Thursday, June 04, 2009
Illusion vs reality in the sky over Owen Park
These are questions photographers always face, not always consciously: Document reality, or enhance it? Record what the eye sees, or draw on the imagination? Shoot it, or fake it? Go with the way it really was, or create what should have been?
But what do we mean by "the way it really was"? Alterations and enhancements, often very subtle, are almost unavoidable. Even if documentation is the goal, color, exposure, composition, choosing the moment to click the shutter -- they all involve decisions that influence what the photograph expresses, which is why different people's photos of the same scene often look so different. When you try to capture it, reality becomes fluid and hard to pin down. Photographs are just another form of eyewitness testimony -- not terribly trustworthy, but better than nothing.
Of course, if illusion is your goal, the sky is the limit. Almost since the beginning, photography has been used to mislead as well as to inform, to create alternate realities -- first with retouching and other analog means -- now with computers.
As photographers, we each have to decide where to draw the line. As viewers and consumers of photography, we each have to sort our way through these issues. How do we know what's real and what's not? In the end, it probably comes down to the old principle, "If it looks too good to be true, it is too good to be true." For example:
Left: The way it really was -- moon and hawk over Owen Park, a plausible near miss. Right: A more dramatic composition. The way it should have been. And too good to be true, at least in this case.