Workshop: Rosanne Olson on Analyzing—and Recreating—Every Kind of Light
Commercial and fine-art photographer Rosanne Olson recalls that when she started her career as a newspaper photographer, “I knew nothing about lighting.” Everything changed when she took a lighting workshop with Gregory Heisler, who taught her and other students “to work simply and with minimal lighting equipment,” and to blend strobe with ambient light. Olson says she brings those principles, along with her 30+ years experience in the business, to her own students. Olson will lead the Santa Fe Workshops’ “ABCs of Beautiful Light” workshop from July 8-13. Here is what she says about her upcoming workshop, which will take place in Santa Fe:
“My goal in teaching is to really lead students to analyze the light in every image they see. They do this by evaluating the shape of the catch lights, the degree of hardness or softness of light (sun vs shade for example; and soft box vs grid), and the height of the light and where the resulting shadow falls. When photographers learn this kind of analysis, they can light intelligently, i.e., not just moving around lights but by understanding what each decision means and what effect it will have.
“Students learn to analyze tearsheets from books and magazines and what makes that light (sun, strobe, shade, etc.) I often use Irving Penn’s work, for instance, because I love it and it is great for teaching how to use light simply to create strong portraits. We put [theory] into practice almost immediately, beginning with natural light plus fill, then work with continuous artificial sources and finally with strobes, learning to combine strobe with ambient light. Students learn the subtle language of light and fill and the difference that even small changes can make to create emotional impact in an image. Even seemingly unimportant things, such as the use of a fill card, can make a big difference.
“One exercise I give my students is to create an exact replica of an image that they like. It really helps deepen the sensitivity toward lighting that we see everywhere, in every photography, painting and movies.
“Here is an example of a replication that a student (Ulrica Lindstrom) did from a photo of Yul Brynner [shown above right; photographer unknown]. She analyzed the lighting in the original photo and then tried to recreate the image using a model (her husband). She sketched her lighting diagram, indicating the position of and the kind of lights she used. [The exercise] requires awareness of light height, quality, positioning of the model, lighting the background, etc.
“I try to encourage in my students a sense of curiosity about the light in the world around us: Examine how images move us and why. Examine how cinematography creates a sense of romance or dread. Look at catch lights in your fellow human. What is it that makes that light shine? It’s really like learning a new language—suddenly your ear (or eye) is open to the world in a whole new way.”
Quick Tip: Why You Should Spend Money on a Designer
Photographers often fall into the trap of thinking that because they have an artistic eye, they’re qualified to design their web site and promotions without help from a designer. But turn that logic on its head: What’s your reaction when a designer says, “Photography? I can just do that myself”?
Design isn’t intuitive, any more than good photography is, and just because you recognize good design doesn’t mean you can produce it. So do your own design work at your peril.
“Clients will judge you immediately by your design and presentation,” says Amanda Sosa Stone, photo director at Found. “If you do it yourself, you’re going to look like you’re arriving in a minivan. Which is fine if that’s what you want to convey, but not if you want to look like you’re arriving in a Land Rover.”
Creative consultant Mary Virginia Swanson says that photographers have to bring the same level of creativity to their website and printed materials that they bring to a shoot for clients. Designers help you do that by creating a consistent look and feel to your printed and digital promotional materials that reflects your brand identity.
“Great pictures are lost to bad design, and you have only one chance to make a good impression,” Swanson says. (To impress upon her clients and seminar audiences how different design is from photography, she recommends a book called Thinking with Type by Ellen Lupton.)
Good design, like good photography, is expensive. The cost can be out of reach for photographers just starting out. For those photographers, online services such as MagCloud, Blurb Books and website hosting services provide pre-designed templates for portfolio websites and printed books that would be otherwise un-affordable. While those resources can save you from really bad design, they have their limitations.
“I think the template revolution is extraordinary,” Swanson says. “But I see photographers going only so far as plugging things into a template. I worry about the use of templates stunting people’s creativity.” The risk of relying on those DIY templates instead of hiring a designer is that your presentation and brand end up looking indistinguishable from so many others, she explains. “Photographers have less and less time to impress [clients],” Swanson says. “By investing in a designer, you can give yourself a brand identity across all of your marketing components.”
Since 20 children were gunned down at Sandy Hook Elementary School in December 2012, we’ve seen public calls for the release of crime scene photos – the idea being that the visceral horror evoked by images of young, brutalized bodies could spur some sort of action to combat the country’s gun violence epidemic.
The day after the Parkland, Florida, high school shooting, a Slate article echoed the demand for crime scene photos to be released, arguing that if Americans could actually see the bloodshed, we might finally say, “Enough is enough.”
