Photography Or Digital Art ?

Post processing, digital dark rooms are the new terms I am having trouble in getting used to, well I know what they are but to what extend one can go is where I am having trouble with. I am very much a product of digital photography. The only analog camera I used was way back childhood days. That time I was not very keen on photography and camera was just a small device we carry around to take family pictures.

When I started getting really interested in Photography few years back, I bought a Digital SLR and have been addicted to photography ever since. My passion is in taking the image just with the camera and do as little as possible with image editing software. The pleasure I get is when I see a subject, look at it, analyze, visualize, point the camera to the subject, see if I am getting the image which I have in mind and then I get to hear the beautiful sound of creation. CLICK. The sound I am getting addicted day by day.

Ideally I would like to move on to my next subject but if the lighting conditions are harsh or my subject is a fast moving object, I take a quick look to the image preview and see again if I am getting what I have in my mind. My main pleasure about photography has been seeing things in my mind and creating (capturing) it with my camera. I also feel that certain scenes need to be in B&W so I do convert them down to B&W when I do my ‘post process’.

Now there seems to be a debate on how much post process is too much? Where do we stop modifying your digital photo image? When does a digital image stop being a photograph and be a digital art.

We have seen many musicians becoming photographers and wise versa, so I decided to use the music as an analogy.

Lets us say, we are recoding a beautiful concert in a studio. Now days, everything gets recorded in digital. In older days when we used to record them in LP, things were different. Once they get recorded in Digital, the sound master listen, makes minor changes in it digitally, and the final artwork comes out. This final musical piece doesn’t get deviated from the original work, all notes are same, the timing, pitches are same, but these minor adjustments the sound master did was just to enhance the musical experience but removing little unwanted elements.

Let’s take the example of some of the new generation music available right now which were not available before the invention of digital music. These are known as techno music, music mixes, digital music, club mix etc. These have not much resemblance to the original compositions from where you got the original music or some times creates completely new music without the help of any musical instrument.

Let’s come back to our world of Photography. You get up early in the morning, travel few kilometers to reach the lake from where you want to capture the sunrise. Wait for some time for the sun to come up, take your shot. You come back, download the images, open in an editing software, do cropping, boost the image a little, adjust the contrast etc. and produce your final image. You do have a beautiful photograph.

But now if you look at the image and feel few more trees would make a better composition, you go to some other image cut and paste the trees in your picture, add few people, few animals in the picture, birds flying etc.. Produce your final image. Can we still call this as a photograph? This could very well be a digital art, but photograph? This is the same for adding extra light, filter effects (lens flare, heavy HDR, B&W image with just color persons etc) in your post processing.

Ever since the invention of photography, art lovers and common men likes photography for one thing, which is, photography tells the truth. If you have a street photography with a crowd of people looking at something, the viewers’ looks at it and wonder, what are they looking at? A spectacular portrait of a person with all the emotions makes the onlooker wonder and make him fascinate to understand and interpret the emotion on that face. But when that truth factor disappears, have you ever wondered what your audience will think? Where is your responsibility as an artist?

If you ask some of the emerging good amateur photographers about histogram or what language each aperture give in photography, the answer from them will be quite disappointing. But if you ask them about layers and curves in Photoshop their eyes will pop up and can say a lot. I also assure you more and more books on Photoshop are sold more than about Photography. Also workshops on Photoshop attract more people than workshops on Photography.

Please note that I am not against Photoshop and believe me it is a great tool for photographers if only you know how to use it and where to use it. You still have to learn the tricks of ‘vision’ and techniques of photography if you really want to excel in photography though. But I am against people spending more of their time and effort on learning software tools than photography.

I do have few friends, good photographers, all eager to learn edition software and I ask them, why do you need to learn them? You already take wonderful picture! The answer they give is, “Well, all the popular (commercial) photographers use it.” If you look at the commercial photographic industry, there is a certain purpose in these shots, which is driven by the client who hires you. So the photographer is confined to deliver the images for specific use, and to such that image manipulation is needed. If you look at one of these images and feel the image got selected because of Photoshop, then my answer is NO, The image gets selected because of the photographic quality, which normally narrows down to, composition, light and story telling. For this you should be out when ever you can with your camera and take photographs. The more you take, more refined your vision will become. This I tell you my dear Photoshop fans, will not come out of editing software.

Finally, I have another argument to support less image manupulation. Japanese word for “photograph” is “shashin”. It is made up of two ideograms, “sha” meaning “to reproduce” or “reflect” and “shin” which means truth.” Also the Greek etymology of the word “photograph” is to write (graphein) with light (photos). Therefore, in the Japanese mind, the process itself consists in capturing the truth, or the essence of the matter and “making a copy” of it on a surface. Consequently, the result will always contain a certain element of truth. Fundamentally everyone used to ‘believe’ in photography rather than a painting because they feel photography tells or records truth than a painter. By doing heavy alteration in your photographic image you are destroying that belief in our own audiences and making them disappoint in us.

Now I leave that decision with all you fellow photographers out there, whether you want to be a photographer of a digital graphic artist.