What's wrong with simple and clean compositions?

July 30, 2015  •  Leave a Comment

I'm seeing a trend and I'm not convinced it is good for photography. 

We are awash with images on social media. We have photo feeds through Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, 500px, Pinterest, the list is seemingly endless. This has exposed us to more photography than ever before. But is it helping us as photographers? Is it helping us as wildlife photographers?

Here I put the case for The Good, The Bad and The Ugly...

The good

Without doubt social media has democratised photography. This means as a creative art form, more people can access it, more people can practice it. This overall I think is a good thing. For myself, I've been able to enter a domain of photography and get my work into that domain relatively quickly. And for the most part my images have been well received and the level of engagement has been positive and beneficial for me. Being part of the online community of wildlife photographers, especially in South Africa (despite not being a South African!) has benefited me, and my photography enormously. I have established, contacts, friendships and constructive critique which I value.

This was one of the first images that was selected in the "beinspiredby" Wild Eye themes - Animals in Space. It was an image I took in Madikwe in 2014 and I had hesitated for a long time before decided to contribute to the weekly themes. After I was first selected, I never looked back and contribute regularly to help inspire others to share their work. ​

The bad

With all that social media comes a new currency with which images are judged; "likes", "favourites" and "shares". How long do you take actually looking at anyone image on line? Is it less than 10 seconds or do you pour over the image for a few minutes asking yourself what draws you to the image? I'd argue it is the former, due to the shear numbers of images you are bombarded with in your various social media feeds. And that's not your fault. But then you probably gave that photo you looked at for less than 10 seconds a "like" right? What does that mean? What are you trying to convey to the person who took that photograph? Is it because you really liked it? If I really like something, I'll tell the person with a compliment. So why has that photo with 100 likes only got 1 or 2 comments? I just don't get it. And I certainly would never judge the quality of a photograph by the number of "likes" it has on a social media platform. I am far more interested in reading comments on what people think and feel about the work. I'm more interested in the engagement side. Because for me if there is no engagement when sharing work then I think you have to question why you'd want to share something in the first place. This new currency or "likes", "favourites" and "shares" is total bullsh1t in my opinion.

I had some success with this image on line via the AfricaNature page, which is a great page. However it wasn't the number of "likes" that interested me, but the engagement through the comments.

I see a whole generation of you tube vloggers posting travel photos on Instagram after taking them on expensive DSLRs and then adding a Nik Collection effect to it in Lightroom to give a retro colour grade, and then getting tens of thousands of likes...and the photograph is nothing exceptional. It might be an interesting place (e.g. Niagra Falls, The Grand Canyon, etc) or destination (e.g. NY city etc), but photographically there is very little craft behind it. I have no problem with that. But where I do have a problem is those tens of thousands of likes being a barometer of photographic craft and ability, because it isn't, and it's fooling that photographer into thinking that their images are amazing, and they are not focusing on their craft and getting better as a photographer.

This whole new currency is just fake. Which brings me to...

The Ugly

This brings me to the whole world of print media. How is social media impacting how Picture editors, Magazine and Newspaper Editors judge images? I had a recent exchange with a respected pro. I hugely appreciated the dialogue but it went along the lines of...print media is looking for extraordinary images. And there you have it in a nutshell. Social media has now pushed print media editors to search for the most extraordinary images irrespective of all else. And this begs the question, to me at least...

What is wrong with simple and clean compositions?

Surely there is still a place in wildlife photography for the "less is more" approach? Solid and simple compositions, that tell strong stories, that place the animals in their environments. There has to be a place for these images!!! Why? Because most people don't get to see the subjects in their natural environments. They don't get out and see the wildebeest on open grass planes, a pride of lions flat cat, a leopard just walking on a territory patrol, a hornbill sat in a tree, a red squirrel in a tree, an urban fox in someones garden, even ducks in the local park!!! Ok so I exaggerate with the last example. But it is included to make a point. The danger now is that the mainstream print media will dismiss quality images because they are deemed "ordinary"...they are not showing lions fighting, cheetahs taking down an impala at 60mph, massive bull elephants with tusks interlocked in a brawl. But that isn't the reality of any outing to view wildlife. Those are the exceptions. Yes it is down to us as photographers to creatively look at how to interpret the "ordinary" to make it "extraordinary".

For me there is still a long way to go with simple and clean compositions telling stories of animals in their environment. To overlook and not represent these images is a disservice to wildlife photography because for those aspiring to wildlife photograph you simple put them off. You raise the bar sky high and put a message out there that those coming into wildlife photography need to producing images that prescribe to this level of extraordinariness. This for me isn't keeping it real. It's an ugly situation, and pushing a trend I don't like to see.

I've made some strong statements in this blog! And I'll make no apologies for it. This blog after all is my voice, and so I'll put my money where my mouth is. Here are 3 simple and clean compositions of my own work that speak to me. 

A lone wildebeest on the open plains of Amboseli under moody clouds. I just played on the contours of the land. 

"Big and small" - I have a few images of lilac crested rollers, but when one perched just in front of an elephant I was photographing I decided to play with the depth of field to tell a different story. 

5 zebras line up for a drink with a nice reflection and the terracotta soil of Tsuavo West. Animals are at their most vulnerable when drinking. So having 5 lined up in a row helps show the protection in numbers they have whilst drinking.

Next time you view wildlife images, slow down and think about the engagement aspect with the photographer rather than just clicking "like". Trust me when I tell you they'll appreciate it!

 

cheers 

Jon

 


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