In Praise of Photoshopping – Photography Is Easy – Art Is Hard

Apr 16, 2015

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

In Praise of Photoshopping – Photography Is Easy – Art Is Hard

Apr 16, 2015

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

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in praise of photoshopping photography is easy art is hard

As an artist, it makes me really sad when I read the comments from articles like this: “How To Take Magical Family Candids” or this: Alexia Sinclair’s Breathtaking Photo Shoot in a 350-Year-Old Frozen Castle or this: Ordinary People Shot As Superheroes with so many simply whining about the level of Photoshopping involved.

I have been a photographer for a very long time – but only recently have I actually started thinking about my work as art.

And that, I think is the difference…

I am going to go out on a ledge here and say it: If you are one of those people complaining how much Photoshop editing has been used to produce what is otherwise an amazing, gripping visual work of art – you’re not an artist – you’re just a photographer.

woman in red dress underwater

Photography Is Easy

Lets be perfectly honest here – photography is easy.

Anyone can take a beautiful, well exposed, well composed photograph.

Millions of people do just that every single day by simply pointing their phone at something interesting and pushing a button.

But that’s not art.

Art is more than just randomly capturing the likeness of something in a pretty picture.

Art is deliberate.  Art is planned.  Art is cerebral.  Art has meaning.

Little Boy Playing with Animal Toys at Cafe

Here is an example.  This is one of my most profitable images.  It’s just a natural light photo – a snapshot really of my son playing with a bunch of toys while we were waiting for our breakfast to be served at a cafe.  I didn’t do anything technically extraordinary to take this shot – anyone sitting in the same place would have gotten pretty much the same photo on any camera.

Is it art?  Meh – not really.  Its a pretty picture with an interesting subject and good composition.

Is is Photoshopped?

Ya – of course.  Exposure adjustment, cropping, white balance, lens distortion correction, contrast, highlight levels, blacks levels, vibrancy, local adjustment brush edits…

Its not heavily retouched – but the people that buy into the deliciously ironic anti-photoshoping crowd would probably still be offended.

Art Is Hard

So, once we accept that taking a good photograph is easy, we can start to think about creating art instead of just snapping photos.

Of course, art is incredibly subjective and there is no real answer to the question: “What is art?”

But, I think the first place to start is that art has to be preconceived.

In photography terms, that means that you can’t just walk down the street and snap random photographs of random things and then call something interesting looking art (well, unless of course that’s your shtick – in which case the act of snapping random photographs of random things and producing cool images is art in itself – the randomness becomes a preconceived act).

The challenge for photographers therefore becomes taking a good photograph on purpose and knowing what the finished image will look like before picking up the camera.

For example, this is another natural light photograph that I snapped of my wife up at the cottage.  It is a little bit more technical than the first, I had to shoot in manual to compensate for the bright background, but other than that anybody could have taken this picture if there were standing in the same place.

The difference is that I knew exactly what this photograph was going to look like before I took it – there is nothing in this image that is random.

woman in the red dress

We were actually sitting having breakfast when we noticed this beautiful fluffy snow started falling with a soft, clean, even winter light.  I glanced out the window, saw the light, the snow and the framing of the porch railings and this exact image clicked into my head.

The fur hat adds a touch of winter symbolism (like a Russian Vodka commercial), the red nightgown pops against the snowy monotone, the pose is relaxed but sexy, the coffee mug gives her a reason to be standing out there in the freezing cold, her bare feet add a sense of fantasy, the composition, and framing were deliberate, the bright snowy bokeh background completes the impression of an idealized winter scene.

Is it art?

I wouldn’t go that far – there’s not a lot of meaning going on there.  Lets just say its artistic.

Is it Photoshopped?

Ya – of course.  Quite a bit actually.

But the important point is not that this is a heavily Photoshopped image, the point is that Photoshop is a tool that allows photographers to go beyond simply reproducing a likeness of reality.

And really, isn’t that the whole point of photography anyway?

Are You A Photographer Or An Artist?

How do you think of photography – is your work art?  Is the realistic representation of reality important to you in your photographs, or do you use Photoshop to transcend reality.

Leave a comment below and join the discussion!

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JP Danko

JP Danko

JP Danko is a commercial photographer based in Toronto, Canada. JP can change a lens mid-rappel, swap a memory card while treading water, or use a camel as a light stand.

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6 responses to “In Praise of Photoshopping – Photography Is Easy – Art Is Hard”

  1. Doug GNapp Avatar
    Doug GNapp

    If you want to be an artist get a paintbrush. Photography is not art.

    Make your pictures to please yourself, not others. And call it what it is, a photograph, not art.

    1. Nathaniel Avatar
      Nathaniel

      Woah ok let’s not forget that art is an umbrella term not restricted to painting. I think digital art is very valid. But I’m not deluding myself by thinking the fact that I own a DSLR makes me an artist.

      1. Danial Daneshmand Avatar
        Danial Daneshmand

        Exactly!

  2. Nick P Avatar
    Nick P

    Photographs can certainly be art just as a painting on canvas can be art. But just because you own a camera or a paintbrush does not make you an artist. I agree with JP, it’s all about intent.

  3. Bennett Richards Avatar
    Bennett Richards

    I think that Walker Evens, Steichen, Bresson and others who produced great works of art long before Photoshop might disagree. Jerry Uelsmann was doing Photoshop before Photoshop and that was REALLY hard stuff. Bresson hard to evvsion things that would happen before they happened and wait for it. Not easy stuff. Yes, art is not easy.but Photoshop is just another tool…. It can both make or break an image.

  4. fabere Avatar
    fabere

    This is a great article. Thank you.