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Saturday, 22 October 2011


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In camera?
I used to have a T-shirt that read "real photographers smell like thiosulfate "

Not that I'd go as far as William Mortensen or Jerry Uelsmann, but Ansel Adams and W. Eugene Smith seemed about right, and they post processed the hell out of their work.

Actually William Mortensen looks pretty cool to me now!


I wish things were as B&W as you say. I do quite a bit of post-processing, but restrain in how much of it I do. I try to create the best print I can using Photoshop, but I stop when I feel the viewer may suspect that any manipulation has taken place. In other words, my final print looks "untouched", "out of the camera", "without post-processing", but has been improved significantly over what reality had to offer.
So where do I fall? Am I still a Bressonite?
And as I think about this, I am smiling, just thinking of what Gene Smith might have done with such tools.

Well, I hope your wearing your Nomex underwear since you're going to get flamed on this. :-)

What if you don't fit precisely in either camp? Photography has ALWAYS involved some manipulation even if it was only the choice of film, filters, and processing. Today those choices are replaced by RAW conversion and PP manipulation.

I guess for me the dividing line between photograph and image is defined by two things:

Is the photograph that the "image" is based on the primary thing you see? Dave Hill's B&W would qualify. The rest are simply computer-generated illustrations that use a photograph as a base. Most of O'Byrne's work still looks like a photograph but some has definitely gone past my line.

Could most of the work have been done in a camera WITHOUT heavy PP manipulations? Once again, some of the images on Hill's site, but not much (excluding the B&W).

Now, I'm not saying that Hill isn't a photographer or an artist that produces great stuff. Some images are superb and all will undoubtedly help sell whatever they are supposed to sell. But almost all STARTED as photographs but certainly no longer are.

Again to be clearer...
I once took a picture of children playing on New York's Central Park's "Great Lawn" and the picture was just as I wanted it except for a distracting group of buildings in the background. So I carefully removed those buildings and consequently changed the NY skyline in a way that no one noticed. The print sold for quite a bit of money. Am I still a Bressonite?

In before the ban!

Really, where to begin? I have no interest in taking sides on this one - but I will note that "photo-illustration" has a production handicap: you can combine the worst of both worlds in photography and conventional illustration. Whereas, "straight" photography has mapped out it's cliche's quite comprehensively, and there is some agreement as to what they are, and how to avoid and/or celebrate them. There's a whole realm of badness that is open to the illustrator that conventional photography simply doesn't have access to, without, as Roger Overall has mentioned, a great deal of money and fiddly darkroom work.

I'll go a bit further and say I really quite dislike Xanti Rodriguez's grotesque, as illustrated above, for a number of reasons I cannot resist listing here. If the intent is to produce dislike, it is effective, but the contrast between realistic representation (e.g. it is really obvious how the hair was lit) and the really poor quality illustration of the "zippers" indicates a lack of technical mastery, and possibly confusion over the intended vision. An illustration indistinguishable from a photograph of an alien being being photographed in a plausibly-real high-fashion studio would be very interesting. An obviously illustrated alien being might also be interesting. But obviously failing to produce one or the other makes me question the artist's skill with his tools. The discontinuities in technique break the suspension of disbelief.

I'll speculate that some of the objections of the "pure" photographers to photo-illustration are probably really about cases just like this, where something fails on aesthetic grounds instead of easily-critiqued technical grounds.

Peace to you all, particularly Mr. Rodriguez, who probably doesn't deserve to be used as an example in an internet food fight.


Was Ansel Adams a "photographer"?

His prints depict nature in a way that is decidedly different than what one's eyes would perceive, and are also decidedly different than what his camera captured. He was proudly forthright that he made images (using darkroom manipulation) as opposed to simply taking pictures.

And almost all of us manipulate our images. How far we go is a matter of taste, a matter of amount, not kind.

To paraphrase Churchill (or Shaw): We've already established what kind of (image maker) we are, now we are just haggling about price.

I am inclined to say that if we take our own photographs and use them in our art, then we are photographers.

Wasn't there a similar debate about painting vs. photography - well over a hundred years ago?

Seems to me to be the very same set of issues, perhaps rearranged a bit.

I feel strongly that both are art, but not directly comparable. Different skill sets, different purposes.

I think there should be a third camp: the Ellingtonians, who say "There are two kinds of photographs: good ones, and bad ones."

IMHO a lot of that fancy digital illustration is just bad no matter what your underlying philosophy of photography is.

Mmmm.... There might be some confusion here, between the tool, "photography", and the end that might be art (as in artist), news coverage (as in photojournalism), documentary data (as in an NG article), memory recording (as in "Kilroy was here" ) and the pet portraiture (as in pet portraiture)...!

Man Ray was using photography as a media that his friends of Montparnasse hadn't explored (yet), while Kertesz, Brassaï and others will document the way they lived and created their work.

SInce it's origin, photography has been used in many ways (just as videos nowadays), and from collages to extreme manipulations (I tend to prefer this word as it covers time from Daguerre to Cindy Sherman) the use of the photographical tool as a brush or as a palette in some form of contemporary art, existed.

That prizes would be awarded to such works by photography associations, is simply recognizing that photography is a media and not an end by itself (even if countless forums on the web tend to hint to that).

While many of us use the photographical media to pin-point and frame a so-called "reality", we often try by using numerous lenses, filters, formats, etc. to modify it in our very own perception, taking the picture a bit further then the "reproduction" of the given reality (that might just be some sort of photocopying)!!! Even H.C-B used the reality he had under his eyes to "paint" his own "story"!

As in all awards, the winner isn't always in everybody's taste (as in Picasso vs Dali), but I believe those awards should still be awarded if photography was somewhere in the process...