As a scholar who specializes in photojournalism ethics, I’ve thought extensively about how journalism can responsibly cover gun violence, balancing the moral imperatives of seeking truth while minimizing harm. I’ve also studied how images can galvanize viewers.
Fundamental questions remain: What is the line between informing audiences and exploiting victims and their families? Should the media find a balance between shocking and shielding audiences? And when it comes to mass shootings – and gun violence more broadly – if outlets did include more bloody images, would it even make a difference?
The limitations of a photo
On the same day of the Parkland shooting, my research on news images of mass shootings was published. Given the intense yet fleeting nature of media coverage, I wanted to examine how news outlets cover these crimes, specifically through the lens of visual reporting.
The study analyzed nearly 5,000 newspaper photos from three school shootings: Virginia Tech, Sandy Hook and Umpqua Community College. Of those images, only 5 percent could be characterized as graphic in nature.
Most depicted the shock and grief of survivors, family and friends. These elements certainly make up an important part of the story. Nonetheless, they create a narrative where, as the Slate article put it, “mass shootings are bloodless.”
Does that matter?
Research has shown that when audiences feel emotionally connected with news events, they’re more likely to change their views or take action. Photographs of violence and bloodshed can certainly serve as a conduit for this emotional connection. Their realism resonates, and they’re able to create a visceral effect that can arouse a range of emotions: sorrow, disgust, shock, anger.
If a graphic image can inspire some action – even it’s minimal and fleeting – do media outlets have an obligation to run more photos of mass shooting victims?
Perhaps. But other concerns need to be weighed.
For one, there are the victims’ families. Widely disseminated images of their massacred loved ones could no doubt add to their already unthinkable grief.
Moreover, we exist in a media landscape that overwhelms us with images. Individual photographs become harder to remember, to the point that even graphic ones of bloodshed could fade into ubiquity.
Another concern is the presentation of these images. As media consumers, so much of what we see comes from manipulated, sensationalized and trivialized social media feeds. As a colleague and I wrote last year, social media “begs us to become voyeurs” as opposed to informed news consumers. In a digital environment, these images could also be easily appropriated for any number purposes – from pornography to hoaxes – and spread across social media, to the point that their authenticity will be lost.
There’s another unintended consequence: Grisly images could inspire another mass shooting. Research indicates that news coverage of mass shootings – and in particular the attention given to body counts and the perpetrators themselves – can have a contagious effect on would-be mass killers.
Journalism has a responsibility to inform audiences, and sometimes a graphic image does that in a way that words can’t.
The extent to which graphic images should be present in our news media is an ongoing debate. And it’s one that must continue.
A new image emerges
Following mass shootings, there’s a predictable pattern of news media coverage. There are the breaking news reports filled with speculation. Then details of the perpetrator emerge. Reporters and pundits question whether or not it was an act of terrorism. Elected officials respond with “thoughts and prayers,” and debates about mental health and gun control rage. Finally, there’s coverage of the vigils and funerals.
But this time, there’s something new: images of resistance.
Students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are stepping up and demanding action from the country’s elected leaders.
In an impassioned speech, senior Emma Gonzalez chastised lawmakers, stating, “We are up here standing together because if all our government and president can do is send thoughts and prayers, then it’s time for victims to be the change that we need to see.”
This, in the end, may prove to be more effective than any images of bloodshed or grief. Fanning across the news outlets and social media networks, these images of resistance seem to be spurring action, with school walkouts and nationwide protests against gun violence in the works.
Illustrations of protest, courage and resilience – from high school students, no less – might have the power to sink in.
Perhaps it will be these images – not those of bloodied victims – that will stir people from complacency and move them to action.
Dayanita Singh’s multi-volume book Museum Bhavan is the winner of he Infinity Award for Artist’s Book. Samuel Fosso, the Cameroon-born photographer known for his witty self-portraits, will receive the Art award. Amber Bracken will receive the award for Documentary and Photojournalism.
Women Photograph, the database and website created to highlight women photojournalists, will receive the Infinity Award for Online Platform and New Media. Created in 2016, the award has previously been given to the Four Freedoms, the Super PAC created by Hank Willis Thomas and Eric Gottesman to promote public art, and “Network Effect,” a study of the impact of the internet on society, created by Jonathan Harris and Gregor Hochmuth.
A Special Presentation will honor Juergen Teller.
Other winners of this year’s Infinity Awards are:
Emerging Photographer: Natalie Keyssar
Applied: Alexandra Bell
Critical Writing and Research: Maurice Berger for the “Race Stories” column for the Lens blog of The New York Times
Trustees Award: Thomson Reuters
Past recipients of the ICP Infinity Awards include Robert Frank, Cindy Sherman, LaToya Ruby Frazier, Daido Moriyama, Malick Sidibe, Annie Leibovitz, Gordon Parks, Eugene Richards, Susan Meiselas, Sophie Calle, David Bailey, Mary Ellen Mark and Hiroshi Sugimoto.
