When is a photograph not a photograph

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by Mike Warren, Aug 17, 2005.

  1. Mike Warren

    Mike Warren Guest

    At what point does graphic manipulation convert a photograph
    into graphic creation?

    We start by perhaps burning in the sky and changing the white

    Intermediate stages would be things like adding a colour cast
    or removing faint telephone lines.

    What about removing a background digitally to achieve the same
    result that could have been done by placing a piece of black card
    behind a macro shot?

    Adding a better sky is now easy and seems to be fairly common.

    I'm curious about what people think about this.

    PS. I'm talking about art photography not photojournalism.
    Mike Warren, Aug 17, 2005
    1. Advertisements

  2. Mike Warren

    Celcius Guest

    Hi Mike!

    To me, everything revolves around "one's conception" of photography. In a
    world where manipulation of a photo has become common place, the
    photographer has the leeway to express him(her)self through the taking of
    the photo and subsequent "arrangement".

    While some painters would painfully "recreate" a certain scene, others would
    seek more freedom and express themselves in other ways. This opened up the
    way to many schools of painting. This is referred to as art (rubbish to

    In the same way, photographers are free to express themselves if they so
    wish, using different lenses, filters and post photography manipulation.
    This is not the same as modifying the photo to "trick the observer" or in
    short, a photo that "lies". Sometimes, a particular scenery has "burned
    itself into my mind". It is possible then to try recreate a particular mood,
    say one of peace and tranquility. Arranging the photo to give the observer
    this same feeling is indeed art, at least to my mind. This is NOT "trick

    However, although Photoshop and the likes of it are in many people's houses,
    although simple to operate, they do not confer good taste to every user. All
    we need to remember is the advent of desktop publishing and the atrocious
    flyers that people produced, with too many fonts, bolds and underlined, not
    forgetting thick lines around text, etc.

    PS This should be an interesting an vigorous thread.
    Celcius, Aug 17, 2005
    1. Advertisements

  3. Mike Warren

    Mr. Mark Guest

    It was even more common when back in the days B&W film strongly favored blue
    As soon as you press the shutter button. :)

    IOW, IMO it's all the same.
    Mr. Mark, Aug 17, 2005
  4. Mike Warren

    Mike Warren Guest

    I mean changing the sky completely. Darkening it by using
    orange or red filters on B&W is less severe since just having
    the picture in B&W is already changing it.
    Changing tone and contrast etc are mild forms of manipulation
    which I don't have a problem with but adding a rock from one
    picture into another is going too far.

    I just can't decide where to draw the line.

    Removing power lines and other man made objects from a
    landscape to me is just as fake but the picture is destroyed by
    leaving them in.

    Mike Warren, Aug 17, 2005
  5. Mike Warren

    Mike Warren Guest

    When I see an amazing landscape I don't initially notice the car parked
    in the middle of it but if I were to look at a photo of the same scene the
    car would jump out at me.
    That's the problem. With Photoshop anything can be done. I took
    a photograph of my niece and her husband a few years ago when
    they got married on a tropical island and placed them in a snow
    scene as a joke. It looked real but should it be presented to a
    viewer without explanation?

    Mike Warren, Aug 17, 2005
  6. Mike Warren

    kz8rt3 Guest

    I think this is one example that would make it digital art.

    If there were telephone lines there, the picture should not have been
    taken in the first place.

    Although you might be able to uses inks on the film print to remove the
    lines it is quite laborious and I would just not bother with it.

    Maybe it's the fact that in digital you are able to make every shot a
    keeper makes it digital.
    kz8rt3, Aug 17, 2005
  7. Mike Warren

    Don Stauffer Guest

    This question has a long history. It is not unique to digital
    photography. An accomplished darkroom person can do a LOT to a film
    negative or transparency.

    In fact, one of the earliest questions was, "is it art?" That is,
    painters felt there was no such thing as an art photograph. If it wasn't
    done entirely by hand, it wasn't art. Thank goodness we have come a
    long way from that.

