it's all fake

I often get asked when I show a photo (on social media or in print)  "How much work did you do to that?" or "Is that photoshopped?" or even "Is that real?"

I understand that generally the questions come from people trying to figure out why their own photos of the same subject don't look (or more accurately, don't "feel") like the one they are looking at.

Well I am happy to say now, once and for all; All my photos are fake. All in some regard, but maybe not in the ways you might think; read on...

The contents of my photos are real, I generally don't add anything to a scene (and when I do I am open about it) and I only delete things from the photo that are distracting or are not part of the scene being photographed (bloody dust bunnies!).

The feel of the photo; now that is what I am faking.

It is well established that cameras see differently to the human eye / brain, so the "fake" I am talking about is how those differences are exploited by photographers to create a mood or a feel to an image that doesn't exist when we look at the same scene with our eyes. 

Notice I said in the above paragraph that the photos don't match what our eyes see, but didn't mention the work that the brain does in the processes that we call "seeing" and "remembering".  The brain overlays an image in our brain (although we remember sight more as a movie clip than a single frame) with information from our other senses (touch, hearing, smell etc) to create the memory.

In this way when we remember that night we sat on the beach in summer, for a picnic as the sun went down, we don't just remember what it looked like; we remember what it felt like.  The noise of the crickets and the surf, the warmth of the air, the taste of the food we ate, the biting of the mosquitoes etc. all add to the memory. All these recollections contribute to the 'feel' we remember.

When you look at the photo you took that evening you remember all those feelings, as the photo is a trigger for the memory as a whole.  It doesn't matter how good or bad the photo is, it triggers the feel factor.

When I take a photo of a sunset the only person it triggers a memory for is me, and I am the only one who can remember the feel of the scene at the time.

So if I want someone who wasn't there at the time to know how it felt, then I need to create the photo in such a way that it fakes the feeling.

Enough of my long winded explanation, here are some of my recent photos that I have faked, with an explanation as to what is fake:

"Camp view", Lake Tekapo

"Camp view", Lake Tekapo

This shot was taken in the late afternoon, with those amazing Mackenzie clouds overhead and the sun shining under the clouds onto the Two Thumb Range.  This part of the image you see above looked like this, but just below the area of the image you can see above (but still within the view of the camera) was a row of large pine trees, a road, and a toilet block.  None of these items in the shot would have created the feel that cropping them out did.

"Hamilton: City of Balloons"

"Hamilton: City of Balloons"

The image above covers an angle of about 110º vertically to be able to see the ground and the balloon at the same time.  The balloon without any trees / ground would have had no context to it's location (try covering over the trees with your hand and see how it looks), so including the ground was necessary to show the location / height of the balloon and also to reinforce the time of day that the shot was taken.  My eyes / brain could not see this wide (unless I lay down and turned my head sideways I guess), so the camera / lens managed to fake the scene that I couldn't see. 

"Swamp Noir", Peka Peka Wetlands

"Swamp Noir", Peka Peka Wetlands

This photo contains the biggest, most widespread fake there is, removes 2/3 of the information in the photo, and yet it is not considered to be a fake by most people that look at the photo because it is so ingrained into our brains that it is normal.  Yes, I am talking about black and white photos.  Converting a photo to B&W removes distracting colours which don't always match the feel of the scene, or are just plain unwanted, and promotes the textures / shapes in the photo to prominence.  For example the Swamp Noir shot above has an orange tinge to the mist, strong green colours in the grasses in the foreground and brown hues in the reeds and to the water.  These colours do not sit well together and make the scene far less pleasant to look at than the same image with the colour removed. But B&W photos are still not true representations of the scene, so they are definitely fake. 

As another example below are 2 photos I published that I took of this scene ( read about these shots in more detail here ) with a Royal Spoonbill in front of the moon.  These shots are of the same scene (albeit a slightly different angle and time) but have a completely different feel to each other.  The B&W is a bigger fake than the colour version.

Lastly in my line up of fakes is the "things in motion" fake.

As I have said above when we remember things we tend to remember a short video clip of the events rather than a static image, so when we remember things that were moving ( e.g. people, cars, water, clouds, etc ) we tend to remember them as being blurry because of the the motion.  When we take a photo the camera will normally record a split second image, and in that image the things we know were moving appear to be standing still, frozen in time. Unless this is the effect we want to see ( like a bees wings frozen in flight ) then it can lead us to think the photo looks unnatural or fake (popular word in this blog post).  A good example of this is photos of moving cars; if there is no blur in the photo then it looks like a car parked on the road rather than one which is traveling across the road surface.  Our brains need blur in the photo to confirm that the car was moving.

The same applies to photos with water and clouds.  

The blurring of the water in the shot below tells us that this part of the image was in motion at the time the shot was taken.  But the effect is faked, because the camera wanted to take a photo in which everything would have been frozen, so I had to place a dark piece of glass (called an ND filter) between the camera and the scene, and allowed me to slow the length of the photo down.  This shot is not a moment in time, it is a combination of light collected over 30 seconds which averages out to show blur in the water and a smooth surface to the pond.  It 'feels' right but isn't what you would have seen if you were standing next to me at the time; the waterfall was moving but not as a smooth sheet of water and the pond was rippled because of the water falling into it.

"Falling for Dorothy", Dorothy Falls

"Falling for Dorothy", Dorothy Falls

The same applies to the image below.  Yes, the clouds were moving but I had to take a photo that lasted 2 minutes to show this movement.  I could only just see the movement of the clouds with my eyes as I stood there, but I knew I needed to add some interest to the sky as it was a large area of the image, and movement was the best way to do it.  So the feeling of movement was created by faking it with an ND filter.  It has to be considered a fake as there is nothing moving in the photo ( it is a static image ) but we all think there is.

"On Temple View", LDS Temple, Hamilton

"On Temple View", LDS Temple, Hamilton

So in conclusion, if you want to know if I fake my images, I am proud to say I do, and I do it to create images that evoke a feeling, not just provide a static representation of the moment in time.

Feel free to comment below.