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Digital Photography---Art or Science?

Two recent articles published recently on the World Wide Web cause quite a bit of stir in the Photographic World.  The first article was by Ken Rockwell ( Ken Rockwell.com ) titled ' Your Camera does not Matter '.  It has been translated into fourteen different languages World Wide.  His main assertion is that Photographers should be Artists and their imagination is more important that the cameras they use in producing great images.  The second article was by Michael Reichmann ( Luminous Landscape.com ), titled ' Your Camera does Matter '.  It was a rebuttal to Ken's article with the main point being that photography is a craft and one needs the proper tool to produce the product.  This web-site is very popular and read by many around the World.  So, who is right?

In essence, they are both correct in their own observations.  Digital Photography is emerging in the 21st Century as an Art form that requires the latest technology to achieve.  It is still evolving every day with improvement in the equipment and softwares.  In fact, it combines both Art and Science in its' own way.  In this post, let's steer clear from controversy and review what we know so far.

Connected- Circa 2008

For a photograph to be successful, it requires ' Impact ' or the ' Wow ' factor.  The first and foremost is the Center of Interest.  It tells the story and has to be obvious. The following image is the case in point.  It is about modern day friendship built around Starbucks' Cafe and I-pod music.

Light, Color and Gesture

A prominent photographer, Jay Maisel from New York ( Photographyer of the Year, 1985 ), noted a great photograph should have three components, namely Light, Color and Gesture .  By Gesture, it includes the human emotional expression with the eyes, hands or actions. Some pictures have great light only, others have great colors.  Having one component is enough to have a good picture, while having all three will result in an out-standing picture with impact.

Let's see the following photograph titled '  Waiting '.  It is about a family waiting in front of the glass tank for their favorite animal to appear.  The light is the filtered sunlight in the tank.  The colors are Blue, Black and White.  Using Moses's color analysis, Blue is the Dominant color, Black the Subordinate color and White the Accent color.  The Gesture is clearly the hand of the little girl touching the glass tank with her parents by her side.

Photoshop---Art or Science?

The tool we use every day with Digital Photography is Photoshop, a software by Adobe System.  It is essentially a scientific tool that helps photographers to produce artistic works.  Take the following image by Yuhong for example, we can use Photoshop to increase the contrast of the Light and Color to create more impact to the picture.

Light and Color enhanced

After Photoshop enhancement, together with addition of a frame, the photograph takes on a different dimension.

Entanglement--Art and Science combined

The following image is created using the principles outlined above.  The center of interest is the Sea Jelly entangled together, much like Art and Science are used to create Digital Photography.  The Light used is the translucent light in the tank.  The colors are Blue ( Dominant ), Yellow ( subordinate ) and Red ( Accent )--using Moses' theory.  This photograph was taken using ISO 6400, taking into account of the low ambient light, yet with a shutter speed high enough to freeze the action.  This picture would be impossible without this latest technology.  Currently the two cameras capable of such is the Canon 1D MkIII and the Nikon D3.  This is taken with the latter.
Dr. Shum这段话讲得很精妙。

摄影作为大多数人视为艺术(fine art)是不久以前的事,这要归功于Edward Steichen、Ansel Adams、Edward Weston等摄影家及John Szarkowski这样摄影鉴赏家。我向来觉得后期很重要,Ansel Adams的照片就是暗房做出来的,我们这里Dr Shum、Eugene和易姐都是PS高手。PS就是数码时代的暗房,它为摄影师的艺术创作提供了前所未有的自由空间,前辈摄影师在暗房里费老劲也不容易达到的效果,在PS里可能只是几个click。



Digital Art --- any one ?

Yuhong has put it in proper perspective eloquently.  I would agree it is far more appropriate to use the term ' Digital Art '  ( see Dr. Chen's recent post ) than Photography in its traditional sense.  Along this same line of thoughts, we should approach digital imaging as an Art Form ( as we can add light and color, remove blemishes from faces at will ), and label it as such.   Further, we should all view ourselves as Artists beyond taking snap-shots alone.

The amount of time for post-processing is strictly for enhancement and should not be the excuse for an improper image in the first place.  The choice of center of interest, background, composition etc. should all be in place before post-processing begins.  Master Ray Wei classified images into three categories--descriptive, interpretative and expressive.  The last one being the highest level.  Any digital post-processing can be seen as new clothes for the Emperor but does not add to the soul of the image ( the emotional component or Gesture according to Maisel ).  In fact, an overly processed image could be worse than the original.  Post-processing should be done with a certain effect in mind and should be subtle in most cases.  Mere post-processing would not elevate an image from a descriptive to an expressive level.  All the ' Sciences ' could not save the image without the proper ' Artistic ' consideration in the conception of such.

Sunset reflection

Let's use an image of my favorite topic ' Reflection ' to illustrate this point.

This image of the Sun's reflection during sunset can be viewed at three different levels:

1.  Descriptive  --   The couple taking picture during sunset.
2.  Interpretive --   The couple enjoying the beautiful color of sunset.
3.  Expressive  --    The photographer/artist ( myself ) enjoys the sunset and wants to share with the viewers.

What level would the viewers assign to this image?

If we can be objective to our work, and ask this question every time looking at our images, we can all improve as Digital Artists.
Sunset reflection-08-002(Romance700).jpg
Dr. Shum对摄影理论的见解很深刻。

想起前些时候去San Diego的MOPA,那里正在展览The Photographer's Eye: A Way of Seeing。整个展览是按John Szarkowski在1966年发表The Photographer’s Eye提出摄影的5个特征安排的:
1.“The Thing Itself”
2. “The Detail”
3. “The Frame”
4. “Time”
5. “Vantage Point.”

John Szarkowski于1962年接Edward Steichen任纽约MOMA的摄影部主任,直到1991年退休。Garry Winogrand, Diane Arbus, Lee Friedlander都因他的提携而成名。附件是John Szarkowski的文章。有兴趣可以参考阅读。

John_Szarkowski.pdf (130.34 KB)