Memory Lane: Reviewing the Apple QuickTake 100, Apple’s First Digital Camera
The iPhone catapulted Apple into a leader in digital photography, but long before people were snapping selfies with their iDevice, Apple was pushing digital photography along with 1994’s QuickTake camera.
To actually work, the QuickTake had to be connected to a Mac via a serial cable. The camera captured 640 x 480-resolution images and could store a whopping eight of them. Bump the resolution down to 320 x 240 and the camera could store 32 images. A culling nightmare!
The photos were captured at 24-bit color and there was a built-in flash and that’s about it. Many of traditional features we’re used to in digital cameras (LCD displays, zoom lenses, etc.) are nowhere to be found.
Take a jaunt down memory lane as LazyGameReviews reviews the QuickTake 100, and marvel at how far we’ve come. (And if you’re interested, a QuickTake 100 is going for $225 on eBay.)
The process of having thoughtful conversations with landscape photographers from all over the world on my podcast has really made an impact on my own thoughts and beliefs relating to all sorts of landscape photography topics. The topic that constantly causes me the most inner turmoil, the most mental energy, and the most controversy online is the topic of artistic composites and unrealistic post-processing.
As a formerly avid practitioner of both (guilty as charged), I felt that I needed to explore the topic deeply. I am by no means trying to draw a firm line in the sand, rather, as a member of this community we call landscape photography, I felt it would be healthy to really dive deep into the topic to let people form their own opinions based on things I hope to bring into light. Lastly, I am certainly not jealous at all of the success found by those that employ these tactics, I just feel that a conversation about these tactics is necessary. If you disagree with that basic premise, then this article is likely not for you.
Landscape photography has had an interesting and arduous journey as an art-form, having been wholly rejected as an art-form for a very long time. Indeed, according to Wikiversity.org, at the beginning of 1862, an article published in the Photographic Journal, by an unknown author, summed up the discussions over photography as art, stating: “the question is not whether photography is fine art per se – neither painting nor sculpture can make that claim – but whether it is capable of artistic expression; whether in the hands of a true artists its productions become works of art.” A French naturalist, Louis Figuier, also made an accurate observation in regards to photography and fine arts: “Until now, the artist has had the brush, the pencil and the burin; now, in addition, he has the photographic lens. The lens is an instrument like the pencil and the brush, and photography is a process like engraving and drawing, for what makes an artist is not the process but the feeling.”
Fast forward to 2018 and beyond and the computer and Photoshop have become natural extensions of the camera and lens. In fact, almost all landscape photographers today employ the method of photographing in RAW format and adding contrast, color, white balance, saturation, and sharpening on the computer. This allows for the greatest amount of artistic freedom and allows photographers to have a tremendous amount of control over the flaws in their equipment and methodologies. Of course, the inevitable arguments arise among photographers and the public regarding the authenticity of an image and cries of “Photoshopping” are heard ’round the world. In fact, I can think of only one other art-form (music) where the “authenticity” of the art is even questioned. In music, the purists argue that any use of technology such as auto-tuning, re-recording loops, etc. is cheating the art-form. I see many parallels between music and photography in that regard.
My friend Zachary Bright put it best when he stated:
If I manipulate an image too much, it’s not photography.
If I don’t manipulate an image enough, it’s not art.
However, a potentially disturbing trend has emerged and become quite popular, especially on social media – not only are landscape photographers using Photoshop to control contrast, white balance, saturation, and sharpening, they are also using it to: add in objects that were not in the photograph such as a person, meteors, the moon, a mountain, or the Milky Way core; add objects that are literally not even possible to be seen in the scene depicted such as galactic objects, the moon, and the Milky Way core; or, to grossly exaggerate the size of certain objects such as mountains, lakes, rivers, people, etc. On the surface, it seems that certain landscape photographers have become so desperate for a sliver of social media attention in a suddenly over-crowded field that they are incapable of restraint. Or, it’s just art, let it be. Which one?
The question I wish to pose and attempt to answer is: “Is it acceptable to employ these controversial post-processing methodologies, and does it even matter?”
This article is meant to be a deep exploration into that question as I believe that this is a topic worthy of deep analysis and thoughtful examination.
Shall we begin?
The Forms of Unrealism
To start with, let us consider the different forms of “unrealistic” post-processing that exist today. I thought I would use some of my own photography to demonstrate how this works.
First, let’s examine what I like to call the “post-processing” continuum. This is meant mostly as a guide of showing extremes and everything in between, with white representing purist perspective (no editing what-so-ever) and black representing the other extreme (swapping in skies, adding Milky Ways, making the moon bigger, etc). Everything else is in “the gray zone.” The placement of each form of unrealistic post-processing was purely subjective on my part, but I think it is a fair portrayal. Where you stand on what is acceptable or not is up to you; however, later in the article, I pose some arguments that may make you think twice.
