Making the Real, Surreal

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Making the Real, Surreal

I recently noticed that one of my photos could very easily tip from the real to the surreal with just a few clicks in Photoshop. The scene was already almost unbelieveable in the original – the sky was too blue, the reflection too perfect.

Looking up at the Clark Bridge spanning the Mississippi River at the Alton, Illinois marina.
Under the Clark Bridge before Manipulation

The landscape along the horizon was the only thing rooting this photo in reality. So I removed it. Now this real bridge looks surreal – like it disappears into the sky.

As Mark Twain said: Don’t let the truth get in the way of a good story.

Photography is rooted in reality, but is NOT reality. Some genres like photojournalism seek to capture reality as closely as possible, but there is still artistry behind the impactful photos.

Because I am not restricted by photojournalistic ethics, I can change any photo if I think the change makes the photo better.

I am using the photograph to tell a story or set a mood. Photography is about seeing the world in a unique way and sometimes reality gets in the way of the story. With the post-processing tools widely available, the manipulation of the photos becomes relatively easy. Some photographers do quite a lot in post-processing and don’t mind the image looking overtly surreal, other photographers don’t want the post-processing to be too obvious. I generally fall into the latter camp with forays into the former.

While I’m editing, I carefully consider every element of the photo. Why did I take this photo? What are the important elements to the story or mood? Is there anything that is distracting from the story or mood? I like clean lines and favor minimalistic treatment, so I’m ok with taking out stray branches – or even entire skylines like in the photo above. Everyone finds their own mix, but don’t feel that the photos must be exactly as they arrive straight out of camera.

See my other real-surreal photos here


Photo taken under the Clark Bridge spanning the Mississippi River at Alton, Illinois. Taken with a Sony Cyber-shot DSC-HX90V

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