Most photographers I know are always developing their art, changing and adapting to new subjects and new moods. They also tend to change in the way they see images, and this feeds into new images they make. When aesthetic changes are experienced by a large enough number of image-makers, they become fashion. Thus, a couple of years ago, in landscape work, so-called High Dynamic Range, or HDR, images were all the rage. Done subtly, HDR simply means properly exposing an image so you have detail in the shadows and the highlights, something that with few exceptions has always been a minimum standard for landscape work. The trouble with the HDR fashion as it emerged towards the end of the last decade was that the effect was exaggerated until the image came to look surreal. For me, many HDR images started to be about displaying the technique rather than the landscape as it was revealed by the light prevailing when the image was taken. Yet it is easy to see how this happened.
The power of photoshop, and HDR plug-ins like Photomatix, is seductive. It is so easy to keep on editing, always seeking more impact, way beyond the point when perhaps, in the cold light of the next day, one should have stopped. I have done this myself, egged on by sites like Flickr and 500px where the ‘success’ of an image depends on its being immediately striking rather than any lasting appeal. Of late, however, I find myself seeking a more subdued aesthetic, one that I hope is truer to the moment as I experienced it when I took the image in the first place. These images of my lighthouse muse, La Corbière, are the case in point; simple, minimally-edited captures of brief moments when the light seemed to connect with the landscape in a way that pleased my eye. They are not clever and they will not win any awards but I begin to find myself more satisfied with this sort of image than any other.
Of course, as with any fashion, there eventually has to be a backlash, and the HDR pendulum seems to be swinging back the other way. So, perhaps in my love of the understated I am just another victim of fashion’s vagaries… Has your approach to image-making, or image-appreciation, changed recently? I would love to hear your thoughts.