This is the Fighting Temeraire, one of Joseph Turner’s most stunning pictures. It is displayed at the National Gallery in London. The image depicts a derelict warship being towed down the river Thames at sunset, to its final destination, a scrapheap. The painting is stunning (I can attest to that as I have seen it myself several times). Turner painted it in 1838, and I am pretty sure that if he had posted it to a photography Facebook page (had it existed at the time!) he would have received a barrage of complaints about overcooked HDR, too much saturation, not being “natural” enough, and so on and so forth… So, here’s my take. Turner did not paint what he saw. He was lucky to live as a painter, during an epoch of fantastic sunsets, that had a terrible origin. In 1815 in Indonesia, the Tambora volcano erupted. It was the most violent eruption in recorded history and caused an immediate death toll of over 100,000, and possibly over double that over the time it took (decades) for the ash to cool the planet and disperse in the upper atmosphere. It was those sulfuric ash emissions that caused the dramatic sunsets that Turner depicted. But on the day Turner painted the Temeraire the effects had probably subsided. So, it is likely that Turner painted a sunset backdrop to the ship from memory. Which brings me back to "overcooking" landscape photographs. If we shoot RAW, then we have to Post-Process. We never do that the immediate moment after we shoot a picture. Usually, the Post-Processing is done much later (hours or days). At that point, what you are left of an image is what is stored in your memory. Which of course is hardly “real”: your brain does a lot of post-processing as well, as the image moves around from the frontal cortex to the amygdala. The amygdala adds an emotional overlay to the image, pretty much what you are doing when tweaking the highlights, shadows, exposure, vibrance and black and white sliders in Lightroom. As you recall the image you add your own emotional context. Post-Processing reflects the photographer’s interpretation of the scene. When I started to learn about photography and Post-Processing, initially I tended to "overcook" my images. I have since learned to be more subtle. I have also always been in awe of Ansel Adams, who I am sure, had he had access to Photoshop and a Sony A7 series camera, he also would quite possibly have been reviled in some quarters! His B&W images could not get more HDR-y. He mastered dodge and burn to extend dynamic range to wonderous effects. Now I am trying to find my own style that is less strident. But, as a photographer, I find that the journey is never-ending. I have no idea where it will end, but I know that it won’t be in a world of grimy toned-down uber-realism to satisfy Albert Camus readers. Unless I shoot street, that is!
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