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Thread: Photography vs Digital Image

  1. #1
    TheBigE's Avatar
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    Photography vs Digital Image

    Hello,

    A bit of open-ended philosphical discussion on what makes a Photograph and a Digital Image.

    <Picking up Mic>

    I have been going over some videos lately on Post Processing and wandered into some areas where I start to wonder if it is more Photography or Digital Imaging. For me in my mind, maybe these are the wrong terms but let me try to explain what I think is the difference - I think in General

    Photography - Light captured by a camera, that may or may not be converted to digital format. However, the image is adjusted for tonality and to bring out details An example might be a landscape scene where the colors of the landscape are enhanced and details are revealed in shadows/highlights. Some general cleanup is done maybe removing dust spots or "distractions" to the image. In the end a realitvely "faithful" representation of the scene.

    Digital Image - An image that is altered to some degree beyond tonality and detail enhancement. In the example I watched, it was imaging half the scene and replicating it on the other side of the image only inverted. Essentially eliminating half of the scene. In this case the scene itself does not in fact exists, but rather only digitally.

    It has me wondering a bit, and I am sure that those who have been doing this longer have satisfied this itch. But when does it go from Photography to a Digital Image. For me I am seeing more and more videos about significantly altering the image that was captured. Does that make one a photographer or a Digital Editor? Cameras by nature are limited in the Dynamic Range they can capture, so some processing is needed but when you physically alter the scene that was not presence...does it stop being a photograph?

    This is a largely philisophical discussion in my mind, but I guess my goal would be to caputre light and be a photographer with a solid set of digital editing skills. Maybe I am missing something or out of line....just somthing I have noticed. <Drops Mic>

  2. #2
    ionian's Avatar
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    Re: Photography vs Digital Image

    Why make a distinction? What is it about altering the contents of a raw file, itself a collection of ones and zeros, that changes an image into something you want to give a different tag to? There is a time and a place for faithfully capturing a scene, and there are times when letting go with your artistic freedom, either during the capture or in post processing, are the most appropriate way to handle the scene before you. I believe I am trying to make the best image I can, and I will do whatever is needed to get what my eye sees and my brain creates to mesh.

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    Re: Photography vs Digital Image

    There is no right or wrong...merely differences. Ya hang what ya like.

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    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Photography vs Digital Image

    Personally, I'd call the second term "Digital Art" and the person making it a "Digital Artist".

    For me (as you, I think), the distinction is where the processed image is something that could not have existed and been photographed.
    So cloning out a bit of rubbish (that might not have been there had the wind not blown) is distinct from the kind of change you relate of mirroring one half of a subject to get a symmetrical result.

  5. #5
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    Re: Photography vs Digital Image

    Quote Originally Posted by Dave Humphries View Post
    Personally, I'd call the second term "Digital Art" and the person making it a "Digital Artist".
    I agree with changing that term because the word "digital" in essence means "not analog" rather than arty-crafty manipulation.

    On all "digital" cameras, the photo-sensors can be thought of as analog sensors, even though they collect photons **. Between those photo-sensor output voltages and the raw file data there is an analog-to-digital converter; therefore, the image data is already digital in the camera before it gets anywhere near an editor, eh?

    ** said because you can't have fractions of photons, only whole numbers, so they're not truly "analog".

  6. #6
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    Re: Photography vs Digital Image

    Photographers have been manipulating and altering images since photography was invented. In the early days (circa 1900), emulsions were very slow, and long exposures were always required, so landscapes almost always ended up with washed out skies. To solve the problem skies were added using a specially made negative, and very often the same sky was used in a number of different prints.

    So long as something of the real world is included in the image, then I think it qualifies as a Photograph. A Digital Image would then be entirely from the imagination of the Author.

  7. #7
    Digital's Avatar
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    Re: Photography vs Digital Image

    If my memory serves me correctly, I posted a question on CIC regarding whether we are photographers as opposed to graphic artists several years ago.
    If I can use the term graphic artists being similar to digital artist, I believe we are both.


    Bruce

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    Re: Photography vs Digital Image

    We alter reality as soon as we place the limits of our viewfinder around an unlimited expanse. Cropping in camera is altering reality. So I really don't worry about any amount of post processing changes done to an image...

    EXCEPT:

    When an image is deliberately altered to change its message and then the changed message is touted as photojournalism.

