Riverbed near Lugu

One of my goals when I make and process photographs is to get a look that is identifiable as “deliberate manipulated” – it is not my primary goal of course, but with this approach, I want to avoid what I call the “fake realism” of today’s landscape photography, and set my photos apart from them. (with “fake realism”, I mean photos that are “sold” (or accepted) as real-looking, while they are actually the product of more or less heavy manipulation in one or the other way.)

But at the same time, this “deliberately manipulated” look has become a mass-product – thanks to dozens of “vintage” applications and filters for smartphones and desktop computers, as well as filters, plugins and develop presets for photo management and editing software. (Snapseed, Instagram, Hipstamatic, Retrocam, Color Efex, etc. etc.) This isn’t limited to any particular type of photography either: landscapes are presented in that look, just like portraits are.

Riverbed near Lugu, Nantou County, Taiwan. March 2013.
Riverbed near Lugu, Nantou County, Taiwan. March 2013.

Even a couple of years after Hipstamatic (the iPhone app that perhaps started this trend; I used it when I had an iPhone, back in Germany, in 2008 or 2009), the retro look of square-cropped, cross-processed, textured and heavily vignetted images doesn’t appear to grow old, and people do not seem to become tired of looking at it and enjoying it, either. Heck, Facebook bought Instagram for 1 billion dollars!

In that regard, the above image was something like a test. While I normally spend a good amount of time on individually processing my photos, all I did with this one was to apply a square-crop and a preset that emulates Instagram’s “Kelvin” filter, plus some minor adjustments (that perhaps mimics Instagram’s one-click fix for lighting and contrast) …and the removal of dust spots. ;-)

I have no conclusions, and no definite results other than the image (which was quite well-received on both Google+ and Facebook) serves well as an illustration of a personal dilemma, and continuing challenge: on the one hand, I want my images to be identifiable as “deliberately manipulated”, on the other hand, this very look can be achieved by anyone, with a couple of finger-taps or mouse-clicks.

PS: the above image is not part of my “Taiwan” portfolio. A similar exposure that has not been “instagramed” is part of it, instead.

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2 Responses

  1. Interesting reasoning Alex about the use (or non-use) of filtering software. It’s worth thinking about creating your own presets in Lightroom (if you don’t already) that perform the same functions as the ‘one-click’ filters you mention, or processes to your liking. I take literally hundreds of shots on hikes so speed of processing is important. However, a really cracking image in my book deserves more time spent on it, if say it’s something you could see hanging on a wall. As a photojournalist though I need a fast workflow and the one-click fixes of Lightroom presets really do speed up the process.

    On my Facebook page it’s interesting gauging reactions to images I produced on my iPhone compared to photos I might have laboured over in Photoshop. The idea that a look can be achieved by anyone might be true but at the end of the day what makes us unique as photographers is our way of seeing things. People can buy and use filters, true. But composing that winning shot, seeing things from a different perspective, being in the right place at the right time, cannot be bought. If it’s that easy now for people to produce desirable results then it’s time to raise the bar and look at ways of achieving imagery that’s harder for people to emulate. This may not be an easy path but one that’s worth pursuing I think.

    Cheers, Paul.

    1. Thanks Paul, for taking the time to read and reply. Of course, the photos don’t make themselves. :) As I wrote… it’s more meant as an observation that anything else.

      And while I do use presets, I usually process each image individually, until I find what I’m looking for in it (or maybe not, in which case it’s better to hit X in Lightroom, and give up;-). Presets are a starting point, or, depending on them, a finishing touch, sometimes.

      From a photo-journalistic approach, presets are useful, but I’m not one to come home with hundreds of photos from a single outing… I try to control the itch in my shutter-finger. ;-)

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