My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Surprise, surprise, surprise, I didn’t win.

Today Trout Unlimited announced the winners of the photo contest they ran, and needless to say, I wasn’t one of the winners. It really isn’t surprising, I knew I was at a disadvantage when I entered my photos. I live in Michigan, and while it is a very beautiful state, we don’t have mountains here to add that dramatic background to any photos taken here the way they do in the Rockies or even the Appalachians. Nearly all the winners and honorable mentions were photos taken in the mountains, I can understand that. There was another group that all included kids in the pictures, I guess I can understand that as well, people love kiddies. That one leaves me out too, as I never had any children.

What surprised me the most was that it was quite obvious that most of the pictures had been tweaked considerably using computer software to enhance the colors and contrast in the winning photos. I suppose that it shouldn’t surprise me either. After all, Ansel Adams set the standards for landscape photography, and he used a number of tricks to improve on mother nature, most notably, a Wratten #25 red filter to increase contrast. But that was with early black and white film. While his photos are very dramatic, it is my opinion that they were rather easy to take since they were shot on black and white film. It is much more difficult to achieve superlative pictures of landscapes in color than it is black and white. Which explains why so many of the winners of not just Trout Unlimited’s contest, but most nature photo contests are digitally enhanced for color. That one leaves me out also, for I am a stubborn cuss, I refuse to alter my pictures from what I am able to capture on my cameras.

I know I am in the minority on that, photographers have always used a number of tricks in their darkrooms to produce a higher quality print than the negative would have produced without those tricks. With today’s software, people have even more tricks at their disposal to make even average shots look like contest winners.

In my opinion, nature is beautiful enough on its own that we shouldn’t have to resort to image manipulation in order to make it look good in our prints. I don’t think most photo contests are really photo contests, they are image manipulation contests.

For the record, the pictures that were picked as winners in the Trout Unlimited contest weren’t altered very much, just tweaked a bit. Not like the winners in some of the other nature photo contests that I have seen where the winning photo looks like nothing you actually see in nature. The photos that did win the TU contest are very, very good, and I am not saying they didn’t deserve to win, but I thought I had a real shot at getting at least an honorable mention. I do think that two of the pictures I submitted are better than similar photos chosen by the judges, but that’s an honest difference of opinion.

By picking winners that have been manipulated in the darkroom or on a computer, the judges of these contests are overlooking how hard it is to put yourself in the right place at the right time to get the best true rendition of what nature actually looks like, and instead, the kudos go to experts in photo manipulation, not necessarily expert photographers.

Granted, many expert photographers are also expert at photo manipulation. But, if the contest is a nature photo contest, shouldn’t the winners be natural nature, not the best output from computer software? Shouldn’t such contests be called computer output contests and not photo contests?

You may blame some of my rant on sour grapes on my part because I didn’t win, and I suppose some of that is motivating me, but I have felt this way about nature photography since I began taking pictures with an old Kodak Instamatic camera back in the 60’s. As far as I’m concerned, nearly any one can take a so-so picture and turn it into a dramatic picture by manipulating the image, but the real skill is taking a picture so good that it doesn’t need to be manipulated in the first place.

But then, I have a lot of funny ideas when it comes to nature photography anyway. I don’t think it is true nature photography when you bait animals to come into an area where you have the equivalent of a photo studio set up ready for the animal to make an appearance when it comes to the bait. But that’s the way many nature photographers get the pictures they do. To me, that’s taking the easy way out. It’s a lot harder to stalk an animal and catch it in action than it is to bait it in. But, that’s just my opinion, and that doesn’t count for much.

If you read the how-to books and magazines on photography, you may have to read between the lines, but you will learn the following.

It is hard to take truly great color shots in any medium due to the narrow exposure latitude for color. Black and white photography is much easier, there is a much wider exposure latitude in black and white mediums. It is much harder to manipulate and/or add effects to color images than it is black and white images. It is easier to print black and white pictures on an alternative media than it is with color.

