Where Does Photography Stop and Digital Art Begin?

The switch to digital photography brought with it a plethora of post processing options that can be employed to a wide variety of effects. Even in the days of film considerable liberties were taken in the darkroom on occasion. So where exactly does photography stop and when does the image become digital art? Well like most things to do with art that’s hard to say exactly! Since no one person can really answer that question concisely I will simply relate my thoughts on post processing in this blog. Given the fact that even the way we setup the camera, and lens, can alter what the human eye sees we can’t really say that a correctly processed image should match reality precisely as we saw it. There should, I think, be some similarities to what the eye sees though.

The image above of Cascade Mountain was shot with ultra wide angle lens which exaggerates skies and the lines of lights through the trees. In post processing I corrected some of the wide angle distortion to more closely represent reality as we see it, I increased the light on the trees in the center of the image, and added some contrast to the sky to make the clouds stand out a bit.  The use of the ultra wide angle stretched the mountain out a bit horizontally so I added a bit of negative aspect correction to bring the peak back up to what it actually looks like from this viewpoint. All in all pretty basic post processing.  Too often these days I see negative aspect used to exaggerate the height of a mountain well beyond normal perception and into the realms of fantasy. A little goes a long way in my opinion.

The image above was shot with a moderate wide angle so there was no lens correction required in post production beyond a bit of added contrast and sharpening. As you can see in the two images above the second one certainly looks more spectacular but no longer represents what I saw that day. The question now becomes is this wrong? Is there a right and wrong approach to image processing? That’s a question each photographer needs to answer for himself/herself I think. For me when I am shooting landscapes I want an image that is a fairly accurate representation of what I saw as I tripped the shutter, or at least what I envisioned when taking the shot. 

The image of the crocus flowers above is comprised of two different shots, with two different focal points, with goal being  to get both flowers in focus while generating more bokeh in the background foliage. When I stacked the two images I blended in only enough to keep both flowers in focus while leaving the remainder of the foliage out of focus. That way the viewers eyes are drawn directly to the flowers and the background does not detract from the flowers. While this renders the image more artistic I don’t feel that this is going too far with post processing. For this type of shot I am using post processing to get around limitations of the camera and lens I use and the limits imposed by macro photography. Once again you, as the photographer, has to decide where to draw the line.

The panoramic image of Bow Lake above was shot using an ultra wide angle lens. The combined distortion of the ultra wide angle and the four shot panorama resulted in an  image with exaggerated curves. The bay that is in front center of the image is not as curved, in reality, as the image makes it look.  The sunrise was already quite spectacular and didn’t need much embellishment to catch the eye of the viewer. Most of the post processing, other than stitching the panorama, involved adding contrast, dodging, burning, and sharpening. I draw the line at changing skies, adding light to make it look like a sunrise or sunset, or otherwise dramatically altering what I saw as the photographer. In my humble opinion this sort of alteration, while fun and educational to do, is entering the realm of digital art and is straying beyond simple photography. Ultimately you as a photographer has to decide where the line is for you between digital art and photography.