    As an example: photoshopping Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton in bed together and putting it on the front page of a newspaper or in an Internet blog

  9. #9

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    Re: Photography vs Digital Image

    I make images. You get to decide whatever it is that you want to call me and my work product, as I couldn't care less about labels.

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    Re: Photography vs Digital Image

    It will just give me a headache thinking of whether I am a photographer or a digital artist. I agree with Simon about his serious comment and Boyer for his tongue-in-cheek response.

  11. #11
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    Re: Photography vs Digital Image

    I'm always interested in this discussion, it come up time and time again in so many forms.

    I think part of the problem lies in the 'language/words' being used. Ultimately they mean something different to different people.

    I'm particularly interested in 'digital' as we all think it means the same thing. But when you combine it with other words, there can be lots of interpretations. e.g. is there a real and fundamental difference between Digital image and Photograph?

    If you are referring to how it is generated then 'digital image' is quite precise (apparently). In the case of 'photograph' however, it has now become somewhat imprecise since it can refer to something generated digitally or chemically.

    But in the interests of extending confusion an consternation, 'Photograph' retains precision in a different context since the word is not necessarily synonymous with 'Image' which can be used to reference a whole galaxy of graphic styles and techniques which are most definitely not 'Photographs and may or may not be 'digital'.

    And we have not even got to ' modify', 'process', 'alter', 'manipulate' ....... yet

    So for me, when I try to think my way through Erik's question, confusion and consternation, start's to set in almost immediately, and the different opinion's/responses to this thread so far, seem to demonstrate this.

    So maybe I'll follow an example from antiquity, and rather than start unraveling Erik's knotty problem, I'll cut through it and propose that there is, philosophically, no difference, unless the 'intent' which engenders the image is defined first.

    Once this is clear then ....... Izzie will almost certainly have a very different but equally troublesome headache

  12. #12
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    Re: Photography vs Digital Image

    This sort of question is difficult to answer because, as my knowledge and experience increases, I find that my own definitions are always changing. At this moment in time, I would suggest that the definitions are based upon the source of the image.

    If the result was founded upon an image recorded by a device which, in some way, has captured the differences in light from an object or scene, such that its shape and form can be seen in that image, then it is a photograph - literally drawing with light. Whatever happens to the captured image subsequently in processing doesn't really matter - that is the art of photography - as long as the shape and form of the captured image is still obvious in the final image as a whole.

    A definition of digital art (creating a digital image of the electronic kind) would be that it starts with a blank screen canvas. The artist then adds elements of an image to the canvas (just as an artist would create a painting): points, lines, shapes, colours, textures, etc., are added, modified, enhanced, distorted, etc., to build up the final image.

    Cheers.
    Philip

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    Re: Photography vs Digital Image

    Great input by everyone, and do not get me wrong I am not trying to Label anyone and frankly the terminology could be better phrased (Digital Artist vice Digital Image, etc). i was just openly discussing something that was I see as a difference in my mind.

    For me I struggle a bit when there are significant changes to the photo and it is not a faithful representation of of the original scene. This is a very very fine line and different for each person.

  14. #14
    Moderator Dave Humphries's Avatar
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    Re: Photography vs Digital Image

    Quote Originally Posted by Digital View Post
    If my memory serves me correctly, I posted a question on CIC regarding whether we are photographers as opposed to graphic artists several years ago.
    If I can use the term graphic artists being similar to digital artist, I believe we are both.
    Hi Bruce,

    "Graphic Artist" was probably the term I was looking for, but couldn't remember.

    Trouble is, it is so easy for us all to get hung up on semantics, the legacy uses of words and how both their use and the trades they represent, have changed through history and with the coming of the digital age.

  15. #15
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    Re: Photography vs Digital Image

    Erik, like you, I struggle sometimes still with this distinction. Where I have through experience found it a bit frustrating is when I have entered some work in a local gallery's photo competition. One of the entries that came in ahead of me was of the 'digital art' variety. It was an interesting image but completely composited: the subject, a model, stood in front of a green screen and the background and all of its individual elements were composited in from who knows where all.

    But the rules of the competition were completely open in this respect: pretty much anything allowed as long as it is original work. Still, I could not see how such different work could be compared in the same competition.

    So aside from any concerns about labeling, I think you bring up something that deserves recognition. At some point, the results are different products and at least in settings like photo competitions it would be best to have different categories of entries. I don't enter a lot of competitions so I am not well informed about is happening with the different venues but I suspect there are different ground rules and different categories that deal with this.

