Nature’s Best Photography Semi-Finalist 2014 – A Polar Passion

It is the season for photography competition news so following on from yesterday’s post about the Epson International Pano Awards I was very pleased to learn a few days ago that one of my photographs has made it to the semi-finals in Natures Best Photography this year. This is the third year in a row I have had photographs in the semi-finals or finals of Nature’s Best Photography and I feel very honoured to have been included yet again. Unfortunately I cannot yet divulge which photograph is in the semi-finals – suffice to say the category of choice for me was ‘Polar Passion’.

Nature’s Best Photography is one of the premiere and most respected Nature photography competitions in the market place today (along with BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year). Importantly (for me) Nature’s Best consider the art of photography the photographers ability to capture an incredible image in the field at time of capture and not just create one on their computer. This is a really important distinction for me as it is in lock step with my own Ethics for Image Capture and post production. As such the submission of RAW files is mandatory to validate them against the high resolution TIFF file at point of entry. Of equal importance to me that the image be captured in the field is that Nature’s Best Photography also place significant emphasis on the print even though the initial round of judging is done digitally. With over 25,000 entries this year it would just be impossible to judge the initial round on the printed page. Kudos to Nature’s Best however for taking the print into consideration in the semi-finals and finals. This is a stance I feel more photography competitions would do well to follow.

It is worth taking a moment to reiterate my thoughts on post production as I am seeing a multitude of over processed, over saturated, and frankly over cooked images across a range of social media and competitions of late as photographers strive to outdo each other (saturation slider goes to +11) and stand out from the crowd. I recently judged several photography competitions for magazines here in Australia and the overall trend was overcooked and over saturated images to my eye. This is of course a personal aesthetic and personal judgement, but its certainly a rising trend. But then this is also a subjective medium and there are as many opinions as there are photographers and frankly none are less valid than another. Along with this trend is an increase in heavily manipulated photographs that include dropped in skies, multiple image composites etc. This is not surprising really as the tools to create such work have become easier to use and more accessible. Suffice to say, from my own ethical perspective I strive to create my photographs at time of capture and not create something that did not exist in Nature. Is this a distinction between a Nature photographer and a Landscape photographer? Possibly… and it could be argued that this is the case, but I certainly hope not. Certainly there are competitions out there touting themselves as ‘the’ landscape competition of choice that have an anything goes approach to post production. I avoid these type of competitions as I feel they are more about creating digital art than about real photography. It certainly shows in the those images that get awarded that the skill of the retoucher is far more heavily weighted than the photographers ability to actually capture a great shot. This is not to say that there isn’t a time and place for this type of post production – I just feel it isn’t in Nature or landscape photography. Categories such as ‘Illustrative’ are far more suitable for anything goes post production. That is my personal judgement however and too each their own.

All of this is good and well of course and it is important to note that standing on an iceberg for forty days, or camping out in the desert for a month does not guarantee a good photograph – because it certainly doesn’t. Time in the field in itself does not guarantee a great capture, or even a mediocre one for that matter; but it certainly stacks the odds in your favour to encounter great subject and great light. Then its up to the skill of the photographer to capture and craft the image at time of capture. Post production should then be used to enhance what was captured – not create something that did not exist. That said, turning a sours ear into a silk purse in Photoshop really does not require much photographic skill – just solid retouching skills. Personally, when I am wowed by a new photograph and I later learn that the photographer dropped in a different sky, or moved an island, or otherwise heavily manipulated the image I feel somewhat cheated. It is my assumption (sometimes incorrectly) that the image was found in Nature and I am left deflated and often disappointed to learn it was a digital creation in post production. I have blogged (ok, ranted) about this on several other occasions but I feel compelled to restate my feelings and opinion for what they are worth in the face of some of the images I am seeing surface across competitions and social media of late. The flip side of this coin is that I am also seeing some really incredible photography emerge across the internet that seems to just drift by quietly and largely unnoticed in the face of the overwhelming noise. The good news is these photographs and photographers are out there producing really incredible work. You just have to filter through the white noise to find and enjoy them. Ill have a list together soon that includes a range of contemporary photographers whose work I believe is being largely missed or ignored outside of their home countries. Watch this space as I think you will very much enjoy the art of great photography.

In other competition news this weekend will see the opening of the 2014 Australian Professional Photography Awards in Sydney. The APPA awards are eagerly looked forward to by all who enter (myself included) and it will, as always be interesting watch the live-stream of the judging. The Landscape category remains an ‘anything goes’ post production fiesta so I have avoided this category entirely again this year and instead chosen a category more in lock step with my own thoughts on post production. – ‘Next Print Please….’

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