Purists represent a relatively small number of landscape photographers that are either shooting film or are shooting .JPG format and don’t realize that their camera is applying an algorithm of variables including saturation, contrast, white balance, and sharpening and is post-processing on their behalf. We won’t spend time arguing the merits of shooting .JPG vs. RAW here, but if you need a primer, this one is good.
2. Overcoming Technology to show what was actually there (exposure blending, luminosity masking, and focus stacking)
These methods are quite common in landscape photography today. While cameras and lenses are getting better and better, it is sometimes still necessary to blend multiple exposures to bring out all of the details in both the shadows and highlights or to overcome other things like diffraction. One such extreme example of this can be seen in one of my personal favorite images:
In order to bring out the extreme details of the Milky Way, I shot the stars at ISO 10,000 for 10 seconds. This introduced a tremendous amount of noise to the foreground. In order to compensate, I shot a second exposure of the foreground at ISO 1600 for 243 seconds with Noise Reduction turned on. I then blended them together. The Milky Way was really there at that time and the mountains were really there at that time. The RAW files are below.
3. Same scene, different times of day
This is more common with night photographers, but essentially the idea is to capture a photograph of a scene closer to sunset or sunrise to allow for lower ISO images with subsequent reduced noise which are then blended into the same scene at a different time of day from the same perspective. This is also referred to as a blue hour blend. Many very famous and well-respected night photographers, including Michael Bollino, Joshua Snow, and Mike Taylor use this technique on a regular basis. One such example from my own gallery is this image of the Milky Way over Mexican Hat. I shot a panorama of the scene at blue hour and then another panorama of the same exact scene (in fact, my tripod never moved) later in the night when the Milky Way was in position.
4. Focal Length blending
This is a relatively new technique which I dabbled in back in 2015. I am not even sure if others were doing it, but I got a creative idea in the field and executed it later using Photoshop. Essentially, the idea is to blend a scene shot from the exact same spot using two focal lengths (usually wide and telephoto). Wide angle lenses make distant objects look really small and closer objects large, whereas telephoto lenses make distant objects look closer. I took one photo of the flowers in the foreground at 14mm (very wide) and another of Mount Hood at 200mm. I then blended the two to look like they were taken at the same time in the same shot.
5. Same scene, different day
The idea here is that two images are blended together to show what a scene would look like at a different time of year or if there actually were nice clouds, etc. This is a very common practice among some landscape photographers, known as “sky swapping.” In fact, the scene can be made even more fantasy-like by blending focal lengths AND skies, such as the example below, which is sadly one of my best selling images.
6. Warping objects to make them look bigger
In this type of post-processing, you have some of the most egregious examples of post-processing. Moons are doubled, tripled, quadrupled in size. Mountains are made to look bigger by stretching them. The most classic use of this technique is the presentation of a full moon or a lunar eclipse in a wide angle shot with the moon enlarged. F-Stoppers recently posted an article about Peter Lik’s recent moon image that pretty much confirmed that it was a total fake. A clear giveaway here is usually atmospheric refraction (or rather, the lack thereof). Additionally, with sharp lunar photographs, the edge of the moon should appear bumpy due to mountains and craters. Here’s an example of a real moon photo I shot several years ago with a 300mm lens with a 1.4 teleconverter attached. I was accused of the image being fake. The only “size” enhancement I did was to crop the image. Here are the images (exported from RAW). Notice the atmospheric refraction which makes the moon look a little oblong.
7. Totally different scenes blended and the scene is impossible to exist naturally
Perhaps the most controversial use of unreal post-processing is the practice of blending two scenes into one photograph that could never exist. For example, a photographer captures an incredibly sharp image of the Milky Way at various elevations over the course of one night using a star tracker and voilà – you now have a few base layers of the Milky Way that you can reuse over and over again in any given scene, even if the Milky Way is never actually visible over your chosen foreground. There are several well-known photographers that employ this methodology to great success. The give-away to the un-informed bystander is when a person’s images of the night sky all start to the look the same, when objects such as clouds, airglow, or light pollution all look the same in every image. I personally had the opportunity to use a star tracker this year and it is a very amazing device. Basically, the device follows the rotation of the earth to allow for much lower ISO shots with longer exposures of the night sky, creating crystal clear images. Below you can see a completely unedited .RAW export of an image I was able to get with it.
