What Isn’t Photography?

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After spending hours researching the different types of photography out there, I have to admit I was a bit caught off guard by the level of controversy surrounding what people feel is and isn’t photography.

There are those who believe that you are not really a photographer unless you practice only pure photography – getting it right, straight out of the camera, with no post processing manipulation.

You say what?

Ansel Adams turned dodging and burning into stunningly beautiful form of art. He simply did so in a darkroom rather than using the digital image editors we use today. Does that mean his results were not real or pure?

Who are we to define what is and isn’t photography?

Don’t get me wrong.

I have no issues whatsoever in those who choose to shoot pure images that exactly replicate the scene they saw in front of them without any editing. My only issue is when that choice is pushed on others as the only way and that any other results are fake.

That being said some styles of photography have taken digital manipulation to a whole new level with HDR (high dynamic range) producing incredible surreal results.

Is there an imaginary line that we cross when a photograph enters the realm of too much processing?

If so, who decided where that line is?

When does it stop being considered photography?

Photography Tells A Story

The results in this picture are not reality. Why? Because, reality is not what I saw in my viewfinder. Reality is that dozens of people passed by this woman without even seeing her. She blended right into the background. I SAW HER! My image represents what I saw in my mind and in my heart. THAT is what photography is.

‎No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.” – Ansel Adams

In my humble opinion, photography is about the photographer conveying what THEY see in their mind and in their thoughts – what the scene makes them FEEL. If the image is able to portray that, then it is a success.

I would love to hear your open and honest thoughts on this highly debated topic. I truly appreciate a lively and passionate discussion but I am asking that we do so in a respectful manner being mindful of the feelings of others.

J. Cricket Walker

25 Comments

  1. DanDan09-26-2012

    An easier question to answer might be “how long is a piece of string?”

    For my money, and to put my thoughts/words into context I would be considered an amateur hobbyist at best, I think any post-processing that goes on should be done “in moderation”.

    I think if the processing “supplements” what the eye has captured. Improves little imperfections (a nudge on the contrast here/there etc), then I am all for it. It’s when the processing takes over the image itself that it loses me.

    I actually don’t mind some of the un-realistic images that people create. I’ve done a few myself but I don’t make a habit of it. I feel like if what someone is trying to show the world is that awesome sunset they witnessed, and then all of a sudden what they produce post-processing looks nothing like it, then haven’t they kinda missed the point?

    I do see people’s perspective of creating artworks from imagery. Changing colours, and contrasts to levels that we would never see in reality. I just believe they shouldn’t get defensive when people challenge what they’ve done. If they’ve clearly defined what they are doing there should be no problem. It’s when they try and pass it off as that “magical sunset they witnessed” when anyone with half a clue about processing can tell they’ve altered the colours, is where I have an issue.

    • John KainJohn Kain09-26-2012

      Photo Editing vs Photo Effects
      Everyone who is a photographer edits photos, whether they think they are or not. If you crop, resize, adjust any slider in any program, you have edited that photo. Anything wrong with that, no there isn’t and I am going to tell you why.
      With today’s cameras you have to make a lot of choices before you push the button. Most people shoot in jpg format and use the “S”, “A”, or “Auto” mode because they do not understand all the settings in all the menu’s. Some may not understand all the menus but understand the functions of their lens and shutter speeds so they use manual. What happens within your camera under all these conditions results in an image the camera thinks you see. In almost every case it doesn’t! So our only option is photo editing. I shoot in RAW image files are so named because they are not yet processed and therefore are not ready to be printed. These files are sometimes called digital negatives and the image is processed by a raw converter in precise adjustments to convert it to a “positive” file format such as TIFF or JPEG for storage, printing, or further manipulation.
      What software you use to edit the photos doesn’t matter and don’t let anyone tell you it does. General or basic photo editing can be done with any software, even free ones. What do I mean by basic functions: cropping, adjusting contrast, saturation, tint and tone, and brightness. Now most high-end software has additional functions which allow you add filters and layers. Many of these filters modify pixels and change the look, turning into a form of art but it is no longer a traditional photograph. I call this digital art. To me it is no longer a photograph but a graphic resemblance of a photograph. Remember, most of the software used to edit photos was originally design for use by Graphic Designers who used photos to make posters, displays, billboards, etc.
      With that said, there are specialty software packages which perform specific functions. Function like convert color to B&W; High Dynamic Range merging, sharpening, cleaning up noise, cleaning portraits, and on and on. All of these can improve a photograph and it more like what you see with your eye.
      To put all this in context, let’s talk film. Film result is exactly what the camera sees based on how you set the lens and camera. There are also filters you can add to the lens for different effects. Once in the darkroom you can manipulate the photo through different techniques to add more effects. You can dodge and burn, add textures, add more filters to the enlarger, or even use special paper. Now can you say that Ansel Adams, Louis Daguerre, or Giambattista della Porta (know who he is?) or any of the famous historical photographers did not edit their photos. So if we edit our photos, are they still photographs? If you like what you see and it produces the effect you want, then it is your call.

