To Tweak Or Not To Tweak: What constitutes good Art photography?

Photography and post production are two parts of a skill set that can result in fortifying a creative concept when it comes to achieving beautiful imagery. Or so some would have you think.

Traditionally photography was always about capturing the moment. The emphasis was on the act of using the camera as a tool to record the exposure. To do that effectively,  a science process was employed. Measuring the light combined with correct film development made photography a two-part equation: a) exposing the film material and b) developing the film and print materials.bjo

In CNN’s blog titled, ‘Art photography: When ‘reality isn’t good enough’ writer Ashley Strickland talks about the rise of digital manipulation in photography and infers the question, ‘What constitutes art when it comes to photography?’ Strickland interviews commercial photographer David Allen Brandt.

From Brandt’s point of view, a photographer should try to make an optimal image in camera, that is to say, when shooting the subject matter. Years ago before digital memory cards replaced films such as Kodachrome and TriX,  the professional photographer distinguished him or herself from consumer photography with the use of extensive lighting knowledge.

Pedestrian or ubiquitous photographic works today flood the visual landscape. It’s hard to decipher if the image maker is a professional – someone who makes income from their works, and more importantly, if they are good.

From what appears as original photography seen on Facebook or Tumblr,  I might call pedestrian photography. I mean ‘pedestrian’ in the sense of frequent and over abundant snapshot-like photos. I do not mean to diminish the quality unecessarily, but to emphasize the quantity of photographic works that have resulted since the impact of digital apparatus, cameras and computers. The use of software technologies to enhance what might otherwise be a straight forward image, has also contributed to a proliferation of imagery.

The question then becomes, as Strickland so simply states, “What happens (to photography) when you can do anything?”

That question implies: manipulating a photograph changes the inherent representation, (and I say this questionably), of what, reality? I think the writer refers to what is understood in a general sense, that an unmanipulated image, like a quick snapshot, appears as an unbiased recording of a moment.  But this too I find questionable because any image whether intended to be unbiased or not, is taken from the point of view of the taker and therefore somewhat subjective.

Isn’t the point of any creative visual endeavor to pursue the limits of the medium in a manner that bests explores the intent of the maker?

Initially what piqued my interest in Strickland’s article was the title, ‘Art Photography: When ‘reality isn’t good enough’ because it seemed to say, photography which is perceived as a medium that captures reality, is in fact misleading. I think the point being made was that straight, unmanipulated photography is a more accurate record of capturing what appears to be real, as opposed to images that are obviously manipulated. That would have been a more accurate statement.

This is made clear in the popular Instagram app. Take for instance these two images below. The first image is taken through the Droid mobile device with no adjustments made to the exposure.

In the second, the same image is manipulated using the Instagram app.  Does one image appeal more to the eye than the other? Does the use of the manipulation make the source image seem less interesting in comparison?

Both images are neutral subject matter. Some would say the 2nd is more interesting because the contrast is deeper, resulting in an overall effect of drama.

Would you say if using software increased the interest level of an otherwise boring image, and is just part of employing a processing workflow? Or do you think relying on software defeats the purpose of getting good images in camera?

The tools one uses to get to an end result, I think, is a personal choice, similar to that of framing a view with camera in hand and making selective decisions when to click the shutter. That is just as personal a choice as using Photoshop or Instagram. I don’t think relying on any one tool is going to be the answer to making better pictures overall. A combination of composition, lighting, and tweaking are all ok to use as long as you, the image maker, is pleased with the result.

What do you think – to tweak, or not to tweak? Should there be rules that define what constitutes art in photography?

What’s Mine Is Mine Unless I Share

March 1, 2014

Since writing this post I have been contacted by the photographer who asked me to remove it. I am also a photographer and feel copyright is an important issue. I wish Casey Keil every success. I do not wish to slander anyone or feel threatened because I expressed my opinion on the matter of how one photographer’s images wound up on another site. How it happened eludes me. If two professional photographers share a hard drive the files should be stored in separate directories. This is basic file management. If an administrator mistakenly posted works and attributed to the wrong person (as may be the case) I would hope the issue has been resolved. As written below in the original post, I spoke about screen grabs. That speculation was just that, a speculation how images can be grabbed from the screen and reposted somewhere else – I do not know what happened in the scenario that occurred between Keil and Falcetti. Again I hope this issue has been resolved.

I consider myself a reactionary person. I can cry at a moment’s notice. Every Friday at 8:25 a.m. NPR airs StoryCorps and as if on cue, the weight of world finds itself traveling down my cheek in the shape and feel of a wet teardrop.

It’s one thing to hear a stranger’s story and feel an emotional pull – from a ‘being human’ perspective. It’s quite another experience to hear a colleague’s complaint of finding his work  lifted by another, and feel outright outrage.

Being a professional photographer today is much harder than pre-digital days. A common misconception leads most to think otherwise. Film costs have absolutely disappeared and shooting hundreds of images has become relatively cost efficient with an initial investment of an 8-16 gigabyte film card.

Photographers have always had to be aware of licensing and copyright. A basis for any business is to price the product for the use, and that relationship is paramount to any professional service. The internet has provided a bigger audience for all media and while that serves to promote one’s work, it’s no secret that overzealous social networks can work against the very nature of ownership and rights to original content.

Digital versions of print editions of newspapers and magazines are what many publications are doing to sustain their businesses. That’s nothing new. Readership, is the end goal as is advertising dollars. When online sites become prey to ‘lifting’ images via screen grabs or when written content grabbing occurs without attribution, the line gets crossed between sharing and stealing.

Robert Falcetti found his photograph on Casey Keil’s site. There’s no doubt whatsoever that the original image belongs to Falcetti as shown in the photographer’s Photoshelter site. To see the images that were illegally claimed by Keil – click on the link to Facebook thread.

The image below appears on KCK Images site:

© Robert Falcetti

While I haven’t had the unpleasant experience of being so blatantly ripped off, I have had some of my own Facebook images turn up as gifts to others without even so much as a nod to me, the owner.

Lesson learned – Facebook is a social platform intentionally made for the purpose of sharing. If you, the owner of images do not want to share access to high quality files, don’t upload directly to Facebook. Post to secondary sites where you can control download permissions such as Flickr, Photoshelter, Smugmug, etc.

I suspect what happened to Falcetti cannot be avoided completely. Every computer whether MacIntosh or PC, has screen grab functionality. Because web viewing doesn’t require large resolutions, screen capture is easy enough to do and reproduce for similar presentation. The captured file wouldn’t be suitable for quality reproduction, but that is a small consolation when you see you image falsely claimed by another.

Sharing should be somewhat guarded in the age of digital reproduction. What measures do you take as a photographer, writer, artist or originator of any creative works, to ensure attribution, licensing and payment?