    However, I think the question is of philosophical interest only, and is
    not really an important question for art photography. For
    photojournalism, though, it is indeed an important question.
    Don Stauffer, Aug 17, 2005
  8. Mike Warren

    Proteus Guest


    An art teacher at my college once told me that even photographs are a form
    of abstract art-- less so than a painting perhaps, but still abstract. Even
    when you take a picture of someone, it is not real; tones, shades, lens
    distortion of object size, loss of color if b/w, and so on make all
    photographs a form of abstraction of the real world. So there is no "point"
    at which manipulation of photo changes it into a graphic creation, the
    original photo already is a graphic creation.
    Proteus, Aug 17, 2005
  9. Mike Warren

    Mark² Guest

    The real question is one of purpose.
    If the purpose is to represent a captured piece of reality, or "moment in
    time," then the manual exclusion or introduction of any subject/object
    element would negate the legitimacy of that true moment of reality. White
    balance and other minor adjustments are not relevant to that question so
    long as the goal is to render the most humanly-perceived rendition of the

    In this most strict sense, this "rule" would be limited primarily to
    documentary photography.

    Any area other than documentary is entirely debatable, and will never be
    settled in mutual agreement.
    This is why one must understand one's own intent as a happy-snapping
    photog...AND...one's audience/client/end-use as a pro or PJ.

    The rest of the palaver is all moonshine because it's entirely dependant
    upon who is asking and who is answering the question. Opinions will forever
    remain all over the board, and will continually ebb and flow with the times.

    Mark², Aug 17, 2005
  10. Mike Warren

    wilt Guest

    At what point does graphic manipulation convert a photograph
    My definition (whether film or digital) accentuating or minimizing what
    is in the original photo (dodging, burning, toning) is a after-photo
    'alteration', and filters on lenses are a before-photo 'alteration'.
    Using Photoshop to lighten, darken, increase contrast, or remove redeye
    is 'alteration', and even to posterize or solarize the photo is

    In comparison, deleting or adding something to the scene which was not
    present in the scene at the time the photo was taken is 'graphic
    creation'. Period. When I use the 'clouds' feature of Photoshop to
    fill the sky on my photograph of a castle in Ireland, that is 'graphic
    creation', or putting an Eskimo into the Sahara Desert (without flying
    him there) is 'graphic creation'.

    wilt, Aug 17, 2005
  11. Mike Warren

    Stuart Noble Guest

    I wonder about some of the images people have been sent to prison for
    here in UK. Seems to me that pixels arranged in a certain way on a
    computer screen cannot logically constitute a criminal offence,
    particularly if no one can identify the participants. How is it
    different to a picture I might paint and, if it was in the style of
    Picasso, who could say what the underlying sentiments were?
    I'm all in favour of the police clamping down on this stuff but I wonder
    if the basic concept has been seriously challenged in the courts.
    Stuart Noble, Aug 17, 2005
  12. Mike Warren

    Mr. Mark Guest

    Mike Warren wrote..
    So do I. In the early days they needed rather long exposures and the sky
    would often go white. So it was supposedly common practice to have stock
    photos of properly exposed sky laying around to use as backgrounds for shots
    that would otherwise have white (aka zone 10) skies.
    heh heh.. you said "manipulation" heh heh..

    I disagree (but this is purely personal opinion). I think the photographer
    has absolute artistic license. For me what ever the photographer does to
    evoke the desired response from the viewer is fine. Personally I don't do
    much PS work at all: crop; contrast; dodge; burn; color boost at times -
    that's it. But others I know do much more and in a way that adds to their
    artistic expression rather than detracts.

