Are We Facing Hard Times Getting Recognition for Our Photographs?

Are We Facing Hard Times Getting Recognition for Our Photographs?

It’s amazing what modern software can create within seconds and how we can alter images with only a few clicks. What does it do to our reception of photography?

Times Are Changing

Fstoppers co-founder Patrick Hall has recently released a video about the new Skylum Software Luminar 4.2. While I was amazed by the possibilities it offers, it also made me scared a little bit. This software doesn't only make it easy to replace your sky with dramatic clouds, vibrant sunsets, or whatever you like. It also adds cool stuff like giraffes, birds, a giant moon, or fireworks wherever you want them to be. Everything happens with a few simple clicks — almost too easy to be true.

Yet, it’s all true and available. It works amazingly efficiently, and I guess the times of masking out trees, buildings, and people will soon be over. Is that a good thing? On the one hand, I’m a little resentful. Hours of learning how to use different blending modes, masks, and paths (I hate paths) for nothing? Well, technology is always changing, and I’ve got to deal with it. If you don’t keep up with the times, you’ll fall behind.

What drives me crazy, though, are the possibilities that new technologies offer to a broad group of people and how it has the power to degrade the efforts of photography itself. I won’t point a finger at anyone, because I’m guilty, too. Trying to squeeze out every little detail in my images also means pushing the boundaries a little more. It shifts the focus from taking a photograph to post-processing it. When these skills become accessible to everyone, we run the danger of witnessing more and more photographs becoming more and more edited. What does it mean for us as photographers?

No Acknowledgement of Our Efforts

Altering an image is quite easy today, and software engineers still haven't met the end of possibilities. Probably, they never will. I find it quite probable that in the (not too distant) future, we’ll only need to tell our software “create an image of a beautiful lake with a building in the middle of it,” and within seconds, we’ll get a perfect image. We can ask the software to add some birds (already possible within seconds in Luminar) to make the image look even more fantastic.

Not a composite, but patiently waited (and flushed the birds).

But what will photography become? Just imagine you captured a stunning image and you’re proud of it, only until you realize that no one else is. Planning a shot and waiting until the birds fly into the frame is a lot of effort that one can be proud of. It’s an original idea, and you had to get to the place and make things work.

Even today, your 12-year-old daughter can take a snapshot, shove it through a few apps, and add the birds with not much more effort. She doesn’t need to wait and work to make her ideas become a photograph. Many ideas can easily be implemented in software. Far worse: you put some effort into creating the picture and made it possible in reality, while others simply make their ideas possible in virtual reality.

Maybe the following situation has happened to you as well: You took a photograph that you find outstanding. After making basic adjustments, you show it to your friends or family. “But that’s Photoshopped, right” is a frequently asked question in this situation. “No, it’s Lightroom” won’t be a sufficient answer. Feeling the need to justify yourself, you start your lecture on the process of developing a picture: “Well you know, there is a little difference between altering the image or simply developing it, the camera itself has a sensor…” and so forth — the magic is gone. All this is already a reality today.

Is pushing the sensor's capabilities beyond what you can see already altering?

What We’re Going to Miss

For commercial photographers, new technologies are often a blessing, of course. We could discuss if it was right to advertise things by detaching them from reality, but I do believe that most people know that commercials are made to sell, not to critically reflect. Losing a lot of money because it simply wasn’t the best weather to photograph real estate is no option for the client; losing too much time editing because of the weather is not an option for the photographer. Smart solutions keep the business up to date.

In other areas, especially if you only use photography as a hobby, the situation is worse. I find landscape photography a great way to spend time outside. The mere process of shooting a landscape is one of the rewards I get from this hobby. It’s a relaxing activity, good for physical and mental health. On the other hand, I also love to share the images and get positive feedback. I guess everyone loves their skills and effort to be acknowledged by others.

A few years back, when I started taking photography a little more seriously, I went out to shoot the Milky Way at a very special location. I published the image in a photography group, only to find someone posting the same scene two days later as a composite.

A little too cooked, but at least an original?

Whom does it harm more? Me, who went through an exciting process to capture a great scene in less-than-medium image quality? Or him, who never left his desk to make his (stolen) vision become true? I don’t know, but I guess we’re both losers of a competitive game. I got hurt because my original idea could be reproduced in much better quality, while no amateur would recognize the shortcut. On the other hand, he, who never went out on an amazing adventure, missed the thrill of wild camping in the cold, has never eagerly waited for the right moment, and never felt the adrenaline pumping through his body at 4:30 AM when the clouds finally cleared the view.

Sloth Is the Beginning of Vice

Everyone is his or her own master and can decide how he or she lives a creative life. On the other hand, I do believe that sometimes, technology is too seductive. It makes us lazy, and we ignore what we might miss. Like a drug, technology can give us an immediate result, but it also makes us numb to enjoying the alternatives.

It’s ancient knowledge: The route is the goal. While the final product is an achievement, we shouldn’t forget how much value we can create in the process itself. We can easily mix the two up and stop caring for the process, because you could achieve a better result with less effort.

How many times did I get up this mountain hours before sunrise until I found fluffy clouds in the sky? Yet, I'd do it all again. It even made the final image more valuable to me.

Moreover, the possibility to make our concepts become reality by just clicking with our mouse puts us under competitive pressure. But what can we do against it? Is censorship the answer? Do we need laws that obligate us to mark edited images? Not only to prevent fake news and information, but also to help ourselves enjoy the process of taking images? Is this an overreaction or maybe the last chance to save us from completely mixing up the real and virtual space?

Another ancient (German) saying is: Sloth is the beginning of vice. Sometimes. we don’t see that we’re on the wrong path until it’s too late.

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Alex Yakimov's picture

Such tools will definitely change the photography landscape for good, although i believe there would be always a place for minimally altered images. Future will tell. May be it will become more akin food industry with cooked and delicious visuals competing for the level of the sophistication.

jim hughes's picture

I think fake skies look fake. The lighting never really matches, and your brain perceives that at some level.

Darek Gusto's picture

A good opportunity to shot the painter at work too.

Ivan Lantsov's picture

when all have skill you not gud to compet be betr!

Scott Weaver's picture

Thanks for your article. Many important points. When I received the fstoppers weekly email this morning one thing seemed clear to me as I looked at the "Popular Photos from the Community" collection: all but one fo the 12 shots looked heavily post-processed. In fact, post-processing of the images seemed to have taken priority over the images themselves. They do not look 'natural' anymore.

Kepano 808's picture

I beg to differ on the supporting content you talk about here referring to Luminar 4. I feel these are all tools to enhance an image and make it your own. The title of the article is; "Are We Facing Hard Times Getting Recognition for Our Photographs?". I feel that key word here is "recognition". Too be, this goes directly to social media; most notably - Instagram. I feel that IG is the problem here vs any post processing that a creative may use to make an image their own.