8. Adding objects that were not there
This is highly related to #7 above. The most common things I’ve seen done are: adding a moon where a moon was never at; adding meteors to images where a meteor never fell; adding people to images where people never were; adding deep sky astrophotography objects to scenes where they would never even be visible (OK let’s admit it, they are only visible using deep-sky equipment and never combined with a foreground); adding sources of light where no sources of light existed, etc. I don’t have many examples of this in my own work because I gave it up a long time ago; however, here is one example from Oregon where I added in a moon where the moon never was. Also, I’m not super proud of the processing. Yeesh!
Now that we have established what we are talking about, let’s move on to some analysis on what the ramifications, if any, are in using these techniques.
Ramifications of Artistic Composites and Unreal Post-Processing
For this section, I am going to take four separate approaches to describe what I believe to be the ramifications of the uses of these techniques.
1. Landscape Photography as an Economy of Trust
You’ll need to bear with me on this one, but I think there are strong correlations with basic economics and landscape photography as a consumed media. Just think about it for a minute – photographs are consumed, they are purchased, they are licensed, they sell people on an idea that a place exists and that nature is amazing. In that vein, I posit that landscape photography is an economy based on trust. When people see an image of a location, they are sold on the idea that if they also go to that location, they will have the opportunity to see what the photographer saw, or at least a reasonable facsimile of it. By presenting images that are literally impossible to exist, trust in that idea is completely eroded. The ramifications are not only individual but also global – all landscape photographers suffer. Indeed, if we believe that pursuit of these techniques is in any way an adoption of a policy, then we must consider how those policies will impact the craft of landscape photography. In his classic 1946 book, Economics in One Lesson, Henry Hazlitt explains: “The art of economics consists in looking not merely at the immediate but at the longer effects of any act or policy; it consists in tracing the consequences of that policy not merely for one group but for all groups.” Meaning, short-term personal gain may have consequences on other landscape photographers later.
In my opinion, when some of the techniques are employed (especially #7 and #8 above), it is no longer about showing the world how beautiful the natural world is, it’s about creating an increasingly dramatic image every single time with total disregard for the implications of doing so. If you’re compositing an image and you pass your photograph off as real, you’re trading in people’s future belief in landscape photography as a medium, you’re eroding that economy based on trust. You’re creating something that was more amazing than what existed, and in the future, people will look at a photograph and say, “maybe that’s real, maybe not.” In the below example, the mountains and sunset were very real; however, I used a technique by which I flipped the image and created a mirror to make it look like a reflection. I then added rocks from another foreground to make it look more real. Is it pretty? Sure. Is it real? No. Guess what question people asked the most? Where’s that lake!?
2. Supply and Demand
There are plenty of photographers trying to naturally represent the landscape. I posit that post-processing techniques #2 and #3 above all fall into this category, more or less. There are landscape photographers busting their ass to get a photograph, including: doing research on locations, watching the weather, spending hundreds of hours driving, spending countless days and nights at a location to capture something special, being in the right place at the right time, and of course, using their equipment correctly. With some of these post-processing techniques, you literally can eliminate almost all of the hard work involved and shortcut the entire process to create fantasy-like photographs of places and times that never really occurred. The result is a diversion of demand to fake, hyper-real imagery away from authentic imagery. Since demand for landscape photography as a consumable medium is finite, this unfairly diverts sales, accolades, awards, customers, and work away from those photographers working hard to those willing to take shortcuts and trick consumers into believing a false reality. Simply put, the easier something is produced, the greater the supply. The greater the supply, the lower the profit from existing demand.
To further illustrate this point, I hope to present an analogy which can be especially poignant for any sports fans. In sports, there is the problem of athletes that use performance enhancing drugs such as Human Growth Hormone, Steroids, or other doping schemes. The impact of these drugs is that it artificially enhances that athlete’s ability to perform at their given sport. In baseball it was home-runs for Barry Bonds. In cycling, it was faster times for Lance Armstrong. The effect on the ecosystem was that in order to compete, one needed to also use these drugs. Consumers (fans) of the sport came to expect more and more out of the athletes until they were exposed for their behavior. In my opinion, it is no different in landscape photography.
The below photo is an example of what is really possible. Through planning and scouting, I placed myself in the ideal location to capture the Milky Way directly above Cape Kiwanda at 1 AM in August. Someone employing tactics 7 and 8 could just go take a shot of this place during the day and then swap in a Milky Way above it and call it good. That’s highway robbery, sir!
3. Demoralization of other photographers
Another case I’ll make to demonstrate the ramifications of the use of some of these techniques is flat out demoralization of other photographers. Photographers spending countless hours in the field to try to get an authentic image are greatly discouraged when an up-and-comer re-creates or completely blows away their vision with a few clicks of the mouse in Photoshop (OK, it’s a little more complicated than that, but a $75 tutorial or a few hours on YouTube will teach you everything you need to know about composites). I’ve heard a lot of photographers (including myself) say that to avoid this phenomenon, you should just focus on your own work and not worry about what other people do; however, that is a really hard pill to swallow when you put in the hard work to create an image that was completely authentic (with no print sales) only to see someone else create something totally over-the-top and receive viral attention and sales. This is particularly painful when the fantasy-like image is obviously impossible. For example, in the recent blood moon event, the moon set in the West at dawn, yet I saw images of the moon set in the Eastern sky with sunrise light under it.
