Ansel Adams and Henri Cartier-Bresson were known for setting up images. Should we criticise them, or any other master photographer, for setting up or manipulating images? Does it mean that they were lesser photographers than we all believe they were?
Every so often, I receive questions about some of my images such as, “did you put the leaf there?” The answer is, “no, I didn’t, as I couldn’t reach it, though I wish it had been possible”. My next reaction usually is, so what if I had put it there? Does it really matter? Does it make any difference to you, the viewer?
This supplied me with food for thought and it is the reason for this article. What is it that you really like in a picture? Is it the view? The sunset colours perhaps? The stunning composition that brings out the beauty of a location?
Let me extend this a little further. How many times do we wonder if the colours in a picture are real or even if the compositional elements have been manipulated in Photoshop? Is it really important what we think has been done to it, or is the final result and our deep affection for it really all that should matter?
Take this image for instance. How real is it? Can you tell if it is a composite of multiple images and various exposures or if the colours are real or enhanced/manipulated in post processing and the hues altered? Can you tell if the pebble was there or if I put it there, or even what size it is? More importantly, do you really like the image? If you do, does it really matter what the process behind it was? The question that you need to ask is, assuming the pebble has been added, would the photograph look as good if it had not? Without the pebble, of course, this image wouldn’t exist.
As soon as I saw the shape and textures of this rock, I knew there was a picture and immediately started the thought process on how to bring it to life. The right size and shape pebble with a different colour hue had to be fixed in that position. Then it was a matter of finding the best composition, which took me some time to achieve. Finally, after all technical aspects had been taken care of, all the rock surfaces needed to be wet to make the colours more vivid, but a circular polarising filter was used to take away any reflections from the wet surface.
The majority of landscape photographers know that most images captured by Ansel Adams were manipulated heavily. Does this make any difference? Does it mean that he was a lesser photographer than we all believe he was? Ansel Adams was the master of landscape photography because he could produce a print the way he visualised it while on location: which process he used to achieve this, shouldn’t make any difference.
What about Henri Cartier-Bresson? How many of his images were set up or staged? Should we start questioning his ability to produce amazing images? Like many artists, Henri and other master photographers have a vision of an image and do what it takes to bring it to life. This to me is called art.
Photography is a process, a combination of vision, thought, mood, imagination and various other elements, all blended together in perfect harmony. This can produce stunning results that can be admired by many viewers and inspire many photographers in generations to come. Enjoy, not judge.