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The Great Digital Manipulation Divide in Wildlife Photography

I simply don’t give an endangered primates parts how rare, difficult, expensive, dangerous, painful or time consuming a picture was to take, it’s the image that counts, and if it’s no good, spoiled, flawed or in anyway imperfect then I’m really not interested. Isn’t that what we are all trying to do, make the perfect picture? What’s the point of settling for second best in anything, where’s the challenge there? No, what we should strive our lifetimes for is to orchestrate and respond to that moment for which we have honed our skills, that fleeting instant when we can take some small part of our planet’s history and immortalise it in art so that it communicates to others our utterly unique personalised translation of reality. We want great pictures not photographs of great opportunities.

Not an easy venture then, and especially if you point your lenses at animals in the wild, an arena where control is always ultimately limited. Thus what frequently happens during those hard sought moments in this particular field of photography is that the flaw cannot be removed at the point of the image collection. For example the lightening strike lit lion kill as a pride pulls down a rhino under a full moon will invariably have an ugly tree in the background, the first ever Yeti photo will have a twig in front of one of its eyes, etc. ‘So what?’ I hear you braying, ‘just Photoshop it out’. But, no, no, no, I’m afraid that just won’t do because the vast majority of silly old stuck in the mud wildlife photographers will call this cheating. The tree and the twig must remain, it was there so there it must stay, even if it ruins an otherwise amazing photo. For them this ‘game’ is about purity, about respect, about the incorruptible, unimpeachable and sacred life of truly wild animals who we can look at but whose pixels we must never touch. To manipulate is to invalidate . . .

But this dogma leaves us with two problems; one, vast numbers of pictures which are ‘almost there’ and two, and worse, a bunch of liars. You see plenty of wildlife snappers do manipulate but because they are too scared to have their photos excluded and ridiculed by the majority of their peers they tell us that their images are squeaky clean. Sadly not all are very good liars, some push the credibility just a little too far and we catch them out and then suspicions are fuelled, paranoia’s excited and even the most honest pictures of wolves are cried about. The injured stalwarts retrench, their anger consolidates their resolve and the lines between reason and prejudice are redrawn ever more adamantly. In competitions RAW files are x-rayed, photographers interrogated and declarations of honesty are demanded.

What a bloody mess! Why don’t we all just admit what we do, do what we want to and tell the truth. If people don’t like my twig free pictures because they prefer imperfections instead, I’m happy, they are missing the point by so far that I’m actually pleased, and I hope they never darken my photos with their retinas ever again. Come on Wildlife Photography world grow up and stop picking Pinocchio’s nose, and all you liars get your Photoshopped ostrich heads out of the sand and start telling the truth so we can move on and up into the mature echelons of mainstream photography.            


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