    -Randy

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    Re: Photography vs Digital Image

    In the spirit of a philosophical discussion let us look at the bigger picture (pun intended).

    The word "image" has so many definitions that it is safe to say that every photograph (sometimes referred to as a "shot" or a "capture" on photo forums) is an image and any work of art created on digital media is a digital image. There are some examples of digital images, like a disc ISO image, that have nothing to do with either ISO or image concepts in photography though.

    There are images that are 100% software generated that may or may not look like cartoons and images that have been recorded by using physical process other than light. Neither can be classified as photographs but both can be digital images.

    As the name suggests, photography is the process of permanently recording/capturing (as opposite to printing or other forms or reproducing images) light (photons to be precise as indicated by the "photo-" part, and a photon is a quantum of any form of electromagnetic radiation including light). So an X-ray image is technically a photograph, whereas an ultrasound scan is not a photograph but is certainly an image.

    So, how much do you need to manipulate a digital photograph for it to stop being a photograph? I do not think there is a clear cut answer to this. Some subtle manipulations are certainly allowed and have been applied by most people who take digital photos (the "digital" part just makes it very easy to do). I think it is more a question of perception of the final product rather what has been done to achieve it. An edited photograph can be turned into an arty or cartoony image that most people would struggle to call a photograph because it looks unreal.

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    James G's Avatar
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    Re: Photography vs Digital Image

    For me I struggle a bit when there are significant changes to the photo and it is not a faithful representation of of the original scene. This is a very very fine line and different for each person.
    Erik, I have some sympathy with you when it comes to depicting lansdscapes, wildlife etc. But photography as a craft and an art, often takes reality and tweaks it a bit.
    I deliberately convert some images to B&W because I am interested in depicting a mood which is (imo), better reflected through a monochrome presentation. Definitely a very large move away from the reality of the original scene.

    However, I do not really like grungy HDR images, but accept that they can be powerful and expressive for some people.

    I think that we tend to get hung up sometimes, trying to define/categorise things which are inherently hard to put limits to, in the first place.

    For me, it is largely irrelevant to classify beyond relatively general bounds.

    For instance, how would you categorise the final products of an image which was captured using film stock, digitised using a scanner, then processed for print on an inkjet ( labelled giclee), and then re-processed for silk screen printing?

    I snap photos, display images on screen and produce prints for my wall. As long as people enjoy them, they can describe/categorise them as they wish.

  18. #18
    Thlayle's Avatar
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    Re: Photography vs Digital Image

    I just have to ask: are painted negatives photos...or paintings?

  19. #19
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    Re: Photography vs Digital Image

    Descriptions using real or unreal, as a basis for deciding whether an image is a photograph, are certain to put the discussion onto difficult and dodgy ground. How real does it need to be? A sky darkened by a graduated ND filter does not always look real; flowing water smoothed by a slow shutter speed does not look real; very few monochrome images would look real to normal human vision! But it seems likely that most visitors to CiC would regard such images as photographs.

    Cheers.
    Philip

  20. #20
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    Re: Photography vs Digital Image

    I agree with Ted: the word "digital" is a red herring.

    I agree with Mike on the general point. I don't find these sorts of binary distinctions helpful. Every image is modified to some degree, even if you shoot jpeg and do nothing more with it. (The choice of picture style in that case determines how it is modified.) The modifications are on a continuum. I don't see why tonality and detail enhancement are different from many other edits in that respect. Is an otherwise realistic portrait with one blemish cloned out less a 'photograph' than a landscape that has endured the extreme tonality adjustments many people do with HDR software? The former is a lot more realistic than the latter.

    I find it more useful to think of a continuum of realism. When I do macro shots, my goal is a very high level of realism, and most of my postprocessing is designed with that in mind. For example, I use focus stacking to bring out more of the detail that is actually present. At the other extreme, I do ICM (intentional camera movement) photos with the goal of producing something that with luck will be appealing, but at the cost of not being so realistic. There is a very wide range in between these two extremes. I just don't find it useful to try to force a binary distinction onto this continuum.

    On the other hand, sometimes it is useful to discuss where on that continuum photos fall or what types of modifications are allowed. I have a lot of sympathy for news outlets that limit the modification of photos they use.

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