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Unreal Landscape Photos

A Gardening Life – February 1
Every day I see garden pictures posted on Facebook and Pinterest that are super-saturated and colorful. Many of them are beautiful or entertaining, but they lie to us…twice. First because they are often given titles, or included in albums that make you believe that this is how the landscape really looked. The second lie? More about that later.

I can’t see these photos without thinking “Image, Adjustments, Vibrance,” as these are the tools in Photoshop that create those brightly hued posts. Some of them have some “Copy, Paste” going on to enhance the look as well.

Below you’ll see a photo of my garden taken a few years ago. There are many areas where the plants are still small and need to fill in, but with the back lighting of the evening sun it is nevertheless a pleasing shot. To demonstrate that any photo can be made into one of the color-drenched, flower-enhanced pictures that are so in vogue I spent just ten minutes in Photoshop, pumping it up.

It used to be said that “the pictures don’t lie” but this is no longer true. More and more, they are completely inaccurate representations of what’s really out there. The danger in living too much online is that we may come to think that what’s on our screens reflects the real world.

The second way they spread a falsehood? Take it from me: neither of these photos can come close to the experience of sitting on my front porch in June and seeing the garden illuminated by the setting sun.

Get real. Get outside, into your landscape.

This is the photo before a ten minute session of color and flower enhancing.

This is the photo where I added flowers and other plants and pumped up the color. Think those super-saturated landscapes on Facebook are real? Another popular misconception.

15 comments to Unreal Landscape Photos

  • TC

    I see it all the time too Ms. C.L. I’ve come to accept it as just one of those things to ignore. And since I just installed Adobe Lightroom 4 I’m being very careful not to overuse any of the enhancement features to the point where it makes the photo look “super-saturated” and unreal.

  • Nancy Cavanaugh

    CL, I have to say that I like the origional picture better; perhaps it is the level of color saturation. The addition of extra plants on the hillside is quite obvious. I will keep your point in mind when as I look at postings. If done subtly, it may not be as obvious.

    Thankfully, I have flower shows and a trip to Florida next month to help fill the void.

  • admin

    I agree that the second one is too, too pumped up. But I’ve seen photos passed around that are worse than this one! The definition of “psychedelic!”

  • OOO -EEEE You have touched a nerve with this professional garden photographer who uses the tag on Gardening Gone Wild “the camera always lies”. Photos tell stories and the photographer is, or should always be, conscious that he or she is manipulating the scene to convey some sort of bias or intent. The camera always lies this way. Sure, many people think the camera is showing what is true and this is the power a good photographer always has, whether they crop out the ugly neighbor house, the dead shrub, show a politician in a moment of slobber, or manipulate the image in photoshop. Images are almost always biased, the computer gives us new ways to do that – and viewers need new lessons in critical thinking when looking at modern photos. And yes, way too often things get overdone – to some people’s taste. To others it is “art”. In the end if photo makes you react it is doing its job, telling a story. Perhaps the story you see is not the one the photographer intended, but that is true in any art. I don’t know if I am permitted to put a link here but here is a link to my personal blog, Mental Seeds where I very, very consciously am manipulating garden photos:

  • Leslie Singh

    I like the original picture. The roses look much better. I understand the point your making and don’t forget that in a lot of those photos, stylists are brought in as well. Makes it very frustrating for us lowly home gardeners when we don’t achieve the results we perceive we should be achieving.

  • Sue

    I’ve occasionally overenhanced a garden photo but not on purpose. My photography skills are lacking so I shoot all my pictures on auto settings. Lately I’ve been trying to correct the exposure but leave the saturation alone. Original is always best and you’re right, no picture ever captures the original setting better than experiencing it in person.

  • admin

    And don’t anyone get me wrong…Photoshop and the like are wonderful, creative tools. It’s fantastic to be able to get rid of that little bit of turquoise colored hose that I didn’t notice when shooting the garden, for example. Agreed, Saxon, that manipulating the photo to elicit a reaction or convey a mood is, well, the art of being a photographer. I just wonder if those who pass on the “Wonders of Nature” shots in social media realize that they’re not passing on Mother Nature’s art, but a human’s transformation of photo.

  • What a great conversation! You don’t even have to enhance a photo — close-ups of a particularly beautiful part of your garden create perceptions that don’t match up with reality. My garden looks much bigger and more beautiful in photos whenI share only the best at peak bloom times. The benefit to viewers: It gives us great ideas for plant combinations and other aesthetics that we can steal (borrow 🙂 )

  • Well the subject has many layers… Fristly though is when I first started shooting for Monrovia Growers in the summer of 04. After about six months, my first meeting with Rick the CEO started out quite interesting. His first words about my work were that it “looked very different from what they were used to seeing.” With his poker face I couldn’t tell from the pause in the conversation whether he was happy about that or not. I waited a little and said, ” yes they do!” He then remarked back to me that mine “looked a lot more like what the plants really look like” and they liked that… whew! The guy that was shooting for them prior, did to his images what I call, hopping them up on drugs, way too much added color and contrast, usually shot mid day in harsh light.
    That said, I actually do very little in post processing of my images for them and the likes of the horticultural scene. What I do mess with are images for architectural clients for which I have to shoot and process as HDR images. I recently was looking at a website where they did this, (HDR process) poorly in a garden, actually it was a whole tour of gardens they did this to and I have to say it wasn’t pleasant. Makes me wonder at times if folks ever calibrate their monitors???
    For me there is a difference between accomplishing a relatively good re-creation of what is actually there, to taking something to what I would consider an artistic rendition. Bottom line is who’s interested in your work and for what purpose that use is for, do they like your style for one reason or another, or do they have no idea what they’re really looking at?

  • admin

    I’ve been loving all of these varied perspectives and comments! Thanks, all. Since we’re pretty much living in a digital world now I think this conversation, and how we come to think about photographs, will continue to evolve. I’m looking at all photos as “art” now, instead of documentation. This isn’t a bad place to be as long as we don’t come to prefer the art to the real thing. Both have their place.

  • Donna B.

    Would it be strange if I told you that I was scared to see the ‘pumped up’ version of the garden? Ohhhh was I right! That 2nd ‘pumped up’ photo is all just so artificial and ugg… it’s like those HDD photos going around. I don’t like it, no siree.
    Your first photo though, that’s the perfect serenity in a garden. I can only imagine what your garden will look like this year now that you have the beautiful sitting area you finished! ♥

  • I call that the ‘Oz’ effect because it makes me think of how Oz looks compared to the black and white Kansas beginning. It also makes me think of the posters from the late 60s that used Day-glo paints.

    It annoys me because I post shots of my flowers as they are (except for tuning them up so they appear as they really did, not washed out because I can’t take decent pictures) and they look crappy compared to all the others out there. And I *REALLY* get upset that catalogs use those saturation and color adjustment tools to excess. No, that rose isn’t that blue. No, that coleus doesn’t actually glow like a runaway nuclear reactor. But it helps them make sales. /end rant/

  • admin

    Agreed, Laurie – catalogs are sometimes the worst offenders, although Facebook posts are closing in fast!

  • Patios

    I agree with others, the original photo looks more better even though the edited one changed and upgraded a lot. I love it, its full of flowers and trees, they organized it well.

  • admin

    They organized it well, James? (Patios?) I’ve put this comment in but it smacks of spam, so I removed your URL. Sorry if I’ve misunderstood.