Real, ideal or any deal – you decide!

The art that is photography is different from most other creative art forms in that the raw material is there already and the photographer must bring out whatever it is that his/her vision wants to depict by the process of deduction. In other words, you start with the world around you and filter out the noise to get to the distilled version of time and space that you had in mind. So far so good.

But then another issue emerges. Once the photographer decides on the composition, i.e. what is in and what is out, it remains to decide how things will be depicted. For the purposes of this piece, let us assume that we are not interested in documentary photography; we are not discussing then images that will be used by news publications and the like, where by definition, the photographer must stay true to the event and capture it in as real a fashion as technically possible.

One can choose to portray the same composition in a way that resembles real life as accurately as possible. Another can decide to intervene either when making the image or in post to “idealize” it, in other words present the composition in a way that compensates for bad light or other obstacles. Yet another may opt to recreate the scene in a way that makes artistic sense to them, not worrying about the realism of it one bit. Choices, choices, choices… What to do?

The answer itself is easy but getting there is a lot harder.

One can obviously do as he/she pleases -real, ideal or any deal- in order to convey the message of the image as intended. Image making is storytelling with light and color and shadow, so the full spectrum is (s well it should be) artistically available to the story teller. Whether one chooses to present brutal realism, beautiful idealism or anything that a twisted artistic mind comes up with, is really up to them.

Knowing what the message is and having a way to tell the story is the hardest part. So many images are made nowadays just because it is easy; it is just a function of pointing your smartphone or camera and clicking; no cost, no time, no effort, no purpose. Once a photographer decides on the message they want to convey to the viewer, it should become a bit clearer what artistic avenue (or path for that matter) he/she should employ to tell the story – one may want to have the viewer work hard to see the message, while another may want to lay it all in front of the viewer in plain sight. The arbitrary use of color, light and shadow to do this is not only allowed, but also encouraged, since it is that arbitrary mix that creates a signature and may lead to a powerful image.

The obvious tool to use for this is exposure. Under- or over-exposing the scene or parts of it tell a different story or tell a story differently. Using spot metering as opposed to multi (or average) also allows for different story-telling as does the use of HDR, which expands the dynamic range to unnatural proportions. Last, but not least, the use of filters, analog or digital, opens another world of possibilities.

As is the case with everything else in photography, one should experiment and get to know the tools that are available. Then, a style may hopefully emerge that will eventually become the modus operandi of the photographer – storyteller. And that modus, whether real, ideal or any deal, is true to the artist’s intention and that, my friends, is the whole point!