Today photography has taken on a whole new meaning. Originally the word photography meant “writing with light”. We owe the name “Photography” to Sir John Herschel, who first used the term in 1839. The actual act of taking a camera, looking at the scene, composing and then adjusting the exposure to capture the light for that millisecond in time and record the image. That’s the way photography was discovered and they way it has been since the early 1800’s. But today it seems that anyone with a computer and a good photo editing software program can become a “photographer” simply by grossly editing an image or actually creating an image in the software. It’s a form of digital art. No more than looking at a blank piece of canvas and painting a scene. So what is photography and when does it become digital art?
The history of photography commenced with the invention and development of the camera and the creation of permanent images produced in 1826 by the French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce. It was simply capturing a scene through a camera and onto a light sensitive paper. Through this invention the world of photography began and it expanded through the decades to follow. It was a way to record a moment in time. A single piece of history that could never be repeated or copied. In those days cameras actually made time “stand still” for the observer. Through all of the inventions and different types of light sensitive media used to record pictures, It a was George Eastman that really made the breakthrough with flexible film in 1889. This opened the door for mass production of box cameras and the availability for anyone to take photographs. Eastman’s slogan was “you press the shutter, we do the rest”. It rapidly grew and became a way for families to share the moments with others and to record events through out history. As would have it, great photographers became known for their works of composition and stunning images. Photography is all about light. Understanding light and the types of light. Sunlight, moonlight, morning, evening, candle light, ambient light, reflected, diffused, they all area different, everyday, every hour every minute. George Eastman is also quoted with “Light makes photography. Embrace light. Admire it. Love it. But above all, know light. Know it for all you are worth, and you will know the key to photography.” Great like Ansel Adams, Ray Man, Bunny Yeager, Annie Leibovitv, and Andy Warhol all knew this finer point of photography. Of them I consider Ansel Adams the best as it was Ansel that defined the true “zone” system of photography. Adams knew light and his spectacular images show that he also understood zones, contrast, color, shade, highlights and composition. I have not seen an Ansel Adams picture that was not stellar in every way. And Adams used big old clunky view camera that he toted in on horse back to many of his locations in Yosemite National Park where a vast majority of his pictures were made. He knew what photography was all about.
Today, we now have digital camera. No film. Images are captured and recorded on computer media cards, then down loaded onto computers for viewing and editing. And here is where photography stops. Digital editing. When a cameras shutter is tripped, it captures exactly what “it sees”. No more, no less. The lens filters the image to the media and the scene is recorded in the way that the camera “saw” it. WIth the rage of photo editing the photographer can now take a picture with a camera, and completely edit it in the camera before ever saving it. It no longer has the presence of the original scene. It is not what the camera “saw”. And with photo editing software, we have hundreds of possibilities to create pictures that actually never existed. For example, is you take a camera out and try to take a picture of a full moon, there are limitations to what the camera can do. If the moon is fully in focus, and exposure set accordingly, then the surrounding scenery is not really in focus let alone visible and vice versa. So, what do you do? Most would take the picture, then edit it in their computer and add the full moon from another picture, and thus “make” or “create” a picture from two or more separate files. This is digital art, not photography. With today’s software programs, it is entirely possible to create a scene and never set foot outside with a camera. An image can be created to the vision of the artist with minimal effort. As an avid photographer that uses film for many of my pictures, I prefer the effort and the thinking required for photography. I have to judge the scene, the light, the contrast, the shadows, the highlights and depth of field to make the correct aperture and shutter settings so the picture exposes correctly. If it turns out bad, it’s my fault and I learn from that error. With digital photography and photo editing software, many photographers simply point, shoot and then edit the picture later to clean it up. Don’t get me wrong here, there is nothing wrong with that. It’s art, like painting a picture. But, it is not true photography. Creating a drawing, a painting or piece of art if an expression of the artist. It has a place in our a society to be admired for the creative ability of the artist and the message he or she wishes to convey. I simply must draw a distinction between the actual art of photography and the process of digital art. One is a photograph, and the other is a picture. Those two items are vastly different. So the next time you look at a magazine, or online, when you see a photograph too good to be true, it very well could be. Is it a photograph, or is it a digital art picture?