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Fine art photography or Digital art. Are the borders clear? | photography by Antonio Marques

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Photography in General

Fine art photography or Digital art. Are the borders clear?


I think many photographers (probably mainly hobbyists but for sure also some professionals), at some point in time have questioned themselves about what are they creating after all: “Is this fine art photography or is this digital art?”

With the popularization of digital cameras, and especially with the affordability of the dSLR format, the effort that goes from the planning of the shot until pressing the shutter is only half the path. Post-processing in powerful graphic software applications like Photoshop becomes the second half as the RAW format files that most (if not all) the new dSLRs produce allow for an incredible amount of corrections/changes to the shot, thus granting a wider margin for error on the shooting and inviting for a greater creative expression on the processing (more about the RAW format in a future post).

Some years ago, when you looked at an image, you could almost always distinguish between what was photography and what was an image created with a computer (rare exceptions were images from some very talented people on either side of the border). Nowadays, it’s getting increasingly difficult to make this separation. A new fantastic form of photography is/has been arising and threatens to merge, or at least fuzz the borders between fine art photography and digital art.

But does the border still even exist? When you push your “saturation” bar a bit too much, or mix channels (or any other digital effect) in a way that turns the photo more unnatural, are you still in the realms of photography or are you entering the digital art world? To some extent, and from what I’ve been hearing, if a photo is too much modified, then loses some of its creative value. I don’t agree. Photography as art is done to elicit emotions. If the artist’s objective is better achieved with digital modifications, then let it be so. On the other hand, if you are trying to capture reality as it is, maybe you shouldn’t push it too much on the processing.

Look at the two images above. Can you say for sure which one is a photo and which one was digitally created from scratch? Well, from the tone this article is taking I bet you could guess… The photo is the one on the right (with saturation and tonal levels dramatically changed I’m sure); the left image was created with Adobe Illustrator. But if you had not read this far it could be hard to distinguish without a closer inspection.

When you plan a photo, having already in mind some digital changes that you intend to do even before taking the shot, are you creating fine art photography or using photography to create digital art?

But what is fine art photography after all? According to the Wikipedia, fine art photography is defined as “pictures that are created to fulfill the creative vision of an individual” thus integrating any digital arrangement you might include in your work. I’ll stand with this definition. Simply putting it, digital processing exponentially increased the creativity levels you can now achieve and express with photography, but it is still photography.

And what are your thoughts? Are you creating fine art photography or digital art?

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  5. Sheldon

    July 12, 2007 at 9:51 pm

    You raise valid points on the issue of digital art & photography. I think it is not either/or; each artist must form their own definition. For myself, I prefer traditional analog photography without digital manipulation.

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