Of trickery and treatments……

Winter morning near Aberystwyth – cruelly overlooked by this years LPOTY judges.

Image manipulation has been uppermost in my mind recently. Earlier  this year I entered the Landscape Photographer of the Year competition, none of my images getting past the first stage. I was disappointed but soon forgot all about it. Then ten days ago I discovered that the competition was mired in controversy. Three winning images by one photographer had been disqualified following analysis by independent observers which showed them to have been composites. In other words what appeared to be a single image was actually a combination of two or more others. Tim Parkin, the guiding light behind OnLandscape online magazine, had shown that the landscape in the winning image must have contained two suns if it had been for real – one at one angle to create strong shadows, and  a second to form “god-beams” at  another. Quite shockingly the judges had not originally noticed this – nor could they have seen the relevant RAW file.

The rules in three categories of LPOTY are quite clear –

“  Digital adjustments, including High Dynamic Range (HDR) imaging techniques and the joining together of multiple frames, are allowed in all categories. However for images entered in Classic view, Living the View and Urban view, the integrity of the subject must be maintained and the making of physical changes to the landscape is not permitted (removing fences, moving trees, stripping in sky from another image etc). The organisers reserve the right to disqualify any image that they feel lacks authenticity due to over-manipulation.”

Rules for the fourth category are  less so –

” The judges will allow more latitude in the ‘Your View’ category, which aims to encourage originality and conceptual thinking.”

I don’t have a problem at all with the principles underlying  the first three categories but the definition of Your View seems  flawed.  How much manipulation is too much here? And why should “originality” and “conceptual thinking” need or involve it anyway?

In my opinion there is a gulf – a yawning chasm, almost – between what has traditionally been understood as image  “processing” (or “adjusting” in LPOTY parlance) and what is now achievable  in Photoshop. The original competition winner was clearly working on one side of the chasm, while the rules stated that he should have been on the other side.

It must be difficult for younger photographers to understand this because they have developed their skills entirely within the Photoshop era. Photography has, until very recently, always had (with a few exceptions) an umbilical link with reality. I am surprised that some photographers cannot see that this link is broken when one image is put together from selections of two or more others. I do not deny that there are grey areas where arguments may occur. But that does not deflect me from my identification of a quantum difference between processing and manipulation. Those who claim that “It’s all manipulation” are just plain wrong.

Perhaps the current controversy will result in the LPOTY organisers making it more clear that manipulated images (such as composites) are not acceptable in the competition as it stands. They would need to define exactly where processing ends and manipulation begins, but this should not be a problem. In my imagination “Your View” suggests a personal interpretation of a landscape, or a personal relationship with the land, which would not be appropriate in the other three categories. So for those whose skills lie primarily at the keyboard end of the photographic process a separate category should be introduced.    To add an analogy it would be a bit like banning smokers from inside the pub but providing them with an area outside where they could indulge.

Photoshoppery is a valid technique for many purposes, and the resulting images can be stunning.  But without documentary values are they really photographs at all?  A separate category for  manipulated images would do all (landscape) photographers a service. They would be able to decide which side of the line their images stood, and – in an era when sometimes anything seems to go – it would help  to define what exactly a photograph is.

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Wild Wales / Cymru Wyllt 2013 calendar

Wild Wales / Cymru Wyllt 2013 calendar (front cover)
Wild Wales 2013 calendar (back cover)

Just a little plug for my Wild Wales / Cymru Wyllt  calendar, now (2012) in its eighth year of publication. At 330mm x 245mm in size (opening to double), thick card cover and quality paper inside, and twelve seasonal image by me, it really is fantastic value at £6.50 (inc p&p in UK). An ideal Christmas gift, especially if you love Wales, or good nature photography wherever it might be found!

To order direct visit www.wildwalespostcards.co.uk ,  or phone me on 01970 828164 to arrange the purchase.

STOP PRESS – BUY NOW AT ONLY £5.00 PER COPY (INCLUDING POSTAGE)

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Possible jam tomorrow……………or a tale of three images.

Arctic tern, the Skerries, Ynys Mon.

These three things all happened today, I promise you.

Firstly, my phone rang. It doesn’t ring that often, so that was a surprise for a start. But this call was from a large international PR company. They had seen my “highly commended” image of starlings on Aberystwyth pier (see September 10th post) and wanted to know if they could use it in a bid they were working on for Canon UK . No, “we don’t have a budget for photographs” but if their bid was successful Canon might want to employ me. As I didn’t fully understand what they wanted or what was being offered in return (if anything) I asked them to email me with the details. Needless to say there was no email.

It easy is to be sceptical about such requests, and I was. But over the course of the morning I began to wonder if it was a genuine opportunity to which I had not been receptive. I phoned the company and got an email by way of a reply. They had already made other arrangements. Or had they? A further email conversation took place in which I offered them the picture for a fee, because they really did want to use it after all. “Cool. No thanks” came the reply. And so it stands. If they do want the image, they’ll be back. Possible jam tomorrow? Not when it comes to supporting a large multi-national with my work, thanks very much!

Later this morning I had an email from a friend who operates a small environmental interpretation consultancy. Would I mind supplying an image free of charge for a bid she was working on? If it was successful……etc, etc….. . I had no hesitation in agreeing to this request because Shelagh is a good sort and has been very supportive of my work over the years. I sent a jpeg over this afternoon.

Then another email arrived, this one from the British Trust for Ornithology. I have been doing voluntary bird survey work for the BTO for many years, including, from 2007 – 2011, “The Bird Atlas” of the British Isles.  The results of thousands of volunteers’ efforts on this project are being collated and will be published in book form next year. With the statistical techniques and computing power now available this will be a real powerhouse of information about  British and Irish bird populations. Earlier this year they put out a request for images to illustrate the book, and to my delight one of mine – of an arctic tern – has been chosen. There is no payment but it helps me to feel even more involved in an absolutely brilliant project which will be a benchmark in ornithological knowledge for many years to come.

The image of the arctic tern is reproduced above.

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