Maybe this fits the definition of jealousy, I don’t know: “resentment against a rival, a person enjoying success or advantage, etc., or against another’s success of advantage itself.”
I personally feel like it is not jealousy because I don’t want to be known for creating images that are unreal. That’s too easy.
I know I’m not alone – I know of one very famous photographer in particular that has given up photography altogether because of this phenomenon.
Single exposure of the recent lunar eclipse over Shiprock. ISO 1600, f/7.1, 138mm, 4s – totally real!
4. Landscape Photography as a vehicle for conservation
I’m a strong believer that landscape photography can and should be used as a vehicle for good in the realm of conservation. This is perhaps the most damaging ramification of all for using unrealistic post-processing techniques- the general public can no longer trust that a photograph actually represents a location that needs to be conserved; in fact, the more prevalent these types of images become, the less people will actually care – just go Photoshop in what it should still look like. Who needs reality? This type of processing directly undermines the effect that landscape photography can have for good. Additionally, when one employs extreme post-processing methods (#7 and 8 especially), I posit that they don’t have a real connection to that landscape – a necessary component if one is to fully and truly use their art as a medium for conservation.
Possible Motivations and Why This Occurs to Begin With
I’ve talked to a lot of photographers about this and have done some deep introspection regarding my own personal motivations relating to post-processing, especially using techniques #4-8. For myself, my motivations were two-fold:
1. It was a creative outlet and something to try for fun
2. I genuinely wanted a way to get my photography noticed more frequently by consumers with the end game being increased print sales and prestige among my peers (there, I admit it)
I’ve heard over and over again from people regularly using techniques #6, #7, and #8 that they only do it because they want to create artwork and share it with the world. In fact, they claim to have no financial stake in their behavior at all (regardless of the fact that they sell online tutorials and teach workshops relating to their techniques).
What Can Behavioral Science Tell Us About This Phenomenon? Quite a Lot Actually
In order for this explanation to work, I need to convince you that landscape photography could be seen as a competition, despite what many of my podcast guests have suggested. Given my economical arguments above, I think that it makes perfect sense to state that landscape photography can be seen as a competition. Competition is, in general, a contest or rivalry between two or more entities for territory, a niche, for scarce resources, goods, for mates, for prestige, recognition, for awards, for group or social status, or for leadership and profit. Unless you’re not monetizing your photography, giving your art away for free, and teaching workshops for free, your actions as a landscape photographer land you squarely within this definition whether you care to admit it or not.
Social psychological experiments have demonstrated that when people succeed in competition against others, it seems to compromise their ethics. It makes them more likely to cheat afterwards. Winning a competition engenders subsequent unrelated unethical behavior. The studies revealed that after a competition has taken place, winners behave more dishonestly than competition losers. The studies also demonstrated that winning a competition increases the likelihood of winners to steal money from their counterparts in a subsequent unrelated task. Additionally, the studies demonstrated that the effect holds only when winning means performing better than others (i.e., determined in reference to others) but not when success is determined by chance or in reference to a personal goal. Finally, the studies demonstrated that a possible mechanism underlying the effect is an enhanced sense of entitlement among competition winners.
According to Amos Schurr, the study’s author and professor of psychology at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, “People who win competitions feel more entitled, and that feeling of entitlement is what predicts dishonesty.” In the words of the Roberto Ferdman, the author of the article from the Washington Post about the study, “In other words, when people win against others, they tend to think they’re better, or more deserving. And that thinking helps them justify cheating, since, after all, they’re the rightful heir to whatever throne is next — If I’m better than you, I might as well make sure I win, because I deserve to anyway.”
This photograph of mine is totally real and employed absolutely no Photoshop techniques. How can you tell? It’s pretty dull (haha)
2. Moral Disengagement
Tapping deeper into social psychology, we discover the concept of moral disengagement. I strongly believe that moral disengagement helps to explain all sorts of disturbing behavior we encounter as landscape photographers, including destruction of sensitive locations, buying followers on Instagram, and more. For this article; however, I will attempt to use it to describe the behavior of using post-processing techniques to create an image that otherwise would be impossible to create.