      • CricketCricket09-27-2012

        I wish there was a big old thumbs up button on here to thank you for the time you invested in your response!

      • Well I read it Cricket and I very much agree with you. On your lady in the park photo. LIKE. Photography is Art to the photographer. And its how they see it. I don’t care who likes it or not… the photographer did like it. So who are they to criticize. I think the only time it matters if its a contest and they state no edits etc. Photography is an Art form. My background came from pastel portrait art. Now I just apply my Art skills to photography hopefully it makes me a unique photographer, at least it makes me a happy one. So thanks for the post. If anyone is interested in a charity photography contest message me and I will send you a file how you can participate. Thing is the topic is “YOUR FAVORITE PHOTO”. No rules again your favorite is YOUR favorite. Love this page for all the views we get and great discussions.

      • DanDan09-27-2012

        Great post John. What I lack, that would make me a good photographer, is patience. I know what I want from a shot and if it’s just about there I take it. Knowing that later if I need to clone-stamp that telegraph pole or person out of it that I didn’t want in the photo, that I will do it. That to me is part-and-parcel of the editing the way you’ve described it. I often crop, because what I wanted from the viewfinder differs slightly in the final image, or because I was zoomed in as far as I could go, and was actually after a particular detail (say I was shooting a tiger at the zoo and I wanted a full face profile, and the closest zoom got me the entire tiger).

        I shoot in RAW also. I didn’t always and it took me some time to learn the triangle (ISO, aperture, shutter speed). I use the editing software that came with the camera. I do use photoshop too (to edit/resize and sometimes clonestamp artifacts), but I rarely if ever do any layering unless I’m trying to do a spot colour or something.

        For me Cricket’s topic is asking me the question “do I believe that someone who digitally alters images to be very different from what they originally took, should be called a photographer?”

        It’s the reason why I suggested that we may as well be discussing how long a piece of string is… Let’s face it, the photograph of the swimsuit model that appears on the cover of a magazine, isn’t anything like the original photo that was taken. Add all the processing in and that photograph is completely different. But the person that took it? They are probably one of the world’s renowned photographers… So that must answer the question somewhat 🙂

        • BobbiBobbi02-13-2013

          Good reply and I agree.

    • CricketCricket09-27-2012

      That makes sense to me.

  2. Mimi CollinsMimi Collins09-26-2012

    Since I’m not particularly practiced on the technical side, I try to get the best image I can through the viewfinder, then crop or toy with lighting or color a bit. The eye first sees an image that is somehow striking, whether visually or emotionally, and the photographer attempts to capture that visual and/or emotional impact.

    Personally, I tend to prefer images that can be identified as having been captured in a camera, even if they were subsequently heavily massaged through external manipulation, from a darkroom to sophisticated software. I’m still a bit undecided about taking the photographer’s original visual recognition so far as to be unrecognizable, but as I continue to explore photography, I am gaining a better understanding of “extreme imaging.”

    • CricketCricket09-27-2012

      Your growth in photography has been phenomenal!

  3. ChuckChuck09-26-2012

    I appreciate all kinds of art, and appreciate the talent and creativity involved in doing it. I have also created images from photos, manipulated, and have been pleased with the results. For me, there is a difference between Photography, and Photographic Art. My biggest complaint is when an image is created, and then professed to be real. There is a photo that is going around of Seattle, with the moon near the Space Needle. It is a created image, and many a photographer would love to take that shot. But it isn’t possible. Yet the creator professes that it is an actually image he took. I have never made a claim, no would I, of a photo that is not an actual image. But I am creative, and I blur the line between a photo and art. At times, I have taken a photo for the sole purpose of doing so. I have an image I took of the space needle reflected in a water plop. Anyone could paste and image in there of it, but it is the real photo that makes it impressive. There are no restrictions on what is creative, or art.

  4. ScriptManScriptMan09-26-2012

    While I 100% agree with “photography is about the photographer conveying what THEY see in their mind and in their thoughts – what the scene makes them FEEL.” I personally tend to be a get it right in the camera type of guy. A little post processing to sharpen or shade is well within what I consider proper.

