Surreal, over the top landscape or natural? How much is too much processing?
I am not the same person that I was twenty years ago. I like different food, music, art and even different photos. Growth comes from change both personally and creatively. In the few short years since I have returned to shooting the landscapes that I love, my opinions on what constitutes a good landscape has changed. Back in the late sixties and early seventies I was fixated on the large format color photos of Elliot Porter, incredibly detailed with color unlike anything that I had seen before. Forward a few years to the more elegant but visually amazing American Southwest landscapes of David Muench. I absolutely loved his work. It contrasted the subtleties that Porter captured.
When I returned to landscapes more than twenty years later it wasn’t the photos of Porter or Muench that attracted me. I was drawn into the wild colors and tones of HDRs. I am almost embarrassed to say that. They were unlike anything that I had ever seen. Was this what the new world of digital landscape photography looked like?
Through the years when I was doing other things, I would thumb through the odd coffee table book in the library. Nothing really grabbed me. Galen Rowell was supposedly THE photographer of that time but his photos never compared to what I was seeing in climbing magazines and books. Landscapes just didn’t interest me. It seemed that the “art” of landscape photography was frozen, at least to me.
I started dabbling with Photomatix and my new digital SLR. It was fun. No more waiting two weeks for Kodachromes to be returned from Vancouver or wherever it was that they processed them. I could drive out of town and an hour later be at home experimenting with processing. The results were garish. I cringe when I look at them today. Obviously I went overboard with the special effects. Looking back, I realize what I was trying to do. I was trying to make the sky look dramatic. Too dramatic. Crank up the strengh slider in Photomatix and voila. CGI like skies. Some of them even sold as stock. OMFG! They were really terrible.
A few years later, I definitely know what I like and don’t like. I hope that the images that I process today will be in a way that won’t having me cringe in the future.
There is a tendency among some of the more popular landscape photographers on websites like Flickr, 500px and 1X to be very heavy handed with their skies and tones. Processing landscapes is similar to making movies in how far you can push things before they are not believable. There are some photographers that I recognize by their skies. They are all identical in how much they are darkened or how purple or orange they look. They do this for a reason. Not every sunset is dramatic. Not every cloudy sky looks ominous. Not every morning sunrise is ablaze with color.
Adding color to a photo is like adding sugar or salt to your food. It’s easy to get used to a teaspoon and then another and another again. Before you know it your food is oozing sugar or salt. The temptation is always there to go too far. Sometimes the best thing to do is to save your image an re-visit it a day or two later. That’s something that I’ve been doing more of lately and it’s made a difference at how I look at what I do.
How much is too much for you? Only you can decide but expect your opinion to keep changing. It’s part of your growth.
ps. Hopefully things turn around soon for landscapes. The next few days have snow forecast. It’s snowing as I write this. I’ve already shoveled the driveway once this morning and it will need to be done again before the day is over. Yippee!!