So you go to a gallery where they are holding a photo contest, and there are two prints side by side. One is a straight up color print taken by a photographer who was in the right place at the right time to take a perfectly exposed picture of a beautiful landscape capturing every nuance of color and lighting nature has to offer. Print 2 started as an above average but nothing special black and white negative that the photographer digitized, added a couple of canned effects from computer software, and printed as a sepia print. And the winner is….print 2, gimmicks always seem to win.

If you talk to the judges, they picked print 2 because print 1 is just a snapshot, an excellent one, but just a snapshot, and any one can do that, or at least that’s what they say. Wrong! By the experts’ own words it is harder to take a perfect color picture than it is to gimmick up a black and white picture. Print 1 required much more skill on the part of the photographer, and probably more work to capture than print 2. Print 2 involved more work after the photographer actually took the picture, but adding the gimmicks doesn’t take all that much skill. Those gimmicks were created to turn so-so or even bad photographs into something worth looking at, yet the gimmicks win. At least that’s the way I see it.

Not only that, but the winning print seldom looks like anything you see in nature, while print 1 is an excellent representation of the beauty of nature. It’s beyond me.

Enough of that rant, at least for now. In other news, Lake Michigan rose another inch last week alone, that’s a lot of water! The first half of the year has been the third wettest on record here, while Lansing, just east of here, did set a record for the most precipitation so far. That and the above average cloud cover has meant less evaporation, so the rivers, lakes, and especially the Great Lakes are returning to their normal levels. It will be great for kayaking, and eventually for fly fishing. I say eventually, because the rivers just start to go down a little, the water clears up, we get another 2 inches of rain in three days, and the rivers are right back up to the tops of the banks, and too muddy for fishing. Every time I go to check the weather, there is a list of rivers with flood advisories, watches, and warnings.

 All the rain and clouds, not to mention the wind that goes with them, has been interfering with my photography to some degree as well. In the long run though it is a good thing, so I won’t complain too much. Having enough water to paddle in will be a good thing, not like when I tried to paddle up Green Creek and the water was so shallow I couldn’t make it.

In the meantime, here’s a recent photo of goslings in the grass.

Goslings in the grass

 Needless to say that mom and dad were keeping a close eye on them, and me. It’s kind of surprising, I haven’t been attacked this year by anything other than a swallow….so far. I try not to get so close as to bother animals and their young any more than I have to in order to get a good picture. If the adults, or the young for that matter, seem to be getting agitated, I back off until they know I mean them no harm. With the geese from the picture, when I first approached the they began to move towards the water, so I stopped, and waited for a few minutes. They turned around and actually came back towards me when they saw I wasn’t going to chase them, and as you can see, the young laid back down to resume their nap that I had interrupted. The adults were still on guard, but they didn’t give off any of the warning signs that they were about to attack.

When I was attacked by the swallow, it was an accident. I walk the same route around the apartment complex everyday, and I pass by the carports here. On the day the swallows came after me, it was raining, and I ducked under one of the carports to avoid the rain, but I didn’t know the swallows had a nest in the carport. Being by the carport had been OK, but stepping under it was getting too close for them. Now I know, and give them a wide berth.

Sometimes it just happens, especially when kayaking or canoeing. Swans in particular will attack when you get too close to their nest or young, but you may not have any other choice. It all depends on how territorial the adults are, there may not be enough room for you to avoid their wrath. In that case, you paddle as fast as you can and hope that they don’t get close enough to bite you, or beat on you with their wings, either of which can be painful.


2 responses

  1. Georgena Shaw

    I agree whole heartedly….pure nature beauty should be just that….. pure in nature. Jerry, you are an amazing photographer. It will come around. Love your blog by the way!

    June 3, 2011 at 5:34 pm

    • Thank you Georgie, I appreciate that you take the time to read it.

      June 4, 2011 at 1:23 pm