BetterPhoto Q&A
Category: New Questions

Photography Question 
Alex T. Mizuno
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/28/2007

Fundamental Question

One thing (among many other things) I love about BP is the fact that BP accepts all sorts of photographic works. Ever since I joined BP, I've been inspired by variety of works here and that motivated me to learn various photographic skills including Photoshop.

Just recently, I started noticing there are people out there who deny processing like HDR or "heavy editing" in Photoshop. Some say, "it's not photography."

This touches a fundamental question like "what is photography?" If you consider photography as a form of art, it's a means to express yourself. In this digital age, there are countless ways to express your creativity. But, is there a border line where photography loses its identity? Then, it goes back to the original question, "what is photography?"

What is your thoughts on this issue? I appreciate if your let me hear any feedback from you.

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5/3/2009 1:01:40 AM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  This question has come up a number of times here in the past. To answer it for yourself, I think you need to both think for yourself in terms of what you're doing versus what the individual processes entail.

Since I've been a photographer for a long time, old-school so-to-speak, I believe the process of photography is literally writing with light. I'll stretch that a bit to accomodate recording of light with pixels. I learned to create my images in the camera on film, understand how the film records the light that I see, and how to process those images to take advantage of the recordation process I used in the first instance.

When I say "take advantage" I don't mean to rebuild or recreate the entire image by changing the colors, swapping heads of people, refocusing, substituting one item in a photo for another, and essentially creating an entirely different image than the one that you captured in the camera in the first place. That's a process I believe best left to graphic artists and I honestly don't perceive it as photography, either in art or craft.

In fact, most of the photographers I've worked with over the years who have been doing this a long time, graphic artists and illustrators, all seem to now believe that photography is one particular art and craft whereas using photoshop, etc., is a technical skill all its own and the resulting modified image isn't really a photograph but writing and coloring pixels. Besides, there are courses at JC and univesity levels that teach photography separately and editing with photoshop separately. I think that's a good idea, especially when they still teach basic photography with cameras that use (omg !!!) FILM !
LOL !!!

Now, this is not to say that I can't somewhat modify my own work in the darkroom or at the lab because I understand those processes and how to do them and most importantly, when to do them. But there are limitations due to the creative process on how far one can bend or twist an image on film to create a final image. For example, I know how to push / pull film to increase or decrease contrast and take advantage of films speeds. I also know how to dodge and flash a print under the enlarger to enhance lighter areas or improve a bit of shadow detail. That's still working with light, not pixels per se. Photoshop allows seemingly endless possibilities that I believe requires separate skills produced by the software.

That's my spin on your question.
It used to be, btw, that back in the 60's and 70's, there was an ongoing debate as to whether photography was truly art. If it is art, again in its purist form, like painting or drawing, what do you call modifying the original on canvas with an image in photoshop?

Take it light ;>)

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5/3/2009 11:07:29 AM

Usman M. Bajwa
BetterPhoto Member Since: 4/11/2006
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  Alex, read the below thread on the same topic at BP and make your own opinion. To me any and all kinds of manipulations done to an image (be these on film or in pixels) are a piece of art!

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5/3/2009 11:29:48 AM

John H. Siskin
BetterPhoto Member
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4-Week Short Course: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
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Perfume Bottles
This is a demonstration of lighting with slide projectors. This is a studio shot, WITHOUT ANY USE OF PHOTOSHOP. I had one advantage in doing this I used film rather than digital.
© John H. Siskin
4-Week Short Course: An Introduction to Photographic Lighting
Toyo 45C View Larg...
Hi Alex, Hi Mark
Iím not sure how fundamental this question is; defining a thing doesnít it make it any more or less real. As Mark says there was debate, until recently, about the status of photography as an art. You might want to review the career of Alfred Steiglietz if you want to understand this debate more fully.

I would say that I never gave a client a roll of film after I exposed it, I always processed the film first. That processing might include changing the contras, color balance, sharpening (unsharp mask is a film term), cropping, even retouching. I donít think there is any real need to say that using a particular tool makes something unphotographic.

