‘Keep it real,’ says Ken Duncan

When a photo competition awards landscape photography, it’s usually with a single category.

Ken_ptBut Australian landscape photography legend Ken Duncan says there are two vastly different styles of landscape photography, and it’s time to identify each accordingly. What he’s referring to is ‘photo realism’ and ‘photo illustration’, and he’s launched ‘The Real Australia Landscape Awards’ to help separate the two.

‘I feel that having “The Real” awards will really help create a distinction between photo illustration and photo realism,’ Duncan told Pro Counter. ‘Now I love photo illustration, I do photo illustration as well. But for the marketplace we need to create a distinction so people understand and can have expectations about what they’re looking at.’

‘Photo realism’ is about capturing an honest interpretation of a place – a real decisive moment in time. Whereas ‘photo illustration’ is also photographing a real place, but altering or Photoshopping the image to, well, become an illustration.

‘For a (real) landscape, you’re waiting for a moment. It may take days, you can work on a shot for a long time to get the right light,’ Duncan said. ‘That’s the skill, a person who is willing to put up with it and go out into remote conditions. A guy like Andris Apse (one of the judges), who is helicoptered into an area and stays there for weeks waiting for that one moment.’

Duncan reels off the scenario where an individual visits a gallery, views a print and proclaims the image is ‘just Photoshopped’, unaware or worse, in disbelief that the photographer may have waited eight hours for the light to create a magical moment.

He’s become increasingly concerned for the industry and believes if the competition goes as he envisions, it may help shift public perception and create job opportunities for landscape purists.

While discussing the two styles, Duncan insists that he’s not saying one is better than the other, but is finding that photo illustrations are taking out most of the accolades.

‘Organ Pipes’, taken at Glenhelen Gorge. Photo: Ken Duncan

‘Organ Pipes’, taken at Glenhelen Gorge. Photo: Ken Duncan

The competition is open to anyone from around the world, provided the image entered was captured in Australia in the last 10 years – and is real.

Duncan will judge the competition, along with two international judges: New Zealand landscape photographer Andris Apse; and US landscape photographer, and owner of website Luminous Landscapes, Kevin Raber.

Duncan chose the two international judges for several reasons. First, their credentials make them more than qualified as judges of such a competition. Second, this allows all Australian landscape photographers to enter. And third, they  won’t be familiar with styles specific to particular Australian photographers (and they won’t be given any personal information on the entrant while judging).

The terms and conditions state that each photo has to be ‘an honest interpretation of the scene’, with minimal post-processing. Photo-stitching is allowed for panoramic images that don’t exceed 180 degrees. Additionally, monochrome photos are allowed as a nod to the historical roots of landscape photography.

‘It just has to look real,’ he said. ‘It’s sort of like a forest. When you shoot a forest that’s been tampered with, you can sense it straight away.  When you shoot a pristine forest, it’s got a different feeling. This is what I’m referring to with ‘photo realism’.

The competition is planned to run yearly and be built up to create a photobook featuring the finest photo realist landscape photos from around Australia. Ideally the book will be sold at bookstores around the world to showcase the talent of the photographers.

‘A lot of books are done for just the members. We need to get the books out to the general public – the people who buy the work,’ Duncan said. ‘A lot of people think they’re photographers, but I want to show them why they need to get someone that really knows that they’re doing.’

There’s $40,000 in prizes up for grabs. The major prize is five-days of all-expenses-paid one-on-one tuition with Ken Duncan.  Where he says he’ll take the winner is a secret location, but promises it’ll be a place they’ve never been before.

Entries are open now until June 30. The fee to enter a single image is $25. Three images is $60 and five is $90. Click here to find out more.


The thinking behind The Real Australian Landscape Awards is diametrically different to the Australian-based International Landscape Photographer of the Year awards, in which anything goes in terms of photo-manipulation, and purist landscapes compete directly with what Ken Duncan would define as photo illustration.


2 thoughts on “‘Keep it real,’ says Ken Duncan

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Recent Related Posts