But is it art? …is it photography?

January 14, 2014  •  Leave a Comment

A popular topic on photography forums that I like to follow is the question, “Is it art?” I’ve avoided getting into these discussions because I think photography is art, but I don’t think it is art in the same way as a great painting. In other words, I have kind a of wish-washy attitude that does not really answer the question – if in fact it is answerable. Lately, the question I’ve begun to ask myself is, “Is it photography?”

 

I have to refer back to an earlier discussion about a person who made the claim, “This picture is exactly how it looked – I didn’t change it all.”, as if this proves that the image is a great photograph and the person is a great photographer. Without dwelling on whether or not this proves the photographer’s skill, if the image is a very exact representation of what was photographed, than the image is inarguably a photograph.  

 

But in the digital world, nothing is captured exactly as it was. Even if the photographer does nothing other than remove the image from the camera as a JPG file and present it on a screen, the camera has already done several processes that enhance the image and make it better than what the image sensor actually detected.

 

In my case, I do it differently. I don’t let the camera do anything except capture the image – this is known as shooting RAW. When taking the photograph, all I am concerned with is composition, general exposure and focus. Light balance, sharpening, saturation, noise reduction, and other enhancement are for later – in Lightroom, Photoshop, Silver Efex and other software packages that I run on my computer.

 

In the post-process work, I adjust contrast, saturation, sharpening and brightness. I’ll crop and align, and occasionally change the vertical perspective. Individual tones will be adjusted for both brightness and intensity. Defects and undesirable components (litter for example) are removed.

 

Increasingly, I find myself using techniques like HDR and focus stacking to achieve images that are not possible using traditional single-image photography: HDR uses multiple exposures, both over and under the “correct” exposure to extend the exposure latitude of a scene beyond what the camera can capture in a single frame.  Focus stacking enhances depth of field by combining several images where the focus point has been moved to create an image with sharp focus across a deeper than normal range.

 

When all of this is done, I’ll prepare my presentation image. If the image is for screen viewing, the image size and sharpening are adjusted accordingly. If the image is going to be printed, it is further adjusted so that the resulting image will closely match the image shown on my computer monitor.

 

The result is an image that probably does not really look very much like “how it looked”, but somehow feels even more like “how it looked”. The final product is beautiful. It gets framed and hangs on a wall. It is art. But is it still photography?

 

 


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