My two cents viewpoint... :-)

Sadly, after 30 years in the game, Wedding, Portrait, Fine Art (Landscape)Fashion and Product, I spend much of my time leaning post production techniques and tools.

I actually think it a rarity to see images not heavily manipulated. Not the simple darkroom tweaks etc we did. The last art show I did my sales were dismal but a young photog with totally manipulated to the max shots sold a bunch. Funny he said he wished he had my skill and thought my work was master level, but he sold 40-50 pieces to my 5.

I hope to remain an image maker, but get a bit better at post production to meet the current client expectations.

I am sure I will not be alone in this remark, but here goes:

It's not really two camps, that's an artificial distinction. There's a continuum, and three things have occured: The endpoints of the continuum (well, one of them) has moved out to the left; that endpoint has become more easily accessible with computers; taste has in some venues moved off in that direction as well.

It's been incredibly rare to make an image purely in camera, for a long time. We've been manipulating contrast since the beginning, albeit not always on purpose! The rectangular section of the world we select, and the contrast alterations we apply to it are the "straight photographer's" tools, and show us that the straight photographer isn't.

Of course we can still divide up into two sides, and fight, it's what people do best. Our choice of side will say more about how we view ourselves than about our work, though!

I'm "just" a family photojournalist (read event and travelogue photographer), trying to craft shots that speak to me. If they speak to others, great! I'd consider a Xanti Rodriquez-style image only at Halloween ... is there an app for that?!

Has "real Photography" become like pornography, I know it when I see it?

Can't we just call the image-makers pictorialists?

That's what they were called the last time photo-montage and "straight" photography clashed.

I suspect that the outcome will be as it was a hundred years ago. Members of Group f/64 have certainly held more value at auction.

Long before photoshop and digital photography became commonplace there have been two camps with important distinctions .

Photographers that strive to have their work achieve the status of “Art” Ansel Adams,Minor White, Weston and many more are the perfect example of this. The other group simply think of themselves as artists that use photography in their pursuit of Art. Andy Warhol, Man Ray, David Hockney to name a few.

Both approaches can result in “Art” so getting hung up on semantics may be fun but ultimately is a waste of time that is better used in producing more “Good Art”.

I'm right there with you Roger, in spirit at least. As a colour-blind photographer with a terrible first experience with photoshop (my photo-school final portfolio no less) I am firmly in the in-camera camp. Yes, I could learn more about photoshop et al. but I really don't want to, and I use my colour-blindness as an excuse (a valid one to be honest - you think calibrating a screen is hard, try working with an in-built colour curve all of your own). And yes, sorry everyone, I didn't really enjoy post-production in the film days either, other people could always do it better than me.
And there perhaps is one of the problems (or perhaps the beauty of it all): we do what we're best at/most comfortable with, and that is our image-making.
It's just a shame there are so many computer geeks out there getting more kudos than us real photographers :)

I am heartened to see so many comments here refuting this stand of creating an artificial and unnecessary division in photography. Photography is a visual medium that has, as many have stated here, historically embraced (oftentimes fitfully) all manner of approaches, styles, techniques, aesthetics, etc... Me? I'd rather be out taking photographs, creating images, DOING IT than arguing about which 'camp' I am in.

The creations of digital artists using a photography base are definitely art, I'm just not sure I would call it photography. A photographer captures (or arranges) life in pursuit of a specific vision. A digital artist arranges digital elements to create a specific vision. In a sense, a photographer always has and (in my opinion) always will work with tangible elements in their composition: models, makeup, sets, landscapes, still life, while the digital artist creates images out of intangibles which cannot be replicated outside of a computer.

As to post processing, I don't see the alterations of the images I've captured as any different than work done in a darkroom, merely easier and faster.

Captures I say, it's all about 'captures'!

If we catch those then we are 'good photographers'.

Phooey on this 'making images' we should be capturing stuff.

More seriously I'm in the continuum camp.

Jim Dobbins

Perhaps the pendulum is just nearing its apex and then it will swing in the opposite direction and all middle-aged documentary photographers will sleep better.

I may be naive, but how about just ignoring contests? Photography is an art and not sports. The result of each photographic contest depends largely on the jury. So, why bother? I'm taking pictures to express myself and not to try to score better than others.

Mike, (re Roger's Comments)

Is there a real difference between Printing (what you and I used to do) and computer skills, maybe computer skills have just expanded the tool set.

IMHO there is no difference, drawing a line between the two camps except for the extremes will only generate more work for you --maybe this is a good thing


After More then 15 years of experimenting with what is photography and where to find the boundaries of image making and photography I decided such a research was not worth it. We have been manipulating images from the start and in the end it is the effect the image has on the viewer that counts not how you got there.
I fully understand your point and think it valid. Just cant see any more how we could execute the hierarchy of what counts as "straight" photography vs manipulated Photography.

Photography is a form of art expresion, I think we should rather go the other way and kill the delusion of it having any thing to do with reality.

As a number of commenters have already noted, there has always been lots of post production in photography - except for record and documentary work, where post processing is largely prohibited(with some exceptions). What you are really addressing is another change in technology. The computer replaces the wet darkroom and film, which replaced glass plates which replaced the daguerrotype.... Use of Photoshop et al requires a different set of skills than wet developing and printing. Even here there are degrees of skill, and although the average user can do basic manipulation more easily than before, real mastery of the still and video processing tools is not a simple thing.Along with this is the fact that many photographers do not do their own post production, but have someone working for them do the work.Just as many film photographers had/have others develop and print their images. Nothing new here, even Rembrandt and Durer, and most other artists who did etchings and other reproducible art had someone else do the actual printing. Its the results thatcount.

> Am I a photographer or an image-maker?

Yes, definitely!