According to psychologyconcepts.com, moral disengagement is “a term used to describe the process by which an individual convinces himself that ethical standards do not apply to him within a particular situation or context. Moral Disengagement can be further broken down into four categories: reconstructing immoral conduct, diffusing responsibility, dehumanizing the victim, and misrepresenting injurious consequences.” For the purposes of this article, we will only refer to the reconstructing immoral conduct and misrepresenting injurious consequences.
“Reconstructing conduct is a method of moral disengagement in which the actor depicts an otherwise morally reprehensible behavior as having some sort of moral purpose. In this way he convinces himself that the behavior is now acceptable.” Time and time again I have heard photographers say that what they are doing is creating art for the world to enjoy, inspiring others to do the same. It is like they all practiced this line and regurgitate it whenever they’re confronted with the truth. So, I guess as long as their work is considered “art” and “inspires others” it is totally acceptable? Following the concept of moral disengagement, this response completely makes sense.
“Misrepresenting injurious consequences is a method of moral disengagement in which the actor attempts to avoid admitting to himself that his conduct is wrong by ignoring personal reflection on what the negative consequences of his behavior might be.” I personally think this one hits home for so many photographers, yet many are afraid to admit it, or they are simply unaware of the consequences of their behavior (which we’ve covered at length above). I think this is also highly related to the next social psychological concept that is related – cognitive dissonance.
3. Cognitive Dissonance
Of all the social psychological concepts, this one perhaps has the most application to this topic. According to Simply Psychology, “cognitive dissonance refers to a situation involving conflicting attitudes, beliefs or behaviors. This produces a feeling of discomfort leading to an alteration in one of the attitudes, beliefs or behaviors to reduce the discomfort and restore balance, etc.
For example, when people smoke (behavior) and they know that smoking causes cancer (cognition).
Cognitive dissonance theory suggests that we have an inner drive to hold all our attitudes and beliefs in harmony and avoid disharmony (or dissonance). This is known as the principle of cognitive consistency.
Let’s explore this further. The conflicting beliefs are: “Unrealistic post-processing is fine, I’m creating art, it has no impact on anyone, or, anything else,” and, “Unrealistic post-processing is cheating, even though it looks amazing, it’s not authentic and it is lying to my audience.” That’s pretty discomforting trying to hold both of those beliefs at the same time!
According to cognitive dissonance theory, there is a tendency for individuals to seek consistency among their cognitions (i.e., beliefs, opinions). When there is an inconsistency between attitudes or behaviors (dissonance), something must change to eliminate the dissonance.
Dissonance can be reduced in one of three ways:
Change one or more of the attitudes, behavior, beliefs, etc., to make the relationship between the two elements a consonant one.
When one of the dissonant elements is a behavior, the individual can change or eliminate the behavior. However, this mode of dissonance reduction frequently presents problems for people, as it is often difficult for people to change well-learned behavioral responses (e.g., using unrealistic post-processing techniques to showcase your artwork).
Acquire new information that outweighs the dissonant beliefs (hey maybe that’s why you’re here to begin with).
For example, thinking unrealistic post-processing is ultimately bad for landscape photography could cause dissonance if a person uses these techniques. However, new information such as “unrealistic post-processing is an innovative way to showcase your vision” may reduce the dissonance.
Reduce the importance of the cognitions (i.e., beliefs, attitudes).
A person could convince themself that it is better to “only care about what I do for me” than to “consider my behavior’s impact on landscape photography as an art-form.”
In other words, he could tell himself that only caring about their own photography is better than caring about the craft as a whole or the impact on other photographers. In this way, he would be decreasing the importance of the dissonant cognition (unrealistic post-processing does have a negative impact on landscape photography).
Totally real image! Seriously!
What Now? Is All Hope Lost? Should I Uninstall Photoshop!? Do People Buying Prints Even Care?!
At the end of the day, only you can decide what line to draw in the sand, if any. Through my podcast, I’ve heard all perspectives on this and at the end of the day, no one is really “right.” I do believe; however, that using some of the more extreme post-processing techniques is ultimately bad for landscape photography. You may not agree with all of my assertions; however, if one person (me) is willing to dedicate the amount of time it took to write this article about the subject, then you can bet that it matters. People do care about this topic and people are impacted by it.
Additionally, I don’t think people in the market to purchase photographic prints care all that much about how an image is created. In fact, my friend TJ Thorne stated on my podcast ” Either an image moves you, or it doesn’t, how it was created is irrelevant.” I still believe that’s mostly true when it comes to the consumption of art; however, I strongly believe that my analysis here demonstrates that there are hidden costs to that attitude. Also, I think we all can agree that we would hope that consumers of our medium had good taste.
