Earlier today, fellow photographer and editor of Better Photography magazine, Peter Eastway sent out an email blast to his subscriber base titled “Nature Photography with No Limits.” The short op ed. opinion piece is really a call to arms to enter the Better Photography competition, but it had me at odds with its very first sentence. The piece demonstrates a lack of understanding of the genre of Nature photography and reads as follows:
There are many wonderful nature photography competitions around the world, but I suggest they are more about nature and less about photography. And that’s fine! I realise this is a controversial statement, but look at it this way: the only photos that can be entered into these nature competitions are those with minimal post-production, and so the expressive photographer with a love for nature can be left out.
Yes, there are many great Nature photography competitions around the world, but the suggestion that they are more about Nature and less about photography is a nonsense. This statement demonstrates a lack of understanding of what Nature photography is about and what Nature photographers strive to achieve. Nature photography is about representing Nature as it truly exists on our planet through the vehicle of photography. Nature photography competitions are about recognising and rewarding the skill of the photographer in the field to capture something extraordinary that exists in Nature. Nature photography at its best is about capturing the so-called decisive moment, the perfect frame when subject, light and gesture all come together in the perfect image in the real world (not created in a computer). The very best Nature photographs show the viewer a side of Nature we either see infrequently, or did not know existed. Nature photography competitions are about highlighting these photographs and recognising the skill, time and patience of the photographer to capture such an image in the field. As a Nature photographer myself, I express myself through the photographs I choose to share that I captured in the field (out in Nature). I do not choose to express myself through creativity on the computer (that would be a different genre of photography). I do not want to misrepresent Nature and I do not want to have to be a Photoshop technician. Photographers who wish to be more liberal and creative with their post production are of course free to do whatever they wish. However, we must be clear that such creations are not Nature photographs. They may consist of elements found and captured in Nature, but they are most certainly an artificial construct of something that did not exist in Nature and are therefore by definition not a Nature photograph. All we need do is look up the definition for Nature:
Nature – The phenomena of the physical world collectively, including plants, animals, the landscape, and other features and products of the earth, as opposed to humans or human creations.
Perhaps I can sum up my thoughts on Nature photography with one simple image. The photograph below was captured at Gould Bay in Antarctica in November of 2018. It is of an Emperor Penguin family. Two adults and a chick. There was gentle snowfall and the light was soft and ethereal. I watched this family through the 400mm lens on my camera as I lay on the frozen sea ice waiting for the perfect moment. I wanted just the right sense of gesture from the two parents. I was searching for a sense of family intimacy and in a split second the stars aligned and the penguins were to my mind and eye, perfectly positioned and I took the photograph. How hard, how long I waited and how cold I was at the time are irrelevant. The camera and lens I used to take the photograph are irrelevant; as is the computer on which I processed the RAW file (which is also included below so you can see how little was done). What is relevant is that this Nature photograph is a real scene from Nature. And when the viewer looks at this or any one of my Nature photographs they can rest comfortably that what they are looking at is a slice of life from Mother Nature and not a computer creation.
In summary, with the myriad of options out there for all photographers to pick and choose their photographic competition of choice; do we really have to corrupt the genre of Nature photography with artificial creations that don’t even fit the definition of Nature? Food for Thought….