Warning! C A (Curmudgeon Alert) Yesterday on my walk the clouds thinned for just a moment and the atmosphere just glowed. The suffused sunlight through the misty air took my breath away. I really wanted to capture that with the camera I always have with me but from previous attempts I knew my effort would be futile, to wit;
B&W loaded.
Negative too small.
Darkroom skill set limited.

At my age now, 62, I am becoming more content just to savor the moment. To imprint one more golden image into the gray stuff(no matter how faulty).

But, if I did use darkroom magic to interpret the negative it is only to convey to the eye an impression of what I saw. I wouldn't strip in a winged unicorn ridden by a naked lady arcing it's way through the sky, that's image making whereas the first is 'photography'.

I also don't worry about power poles or wires. I live in a city. That is part of the view. If I don't like them I'll look for my light in a rural location. Of course, when anyone draws a line there is a whole army with erasers set to demolish it.

I am primarily a documentarist photographer as well. I think most photographers don't really get the value of a straight photo unless they have worked within the fields of documentary or photojournalism, where purism is expected. I am also a graphic designer, and a photoshop expert (and beta tester). Knowing how to expertly post process my images into something else (art?), does not mean that I do it - I have always strived to capture my vision at the moment of shutter release. However, a digital negative (RAW) is ofcourse only the first step in the process. I don't mind using all the tools at my disposal within Camera RAW for instance. Mostly global corrections, but also some spotting work, perhaps a graduated filter to darken the sky. The effects I apply can be grain to simulate film, vignetting to simulate a lens, or cross processing to simulate a darkroom technique. I don't mind using these tools, as the digital image is often very sterile in its perfection, and a photographer is allowed to develop a 'look'. Saying that I only do what can be done in a darkroom is moot, because you can do a whole lot in a darkroom. Saying that I want to capture perfection with only the camera is moot, because I usually set the camera to capture the best data for post processing - where my vision is concluded. I think its a valid discussion you bring up, and I do think there should be differentiated categories in photo competitions depending on whether its a created or captured image - and this goes double for 'street' vs 'studio' - in order to save the craft of, lets call it 'hunting photography', itself.

No the other t-shirt will say "I did it without a camera".

Have to agree with John Robison.
"At my age now, 62, I am becoming more content just to savor the moment. To imprint one more golden image into the gray stuff(no matter how faulty)."

If we are able to recall all those wonderful moments, that is all that matters.
Life and viewing how others interpret is their

"We" have made ours and it is not theirs!

At age of 65 I too am now reveling in the
views I see and haven't recorded; 'cause
that's all that there is!

In my opinion, the key distinction is between good pictures and bad ones. Period. I don't really care how they are classified (maybe because I do not administer or enter contests). The samples you show, to me, are simply boring, more like cute cartoons than like the deeply affecting work that moves me.

Much of this computer-generated imagery is like someone waving an iphone in your face: "look what my device can do!" Many non-computer-generated images, however, are the same: "look what my device (leica) can do!"

If you can move me with a computer image, do it! If you can move me with your RB67 set on 1/2 @ f 22, do it! I don't care what you call it. I will continue to decide whether it's good or bad.

I won the 2006 Peter Grugeon award (you don't enter a competition for this it is by acclaim) at the combined MPA/BIPP Annual Awards for best portfolio of 20 prints.

Was it only 5 years ago. One photo had colour selectively removed the rest were straight prints. No fantasy.

The biggest problem I had as a follow up was trying to a definable type of photographer with a "recognisable" style.

Vincent championed me but I gave up awards. The next year I made a movie.

I continue on with stills.

Movies give me the the opportunity to tell stories from my head. Stills are stories from my eyes.

A photo for a client is successful if they pay you. A photo for you is successful in a totally different way. Success has different measures. Oranges are not apples etc.

Photography and digital image making are both still art. The problem in drawing the line is with post-processing as it is used in both. I'd draw the line at whether things are added or removed. If 100% of the image was present in front of the camera at the time of exposure then it is a photograph, post processing to lighten or darken or correct colour is acceptable. Adding or removing something such as cloning out power lines, combining exposures, etc is not photography. The line also shouldn't be based on digital images, old photo montages or the like produced in the darkroom are photo realistic images, but not true photographs.

I guess I fall into the purist camp - I do prefer to do it with the camera (and yes I can do multiple exposures on a single frame in camera to create some montage type effects, but they aren't a true photograph.

I agree with Roger, I think it's about time we clartify after all these years what is Photography and PhoTARTgraphy. What makes this task so difficult I believe, is that the general public has been mislead by camera and software manufacturers and to be truthful by some photographers that turning an image into something different or something else is creativity, it is not. IMHO it is nothing more than sofware tricks.

I probably have two or three decades on Roger, and I must say I am getting extremely tired of these 'discussions.' Just get on with it!!!

I think a very similar discussion took place in artistic circles after the invention of photographer. It was one of painters vs. photographers........

Post production? What does one call what Ansel Adams did with his prints/negatives. If that isn't 'post-production' I don't know what it is. Did all film photographers develop their own film and print their own negatives? Heck no!

For my part I am finding that technology is changing faster than photographers are discussing it. So, my position on all this is 'just go out there' and do your photo work. Don't worry what somebody else is doing, or what they call it.

What of in-camera images that are otherworldy, and manipulated images that are gritty and realistic?

I can see what Mr. Overall is going for here, but, as with almost any dichotomy, there's a continuum rather than a bright-line division. At what exact level of manipulation does a "photograph" become an "image?" Did Bresson not burn and dodge?

It's a bit amusing that Mr. Overall has decided to call the image-makers Lucasians, since an awful lot of ILM's early effects sequences were mostly or entirely in-camera.