Also there have been a number of photographers who used multiple printing processes to make images. I particularly think of Jerry Uelsmann and Man Ray.

I have a friend who makes drawings on a tablet. I donít know that there is any debate on whether these are real drawings, because they are done on a computer. I would say that there are images, made from photographs that have moved a long way from the light that exposed sensor or film. Perhaps we should acknowledge the skills used to create the image and refer to them as something else, hybrid photography?

Finally there is the matter of taste. I have never seen a photograph printed on to canvas that did not disgust me. I did not become a photographer to make things that look like paintings. In fact, if I had wanted to paint, I would have. It is my particular esthetic that a ting made with light lens and the magic of the lab or computer should be presented as what it is, a photograph, rather than manipulated into the fakery of a pretend painting.

I am attaching a shot that was made with film. The background was put in, in the camera, not in the lab. What should we call this sort of photography?
Thanks, John Siskin

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5/3/2009 1:40:26 PM

Carlton Ward
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/13/2005
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  Ferris Wheel & Space Needle
Ferris Wheel & Space Needle
5.0s, f/20, iso100, 20mm, Seattle
© Carlton Ward
Canon EOS 20D Digi...
Hi Alex,
I do experiment quite a bit with Photoshop, plug in filters, HDR imaging and other software as I learn what it can do and how to make it work the way I want it to. Corel Painter is a fun program where you can use software and a wacom tablet to select different paints (pastels, watercolors, pencils, acrylic, oils, etc..) and different type brushes, chalk, pens and you can paint over a photo and create an image with visible brush strokes to get a painted look.

Its really cool but I agree with Mark, this takes it out of the realm of Photography and it becomes a more virtual type of art.

HDR is cool in the fact that it comes closer to capturing an image more the way the eye sees a scene as opposed to the camera. If you have a light sky with a mountain and dark trees & bushes in the foreground, you can shoot 3 different exposures for each area and combine the images to create an HDR image. The camera cannot capture the details of the dark areas without blowing out the highlights and you have to compromise somewhere in the capture. HDR was also done with film but a much more laboring process. If you combine the images with minimal editing, it will look like a very well composed image but you can also process more heavily to get a more 3D or animated look. I think the amount of processing is what determines if it is still a photograph or more of a graphic art piece.
All that said and I will tell you that my favorite photos are the ones I captured that required minimal to no processing (like the one I am posting here has no processing at all). Getting a perfectly composed/exposed image is still what I strive to do and its what keeps me motivated to get better.
"What is art" is a personal question. The word music means an audible sound that evokes an emotion. This can be as simple as a hand clap or as encompassing as a full symphony orchestra. I think the same can be said for photography or graphic art in that if it is appeasing or evokes an emotion or makes you think, it is having an effect and can be considered art.
But I still believe as Mark that Photography is its own art form of getting the perfect capture and that is why I fell in love with photography in the 1st place. Capturing light in a box...
Cheers, Carlton

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5/3/2009 2:33:03 PM

Gregory LaGrange
BetterPhoto Member Since: 11/11/2003
  I've never seen anything profound come out of this topic. Mostly what I see is that the people who are really adamant about what a picture isn't, are people who just don't take good pictures to begin with. Like the girl who recently proclaimed herself the "emotional artist". Can't an artist be relatively calm and cool?
Light has to shine on a sensor, light has to shine on a film frame. There still isn't anything there until you do a lot to it that doesn't involve light.

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5/3/2009 3:34:11 PM

Mark Feldstein
BetterPhoto Member Since: 3/17/2005
  That's a great shot Carlton. I've always liked it alot !!! ;>)

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5/3/2009 4:50:18 PM

Carlton Ward
BetterPhoto Member Since: 12/13/2005
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Carlton's Gallery
Thanks Mark,
My new favorite shot is of this evil EMU that was trying to peck me and was very aggresive. I did notice the hard light hitting his head when I took the shot but when I downloaded the photo later at home, I busted out laughing. He looks ticked off, hungover and having a really bad hair day. I look at this one everyday to get a chuckle - hope you like it :)

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5/3/2009 4:59:41 PM

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