Is A Photo Art?

I’ve started playing around with my photos from Albuquerque. Not every shot is perfect. Sometimes I wasn’t at the top of my game. Other times, it was Mother Nature who was the slacker.

Later today, when I invite Helaine to choose the ones we’ll save&#185, she’ll take a look and get upset. To her, a photo should be what comes out of the camera – period. To me, a photo is just the starting point. It’s OK to ‘help’ it out with level adjustments and tweaking.

I’ve included a very small example. I’m not sure if this size conveys the changes I’ve made.

The photo was masked into two separate layers – balloons and sky. Each was adjusted independent of the other. So, there’s more sharpening and brightening on the balloons. There’s more contrast added to the sky (and a tiny addition of blue tint).

If a photo is a work of art, I should be OK embellishing nature. If, on the other hand, photography is a electromechanical process, maybe I should leave well enough alone.

We didn’t get a chance to see the Ansel Adams exhibit while in Las Vegas. His photos have exaggerated contrast and other unworldly features. Adams didn’t have Photoshop, but he was killer in the darkroom.

If I do my tweaking, making reality a little better, I’ll remember that.

&#185 – Actually, I never throw out a shot. In this case ‘save’ is a euphemism for print or add to an photo album.

2 thoughts on “Is A Photo Art?”

  1. Whether one should tweak or improve a photo depends on the purpose and use of the photo. As a weathercaster and one who works on a news program, I’m sure you’d agree that when a photo (or film or video) purports to be an objective record of an event, any kind of tweaking or improvement can be problematic. In practice, of course, it is not always clear whether a photo is meant as a subjective expression or as an objective record. And some tweaking can certainly be defended as making the photo a more truthful record of an event than it would be otherwise. But as we rely more and more for our ideas of the truth on digital media that can easily be tweaked and manipulated, the questions you raise are becoming ever more important.

  2. I cringe when I see botoxed lips and altered faces, and I cringe when I see photoshopped photographs ~ it’s another form of plastic surgery. (Sure, some people do look better with a little work, but so many do not) A great photo stands alone, although I admit I often prefer black and white versions—and nothing quite compares to true black and white chemicals and paper. I once had a video (which someone borrowed and didn’t return) of Ansel Adams at work in his darkroom—interesting, but that’s not where his real magic ocurred. And I’ve watched friends who were talented at burning, dodging, etc. in their darkrooms, but I always prefer it when cropping isn’t needed, when that is done during the composition phase. During my years of managing a photo lab, the most marked thing in printing from negatives was how huge differences could be made in photos by letting a trained eye print them, rather than allowing the machine to do it automatically—the machine too often chooses either weak or overly strong density, etc. Most of today’s digitals do need tweaking in that way, but to me it was much simpler, and more satisfying, when it could be done (and still can be) with a couple of key presses on a big lab printer, rather than with multiple steps on a computer. I taught myself how to judge what density would be needed simply by looking at each negative individually, before we had monitors at all. Nice photos, Geoff.

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