The reasons for looking at pictures fabricated from data files are the same as the reasons for looking at drawings and paintings. And those reasons are very good. The last 800 years of Western Art are a glorious affirmation of the power of taking the "picture in the mind" and outputting it in material form to share with others.

In the past the picture lived in the artist's brain and the output device was the artist's hand and brush. Now the picture lives in a computer brain and the output devices is some sort of printer. The analogy is exact however far as you care to follow it.

Photography, particularly the use of light sensitive surfaces to capture physical samples of subject matter and generate pictures in situ, is a dramatically different thing and the reasons for looking at it are quite different too.

There is no calamity in all of this save that the two paths are muddled by being given the same appelation: "photography" (sic).

I'm also a bit past middle age, and had my aesthetic formed in the 60's and 70's. To me, nothing is as beautiful as a well printed photograph, preferably B&W :) As I exhibit with other artists and photographers, I struggle to understand and appreciate other forms and interpretations ... I really try. And I am getting better.

But I must disagree with those that profess the "continuum" philosophy. Sculpting is still producing a 3-D artwork, painting is still applying globs of color to a 2-D receptor with a "handheld" tool. They have "mixed media" for cross-overs. I see nothing wrong or stodgy about expecting a "photograph" to be a viewpoint captured by an optical recording device onto a photo sensing medium. It can, and always has been, manipulated, but when it's been totally reconstructed out of all realm of reality, on an external device such as a computer, it should enter a new genre'. It can still be art; it can still be valid; it just ain't photography.

The so-called photographers are such a diverse crowd, particularly these days. An artist in the form of photographer that would produce images like the two shown here must be different than a average man with a camera. I am a family snapper, and I know my family is not living in a fairy land.

Wow, those photos won awards. OK.

The first one looks like something you would see on gas tank of a motorcycle and the second one is just bad kitsch. It sort looks like something you would see on a dinner plate.

I'm sure they were difficult to do but they are still kind of tacky. Just because something is difficult doesn't make it interesting.

That said, I have no fundamental objection to image manipulation. I am particularly fond of Silver EFX and Alien Skin.

This essay touches on several different, if related, issues.

For one thing, it's not easy to make good art--whether with a camera, a pencil, a chisel or photoshop. For other than the exceptionally gifted, it takes lots of study, persistence and hard work, and desire, to make good art consistently with any of these tools.

Awards can only be given to works entered.

There is the matter of taste.

Is photography a graphic art or a process?

Are we talking about "photography" the process or "photography" as in the results of the process?

...among other issues.

For the individual artist or crafter or consumer, none of this is of much concern--it's about what one likes or wants or needs--until the institutions and markets that are supposed to support them start drawing lines, or moving existing lines.

IMO (not that anyone should care about MO), photographic associations and competitions, etc., should stick to photography the process, and leave the graphic arts to their counterpart graphic arts institutions, even if such art incorporates the products of photographic processes. Or, said institution should redefine itself as one concerned with graphic arts.

The dividing line is wide and fuzzy.

For me, the approximate middle of that wide fuzzy zone is when you start making changes to the actual content beyond cropping. Adding things which weren't in frame, or taking things out which were.

It's a moot point though as I don't see either one as inherently right or wrong as long as the result is pleasing.

For my own work I prefer to get it as close as I can in camera, but that's more because I spend enough time sat at a computer already and not for any ideological reasons!

If cloning out a telephone line makes the image stronger, I'll do it (since, unlike Ansel Adams, I don't have the necessary clout to have the lines temporarily taken down while I shoot).

Photoshop is just a tool to go from image to vision. A .rw2 file is just a start to me to get to the vision I want to convey. Sometimes the difference between image an vision is the removal of a few daisies or autumn leaves on a lawn. Sometimes I have to remove half the scene in order to get what I want. Recently I have also started adding things when I want to make a vision out of an image. But that does not mean I use photography to create a phantasy world. It should always be a somewhat idealised version of reality. To the naked eye MY retouch should not be visible (and getting acclaim from photographer who claim to "always depict everything in a scene" sort of boosts my moral in that domain:-)).

And were pride is concerned and acclaim is due, I can applaud a picture being photographed the "Bresson" way just as much as a picture be constructed the "Gursky" way. Both are artists first and photographers second.

Greetings, Ed.

The 'purists' manipulate images through lens, lighting, choice of film/sensor, development/RAW processing, printing, color calibration, scanning, ad infinitum. I think the point of art is expression, and the tool is just a mode to achieve this expression.

What is the purist doing when he/she exposes water or clouds to alter their reality? At which Photoshop tool will the line be drawn to distinguish them from the image makers? One must question the motives of those who consider themselves worthy enough to draw such a line. Who are they serving: art or their tools?

True artists don't care - they just feel - they take what they can find and use it as a mode of self-expression.

I am satisfied that "Photography" means it was done in the camera(allowing tonal control in the chemical/digital darkroom); that "Documentary Photography" means it wasn't staged(same allowance for tone control); and that "Illustration" covers all the analog/digital drawings and paintings: the made-up stuff.
As an aside, I really miss the actual painted-by-the-human-hand paintings that used to used for illustrating movie posters and ads-the current Photoshop-looking artwork doesn't have the magic or power.

After about twenty years of playing the bass I learned my most valuable lesson - restraint. Fortunately for me it took less time to learn that same lesson with Photoshop.

I love the work of Joel Grimes. I guess he's an image maker. He does some great photography too, but his image made stuff is incredibly powerful.

Photoshop has driven me nuts for years. The better I get at it the less "real" my photos look. (A light touch in Lightroom might be better for me). Could the final answer be just buy a used M6 and a 50mm lens and some B&W film and start shooting?

