If you ask most people their favorite seasons, they will most commonly rate Spring, Summer or Fall as their favorites, and Winter only if they are avid Winter sports people. For me, as regards photography, I'll take Fall and Winter. Fall should be obvious if you look through my images. I love Fall colors and if combined with moving water, I am in heaven. I'll drive over 200 miles for a day with the main purpose being just to photograph Autumn color reflections in water. I look forward to peak colors with the same or greater sense of anticipation of a deer hunter awaiting gun deer season. This year I felt sad that I was missing my favorite peak weekend of "up North" peak colors because of attending Parents' Weekend at U of Nebraska...and then I felt guilty for feeling sad about it. All that angst was soon forgotten when I realized that Fall colors were late this year and I immediately scheduled a long weekend for the Porcupine Mountains of Michigan for the following weekend. I was rewarded by some amazing colors and wonderful weather and recorded some of my best images.
Winter is next on my list of favorite seasons. Snow, ice, hoar frost, ice storms and steaming water make up some of the visual wonders Winter presents to us. I would probably miss all that beauty if I didn't have a goal of recording the best photographic images that I can. Once outdoors in Winter, I am always glad I made the effort to be there and have the opportunity to show others what they are missing. Photography gets me out in nature when my soul needs it the most. As a bonus, winter photographs almost always have a lot of white or lighter tones. Since our houses are not illuminated like art galleries, tending on the dark side, Winter photographs should be more appealing for home decor than they are. Unfortunately, that is not the case, having heard from more than one gallery owner that only about 1 in 100 prints framed are of Winter subjects. Oh well, popular or not, I'm going to continue to explore the visual treats Winter offers us.
All effort of human endeavor seem to aim towards discovering the basic underlying simple truths that we can comprehend and thereby save us from the ugly complexity of reality that we often can't understand. In the natural world, this is best accomplished in the realm of physics, where a simple equation such as E=MC2 can explain a whole lot. Theories that explain natural complexity in a way that bring simple order to the complexity of the natural world are said to be "elegant." Saying a theory is elegant is to give it the highest of accolades.
The drive towards simplicity extends into the world of art and literature as well. A haiku can beautifully express a thought or feeling in very few words, but does that in some way denigrate an epic novel? In the world of photography, only the "Rule of thirds," seems to hold more formulaic weight than the directive that you must simplify an image. It seems that the most common explanation for a photograph to win in a photo contest is that it simply represents something. (memo for future blog subject: Why I Don't Enter Photo Contests)
Like the "Rule of thirds," I propose the directive to simplify should also be taken with a grain of salt. As with any art form, the purpose of a nature photograph is to represent some part of reality in a way that has emotional interest or appeal. Although this can be done with a simple, less complex image, letting a little information represent a greater reality, a more complex image can do the same, and with more authority. I would argue that the more complex image is more in line with the natural world as it exists. Although a more complex image requires more study, it is also much harder to make successfully. The more componants included in a photographic image, the greater the likelihood of dilution of the message of the image. The complex, cluttered composition may require some strong lines or forms to hold it together and keep the viewer engaged. Like the natural landscape it represents, the complex nature photograph should lead the eye towards the discovery of its varied elements.
Even though the risk of losing the message is so much greater in a complex image, the goal of trying to bring order out the chaos is a challenging and rewarding goal. So, although simple images can be made and appreciated more easily, the reality of nature is complexity. Deal with it, photographers!
Going back to its origins in the 19th Century, photography's purpose was to record reality. Because of that, artists with paint abandoned their efforts to make their pictures look real and Impressionism was born, followed by countless art movements in the 20th Century. Photography as art had it's own battles in this regard, pitting those who made more"Impressionistic" photographs, with soft focus and dream-like images versus those who wanted everything in sharp focus and a more literal interpretation of reality. The use of chemical films and darkroom limited photographers in their quest for venturing very far beyond reality, but the digital age has changed that completely. Thanks to digital recording devices and processing, photography can venture as far into the realm of fantasy as any other art form. It has been said that with Photoshop, you can create anything out of anything, and that is literally true. At its most fantastically creative, photography can be looked upon as collecting groups of pixels to be used to create images on the computer. Such creations are as valid as art as any other art form.
My purpose in photography isn't in that direction, however. I am more interested in portraying the world as I see it. Because I am human, my viewing of a scene will be colored by my emotional response to it, so I will make decisions about composition, focus, angle of view, color balance and contrast based on my interpretation. However, for me, a photograph should at least present the illusion of reality, and if I accomplish my goal, the viewer will see my photographs as believable, something they would see if they were there. Beyond that, if I am being creative at all, it is in my "seeing" what is there in a more purposeful way than someone who might be next to me and yet not even noticing what is before him. One of the benefits of photography for me is that it gets me out at times of the day and times of the year looking for the best light. If I didn't have the purpose of photography to drive me, I wouldn't be there at 5 in the morning waiting for the sun to rise, or experiencing much of the quiet beauty of Winter. In short, photography benefits my spirit. So there, I admit it is a selfish pursuit.
Getting back to the "reality thing," photography, in a real sense is never reality and never was. Black and white photography can't be looked upon as real because that isn't the way we see. Also, our eyes and brain allow us to see in ways that cameras cannot. We can change our focus so fast it seems that we have everything in focus, even when we don't. Our perception of color and contrast can differ a lot from our photographic recording tools. So, our perception of reality can vary with our age, experience, physical and mental attributes we carry with us. Thanks to the digital darkroom, we can finally control our photographic images so that they can much more closely mimic what we "see" and not be constrained by the physical limitations of the film camera and chemical darkroom. When I used 6x7 Fuji Velvia film and had it printed on Cibachrome paper, I had really no control over the contrast (it was always very high) or color balance of my prints. Now, with Lightroom as a photo editing program, I can make photos look much more like my impression of a scene. So, the digital darkroom has been a benefit to all in art photography, from those who are creating something totally new to those of us who just want their photographs to look as they view a scene, allowing for a more personal interpretation.