I often think that perhaps cameras are getting too good. Or maybe it’s our perception of the way we think photos should look. We have a preoccupation with sharpness and bright gawdy colour. I look at some images and can’t help but think there is something missing. They seem sterile. Yes. They have no soul. They have no soul. It’s like comparing watching a video recording of a soap opera on TV to a cinematic classic that was shot on a rich film stock.
For starters let’s look at some of Michael Frye’s landscapes. Superb. No colours stretched to the point of being ridiculous. Just beautifully shot and processed…no radioactive greens and fake sunflares. Bravo.
Saul Leiter’s images have soul. They prove that there doesn’t always have to be compelling light when we shoot to end up with a meaningful image that speaks volumes. In fact, I’ve seen plenty of images from the masters that were shot in totally flat light. Flat light is just a different kind of light. There is no good light and bad light. I’ve been shooting street photos in my home town for the past 3 years now. Here we have flat light with complete absence of shadow for perhaps 6 months of the year. If I avoided taking any images during light like that I would not be telling the story of what it’s like to be here would I?
Clean photos with dramatic quality of light have their place. I wouldn’t want to look at architectural work for instance shot under flat light. That could be pretty boring. But if you seriously think about it, avoiding shooting under flat light altogether is to miss many opportunities for a different way of looking at the world. There are good photos there. It just forces us to change up our strategies and our visualization of our final output.