To see Grimes work by the way...it's here: http://joelgrimes.com/3/artist.asp?ArtistID=12191&Akey=P7FJP8B4

There have been a couple of well paying competitions in New South Wales that have stated that (paraphrased from memory) "minor digital modification only is permitted" and one panel adds that the judges will assess on your photographic skills, not your Photoshop etc. technique.

From the results of the above competitions I do wonder if this cautious approach--which probably encourages cunning manipulation--may be hard to uphold.

It is like the historic Pictorialist controversy to my mind, just not so attractive in results.

This BTW is the possibly top selling print in volume ever taste ain't in it:


BTW Roger those are not unicorns on the hillside, but sheep, which you would know if you'd lived in New Zealand for a few years :-)

Art I guess is not able whatever real world it copied. It is about what you as a human talk to another human about something related to what he feels. Nothing in van gough painting is real but get you a feeling, a color, a sketch I think even after so many decades pasted it still can touch you a bit. What lens he used, is that sun really shone that day, ... Real world does not count to a large extent.

It is all you.

In particular, if the pictures tell you that it is NOT the real world and that is good point to start.

However, when you are looking for something else e.g. what the real world more "objectively" with less artistic intrepretion, these artistic one are no good. Not that photos are the truth. But sometimes that hit you like the girl run naked in Vietnam, the girls' eye in one magazine, ... etc. It is less about you but about the world at large from a less you perspective.

Someone like Ansel Adam can mix both well. That is rare. Hence, I do not mind those strange personal expression type. It is sometimes better than those pretend to be real but actually is not type.

Andrew Molitor, you are so on the spot. There is no unmanipulated photography. Selecting a place to stand, a subject to focus on, an angle to view, a focal length to use, a shutter speed, aperture, ISO are all ways to manipulate the subject. As are anti-alias filters, Bayers and demosaicing, selecting what tone curve to apply, etc etc etc.

To paraphrase Scott McNealy, "There is no unmanipulated photography. Get over it."

My Favorite Old-time Photographer[TM]: Scott Mutter. Can't accuse *him* of not manipulating.

Ah, the never ending chore of defining one’s terms. Never pretty, always essential. Where does ‘photography’ stop and ‘image-making’ begin?

Certainly they overlap. All photographs are post-processed to some extent. I rarely print without adjusting tonality to suit my artistic purposes. And of course there’s room for highly manipulated images and photo-based art in the big tent called Photography. But this kind of photography has much more in common with drawing and painting than it does with all other forms of photography. So much so, that labeling it ‘photography’ without qualifiers risks making the term meaningless.

Photography is interesting precisely because its nature is opposed to drawing and painting. Photographs are made by people using cameras (Man Ray’s photograms notwithstanding). This is what’s cool about photography. Not because cameras are cool gadets (and are they ever!) but because of how they enable image-making uniquely different from other image-making tools: charcol, pen and ink, brush and paint, mouse and pixel.

The camera changed our perception of the world by effectively freezing time, revealing detail of the world that had previously escaped the un-aided eye. The modern camera (from Brownie to 1Dx) enables thoughtful artist, experienced artisan, and bothersome uncle on vacation to make images with equal ease. Until the relatively recent emergence of software tools, cameras made images that had a relationship with reality that possessed a directness unique among pictorial media.

It’s these revolutionary, democratic and documentary qualities of the camera that make photography such a powerful, modern, unique art. And it’s these qualities that people think of when they hear the word photography. I’m not saying all photos are documentary in nature, or that photojournalism or street photography are better than other genres of photography. I’m just saying that for the last 170 years or so people have understood photography in terms of these qualities.

Times change of course. Computers are almost as cool as cameras. I don’t miss the smell of fix on my fingers. I love dodging and burning in Lightroom; it’s so much easier than trying to keep tiny bits of cardboard taped to the ends of little bits of wire – and trying to fish those dodging tools out from under the enlarger base where they’d inevitably make their home! Digital manipulation of images captured by cameras is a boon to photography... except when such manipulation (e.g. montage) undermines the act of making an exposure that is central to photography’s nature. That’s when an image ceases to be a photograph and becomes photo-art. Perhaps making photo-art will become more popular than making photographs. That's cool, but please don’t call it photography.

We should definitely make a sharp distinction between photography and image art - for the sake of the image artists, not the photographers.

If you call image makers "photographers", you're forcing them to use a camera image as part of the source material in every single image they produce. If you call them photographers they'll not be free to use only drawn illustrations or computer renderings as source. Without that artificial limitation they'll be free to use the full range of techniques to perfect their images without having to genuflect before one particular technical idol.

We don't use "photographer" for people making collages after all, and consequently they are free to use any sources for their work, including real objects and even living matter rather than just 2-d depictions.

Let the image artists roam where they will; let them go free!

I'm amused by the obsession many have of having to create categories for everything, and deciding who or what goes into each pigeon hole. It's usually the elitists in each camp that keep these debates going. And because I sometimes enjoy the entertainment value (i.e. humor) of the debate, I hope they never stop!

Just another Irishman picking a fight out back of pub. Key phrase: "we could do with a fight (Paddy)".

T shirt: "I did it on camera".

I have written a response to this article.

An unsophisticated, and uneducated, view:

It appears it is more a matter of what photography is doing to art rather than what art is doing to photography.

A camera, in my view, is a time machine. And photographs are time standing still. A photographer is one who encounters reality and, with some measure of skill, captures it for all time. If "Art" comes into the photograph at all, it is in the photographers capacity to use available light and the medium upon which that light is recorded to present that reality to greatest affect.

Ctein is a brilliant photographer and he renders superb photographs of the subjects he encounters. Feng and Rodriguez may be brilliant photographers but the sample illustrations are something other than great photographs.

