On a recent trip to Etosha, I got into a conversation with my wife and a friend about the role of digital processing in wildlife photography. Processing of photographs is something that I rarely pay attention to. For me photographs are gateways to memories of my travels in the wild and I’m happy as long as they match the reality of the scene that was photographed. It wasn’t always like that. I over-indulged in processing when I first started photographing and ended up producing some rather atrocious looking over-saturated, over-sharpened and ridiculously overdone photographs. That was a decade ago. However, over the last few years I’ve been fairly consistent with processing and I often end up changing nothing or little from the original RAW file.
I was arguing that digital processing needs to be minimal in wildlife photography. I like looking at natural photographs and it’s often easy to see staged or overdone photographs. I also argued that if there’s a highly processed image and a natural image then I would prefer the natural image. To prove my point I spent a minute on Photoshop to dramatize a photograph of a lion. I converted the image into sepia, added lens vignetting, adjusted levels and contrast, did some dodging and burning and finally some noise-reduction and selected blurring. I proudly presented the original and, in my mind, over-dramatized photograph.
The eye-catching sepia soon brought more people to the desk than the original intended audience and there was a very quick consensus. The original image was good but the sepia was far more appealing to everyone. Even to wildlife researchers, who prefer reality. In defeat, I just had to agree that processing may help convert a document to something more arty.
So, when I got back home to Oslo I went through some of my photographs from my recent two trips to Namibia and sepia-ed them to try and see the world of Namibian wildlife like I had never seen before. In sepia.
It’s an interesting experiment. I think I still prefer the world in color though. Maybe? :-)