Capturing the world around us with photography

Yesterday it was announced that Veselin Atanasov is the winner of the Open Photographer of the Year award, 2018.

Those shortlisted – all of them category winners of this year’s Sony World Photography Awards Open competition – captured stunning photographs which illuminated various wonders of the world around us.Screenshot of the BBC news reporting of the Sony World Photography shortlisted entries.

An annual competition now in its twelfth year, the Sony World Photography Awards is one of the most celebrated and diverse photography competitions in the world, working to establish a continuous development of photographic culture.

The images curated for this competition bring together a diverse array of content and photography styles, but which all seek inspiration from the natural world. Indeed, the most striking of these compositions tend to be those that capture something extraordinary ‘in the moment’ of the everyday cycle of life.

Natural inspiration

As the selected winners from this year’s Open competition demonstrate, a photograph should ‘say something’ about the world around us.

Like Veselin Atanasov’s picture of sun peeking through autumn trees in a Bulgarian national park, that won the Landscape and Nature category. The image isolates a moment of beauty that is fleeting; here one minute and gone the next.

As we have documented in great detail elsewhere, nature in and of itself provides a myriad of subjects for photographers to focus their lens on. Particular seasons, for instance, bring with them inherent weather patterns that govern landscapes and the different living things that exist within such spaces.

Specific visual markers can communicate a certain time of year without the need to indicate this in words. In this sense, Atanasov’s autumn trees speak for themselves. Photography, then, has its own visual language that can be universal.

Human portraits

But, of course, the photographs that are shortlisted as part of Sony’s various competitions are selected because of their unique contribution to photography; for showing a part of life in a new light. As well as animals, wildlife, and other natural elements, photographs of humankind can be equally as fascinating.

Winner of the Street Photography category, Manuel Armenis’s ‘Old Friends’ features an elderly woman walking through her neighbourhood in Hamburg, Germany.

Led by her little Chihuahua dog and using the aid of a small trolley to support her movements, the photograph depicts the burdens of old age but the quality of life that can be had despite everyday struggles. The woman’s neon pink coat and neon green shopping bag communicates her good spirit and vibrant character without having to see her face.

In addition, the pleasing composition of the image along with these colourful features further contribute to photographic culture as a form of artistic expression.

Photography as art

Indeed, even manmade structures can provide a source of endless inspiration for photographers.

Mikkel Beiter’s picture of the Lofoten Archipelago, Norway, won the Travel award. This image of a bright orange cabin on the banks of these arctic fjords creates an amazing contrast to the snow-covered mountain and its frozen surroundings.

The pointed roof of the cabin, on the other hand, is almost in perfect alignment with the peak of Mount Olstinden. Such pleasing aesthetic synergy between what is artificial and what is natural demonstrates the thought and care that must be expended in this line of work.

Photography is all about ‘having the eye’ – seeing something unique, beautiful and extraordinary, and then being able to communicate this to others using a camera.

As technology has progressed, however, using post-processes to edit and enhance elements of an image (like Beiter has done), can also have a huge impact on the artistic expression of individual photographers. Ultimately there is almost no limit to what can be achieved.

This arguably muddies the boundaries between what is considered authentic and what is not in relation to photography. If, for instance, photography is thought of as the mechanical reproduction of an image, then the manipulation of certain elements in post-production would be undermining this definition somewhat.

Looking forwards

But this is not to say that there cannot be beauty in such images. Certainly if the evolution of photography has taught us anything it is that there is beauty to be found in any image, regardless of how it is captured and how it may be manipulated. Plus, the medium is constantly changing and developing in terms of what can be achieved.

Time-lapse photography is an excellent example as it represents a new mode of capture reliant on innovative technology but is simultaneously rooted in over 140 years of history. In many ways the technique is still in its infancy but is still beholden to photography’s humble beginnings.

Peaceful scene over Salford Quays.
Above: peaceful scene over Salford Quays, Greater Manchester, which was captured by a time-lapse camera system.

Individual images taken at regular intervals by a time-lapse camera can be stunning, offering some ‘predictable magic’ in the midst of a construction site or busy cityscape.

Regardless of the mode or style of capture, then, photography will always be a way to document, isolate, emphasise and comprehend the world around us.

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