A little reality check

I come across things like this fairly frequently, and I realize that the chances of making a difference in this behavior is extraordinarily low, but it’s absolutely nil if I don’t, so…

One of the mindless time-wasting sites that I visit is The Meta Picture – I’ve linked to specific ‘posts’ there a couple of times – but it’s one of the many, many sites on the webbernets that routinely publishes content that the owner never created, and never provides attribution or even a source of who did create it; in short, it’s an example of the peculiar mentality of many users, who feel that if they can lift it, then it’s perfectly okay to do so.

Naturally, it gets seriously under my skin when it comes to examples such as this, a large collection of some of the most stunning scenic/travel/nature photography that you might come across. This is not, however, the way that it’s presented, oh no. Instead, it’s, “Here are all these great places to visit!”

I’ll be happy to burst anyone’s bubble: visit these all you want; you’re not going to see anything remotely like those images. In the majority of them, it took not only a significant set of skills and knowledge to obtain the shots, but very careful timing and attention to conditions. For a lot of them, it also took some significant efforts to even reach such locations. And I’m willing to bet, for at least half, it took more than a couple of tries (meaning, separate trips, even when trying to gauge the ideal conditions,) to achieve those photos. And then after all of that, the expense and efforts and time, perhaps extending into years, the photographer gets to have their work republished freely without even a, “Nice job!” coming back to them. Seriously, how shitty is that?

Now here’s part two: In a lot of cases, you wouldn’t have to travel all over the world to experience something captivating for yourself. Instead, you have to learn how to find such things. Does anyone really believe they have to travel to Slovenia to see a river cutting through a snowscape, or to a remote cave in Utah to watch a storm approach? It’s not even a secret of nature photographers to know where to find a good foreground or scene when the conditions are right – it’s a basic skill, even a knack if you will. But funny, as much as people seem to like exotic images, they’re conspicuously absent in the conditions that help to produce them. Sunrise out on a busy, touristy island with well-known driftwood stands? Not a freaking soul around. Thick fog on a lake nestled alongside three major cities? I saw three other people in over an hour, only one of them actually shooting anything. Hey, I’m not knocking it – I’d rather there be no one else around! But it’s funny to hear anyone express how much they’d love to see it for themselves. What the hell is stopping them?

And more than occasionally, it takes just a little thought while there. Take this image from last year.

long exposure from base of Looking Glass Falls in Brevard NC
Particularly hard to get to? No. There were, in fact, at least two dozen cars parked at the access point to this very popular tourist attraction in North Carolina, and the overlooks were crowded enough that we were dodging people both on the way in and the way out. So, a lot of skill involved in setting up the shot? Nope – a decent tripod, some basic knowledge of time exposures, and knowing what white-balance setting to use. I think I needed more skill in rock-hopping, to get to this particular vantage point – most of the people were milling along the rails of the overlook (out of the frame to the left,) and only a few had ventured as far down as I had. The biggest contribution was waiting until no one else was going to be in the damn shot, to provide the secluded and quiet ambience that makes the image work, an ambience that did not actually exist in reality. Oh, yeah, there’s that aspect of these exotic locations, too – there’s very often someone else around, even when they don’t appear to be in the carefully framed and timed images.

Or one from another trip.

time exposure showing multiple thunderstorms beyond Bodie Island lighthouse
Bodie Island Lighthouse is trivially easy to get to; in fact, it’s probably the most accessible on the Outer Banks, given its easy drive from the main route onto the strand and various places to stay out there. And the approaching storms were visible for kilometers. But while countless people were cycling through the entire time that I was out there myself (the lights at far left are evidence of some,) not one bothered to come anywhere near my vantage point to put the lighthouse together with the active thunderstorm. Meanwhile, to have more than just the bare silhouette of the lighthouse, I had to provide supplemental light of my own. More details in the original post here, but the animated gif (pronounced, “jive”) found here is pretty cool to watch too.

I provide these, by the way, not to imply that they compare favorably against the stunning images in question, but because they’re my own and thus I have full permission to use them, and they still illustrate that such photos are more often created than simply ‘taken.’ There are definitely some places that are more picturesque than others, but this in no way means that great photos are guaranteed or effortless – yes, even in New Zealand.

It’s funny – we pay millions of dollars to sports figures to run fast and throw balls around, for all that this accomplishes; we’re obsessed with the vicarious ‘competition’ that this entails. Yet when it comes to the few (far fewer in count than athletes) who can put together the truly stunning images that captivate and even motivate us, we can’t even give them the bare recognition of keeping their fucking names attached – in some cases they’re even cropped out of the republished versions (or, ahem, reduced to the point of illegibility.) So each time you see such photos on your social media feed or whatever, feel free to say, “Hey, who took this?” or, “Where did you get this from?” or even, “Don’t you think the photographer at least deserves some credit?” It’s fun to introduce a little perspective into people’s lives.

Of course, there’s a slight chance that I might be biased…

And now, the photographers that I could actually locate, because real content is more than copy-&-paste from other sites. You really should visit these.

Morondava, Madagascar – Marsel Van Oosten

Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite – Mei Xu

Canyonlands, Utah – Dustin Farrell

Mysterious Hallway, Oregon – David Thompson

Soca, Slovenia – Luka Esenko

Lake Baikal ice – Alexey Trofimov

Maroon Bells, Aspen, Colorado – Roger N. Clark

Mt Thor, Baffin Island – Nestor Lewyckyj

Isle of Skye, Scotland – Robert White