The Art Of Photography

Since I started to become more involved in video, I haven’t done as much photography as I had previously but that doesn’t mean I’m ignoring photography, it’s just that I’m more on the lookout for ideas for video. That said, I’m still very much into keeping abreast of what’s happening in the photographic world, as story ideas do have a lot in common with what I want to cover in video. Often photography and video are quite complementary. But there is one thing I’ve become aware of, now that I’ve been more focussed on video and it’s what appears to be somewhat of a diminishing world of photography, somewhat akin to what I wrote about in the last photography frontier. Photography isn’t disappearing by any means, as more photographs are now taken every day than were perhaps taken in the first 100 years since photography was invented. In 2017, it was estimated that 1.2 trillion photographs were taken annually, mostly with mobile phones. What I mean is that photography seems to have become so pervasive that finding a way to make photographs stand out is becoming far more difficult than ever before.

When everything is the same, go the opposite

When everything is the same, go the opposite

That pervasiveness has started to manifest itself with photography that increasingly, in my view, is anything but photography. This has all be aided and abetted by constantly improving software, where it’s become easier every year to manipulate photographs and make originals into what they were not. In the early days software was used simply to make corrections to lighting, exposure, enrich colours etc to compensate for the limitations of the cameras and, if the conditions weren’t ideal at the time of taking the photograph, to produce what the photographer’s mind’s eye saw in the scene. This has always been an accepted practice and dates back to the film era when prints were manipulated in exactly the same way, but via different means. Other corrections, such as removing blemishes etc on a subject’s skin is also quite common and generally accepted as fair and reasonable. The changes can be varied and up to personal taste, but the end result generally depicts reality. When it comes to fashion photography, what you would see more often than not, would be the results of the makeup artist, not so much the photographer.

Fuchsia, natures art - background cleaned up

Fuchsia, natures art – background cleaned up

As the ability to manipulate photographs, even from within one’s mobile phone, has become so easy that you no longer require much learning at all, it’s now become a fallback for many. Software has become so ‘intelligent’ that with a few strokes and clicks of a mouse, you can completely remove objects, add objects, and virtually create something that doesn’t exist. This has become so prevalent that now some photographers have taken it to such an extent that they too are often creating something out of nothing. But what’s even worse is that some photographers are creating something out of other people’s work and calling it their own, copying images scoured from the internet and pasting them into a montage and calling it creative work, While this isn’t so new, it came to a head recently when it was discovered that the recipient of awards from the Australian Institute of Professional Photography (AIPP) had been doing just that.

Lisa Saad Images - (source: PetaPixel)

Lisa Saad Images – (source: PetaPixel)

When the awards were first given, there was much controversy about the winner, as the work was not considered photography by many working professionals and AIPP members. One well known and respected honorary life member of the AIPP, Ken Duncan, was particularly concerned about the award and went public with those concerns. This of course caused quite a furore with a number coming to the defence of the AIPP, as well as the photographer concerned coming to their own defence. However, what endued later became very telling. To be honest, when I saw what was awarded, my feelings were exactly the same as those of Ken Duncan, this was no longer photography but photo-illustration.

As an honorary life member of the AIPP I am concerned about the regulations and judging criteria of their Photo Awards after seeing the results from this years competition.

With no disrespect to Lisa who is obviously a very talented person I just personally don’t get it. How these illustrations could be considered photographs as lovely as judges may think they are.

This illustration and the others from the series have little to do with reflected light but more about creation by manipulating and creating pixels.

I believe the AIPP have lost their way with the APPA awards as they seem to be hijacked by manipulators.

Now I don’t have a problem with post processing to a degree but when it gets to to point of having no connection to reality it then enters the world of illustration.

What subsequently happened was that the photographer at the centre of this controversy was outed for actually taking other people’s images and using them in the awarded works and claiming everything as their own work. The photographer was subsequently disqualified and the repercussions didn’t end there. And as thing settled down, it appears that more such manipulations by other photographers have come to light, with another disqualified. Now in this second instance, I’m less perturbed by the manipulation, but I guess the issue is that the rules of the competition were broken and that reflected on the integrity of the photographer. But it doesn’t stop there, as more and more photographers entering competitions are being caught out not just manipulating images, but actual scenes.

Stuffed Anteater - (source: Telegraph UK)

Stuffed Anteater – (source: Telegraph UK)

Real Echidna - Cradle Mountain Tasmania

Real Echidna – Cradle Mountain Tasmania

But that’s not where this story ends. It appears that there is a rising awareness of photo-manipulation and perhaps how it’s affecting photography overall and some photo hosting sites are now banning anything that’s not a genuine photograph. I think what is meant by a genuine photograph is that if you can’t replicate the image (to a reasonable extent) in-camera and have to rely on software to add or remove elements, then it’s not a genuine photograph. I quite agree with this concept, as I’ve never been a fan of excessive manipulation of any photograph. Removing power lines, lamp posts or whatever, or inserting objects that never existed in the scene to me is fraud. This is especially the case if the photographer doesn’t reveal what they have done. I even have my concerns about images of landscapes where the photographer has changed the colours to such an extent that you could visit the same location and never see scene in the way that the photographer produced, because it doesn’t exist.

Photo-Illustration - (source: PetaPixel)

Photo-Illustration – (source: PetaPixel)

Now don’t get me wrong, photo-illustrations can be very powerful images, but they are not photography, or at least in my view they are not. Now as with the last example, you can easily tell that the image is a photo-illustration and not real, but with many manipulated images, that’s not the case at all. Even seasoned judges of photography have found it difficult to tell real from fake and I think that’s where the situation goes awry. If you start to fake what’s being presented and you don’t tell your audience, then it’s dishonest and serves no good purpose. Some might argue that anything that originated in the camera and was subsequently manipulated is fair game, but where do you then draw the line? Computers today are able to create hyper-realistic images of anything, to the point that you don’t need any camera. At what point is it no longer the Art of Photography?

Update 1. One of the things I alluded but didn’t go into any detail was apps and such that allow an image to be automatically modified to do such things as remove people from a scene. This has recently become a tool available in Photoshop, but is also available for mobile phones and another one has hit the market, ‘Bye Bye Camera is an iOS App that Says Bye Bye to People‘:

If you’re tired of having people get in the way of a good photo, then this new iOS app called Bye Bye Camera may be for you.

Point the app at a scene with some people, snap the photo, and after a bit of processing the people are gone.