    That is my style. I do not force that belief on others. I do not put down the work of others because they choose a different method.

    In most cases I do not much care for HDR manipulated images that take on surreal look unless a person was going for a sci-fi look. Post processing is like makeup; if you can tell it there it it is over done.

    • CricketCricket09-27-2012

      That’s what it is all about – realizing we all have our own preferences.

  5. Ron StraitRon Strait09-27-2012

    Great Topic…… I believe photography is anything/any moment captured in time. What you do with it is all in the eye of the holder you can enhance it or turn it into art but it is still a photo as it is captured to share or preserve for ever. Just my 2 cents.

  6. Jerry TurnerJerry Turner09-27-2012

    I believe it is all personal preference! What is pleasing to my eye might not be to someone else. If editing the photo makes it more pleasing to look at then why would you not want to? I do my best to get a correct exposure in the camera but being the amateur I am I often fail.

    If editing a photo makes you not a photographer, Then putting creamer in your coffee makes you not a coffee drinker because you altered it. LOL.

    This is an Amateur’s point of view, read at your own risk………

  7. Lois BryanLois Bryan09-27-2012

    I’ve had this conversation with a dear friend so many times i’ve got knots in my head (so does he, of course)!!! I think the way we’ve finally come to terms with our divergent views (he’s the purist, i’m the some-time wild-eyed photoshop junkie) is that there IS a line … and it’s up the the individual artist or his/her viewer to determine where the line falls. One side is photography … the other is digital imaging. But BOTH can be ART. (Of course, whether or not a particular image is art is another whole discussion!!!)

  8. Lisa PutmanLisa Putman09-27-2012

    Cameras, flash units, tripods, image processing tools…these are all just tools of the trade, just as a brush, paper, canvas, paint, pencil, or a needle and thread. Art is the expression of what a person sees and feels on the inside. Some will say other people have to validate it as art by it’s acceptance of others before it is deemed art. I say, it is art by it’s mere creation.

    • Terry CTerry C09-27-2012

      I totally agree with you Lisa !

  9. Terry CTerry C09-27-2012

    I have been taking “snaps” for a long time, but just the last 10 months or so I started to get more interested in the “art form”. Photography for me is driven totally by emotions. Since I am new(er) to the art form I do have to try to get the best shot I can from the start only because I’m also new at any post processing, other than cropping and enhancing colors. I marvel daily at all of the beautiful art I see on this site.
    I also see it as a personal choice to do more processing or not. I can’t say one way is better than the other. I find it amazing that someone can find a shot take it and do almost no processing, but the next person can take a shot and make something entirely different from that same shot.

  10. I learned photoshop before I really got into photography. I have always loved taking pictures but didn’t have a good camera to really pull off what I wanted, until I got my DSLR. It was all downhill from there.

    I believe that photography is a form of expression as is other forms of art. If you take a set of pictures with the soul purpose of putting them together in photoshop, there is nothing wrong with that. I believe some call it “photoshoptography.” I have taken pics of a killer sky just so I could replace the drab sky in another picture. I have also taken a really cool rusted or rotted object and turned it into a cool texture for the background of a picture.

    Art to me is suppose to exercise the heart and the mind. If an image touches you in some way, the photographer did their job. It really doesn’t matter how much they played with it in some graphics program. Just my two cents.

  11. Carol TomanyCarol Tomany09-28-2012

    I guess since there now is a camera where you just shoot and adjust EVERYTHING after – focus, selection of subject, etc. then photography has changed. I guess with these new cameras you just shoot a “canvas” and bring out what you want on that canvas.

    Sorry I didn’t post earlier. I was still back at the B&W discussion. I’m a it slow 🙂

  12. Randy SpencerRandy Spencer09-29-2012

    Did you hear that “they” were thinking about including Poem writing in the Olympics? How is that possible? How would they ever find judges that were not biased? I like what Dan said, “we might as well be talking about how long a piece of string is”.

    I think I need counseling, because I Love it all. From the natural scene,s to the over the top HDR. From one persons angle, and point of view to another. If you just kept bringing me popcorn, I could sit and look at pictures all day, . . most of the time with my mouth open. I even find myself loving the background to this blog. I enjoyed reading everyone’s point of view. Glad for the differences, so I don’t become bored. Maybe if you ask someone, “Why on EARTH do you like it like that”? Then listen long enough, and try to see what they are saying, . . . you might learn something new.

    Forgive me Cricket, I even had to snoop onto your flicker site and take a look. 🙂 I loved it.

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