    I think it's less important to classify art forms than it is to express one
    self through what ever medium works.
    In the end you have to do what makes you feel comfortable. Just call it
    "art" instead of photography or graphic design. Then all things are
    possible. :)
    Sometimes it is possible to take the photo without the power lines included.
    If you are going to go the purist route, and there's nothing wrong with that
    IMO, then you want to accomplish as much of the work at shutter time as
    possible. I suck so bad at photography that I don't usually notice power
    lines until the photo is framed and hanging on the wall. :)
    Mr. Mark, Aug 17, 2005
  13. Mike Warren

    Mr. Mark Guest

    Depends on your intentions. If you are trying to trick millions of
    Americans into believing there are WMD in a small country in the Middle East
    it might be a bit unethical to present the photo without explanation. If
    you are trying to make a social commentary through satire, then no problem.
    Probably everyone has somewhat different standards of ethics, but as long as
    you're not hurting anyone it's ok in my book.

    Keep in mind that ALL photos are lies. The world is color, yet many of us
    shoot in B&W. The world is 3D, but we render it as 2 dimensional. We shoot
    from strange angles to create fresh perspective. We put makeup on before
    portrait shoots and use artificial lighting. And so on and so on...

    In a very real sense, the very act of taking a photo is the act of telling a

    Ansel Adams referred taking a photo as as creating the desired "departure
    from reality".

    So there you go. :)
    Mr. Mark, Aug 17, 2005
  14. Mike Warren

    Proteus Guest

    I totally agree. Completely a matter of degrees, how much a photo is
    distorted for the sake of art, from the original portraying the subject as
    closely as possible regarding shape, features, etc to distortions of object
    edges, colors, introducing new objects or removing objects from a photo,
    etc. Even the mere fact that a photo crops out subjects is a form of
    distortion-- the human head/eye can pan and scan a scene and take in more
    info than the limited cropped subjects of a photo that tell a story.
    Proteus, Aug 17, 2005
  15. Mike Warren

    Annika1980 Guest

    Depends on your intentions. If you are trying to trick millions of
    Ah, who needs photos?
    What are ya, some sort of liberal leftist wacko?
    Very well said.
    Guess that makes me a good liar.
    Annika1980, Aug 17, 2005
  16. Mike Warren

    Mr. Mark Guest

    Certainly cloning wasn't invented by Adobe. ;)

    In practice I tend to strive toward this same purist view of photography,
    but in theory I think the very act of creating a 2D image and pushing it
    through a wire to a printer is as un-true editing out the powerlines. My
    standard argument goes something like this: The photo of the place isn't the
    place and you can't actually experience the place through the photo. So it
    doesn't make any difference what you do to the photo after the fact - there
    is no way you can actually make the photo any less real because it is
    already un-true, fake, a sham. I think it was Plato who was anti-art for
    this very reason - art removes people from reality and it is 2 degrees of
    separation from the realm of ideals. Plato was an ass, but his point isn't
    totally lost on me.
    If that were true there wouldn't be so many really shitty snapshots all over
    the web. ;)

    Even though digital manipulation saves time and makes photo editing more
    accessible to the masses, it doesn't replace a good eye or technical and
    aesthetic ability.
    Mr. Mark, Aug 17, 2005
  17. Mike Warren

    Mr. Mark Guest

    However, I think the question is of philosophical interest only, and is
    Excellent point. Digital manipulation of aerial photos aimed at defrauding
    a city development board, for example, is not the same as creating a really
    cool Absolute Vodka advert. :)
    Mr. Mark, Aug 17, 2005
  18. Mike Warren

    Mr. Mark Guest

    Perfectly put IMO.
    Mr. Mark, Aug 17, 2005
  19. Mike Warren

    Brian Baird Guest

    When it is ajar?


    OH, wait...
    Brian Baird, Aug 17, 2005
  20. Mike Warren

    will e Guest

    will e, Aug 17, 2005
    1. Advertisements

Ask a Question

Want to reply to this thread or ask your own question?

You'll need to choose a username for the site, which only take a couple of moments (here). After that, you can post your question and our members will help you out.