The art of photography?

As long term readers of this blog will know, I have an interest in photography. I don’t pretend to be a great photographer, but I have some fairly good equipment, using both film and digital SLR cameras, and indeed lenses which often cost more than the cameras. Some of my output can be seen here.

Like many people, I suspect, I started off taking photographs in a ‘point-and-shoot’ way: I would see something I wanted to remember, I would point the camera (without adjusting anything), and press the button. But over time I started looking at books of photographs, and began to see other things, such as perspective, light, selective focus, contrast, depth of field. So I started experimenting, and as I got more ambitious, I also spent time looking at paintings to see what techniques had been used, with the intention of trying some of them with the help of a camera.

And as I became more interested in artistic effects, I also became more aware of the opportunities afforded by software. The standard digital photographer’s toolbox comes in Adobe’s Photoshop – though there are also other programs such as Apple’s Aperture. But in addition there are specialist applications that allow you to conjure up certain effects, such as high dynamic range imaging; this allows the photographer to bring out details in the image, which can be taken to the point of distortion. As these digital effects are applied, the image in effect ceases to be a photograph as traditionally understood, and becomes a representation that goes beyond the literal reproduction of the scene.

There is some debate amongst photographers as to whether this is still photography, or something quite different, and indeed whether such elaboration of the original image is either artistic or desirable. It is a hard question to answer, because as in much else the aesthetics of such images are in the eye of the beholder.

As for me, I continue to take some photos on traditional film (all black and white, now), which I then do not edit in digital format, except perhaps that I might crop the image a little. I also take digital photos that I don’t edit, and others that I edit significantly. I cannot make up my mind which of these resulting images are particularly artistic. Perhaps none of them, of course.

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6 Comments on “The art of photography?”

  1. Stephanie Says:

    Your photography is stunning! Would you recommend a book on digital photography?

    • Thanks for that kind comment, Stephanie. As for books on digital photography, there are lots! If you want a book that essentially tells you how to operate the camera to get the best results, the one if would recommend is ‘Understanding Exposure’ by Bryan Peterson. A good basic book on digital, including both camera techniques and a good bit of software advice, is ‘The Complete Guide to Digital Photography’ by Michael Freeman. There are also many guides to using Adobe Photoshop and related software.

      • Stephanie Says:

        Thank-you kindly. I am just starting off with an SLR and could use the assistance of a book, but, as you say, there are many to choose from!

  2. Gordon Says:

    Of course digital elaboration can be artistic. Surely art exists where skillful work produces an aesthetically pleasing image. All art is clearly subjective but I think those that find the digital developments in photography undesirable are just another example of the old resisting the new.

    I think the difficulty lies in digitally enhanced or doctored images being presented as ‘true’ photographs. Examples being the latest celebrity’s blemishes being removed to reinforce unattainable or corrupt standards of beauty, or the photographic skills of lighting, focus etc. being improved after the fact. As long as the photographer is honest about what they have produced and how they did it, there shouldn’t be a problem.

    Dishonesty in the representation of one’s work or skill is a different story

  3. Dear Mr. von P,

    In 1858 Henry Peach Robinson took his beautiful photograph Fading Away. It was soon revealed that the picture had been “edited” and that it consisted of several photogaphs, carefully collaged photomechanically. Photographers have edited their pictures from the beginning of photography.

    Before digital photography many a photographer went trough the faze of being a purist. This meant not using filters or flash. But then some of these photographers (this one included) realized that panchromatic film did not render blue skies like the human eye. So the photographer had to use a yellow filter to correct the film’s bias for blue. This bias for blue and ultraviolet exists with digital cameras, too.

    For years this photographer has printed using split filtration techniques with multi-contrast paper. The results are a primitive version of Photoshop’s shadow/highlight command. This photographer would use pottasium ferrocyanide as a bleach to lighten the highlights of a print, which I printed dark on purpose in order to use this technique. Yet most who would see my prints on Portriga (alas gone!) or on Ilford warm-tone would say I am a purist. The manipulation is all there.

    I only shoot film (Ektachrome 100G in 120, Kodak Plus-X, Kodak Technical Pan [I have some boxes in my fridge] but I have discovered the wonders of using a good scanner (an Epson V700 Photo, or I go to have my transparencies drum-scanned when I really want all that quality). No matter how good the scanner it will tend to increase contrast. You have to compensate for this. If the shadow/highlight setting of Photoshop is able to retrieve detail from the shadows (it is there to be retrieved) then using that device is not really “editing”. The failure comes in the form of the limitation of the up-until-now photographic materials such as photographic paper. The wonders of light-jet prints and well made giclées to bring out the shadow detail of my transparencies amaze me. Cybachrome could never even get close. It had too much contrast.

    I simply do not understand this attitude against admitting “editing” one’s photographs. It would seem to me that not “editing” would be like fighting a boxing match with one hand tied behind one’s back.

    On the other hand the photographer who will boast about not editing his/her photographs should bite the bullet and only shoot in the jpg. mode. How many will do that? Those of us who shoot transparency are on that same wave length. It is only the advent of the scanner that has suddenly given us more braething room.

    Sincerely yours,

    Alex Waterhouse-Hayward

    • Alex, I am extremely honoured to have you comment here! I have been a great admirer of your photography. And of course I wholly agree with what you say. Maybe if I get to Vancouver I can ask you more about some of these matters!

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