Photography vs. Digital Art (Photo Swapping)

Photography vs. Digital Art

Well today brings another great photo collaboration opportunity with Shannon at Seeing Spots Photo to do our second round of photo swapping and editing, then sending back and comparing. It’s great to see how people’s eyes can see such different possibilities in the same photo.

From Shannon:

Over the last 10 years or so, we have experienced two notable trends – photo revolution and photo evolution.

The photo revolution has been characterized by a rapid and dramatic shift from slide and film based photography to digital capture.  Naturally, this fundamental change in how we obtain an image has also affected the procedures and equipment involved in post processing.  Obviously, darkroom techniques could not – in the literal sense – be applied to a digital image…and so, the need for a digital editing equivalent was born.

A few weeks ago, I read an article that tried to differentiate between a photograph and what the author defined as digital art.  The argument was that, when compared to traditional film processing, digital images are often heavily manipulated to the point that the term “photograph” no longer applies.  To me, that seemed a bit extreme.  Instead, it seems that today’s digital image capture necessitates a new class of editing standards, and the resulting pictures should be viewed as another step in the evolution of photography.  The shift in image capture technology is unintentionally changing how we think about and define photographic art.

There was a time when darkroom techniques such as dodging and burning became standard and accepted practice in the creation of a film print.  One would not look at a Weston, Capa or CartierBresson image and wonder what had been done to the print under a safelight.  It would just be a photograph.  Similarly, there are now standard and accepted practices for digital post-processing.  It’s rare for an image to go straight from camera sensor to publication – generally, there are at least adjustments to curves, levels, and some sharpening.  Just like anything else in life, photography standards are changing to keep pace with technological growth and cultural shifts.

Personally, I am comfortable embracing the new class of pictures while still respecting the roots of our craft. Art is an expression of self, and in the end, the manner of expression directly coincides with the artist’s individual boundaries. With that in mind, it seems that determining the degree of post-processing manipulations applied to any given image is a matter of working within the confines of your comfort zone. Or better yet, pushing the boundaries of what is creatively comfortable!

Just recently, I tried another photo swap with my friend Will aka ‘where to willie’.  

Personally, I am comfortable embracing the new class of pictures while still respecting the roots of our craft. Art is an expression of self, and in the end, the manner of expression directly coincides with the artist’s individual boundaries. With that in mind, it seems that determining the degree of post-processing manipulations applied to any given image is a matter of working within the confines of your comfort zone. Or better yet, pushing the boundaries of what is creatively comfortable!

Just recently, I tried another photo swap with my friend Will aka ‘where to willie’.  (For those of you on G+, think #HDRTennis.) After we swapped and processed, we discussed.

Photography vs. Digital Art (Photo Swapping)
Shannon’s version

To me, editing someone else’s image was an interesting experience, because I manipulated based on what I felt the scene *should* look like. The colors, for example…in my head, I thought about the way the sunlight *should* reflect off the snow. When I think of winter, I generally think of cold, blue tones. However, with such a vibrant sunset, it seemed that there should also be hints of red across the foreground. I eventually settled on two color masks with some areas having more red highlights than others. In particular, I left the corners of the frame with more blues to create a pseudo-vignette.

Photography vs. Digital Art (Photo Swapping)
My version – Fading Colors and Open Spaces

There is a sense that you seem to have about any given photo.  You’re not only taking in the subject matter specifically and explicitly, but you are bringing your own self in to the viewing experience.  Although I’ve never been to Maine, I’ve seen boats, been to marinas, experienced the overcast skies reflecting off of a water’s surface.  Although Shannon has never seen that particular Illinois barn, she’s emotionally experienced sunsets and snow, and taking from that has been able to capture a very similar feeling to her version of the photograph.

The fact that two people can start with the same pieces of information (which at the end of the day, is all that digital photography is), and come up with similar yet different images is a testament to the intricacies that still live in photography.  Although we play in a digital darkroom, our lives happen outside, where experiences bring together any person willing to open their eyes to situation.

Creative boundaries, you have been owned! In a good way. =)

Photography vs. Digital Art (Photo Swapping)
Shannon’s Boat Photo – Portland, ME

Another benefit to editing swaps is that it has been a clear way to identify my own weaknesses through discussion (25%) and comparisons (75%). For example, mid-way through processing this photo of boats in Portland, ME we did a reveal. When I saw Will’s version (primarily HDR) next to my own (at that point, solely layered and masked exposures), it was easy to see that his unfinished edit had more noise than I cared for, and mine lacked detail in some areas of the boats. I wanted to find a balance between the two – less noise throughout, stronger detail in the highlights, softer edges around the edges closest to the water while maintaining detail through the traps and lines. Specifically, I wanted to find a good sharpening point for the lobster traps, in the event that someone wanted to print the image. Too much clarity in a print rarely suits me, but not enough sharpening and the image would seem to lack quality on today’s computer monitors.

Photography vs. Digital Art (Photo Swapping)
My version

Well this photo was pretty tricky for me.  It had a wide range of subject matter, different textures and sensations that all melded into one rectangular area.  As Shan said, we did a bit of a sneak peek, which really was me thinking I was done, but then going back and realizing that I could have done more.  The image above was processed in HDR, then as I do for all my HDR’s brought into PS for bringing back parts of the originals that are more pleasing.  I’m not always a zoom in to 200% and peep around the photo kind of person, maybe more likely to be looking at the grand scale view.  The comparisons between photos and discussion of editing techniques really has helped me be able to realize where areas can be improved.  If you have the chance, we definitely recommend it, and I’m sure will do more!

Up until that point, I had never had creative editing control with someone else’s image. Comparing the two finished products led to a great discussion about our respective creative visions. Furthermore, the exercise helped me identify and improve editing weaknesses, and expand the boundaries of my editing comfort zone.

See?  Editing really can be a team sport!

Thanks again to Shannon for doing this with me, it’s always great fun, and I’m sure we’ll have more in the future!

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