I can't help but think of books; you have literature and you have the fiction novel, they are both books; one inspires you to contemplate humanity, the other is entertainment.

"The time has come for each of us to ask ourselves: am I a photographer or an image-maker?"


It's all just ink on a page. A better question to me is: "Do the photo/images I'm making look good? Do they say something? How can I improve them?"

To me it is the same as the difference between abstract and representational art. There is room for both. On the other hand, I lean strongly toward photography.

Hi Roger,

I suspect this genie was let out of the bottle the first time someone forgot to take a plate out of his view camera and double exposed it. Whether it is a photograph of fairies in the ‘20s or a political photo with characters airbrushed out, manipulation has always occurred.

90% of my photography is natural world so I generally do “as-is” photography, my mind doesn’t work in a creative way, even though I own as many books by people like Tim White, Patrick Woodruffe and Roger Dean, as I do by Stephen Dalton, Don McCullen, etc. My g/f can photograph a subway entrance and turn it into a Faberge ball - that’s how her mind works.

I don’t see that big a difference between photoshopping zippers on an image and getting a body-painting artist to paint the model prior to pressing the shutter; ditto 10s of assistants (shepherds, makeup artists, costumers) taking sheep and a model up a mountain (when the sky conditions are right) vs. montaging them from separate photos.

What bugs me is when something like a landscape photo is not stated as manipulated but I go there myself and see everything that’s been cloned in/out of the image.

Following recent furores in wildlife photography competitions a lot now want to see the raw file, but even that doesn’t show if a bug was kept in a fridge to slow it down and then photographed on a set! So there are competitions that rely on straight photography, you just have to be selective (the Nikon microphotography awards 2011 wowed me). The younger generation will become judges and they won’t have our hang-ups.

If photography is your business I think you have to decide whether you can find a niche as a photographer or whether your business is selling images The same thing happened with portrait painting, those who thought of themselves as providers of portraits went to photography and survived, those who thought of themselves as painters went out of business (apart from a few who did portraits of the rich and famous),

(I discovered today that Led Zeppelin’s album cover “Physical Graffiti” has an entire floor missing compared to the actual building, to fit the square format album cover - and that was pre-computer imagery, so, fake or artistic licence?)

Now I’m older I appreciate Impressionism which I never used to. The art world has always had this argument; Realism/Impressionism, Mediaeval/Perspective, etc (and don’t get me started on Damien Hirst or Tracey Emin!).

best wishes phil

I think the problem with this kind of photography is the same as with any other kind of art. Most of it is not very good art, despite good technique, rendering etc. It's easy to get caught up in the "gee whiz" of the look, because getting that look is complicated and difficult. It displays technical mastery, but is it really creative mastery?

I have a huge problem with these types of discussions, or theories, because they rely so much on the distinction of "in camera" vs. "post processing" … as a foundation for a need to redefine the medium, or a need to reclassify photographers today. Why must there be a defining line that somehow distinguishes between sacred and profane … tasteful and offensive … legitimate and fake …. and so on? Is photography really defined by these variables … or even worse, by the characteristics of certain types of photographers?

In-camera vs. post processing … take out the "vs.". They are two parts of a whole, and it has been this way since the dawn of photography … and one cannot be separated from the other (there are probably some exceptions of course). The technologies and capabilities of the methods evolve and change over time … so the two parts are being misused in this fight for respect and legitimacy. This fascinates me. And I don't get the point of it all. After all, there are only degrees of freedom or restraint in how the two methods are carried out. They are both still fundamentally based upon the basic principles of photography - the reproduction of light. You can find historical roots for even the most ludicrous of digital photography processes in historical photographs and photographers. It's really this simple … boundaries are being pushed beyond comfort levels of those who know a certain way of photography. There is too much discussion on what's "right" or "legitimate", instead of a discovery on who's doing making it work … regardless of what happens beyond the camera.

Photographer? Absolutely, all of them … you …. me … us. Image maker? Seems a bit arrogant to me to want to re-classify someone who gets from point A to point B a little bit differently. As if the "in camera" dude owns the high ground. Read up on some of the fathers of photography. Even the "in camera" icons pushed beyond, and even stepped outside their own boundaries (even distastefully so at times), to achieve a certain result at times. Modern technology is more capable of fully unleashing the power of human imagination and creativity. Doesn't mean it's not photography. Doesn't mean we need to redefine the medium or place those who differ in "alternate" categories. If you do, you have to go way back in time and start from the beginning. Good luck.

Oh, oh, I want something shiny!

Digital imaging is no more "photography", than cinema is photography. Digital imaging and cinema developed out of photography. Digital imaging and cinema are their own genres today.

This is true with digital imaging for more reasons than just the post production.

The over produced images often have a common garishness. Like comparing fast food with fine cuisine. These images usually don't hold value in fine art galleries and auctions. I doubt they will hold up over time, but instead will be an ugly car from the 1970's. (Bride and groom in a wine glass anyone?)

What do these images communicate?

OTOH - While over manipulated images may be one vernacular today, it seems you can't swing a dead cat in the Ghobi Desert without hitting a few "documentary photographers". This is a very common vernacular today too. So much so that if we made a book or website with a couple images each of a few hundred of the better documentary photographers, most people would find little to no distinction in style. Possibly subject matter may identify some documentary photographers, but the appears of most by and large has become common without signature.

This is about categories, right, and we're always futzing with categories. It makes sense; tools change, pictures get created using new techniques, new kinds of pictures get created. We want to know where we stand. And categories allow us to sort, to make sense, to make meaning. So in a sense, I think when we talk about categories, anywhere, not just art, we're talking about meaning: how we make it (sometimes literally), what the relationships are.