My only plea for those employing these techniques:
Please tell the truth about your photography! Don’t just say, “created in Photoshop” – that’s not good enough. If it was, then no one would trust anything edited in Photoshop which I think would be a huge mistake. Come clean. Tell people that your images are not real. Don’t let the public lose trust in our art-form. And for Pete’s sake, stop being so damn defensive about the topic. What do you have to lose? If I’m wrong, your fans will still love your work and won’t care. If I’m right, they will still love your work but will be more informed regarding how your work was created.
Feel free to leave a comment below – what did you agree or disagree with? Did I change anyone’s mind, or are you still sitting comfortably on your cloud of reduced dissonance?
This post has been republished with permission from photographer Matt Payne.
Gear is fun to play with and fun to buy, but it diverts money from more important things (marketing, for instance) and it can lead you to financial trouble. Accountants and veteran photographers will tell you: Avoid buying more than the minimum amount of gear, unless you can rent it to clients and recover your costs. And in the meantime, rent what you need—or make it yourself. DIY light modifiers in particular are inexpensive, effective, and easy to make.
Photographer Joe Edelman, for instance, wanted to get the “dramatic but flattering” light of a beauty dish. But he was on a budget. His solution was to build his own using a shoot-through umbrella. He opted for a 30-inch umbrella which, since it doesn’t have a true 30-inch diameter, was “just slightly bigger than most beauty dishes,” he says.
“I knew that the umbrella would throw a lot of light around the room but that didn’t concern me because I quickly established that I would want to place the umbrella very close to my subject to ensure rapid light fall-off, just like I would get with a beauty dish,” he says.
To avoid hotspots caused by placing such a large modifier close to his subject, Edelman cut a piece of inexpensive foam core and placed it in the middle of the umbrella. “I simply took a dinner plate and used it as my template to cut the circle. Depending on your umbrella, you can just poke the end of the umbrella through the foam core, or if your umbrella doesn’t have a point, a small circle of gaffer tape will hold the very light foamcore in place,” he says.
“By placing the disc in the middle [of the umbrella], it blocks the light at its brightest point—especially if you are using a speed light—and forces the light to wrap around your subject,” Edelman notes. “But because of the closeness of the umbrella—that wrap has a very rapid falloff.”
First Nation photojournalist Josué Rivas has won the 2018 FotoEvidence Book Award with World Press Photo for “Standing Strong,” a project about the spiritual awakening that took hold among people resisting the Dakota Access pipeline in 2016. Finalists for the award were Zackary Canepari for “Flint Is a Place,” about the challenges of life in Flint, Michigan; and Danielle Villasana for “The Light Inside,” about the lives of trans women in Peru.
FotoEvidence, which announced the award yesterday, will publish a book of Rivas’s work this spring. The work of all three photographers will also be shown as part of the World Press Photo exhibition in Amsterdam in April, and at the FotoEvidence Book Award exhibit at the Bronx Documentary Center (New York) in June.
World Press Photo joined as a co-sponsor of the FotoEvidence Book Award last summer. The award, launched in 2011, recognizes a documentary photographer whose project demonstrates courage and commitment in addressing a violation of human rights, a signiﬁcant injustice or an assault on human dignity. See FotoEvidence website for more information. Previous winners include Daniella Zalcman, Marcus Bleasdale and Majid Saeedi.
Wennman, Hangst Top Prize Winners at POYi (So Far)
Magnus Wennman, staff photographer at the Swedish daily newspaper Aftonbladet, has won Newspaper Photographer of the Year honors at the 75th annual Pictures of the Year International competition. German photographer Matthias Hangst of Getty Images won Sports Photographer of the Year. The POYi competition is run by the University of Missouri School of Journalism.
Other major awards in the competition—including Reportage Photographer of the Year and Multimedia Photographer of the Year—had not been announced by press time. Judging for the POYi competition was scheduled to run through February 22.
Entries by Wennman and Hangst were judged as part of the competition’s News and Sports Divisions, respectively. Another notable winner in the News Division was Ryan M. Kelly, a staff photographer at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville, VA who took first prize for Spot News with his photograph of car plowing into people demonstrating against the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville last August.
First-prize winners of other News Division categories included Suzanne Kreiter—Newspaper Local Picture Story; Kevin Frayer—General News; Edu Bayer—Feature (image shown above); Tomás Munita—Feature Picture Story; Adrees Latif—Impact 2017 Natural Disaster; Asger Ladefoged—Portrait; and Andrew McConnell—Portrait Series.
First prize winners in Sports Division categories included Brandon Magnus—Sports Picture Story; Lisa Maree Williams—Sports Portrait; Kevin Dietsch—Sports Feature; Laurence Griffiths—Sports Action; and Michael Ciaglo—Recreational Sports.
POYi News Division jurors were Dave Labelle, Francine Orr, Rick Loomis and C.W. Griffin. Sports Division jurors were Damian Strohmeyer, David Eulitt, Elsa Garrison and Toni L. Sandys.