My ethos - "Finding something nearly hidden in Nature"
Visitors to this site often ask me
"to what extent are your images digitally enhanced". This question has a
(i) The strong colours in my images are produced in camera, not at the PC.
(ii) When deciding whether to use the computer to manipulate an image I tend to ask myself whether I could achieve substantially the same effect in the darkroom. I believe in limiting my use of the cloning tools. Generally I use these to take out processing marks, rarely poles, telephone wires and jet contrails (all this air travel is a bloody liability for photographers). I never add elements to my images. I do sometimes use luminosity masks to overcome DSLR dynamic range limitations, this technique strikes me as being analogous to darkroom dodging and burning which is a fundamental and legitimate photographic process. Digital does make it difficult sometimes to distinguish appropriate artistic manipulation from "faking it". Here is where I choose to draw the line.
(iii) I never, ever, build composite night images (you can tell this is something I am touchy about!). If you see an image of trees or buildings in front of stars on my site then you can be sure the scene actually existed and was broadly what I saw through my viewfinder. I do not cut out objects from one photo and paste them into another image, even though I am technically able to do this:
It seems to me that the emergence of digital imaging has brought about both a golden age of opportunity, but also the power to abandon reality to the detriment of photographic meaning. I am particularly thinking here of "Arch of the Milky Way" shots, and composite images built out of a combination of daytime/dusk forgrounds masked onto nighttime skies.
These computer photomerged and dual chronology images offend me because they are in no way related to what a human being sees at night, and they tend not to be representations of a quirky and individualistic artistic "eye". Once you have seen such images a few times their meaning is exhausted, partly due to their disconnect from ordinary human experience and partly due to the novelty of the effect wearing off. I completely understand that it is basic to creative photography for the photographer to manipulate position, field of view, aperture, perspective, exposure time, influence colours and contrast - all of these are essential pieces of photographic vocabulary, but to me there are limits that digital can encourage many to exceed. If the more hyper aspects of digital night photography are used to their logical conclusion what is left may degenerate into a mere "effect". I appreciate that it is not the task of the photographer to limit themselves to showing a literally true scene (far from it), but it seems to me that in the digital era there comes a point where creative licence can cross over into something excessive and a little debased. Working out where the line is to be drawn is a matter for each individual photographer, and in my view is the most pressing issue in night photography now (if anything in night photography could be described as being pressing of course!). To me our work has value if we are seeking out and trying to communicate something almost lost and hidden in nature, not just using the camera as the foundation of a fantasy "Hollywood" CGI project.
I would like to quote G Dan Mitchell, a noted night photographer, who really captured something fundamental about photography in a post he wrote on the Fred Miranda photography forum in 2013:
"If we present ourselves as artists who are able to see and create artistic work based on things of beauty in the real world, we hope that those who see our work will believe that it is honest. (And "honest" is not the same as "perfect objective analog" .....). In other words, they look at our work and trust that the place shown, the light under which the photograph was made, the conjunction of seemingly miraculous elements, and our vision are connected to real experiences and things and places. They can and should accept and even expect that we take steps to enhance and optimize the presentation of the images so that they will be effective as photographs or as photographic prints, but they presume that we enhance more than we invent. In fact, I think that many of us - even those of us who are perfectly happy to optimize images in these rather common ways - believe that we are presenting "subjectively truthful" images of things. Viewers grant us trust that our vision is special and that we see in the real world things that others might miss and that we see them in ways that others might not share."