In a way, nothing really changes, there's just a shuffling. I mean, we notice that about 50% of all pictures fit neatly into the old categories, another 20% fit uneasily, and a whopping 30% don't fit well at all and are pushing their way in, somewhere. So we change the categories. Feels more comfortable, to some. And if we look again, we notice that now 50% of all pictures fit nicely into the new categories (but a different 50%), 20% fit uneasily, and 30% don't fit well at all. Or will soon be the case, as new tools and techniques show up.

In another way, something does change. Categories allow us (force us, really) to say who's in (this category) and who's out. Sometimes this is a good thing: we don't want the MPA giving their top award to a Calderesque kinetic sculpture, or a sonnet, or a particularly well written business plan. We don't want to compete with those, they aren't photography. So we draw the lines (of our categories), and arguing over where we draw the lines can be important, very important. Not just in art, of course.

I have no interest in the matter of whether on not it is valid to manipulate photographs. Of course it's valid, unless (as others have said) you are within the documentary tradition, where it's not valid. Otherwise, the field is wide open.

What does bother me is the issue of these "photo illustrations" usually being cheesy, ham-fisted attempts at being "lyrical." I see most of them as not so different from paintings on black velvet or airbrush art on motorcycle gas tanks and Chevy vans. In other words, it's not a question of technique, it's a matter of aesthetic value.

(I mean really. That picture with the bighorn sheep? Please.)

Jesse Speer -- nicely thought, nicely put.

I do think many people use "post-processing" as short-hand for "not realistic" most of the time -- if you showed them Scott's example of a 70s bride-and-groom in a wine glass, made with masks and multiple exposures in a film camera, they'd classify it with the things they now decry as "post-processed".

However, since I think it's important to encourage post-processing (but primarily the parts within the tradition, though not always the capabilities, of fine printing in the darkroom), I can't really disagree with anything you said.

I don't subscribe to the idea that because all images are manipulated to some degree, there is no distinction between photography and photoillustration. That's like saying we're all whores, making no distinction between the person who is tempted but stays faithful to their spouse, the person who strays once or twice, and the person who makes Don Juan or Catherine the Great look like an amateur.

I think the line can be drawn, fuzzily, at the point where one combines disparate images or removes so much that the essence of the original scene is lost. Intent is important, too. Are you trying to select and amplify the essence of what the camera took or your eye saw? Or are you using it as a mere element in a much larger whole that's all in your imagination?

To me, cloning out telephone wires is clearly still photography. Adding a naked lady on a unicorn is clearly illustration. A lot of HDR crosses the line into illustration. I'd argue that it's photography if you take two exposures of a night scene and clone in the correctly exposed moon over the overexposed one in the exposure that's correct for the rest of the scene. Making the moon huge or cloning in a different moon from another day is illustration.

Our discomfort may lie in the gray areas, where a photograph looks like reality but was actually manipulated. Or that digital "painters" are now intruding on photography, just as the camera intruded on painting and drawing 150 years ago.

Obviously, journalism will draw the line more strictly than art photography, and we can always argue about specifics in the latter. I do think that lumping heavily manipulated images together with relatively "straight" photography in competitions does both art forms a disservice, as the apple must now compete with that naked lady on the unicorn (holding an orange).

Great post. While I fall in the camp that doesn't have a problem with a photograph that is manipulated to express the photographer's expression of the emotion he felt, the examples you provide have nothing to do with reality. I agree with one comment that said its a continuum, not two camps. The problem also lies with where along the continuum does it pass from photography to something else.

Does anyone really believe that 5, 10, 30 or more years from now any of the "winners" of these competitions will be considered exemplars of photography or anything else for that matter? It's more a comment on the judges of these competitions than anything else.

J. D.

I think Roger Overall has summed it all up quite well with his clever description of Bressonites vs Lucasonians. HCB is attributed with the description of a photograph as "the decisive moment" and after many years of trying to figure out what "straight photography" is versus photo "art" or photo "illustration", I think HCB's concept of the decisive moment really does cut to the chase. Bresson's description implies the recording of a naturally occurring scene with a single contiguous, uninterrupted exposure. The exposure may be long or short, but it is not multiple exposures nor is it multiply combined image elements. Multiple exposures, composite images, adding and/or subtracting scene elements all land in another category I believe is reasonably described as "photo illustration". To wit, a contact print of Philippe Halsman's camera original negative of Salvador Dali (i.e entitled "Dali Atomicus"), complete with wires suspending easels and human hands holding chairs in the air is a true photograph, whereas the final work appearing in Life magazine with hands and wires eliminated by both cropping and retouching is a true photo illustration (and arguably more brilliant as a work of art in that final form than the purposefully made in-camera exposed photographic negative without question).

As for camera depth of field and cropping subsequently "distorting" the photographic record, the human eye is claimed to have a focal length or 22.3 mm. If perspective control and depth of field was a prerequisite for "true photography" we would all have to be working with film or electronic sensors positioned behind a 22 mm lens. If selective cropping was disallowed, we'd all have to be printing elliptical images because the human visual system doesn't render rectangles or squares.

As for color and tonal accuracy and the common procedures of dodging, burning, lightness, contrast, hue, and saturation adjustments being tools of one's "post production" techniques that chip away at the veracity of a "straight photograph", all I can say is: If color and/or tonal accuracy were a prerequisite for "true photography" then all black and white images, the only kind of images that existed at the dawn of photography, would lay waste to the notion of a true photograph because humans (even color blind humans) don't see in monochromatic tints of "black and white". But there is, IMHO, a limiting boundary which guided me to the development of a new color and tonal accuracy metric I call the I* metric. Black and white images reduce the original scene colors to near zero color accuracy (note that neutral colored objects in the scene are still rendered with relatively good color accuracy) by forcing the colors to zero or very low chroma values. But classic B&W processes don't enter "false color" territory where, for example, blue is replaced by red, green, etc. Hence, we can set a rational limit for "straight photography" to zero or better color accuracy in image reproduction, but false color reproduction may very well be defined as a departure from straight photography and an entry into the realm of photo illustration.

