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Monday, October 26, 2020  Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Sports >  Outdoors

Nature photos should be natural

Digital technology and the Internet have rocketed mankind into a new universe of speed and access to information.

Unfortunately, the same technology has made it easier to infect the news and images we absorb with trickery, which is aggravated by the Internet’s curse of anonymity.

Digital deception should be especially offensive to outdoors and nature enthusiasts who have an affinity to the real world.

The Banff Mountain Film Festival’s World Tour, which recently screened films in Spokane, features a brief digital spoof called “Megawoosh,” which depicts a man in a slippery wetsuit speeding down a waterslide, off a ramp and splashing with unbelievable precision into a small wading pool.

The film was made to demonstrate software graphic technology. It was conceived as a thriller that would go viral on YouTube, which it did in August.

Audiences loved seeing it on the big screen, too. Kudos to the Banff staff for including in the film’s introduction a hint that it was fake.

Now let’s hope the fling is history and that in the future any film festival celebrating outdoor adventure will focus on truth rather than titillation.

Outdoor photographers and editors have been dealing with this subject even before the digital revolution.

In the 1990s, filmmaker Marty Stouffer was criticized for staging dramatic encounters between animals and using tame wildlife during the production of his PBS series “Wild America.”

Today, the line between real and fake is even harder to define.

Field & Stream’s photography editor, Amy Berkley, said the magazine maintains a high standard for reality in its wildlife images, except for moderating backgrounds for cover headlines and changes in light and contrast.

“We’re not putting deer in a field or bigger antlers on a buck,” she said. “We’ve been accused of that, but we’ve never done it.”

Too many outstanding photographers are making stunning images of the real thing to stoop to trickery, she said.

“I do see a trend in photographers putting less emphasis on being outdoors at the right time with the right photography skills,” she said. “There’s a tendency to rely on technology – to just take a photo with the thought that they’ll fix it later in their computers.”

Photographers who work with Berkley know she won’t accept a multiple-image photo of a deer sandwiched against a sunset that was photographed at a different time.

Photo manipulation that enhances a wildlife or nature image is acceptable, she said. Manipulation that changes an image is not.

Tim Christie, a well-published outdoor photographer who taught photography at North Idaho College before retiring, said he’s selling a manipulated photo of a magnificent 7-by-10-point bull elk walking over the top of a ridge.

“The only problem was that there was a powerline in the foreground,” he said. “So I removed it in Photoshop. Some editors don’t mind, but I let them know up front.

“I’m OK with it as long as the check doesn’t bounce.”

Christie isn’t so concerned that women’s magazines have been using photo manipulation to enhance the breasts, waistlines and thighs of its fashion models for decades.

But he’s uneasy with a hunting calendar on the market that features images of stuffed trophy buck heads Photoshopped onto the bodies of deer that were photographed alive.

“With few exceptions, my general rule is that a shot that requires more than five minutes of touching up should be discarded,” he said.

“I think the worst part of this trend is that when a photographer does capture a spectacular once-in-a-lifetime image, people assume it’s a hoax.

“There’s a famous image of a salmon leaping into the mouth of a brown bear at Katmai National Park that was shot years ago on transparency film.

“The photographer spent many days and shot countless frames to get that shot, and when people see it now, they assume the fish was Photoshopped into the image.”

Can a natural image pack enough “wow factor” to catch the eye of a public that’s being bombarded with digital deception?

“I get a couple dozen e-mails a day from fishing photographers all over the world and there’s so much good stuff right out of the camera,” said Brian O’Keefe, a respected Oregon outdoor photographer and editor of the online Catch magazine.

Unless there’s attribution to a credible source, O’Keefe said, “I assume everything I see on the Internet is fake. I hope other people will, too.

“I’ve heard of guys raising the tail of a dog on point to make it look better. In my opinion, there’s no place for that.

“The world the way nature made it is amazing on its own.”

Contact Rich Landers at (509) 459 5508 or e-mail

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