A Photographer or Digital Artist?


When is a photographer not a photographer anymore because they digitally manipulate their images so much?

It’s kind of an interesting question, one which I’ve never really thought of before. However after reading some comments on various photos, I get the impression that some people don’t consider these images to be photographs or the people making them, photographers.

I think to some people, a photographer is someone who does everything pretty much in camera, with just a little post processing. Enough to correct white balance, shadows, levels, etc.  In other words, pretty much everything you can do is Adobe Lightroom before stepping into Photoshop or some other specialty software.

Can there be a line drawn like that? I’m not really sure. Obviously there are lines drawn in artwork all the time, they just tend to be broader. We don’t consider someone who paints with oils and canvas to be a photographer. Even if the end image they get is photo realisitc. So would we say that someone who starts with a photograph and then digitally manipulates it into a painting-like image to be a painter? It seems like we wouldn’t, but I can understand the hesitation. Both digital and oil require a certain amount of hand motion across small details to dial in what you want.

Perhaps at some point the line does arise between photographer and digital artist/painter/compositor. I’m just not sure where. But I suspect that line is completely subjective. Afterall there are plenty of images out there that have been manipulated to the nth degree, only to come off looking like they were shot with a camera, even though 40-60% of it wasn’t part of the original camera acquired image. People in the visual effects field working on movies are especially good at this. There have been plenty of movies I’ve seen where I thought it was all acquired in camera. Mostly because it’s not your typical computer graphic give-away like an alien spaceship or giant robot. Yet I was surpised to see the behind the scenes footage and discover that those mountains weren’t really there on location, neither was that haze or that tree on the right of frame.

Perhaps we are just better off defining it the way we typically do, that if it starts with a camera image it’s a photograph, no matter how it ends up. Then by default the person who shot the original image is a photographer, even if they spend 95% of their time on a computer rather than behind the camera. As much as that may irk some photographers who spend way more time behind the camera than computer, we can’t deny the fact that the computer warrior photographers started with a camera image they themselves shot.

Of course, you’ll still have those photographers who hate that. Mostly I think because they themselves don’t have the computer skills to get those kind of images the keyboard photographers end up with. I can understand their feelings, but all is fair in love and war and photography. It’s the end image that counts, not how you did it. At least most of the time.




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