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Motivation is a photography blog that discusses the creative aspects of photography. The posts will include thoughts about images and their interpretation, photographers and their work, technique, workflow, my ongoing projects, and perhaps even the occasional off topic rant.

The Real vs The Feel

There is an issue that has had me thinking lately, and it has to do with how we portray nature in our artwork. Actually, there are two parts to the issue.

Part 1:

In a way, this is the easy part, since it has certainly been discussed many times before. It concerns how we represent places in photographs. Do we try to portray things as they visually are, or do we try to represent how it felt to be at the particular location when we were photographing? My feeling is that if, when out photographing, my aim is to produce artwork and not a photojournalistic piece, than it is absolutely valid to enhance an image in order to convey the feeling I had in mind when taking the picture. Nobody ever complains if a painter makes a color more intense or different than it was in the actual scene. They know the painter is producing a piece of art and not a documentary.

I realize that others may differ in their opinion regarding this issue. Stephen Johnson, whose work I also deeply admire, comes to mind in this regard. For an interesting, and much more thorough discussion about this issue, I think the essay by Alain Briot entitled Just Say Yes is excellent.

The Real / The Feel
Images Copyright Howard Grill

I would like to offer an example. I have been visiting and photographing McConnell’s Mill State Park in Portersville, PA, for several years. During one visit, I noticed that the flow of water in the river was making some incredible patterns and spent some time photographing at various shutter speeds, thinking that one of the images would portray an abstract sense of movement. The day was clear, blue, and magnificent and I also wanted to convey that being there felt like standing inside a perfect painting. I even decided that the title of the image would be “Water Painting”. However, while the image as it appeared when ‘auto-corrected’ by Adobe Camera RAW (a facsimile of the right out of the camera concept) was nice enough, it simply didn’t say what I wanted it to. So I made some changes that clearly do not represent the way the river truly looked , but certainly did represent the way it felt to look AT the river.

Is this valid? I personally think it is, though not everyone will agree. However, I am equally troubled by Part Two below…

Part 2:

After reading Andy Frazer’s excellent December 19 blog post on New Year’s resolutions, I decided that it was time to edit down several years of taking pictures at McConnell’s Mill State Park to 30-40 images and, during the year, make large prints of them with the ultimate goal of having a local showing of some type.

Most of my images of the park fall into the “real” realm, but there are a few, like Water Painting, that fall into the “feel” realm. Individually the images can stand alone. But is it inconsistent to have both “real” and “feel” as part of the same project or display? Is consistency necessary for the images in a photo project to stand together cohesively, or can multiple approaches coexist without overpowering each other? It is something I have been thinking about.