The following statement is meant to provide an understanding of how I capture, develop, and process my photography. I aim to be transparent about what I have or haven’t done in creating my final work.
My specialty is fine art nature photography, which has an artistic element to it, and in which the raw, out-of-camera images are developed to suit one’s tastes and style. I am not doing photojournalism, historical work, or news/street photography, in which I feel that what is captured by the camera must remain 100 percent unaltered to represent what actually occurred or was seen. I, therefore, consider my work to be photographic art, although my overall goal is still to present the scenes that I capture as naturally as I can, emphasizing natural beauty while minimizing man-made distractions. I then apply my own artistic style in the development of the images.
Next, while the vast majority of my shots are single exposures, I do not strive always to capture everything in one shot in camera. I will sometimes combine multiple exposures into a final image to show the scene in the best way possible. This is often necessary due to camera limitations on depth of field, dynamic range, field of view, and so on. I use techniques such as panorama stitching, focus stacking, and exposure blending where appropriate or necessary. I will also use various filters on the camera itself.
Regarding wildlife shots, I have photographed many of the animals in captivity. Candidly, and sadly, it’s almost impossible to get these kinds of photographs in the wild any longer. I find the animals beautiful and magnificent regardless of whether they are wild or captive. Also, funds paid to photograph them helps with their preservation, safekeeping, breeding, and restoration to the wild, if possible. Additionally, many of the animals have been born in captivity or are rescues. I’m simply glad to showcase their awesome natural beauty and presence.
In developing the photographs, I do perform a number of what are commonly referred to as “post processing” steps. I try to limit them (generally) to these areas:
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- Removing the presence of human activity to restore the scene to as natural a state as practical. This may include removing things such as footprints, contrails, park signs, trash, the occasional tourist, and other man-made or man-caused objects.
- Making minor adjustments to the image if something is overly distracting to the main subject of the photo, such as removing an overly distracting piece of foliage or restoring a worn footpath.
- Making artistic adjustments of levels, contrast, vibrancy, and other settings from the captured camera negative (the raw file), not only to show the scene as I saw it but also to present the final image with my own artistic style.
- Combining several frames into one (as mentioned above) when the scene exceeds the dynamic range, sharpness, or field of view capability of the camera or lens to capture it in one shot, and in some cases, combining multiple exposures taken in temporal proximity and location into a final scene. For example, I might combine a blue-hour foreground with the night sky from the same spot taken later when it’s totally dark or combine shots taken a few minutes before and after sunset; this type of time-blended composite photo allows for detail to be retained in the foreground of the scene.
- In a few cases, I will blend in a sky, realizing that this moves the photography more toward art. I try to keep sky blending to an absolute minimum and realistic as to how I perceived the scene. Where space allows, these images are marked as composites.
- In one photo, I adjusted the moon so it was slightly more prominent and matches how it actually looked to the naked eye, as wide-angle lenses often make distant objects look smaller than they really are.
- Retouching technical imperfections such as dust spots, lens distortions, and other blemishes due to various factors. Sometimes I will repair a small technical glitch in one photo (usually with contents from another photo taken right before or after it); fortunately, these instances are pretty rare. Luckily, I haven’t had to paste the tail of an animal back on yet!
- Utilizing various filters to modify and shape the light, dynamic range, and sometimes even the coloring that is captured by the camera.
- Altering the color balance intentionally due to the fact that viewers might find it difficult to perceive the actual shot as real, since he or she was not there. An example is for arctic shots—they are super-saturated with blue in real life that if left unaltered, a viewer seeing them for the first time would not think they are real (e.g., the snow will appear overly blue). In these cases, I may neutralize the blues a bit before finalizing the image (to make the snow white again, for example) so the viewer interprets the image correctly.
Finally, it’s my job to be prepared and in the right place at the right time for a photo opportunity—and then let the Lord do the heavy lifting, for it is He who commands nature. I am very blessed to be able to do what I do. — R. John Anderson, Photographer