drone of the cicadas in the tree line, and the waves of grasshoppers that headed for cover with each step I took into the grass.

In case anyone’s interested, here’s what I did to this image after I shot it:

  • Edited for a better exposure (I shoot to the right for less noisy shadows)
  • Darkened the highlights just a tad
  • Lightened the shadows just a tad (apparently not enough though)
  • Cropped slightly to fix the horizon and the composition
  • Fixed the white balance
  • Sharpened a bit

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