In early July, my friend DDB (David Dyer-Bennet) and I went off to Willow River State Park in Wisconsin to do some more of the infamous stochastic photography that some readers have found so controversial (example below) and to just photograph nature and waterfalls in general.
A successful and most pleasant outing, as usual, although the day was unpleasantly warm. Consequently, there were many folks playing in the water, a custom I still find a little disquieting, since the rapids and falls on West Coast rivers are typically much more rugged and dangerous. It just seems wrong to be splashing about in white water that way. Indeed, a small number of west-coast visitors die from not realizing how vigorously many of the rivers west of the Great Divide run.
Nonetheless, it does appear to be a Midwest "thing" and when we arrived at Willow River Falls, we discovered it was lousy with bathers and sunbathers.
I use that word by choice.
I don't like people in my nature. I am at my most misanthropic when I am out in the countryside, and I am especially so when I am photographing. Strange people are variously distracting, annoying, and an outright intrusion in my photograph endeavors.
I tried working around it, treating all the brightly and scantily-clad hominids as if they were some slightly mobile variety of wildflower, working them into the compositions. For all I know, I even got good results. Here's an example:
But honestly, this kind of work is not to my taste. Whether or not other people think it's a nice photograph doesn't really matter. I don't like it. I'm interested in the waterfall, not the human intrusions into it. Too bad I left my magic wand (or, in a pinch, the mass disintegrator ray) at home.
But wait! I've got this nice shiny new copy of Photoshop CS6 that I've been breaking in, with its new and improved content-aware tools. I wonder how hard it would be to render all those pesky hominids into, well, nonpersons?
Whaddaya know! It was much easier than I thought it would be. It took me less than 45 minutes of work mostly with the Spot Healing Brush (and just a bit of cloning) to get to this:
Instant pristine wilderness. What's not to love?!
Okay, if you're a documentarian, this is unacceptable. And I am, of a sorts. My stated aesthetic and artistic reputation is that I try to make prints that look like the way I see things (when I can see them, anyway). At the least, that what people are seeing in the prints has a reality in front of the camera. My audience trusts that my photographs aren't the result of special effects. A photograph like this last one, below, of the forest fire smoke, is accepted to be real by folks who know me. They do not think I used a tobacco filter on the camera or gradient filter in Photoshop to get that effect. My reputation lies in rendering it beautifully, not in inventing it.
Smoke creates a lovely kind of golden Renaissance light. What makes this photo work for me (and my audience) is that it's a real thing. If it were the creation of filters (hardware or software), it would be much less interesting and appealing.
Consequently, the Willow River Falls photograph is never going to end up on my public website or as part of my portfolio. It would poison that reputation. But that doesn't mean I can't amuse myself.
Even from the documentary point of view, though, it might be acceptable. If one were interested in portraying what the waterfall looked like, with no particular space-time context, I'd see nothing wrong in using the depopulated photograph. It accurately portrays the falls themselves. Just not their relationship to those pesky people.
Columnist Ctein depopulates reality on TOP mostly on Wednesdays.
Note: Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. More...
Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured Comment by John Holland: "So, Ctein's hero turns out to be Marvin the Martian, the fellow who wanted to disintegrate the Earth because it obstructed his view of Venus. I clicked on each picture above to open them in separate windows, then alt-tabbed between them. Mesmerizing. People...waterfall. People...waterfall. Watching them disappear was more fun than I would have expected, because for one thing, I'm not a misanthrope—at least, I don't think I am. Second, I actually like to have a human or two (but no more) in outdoor pictures to give a sense of scale, especially if the vista is immense. (But no red shirts!) However, this particular herd of hominids was too dense; your instinct to reach for the Illudium P-36 Space Modulator is entirely understandable."
Featured Comment by Jim: "There's still one small fragment of humanity surviving near the top of the waterfall, towards the right, just next to the large boulder. And there's me thinking I don't pixel-peep. Sheeesh."
Featured Comment by Andre: "With regards to Ctein's fire picture, I recently ran across some really stunning photos of tornadoes and other severe storms from a news site link—stunning, that was, until I found a post by one of the photographers showing the original capture and the amount of manipulation that had been done to get the final result. The finished photo made it look like the photographer had captured some spectacular natural light that illuminated the lower part of the storm while the clouds above were ominously dark. The base Raw file showed the exact opposite —the higher clouds were lit up while the lower reaches were dark. At that point I completely lost interest in the photograph.
"Certainly not everyone feels that photographs need to maintain some amount of documentary accuracy—at least one contributor to the Luminous Landscape site has stated that if all his photo does is capture reality then he doesn't see much point in it. But for me, I've found that I expect a fair amount of realism in a photograph. I'll happily accept dramatized-beyond-reality poses/lighting/colors in other media (paintings, drawings, etc.) but have no tolerance for them in photography. Not sure why my mind draws that hard line, but it does.
"I much prefer photographers with Ctein's philosophy—where what you see is pretty darned close to what they experienced."
Featured Comment by Clayton Jones: "I have no hesitation in using the Spot Healing Brush/Clone Tool to remove unwanted objects. I assume as much freedom to do whatever I want as I would if painting a canvas from scratch. Why should painters be the only ones allowed to create compositions the way they want? I don't invent things that don't exist, but I will modify if needed. Just yesterday I removed a small foreground tree that was ruining an otherwise nice composition. I have removed power lines and beer cans, and once I moved a bird in flight to a better location which made the composition more balanced. It's art, not documentation. I like the falls picture, by the way (without the people). Very nice."
Featured Comment by Rodger Kingston: "For me the people in the original photograph are what keep it from being just another boring nature calendar photo. Usually I find that nature itself trumps photographic representations of it. (I'm an equal opportunity nature photography bigot: more often than not I have the same feeling about Ansel Adams' images, including most of the current Adams exhibition of photographs of water at the Peabody Essex Museum in Salem, Mass.)"