Do you want your photos to look as true to real life as possible… Or different from what reality actually looks like?
What types of colors do you desire?
I thought this while shooting a sunset today. I took one photo on a phone, and I shot another photo on my RICOH GR II.
The photograph on the Samsung Galaxy phone looked false; the sunset (in real life) was more of a purple magenta color. But the phone camera rendered it as orange.
However the RICOH GR II did an incredible job, when shooting in JPEG (positive film), with the contrast and saturated cranked to maximum in the camera.
In fact, the photograph made on the RICOH GR II actually looked better than the sunset in real life. The photograph was more colorful, deeper hues, and aesthetically more dynamic.
Which made me wonder,
As photographers, are we trying to capture reality as it looks like, or how we want it to look like?
Is the duty of the photographer to capture reality with absolutely perfect accuracy (making the photos look the same as you see them in real life), or do you want your photos to depict reality which looks more beautiful than reality?
Why do we like watching movies?
For example, we all know that real life isn’t like watching an action film. The action film is more exciting and more dramatic than real life. Why do we prefer the more dramatic and false rendition of reality, than actual “boring” reality?
My theory is that we prefer danger, chaos, and adventure (things that films provide), and most of us are living a very boring 9-5 office life (with extreme predictability). Thus, our desire to watch these exciting films is to live vicariously through the actors in these films.
The photographer is wrestling with reality
With photography, I think what we are trying to do is to make photographs of reality which are beautiful. For example, as a street photographer, we must use real life people in order to make interesting and artistic photographs.
Yet at the same time, we are trying to make photographs of reality which are actually more interesting than reality itself.
Why we like blurry and out-of-focus photos
Perhaps the reason why we like blurry and out-of-focus photos is that they don’t look like real life. Nobody sees the world in a blurry way (like the above photograph).
We do not see the world from a 28mm (or wide-angle) perspective. I think we (roughly) see the world in a 40mm (full frame equivalent) perspective. We also see the world in a landscape panoramic format (our two eyes are placed horizontally next to one another). We don’t see the world vertically.
Furthermore, we do not see the world (typically) from strange perspectives. For example, the photograph above is of a woman– but the camera (RICOH GR II) is photographed at her neck-level, pointing upwards. I think it is very rare that you look at a human being from that perspective (maybe this uniqueness of perspective is what makes the photograph interesting?)
Why shooting film is fun
I think one of the biggest reasons why shooting film is this:
We have no idea how the final photograph will look like.
For example, I love the Kodak Portra 400 color film. But obviously, the colors that Kodak Portra 400 color film renders is different form what I see in “real life” via my eyes. But there is no such thing as a photograph that looks EXACTLY like reality. I’ve discovered that shooting digital medium format has created images the closest to “real life”, but once again–
Is the purpose of photography to make photos that look like real life?
I think not. The purpose of photography is to use pre-existing reality (lego blocks) and to create images that we consider beautiful (the skill of the photographer as an expert child lego-builder and creator).
Create your own reality.
As a photographer, strive to create your own reality. You create your own reality in your photographs by determining what you photograph, how you frame your photos, whether you shoot with a flash or not, how you post-process your photos and what filters you use (ERIC KIM PRESETS), and how you print the photos or how you share them online.
Thus to conclude,
- There is no such thing as ‘photo realism’. Seek to create your own reality with your photos.
- Make photos which you consider beautiful. Define and master your own aesthetics for yourself.
- Never stop philosophizing about your photography (photolosophy), and never stop making new photos!