When it comes to nature photography, digital cameras have opened up new avenues of creativity. But has nature been forgotten in our obsession with technology?
In my collection, which you can find on my website, I have a photo of a kangaroo on a beach. I am not the only nature photographer in Australia to have captured such a subject, so it is not a unique occurrence; but it is unusual. As such, many people have never seen such a thing with their own eyes.
Ten years ago, when film was standard, people would often ask "Where were you lucky enough to find a kangaroo on a beach?" Fair question.
Today, someone asked me "Did you superimpose that kangaroo on your computer?" Some people don't ask; they just assume the photo is a fake. Some even want to argue with me even after I have told them where, when and how the photo was taken. People like to transfer their own limitations onto others. So, if they could not have taken that picture, they assume that nobody could. Therefore (they like to believe) it must be fake.
For nature photographers, being told your photo has been manufactured on a computer is like being accused of fraud.
The kangaroo on the beach is the most commented-on image in my collection, but it is by no means the only photo that invites doubt. These days it seems that any nature photo, if unique and perfectly captured (and isn't that what we are all striving for?) is automatically an object of suspicion.
We have entered an era when technology has become so advanced, people have begun to doubt their own eyes when it comes to photography. It is true, some amazing things can be done with software, and many photographers find 'photoshopping' an image more interesting than taking the photo in the first place. This is a perfectly legitimate pursuit and one that is simply a fact of life in the modern world.
However, problems arise when people start to forget that good photography, and in particular good nature photography, existed long before the digital age. The skills of nature photography are as they have always been. An ability to read the light, to recognise and capture a spectacular sky, to simply know the time of day and the perfect weather to shoot your subject: these are the stock in trade of the nature photographer. Next comes knowledge of the camera and photography theory, along with a practiced sense of balance and composition.
If you get these right (and there are still plenty of photographers out there who can), you simply don't need to rely on your computer to create a good image. In fact for most nature photographers, the whole point of the pursuit is the joy of capturing a perfect moment using only patience, skill and timing.
Technology is amazing. Using software, you can take the sky from one photo, put it behind the foreground from another photo, and add a few birds flying past for good measure. In the case of my photo, perhaps you could add a kangaroo into your beach photo. The point is, why would you, when there is so much satisfaction in finding that beach, and being there to capture the moment for real.
The truly wonderful thing about nature photography is that it can remind us of all the things we love about nature. It helps us to appreciate what is at stake as environmental issues come to the fore, and often (like my kangaroo on the beach) it allows us to see the natural world from a point of view that we never knew existed. Old school nature photographers like me don't want you to look at a photo and see only the technology that produced it. They want you to remember what it is we love about nature, and perhaps pause to appreciate the skill and artistry of the photographer.
So the next time you see a great nature photo, show some respect for the patience and skills that went in to capturing that image. And if you aspire to one day do the same, try thinking a little less about your computer and a little more about nature. It can only make you a better photographer.