Musings on Digital Art Photography
Is Extreme Digital Photography Art?
I was one of the last, it felt like, to finally switch to digital photography. What was the Big Deal, Really? To me there is no question that as of now I could get very deep and true color from a 4 X 5 negative than from any digital camera. It is questionable whether any digital camera right now, September 25, 2013, can get the same quality image that a 35 mm color film can give in Kodachrome. But this will come soon enough. Besides the easiness of taking multiple photographs and “developing” them by just connecting the camera’s card to the computer, and see them instantly, you can see them a millisecond after taking them on your camera’s screen. Instant, instant, gratification or disappointment. What is a snapshot, or a perfect photograph, versus a photograph that rises to the level of art? I originally thought that manipulating my photograph to make it more perfect, that is depicting the scene just like I saw it, was cheating if I used Photoshop for help. If I were a great photographer of realistic photographs I should not need any manipulation. I still feel that way. But if manipulation is used it should be ‘fessed up to. It is hard not to give in to the temptation to “improve” one’s photograph, especially if it’s important to you or to someone else.
A snapshot is what most of us take all the time and now with our extraordinary smart phones and small digital cameras, we get pretty good quality in terms of lighting and focus. People are taking hundreds of thousands of pictures of everything and multiple ones at that. What is the point? We can share them immediately in a myriad of ways. Where is the surprise? What do we do with all of those pictures? Perhaps we are historians rather than photographers. So far no matter how good the camera is it can’t frame the image you want for you. Feet and heads get cut off. The automatic focus may not focus on what you want to see. It might get the blade of grass that was right in front of the lens in focus and not the beautiful natural scene spread out before you. These are snapshots not digital art.
What if you master your camera to some degree and take a perfect photograph, just what you intended to do. The image is perfect and perfectly depicts the natural scene that you saw with your eyes or the portrait of a loved one. Often this happens by accident. But is this digital art photography?
What is art? I prefer Joseph Campbell’s definition. Art takes the viewer, listener, partaker to a transcendent place. True art, Campbell says “is transparent to transcendence.” Henri Cartier-Bresson's photography still can take my breath away. His black and white, 35 mm photographs capture images that cause one to see the magic in the moment. He said: "To take a photograph is to align the head, the eye and the heart. It's a way of life." His work in black and white, to me, epitomizes the magic of still photography in capturing THAT moment. He also said: “For me the camera is a sketch book, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms, questions and decides simultaneously. It is by economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression." Is it a picture you want to capture or is it the magic of the moment? The latter, to me, is fine art photography whether you use Photoshop or not. But, as I said, it is deceptive to claim credit for the perfect photograph without acknowledging the use of digital manipulation
What do you think?
The Importance of Framing
October 14, 2013
Nearly all, if not all, digital cameras will do everything for you. Some will not allow you to do anything manually. No matter what kind of digital camera you have, the first key is framing. This is not as easy as it sounds. If you can only frame your photo on a screen, you must become very familiar with the boundaries of that screen. Does it reliably show what will be on the photo? If not, figure out how to compensate for the difference. Framing is just like putting a picture frame around a painting or photograph. You wouldn’t put a frame on that cut off the head or feet of the people in the photo. You may decide to move the photo around in the frame until you have everything in it you want and everything you don’t want out. You may also do this with scissors. It is the same idea in framing your photograph to be. Do you want feet in the photo? Let’s say if you’re photographing a horse (hoofs) or a dog (paws) you probably want to see the feet? You most likely want everyone’s head in the frame and the photo lined up straight. You certainly want the horse’s and dog’s heads in the picture. What about the tails. Learn to see through your screen or viewfinder. Viewfinders, if they are not SLRs (single lens reflex) will not give you and exact idea of distance and may not be completely accurate in terms of what you think you have in the frame. Become familiar with these deviations and learn to compensate. Learn to see your entire picture in your head and then frame it with the camera. Be cognizant of the sides, foreground and background. How much do you want in the photo? Get over the idea of just looking at you subject. Pay attention to what superfluous detritus is in the frame. Will your subject appear to be wearing a lampshade or will your subject seem to have an electric cord coming out of his body? If you don’t become aware of these things you will probably have a confused background. Pay attention to shadows. Shadows change the light and if part of your subject is in a shadow then you will probably have part of the subject in bright white or deep black. Get used to seeing everything in the frame. This one thing the digital camera can’t do for you and it is critical. If your picture is crooked you might be able to straighten it in Photoshop. If your photo of a sunset over the ocean has the horizon crooked, that will be very hard to fix.
With SLR’s, the viewfinder looks directly through the lens. What you see is what you will get in terms of framing but all the same rules apply for obtaining THE photograph you want.
None of this matters if you are just taking snapshots and don’t care about the aesthetic quality of the picture.
November 7, 2013
When using an automatic focus, an important trick when you have things or people in the foreground or mid ground and you want everything in focus, set the focus or if you have dots or squares etc. then focus one of those at least on the furthest object so that you have infinity on one of the focus icons. Or have all of the focus icons set on infinity by pointing the lens at something very far away. Everything in your photograph should be in focus. If you focus on anything closer then you may well have something in the photograph out of focus. Closing down your f-stop will help with focusing everything as well but this would have to be done manually and your shutter speed will have to be slowed down to compensate for the smaller aperture opening. Experiment with this, especially if your are using a digital camera.
December 17, 2013.
You Will Not Lose Your Original Photograph When Using Photoshop. Don't Be Afraid!
You will not Lose your original photograph. You will not lose your originals or destroy your originals by what you do on Photoshop. Usually you bring up a photo you want to work on from your pictures section on your main menu. All you have to do is right click on the photo you want to edit and up comes a menu. You want to click on "open with" and you will see some selections. Find your version of Photoshop. I would click on Photoshop Elements 12. This takes my photo directly to the Photoshop 12 editor. There I can begin to manipulate my photo. The primary key here is that when you are done and want to save your edited photo you click “saves as” and the address in Pictures for your photo comes up. Simply insert inside that address something like a letter “a” or the number “1” and then save. That way your have saved the manipulated photo next to your original back in the Pictures main menu and on the Photoshop catalog. You can't destroy your original unless when you “save as” you don't change the address in some way. However, Photoshop, I don't believe, will let you without telling you that that address already exists and do you want to override it with the changed photo.
Now that is the big key. However, when you are working on the photo in the editor at any time you may go to the edit menu and click on "revert." Your original will pop back up. Every step you make can be immediately undone by clicking on the backward or counterclockwise arrow at the bottom in Photoshop 12 and at the top in Photoshop 9 and it will undo what you have done. Then you can click on the opposite arrow to bring up the change you just undid. Photoshop saves your manipulated photos on its catalog and when you save them as JPEGs as I have indicated, the manipulated photos are also saved in the Pictures section of the main menu usually alongside the originals. If you save photos as PSP you will not be able to move them to very many other venues. The most accepted and requested, I think, is photos saved as JPEGs. Just get in the habit of doing that.