A Natural Photograph. What does that Mean?

Gerry van der Walt All Authors, Penny Leave a Comment

In today’s world where we are inundated with visuals (amongst other things), we have been classified as a generation of ‘instant gratification’. What this means is that no longer are ‘we’ satisfied to take the time to, for example, read the newspaper and instead we go on Twitter for the 2 line summary.  We see so many images posted on Facebook, Instagram Google + and the likes, that we now expect to jump from step 1 in our photographic journey to step 10 so that we can create the great photos that we are constantly shown and is streamed.

What we fail to realise is that many of these photographers have been taking photographs for a good couple of years – looking at double digits now – and the streaming of images has changed drastically with the advancement of technology and social media platforms.

There is a great amount of pressure to present great images, to the degree that a shot that you would normally have considered to be good and proud of, you now delete it or move on over it to find that shot that you know will make people pay that certain amount of attention to. Don’t worry, I have done exactly this and still do find myself being very critical of my work at times (until I get the metaphorical slap on the hands by my colleagues and told to stop).

Penny Robartes - Wildlife and Nature Photography

Buffalo at Lake Nakuru, Kenya.

And why does this happen?

It’s not because there are suddenly these great images being produced where there wasn’t previously – think of Ansel Adams, Jim Brandenburg, and the list goes on – it is because images are today are being constantly uploaded and screened before our eyes, that when one image catches our eye, another is already fighting for our attention.

Why after so many years does the name Ansel Adams still ignite respect within every landscape photographer (if it doesn’t, it should) and has been heralded as a visionary figure in nature photography?  Before the internet and social media, a photographer’s work had a standing place in the world and meaning to it’s viewers. There was no influx of images strewn across every media platform we could rest our eyes on, and people were given the time and opportunity to really look and ‘feel’ an image. They had more impact on us and their imprint lasted longer in our memories as we had time to truly appreciate the image and the artists talent.

Penny Robartes - Wildlife and Nature Photography

Misty morning in Amboseli National Park, Kenya.

And what about the life for today’s images?  What about the lasting recognition of the talent of today’s photographer? What has the demands of our culture of instant gratification led quite a lot of us to?  To create more eye-catching, exquisite, interesting, powerful, exotic, ethereal (ok I am running out of adjectives here) images that will make their image stand out above the rest.  Even if that moment lasts for just a day.  Elephants with these incredibly epic skies, incredible intense orange and pink sunsets, the bluest blue river…

I hope you see where I am going. Wildlife and nature images are turning towards the fantastical — wildlife and nature porn if you will.

Was that sky actually that dramatic? Did that leopard portrait really have that degree of ethereal beauty to it when it was captured, or were these images enhanced to make them stand out amongst all the other images we see on a daily basis?

I am not saying this is wrong at all, as processing your images is part of the photograph’s circle towards completion, but it does beg the question – what is a natural photograph?

Setting sun at Madike Game Reserve, South Africa.

For once I am not going to give my opinion as I feel this is a question that all wildlife photographers who aim to capture natural history images (I am not talking about images are manipulated in any way – such as elements added or removed, etc) should think about and reflect in themselves, rather than read another person’s point of view and have that mask their own.

Just as all things have an expiry date and return a few years later with a renewed boom and acceptance – thanks to the highest powers of the universe that bellbottoms did not come back into fashion – will this form and quality of wildlife and nature images start to expire as people hunt and long for images that are more realistic and ‘natural’?

We all have a story we want to tell, a vision we want to show, we have been captured by the adventure photography creates. Just keep in the back of your mind what that vision is and ultimately how you want the final image to look.

Stay passionate and keep shooting!

Penny Robartes

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