Is a photographic print fine art when it hangs on the wall? What if it is the family portrait hanging on the wall? Why would a hand painting of a family portrait be considered art while a photographic print is not? These all pose interesting questions. Most snapshots would not be considered art, but a carefully lit photo would? Photography seems easy at a certain level, at least easier than learning to paint with a brush for most people. The difference can simply explained as photographers who “take” photos and those who “create” them. Taking photos or snapshots is a mindless activity for the most part, not much thought goes into the image. Creating an image on the other hand takes a lot more effort.
Here is a relatively short list of things that run through most serious photographers.
- What time of day should I take this photo?
- What is the angle of the sun?
- Do I use make-up or not?
- What focal length do I use for the right perspective?
- Do I need a fast aperture to blur out the background or do I need everything to be clear and choose a small one?
- Would this scene be better with green leaves or fall foliage?
- Do I use 1, 2 or 3 lights to light the set?
- What light modifiers do I use?
- What ISO should I shoot this with? Do I want lots of grain or none?
- Does this image have merit? Will anyone care about it?
Most of these questions never run the mind of most snap-shooters and that is completely acceptable. Even “fine art” photographers take snapshots to preserve memories.
Once the image has been captured, it still needs to be outputted. The print still is the most accepted form of photography. How the image is printed is often times just as important as how the image was captured in the first place. Traditional photographs were developed in the wet darkroom and some still are. Photography has always been centered around technology to a degree. In current times, most photographers have moved to digital photography and are using Photoshop or some other program as their digital darkroom. Some have argued that this has led to less craftsmanship in photography, I would disagree. Those who make that argument seem more focused on the process than the final print (I’m all about the final print). It is true that in the early years of ink jet reproduction the life of a print might be a year or less before it began to fade. This is no longer the case. Prints made on high end printers by Canon, Epson and HP can last from a hundred years to hundreds of years. This is usually a result of choosing pigmented inks (which most low end printers do not use) and good cotton paper to create an archival print. Getting a good print is fairly trivial, but creating an excellent one is not. Photographers who are diligent about printing tend to have a color managed work-flow where the image they see on the monitors matches their printers output. Keeping everything calibrated can be time consuming and expensive.
Just because a photographer went through all this effort does not mean their photographs are art. I have seen some very nicely exposed and printed images that do nothing for me and leave me wondering why someone bothered to create this image. Art is still very subjective, either you like it or you don’t.