Thus for me, "real" photography versus photo illustration does indeed get stripped down to the essential point of Bresson's decisive moment... a single, contiguous (ie. not interrupted or combined multiples) exposure of a natural scene, no matter how long or short the required exposure. I have no qualms about the artistic merits of straight photography versus photo illustration. I enjoy both endeavors, and we should all concede that there is both good and bad art produced when following either pathway.

Aloha from the Maui Studio folks.
First Vincent is in a class by himself
If you look at the comments everyone has a opinion so what's new.
When Photography was invented and announced to the public the cry from the Art Community was now Painting is Dead. If its a great image i do not care how you did it. It starts with a vision between the ears how you achieve it is the translation the final print is the resurrection, Its a all a circle but I default to the classics. My hero will always be Kertez it was through his eyes i learned to see.
Please no more sheep

It's really quite simple, once you add a second image or clone anything you're now in the world of illustration. (.)

While any adaptation from the original image (as if one ever existed, WB (film type for those old folks), F stop, focus point, shutter speed, ISO, etc. all change a image in such significant ways that differ from what we see that there really is not a pure photograph of anything.

The silly debate of taken (in camera - ever changing) verses made is probably best left to is it made from a single image, no local adaptations, just global adjustments.



I don't have any problem whatsoever with computer manipulated photographs, I just don't personally wish to look at them.

Photography is a medium. There is fiction. There is non-fiction....

Yes, Chris, there's Dali Atomicus or Dovima with Elephants on one side, and there's Vulture and Child or Burning Monk on the other.

What I don't understand is why so many people chose to understand the second image as only "manipulated". OK, fine, the first image was manipulated. You like it or don't, think it's acceptable or not, however you wish.

But the second image is clearly not a photograph. It's an illustration and I have no idea what it was doing in a photography contest.

Take a look at the illustrations of Chris Waind at Strobist. He starts with photos and builds something else. (Marvelous illustrations, by the way.) Just like I did with the image down in the comments of the post on Photoshop here at TOP. It's an illustration for all that it started as a photo of a camera. And neither his nor mine are photographs.

In my personal photography, I'm firmly in the "Bressonite" camp. However, this impressive demo video, to be presented in SIGGRAPH Asia this Dec, is of professional interest to me (I'm a computer graphics researcher). I believe it might, er, spice up the discussion a bit.


There are, of course, as many opinions as there are people.

Allow me two further points in reply to the comments here.

Firstly, many have commented that there is little merit in making distinctions or categorizing, certainly not if they are two points on a continuum. While that's very zen, it doesn't get us anywhere. It stifles debate. Not least because we spend our days choosing between categories and points on a continuum. Without the two extremes on a continuum, it's hard to have fruitful discussions.

Secondly, while not an Irishman myself, I do object strongly to Arg's comment: 'Just another Irishman picking a fight out back of pub. Key phrase: "we could do with a fight (Paddy)".'

"the guardians of the tradition of producing an image in-camera"

That's no longer a useful distinction. Computing power has now increased such that "in-camera" processing on a camera such as the Apple iPhone 4S includes access to a very full suite of Photoshop effects (some are easier to access than others, but more barriers come down every day).

Robert Harshman -- your "no local adaptations" rule rules out dodging and burning, which were staples of darkroom printing, and totally acceptable even in news photos. That seems too strong a requirement, to my mind. Anything that rules out of "photography" most of the classic photos of the past, has gone too far!

That's a good point Erlik. I'm sure many critics question whether certain kinds of writing can be defined as literature.
I use a broad, inclusive definition for photography, because of it's broad, varied, expanding and ever changing use across cultures and professions. I'll then let sub genres do the heavy lifting; pinning things down if necessary. In some contexts it may be necessary to define the second image as a photo illustration, because photographs (apparently) were rendered in the art object.

There have always been photographers working outside the box. If you are nestled deep in the box you can't see them, but they've been around since the beginning.



I think that this is a very interesting article and discussion and I also have difficulties understanding why the illustrations shown in the post qualify as photographs. I have been thinking about this for a while and tried to define for myself what I think a photograph is. Here is a short version of my answer:

In my opinion, each photograph has content and qualities. The content is the actual subject that was photographed; a tree, a person, an animal a cloud or a complex landscape for example. For me, this is the YES or NO in photography; the bird that you wanted to photograph was either there or not (even Schrödinger's cat was either dead or alive and not both at the same time, despite quantum mechanics). As a viewer, I expect that the entire content of a photograph existed at the location and the moment where and when the shutter was released.

In contrast to content, the qualities of a photograph are subjective, vary on a continuous scale and reflect the vision of the photographer. The qualities are those characteristics that everybody sees differently and comprise the color, contrast, sharpness, exposure or saturation, to name a few. Every photographer, lens or accessory displays a subject slightly differently or emphasizes another aspect of the same subject. But there was a subject (which became the content) in the real world, outside of the photographers imagination, as the source of all of these aspects. Just because the grass is greener or the sky is bluer for some people does not mean that the grass and sky do not exist or are something else. And even if a glass is half empty for some and half full for others, there is still a glass with something in it.

I think that this leads to a rather simple definition for what a photograph is: For me, an image qualifies as a photograph if only the qualities were adjusted while the content has been left untouched after it was captured by the camera.

This answer to the question "What is a photograph?" is part of a slightly longer text that you can find here:

Photographs are light measurements rendered visible.

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