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   Photographic Art!

 

 

Last Updated - 30th October 2014

 

I have spent the last 7 years capturing all sorts of images and most, if not all of them, are very similar to images that everyone else captures. Its difficult to broaden my photography, to find a new 'niche' and every now and then, I turn towards the idea of photographic art. Photographic art is a very interesting diversion for a photographer to undertake. Sometimes we all capture that 'great shot' and very often it makes a statement and the image just leaps forward and shouts "Art".

When the question of ART is raised in relation to photography the debate can run off in many strands, surrealism, impressionism, social realism and fine art are a few that I could mention. The definition of art is now so pretentious, that many art critics regard the thought of photography as an art form to be heresy.

My
good friend, Roy, recently sent me a photograph 'Breath on Piano' by Gabriel Orozco and asked me "is this photo a great piece of art". Roy is currently undertaking a course on Art Appreciation: Photography as Art so this hot topic is well debated. I replied "Ah the fleeting moment, the trace of the breath on cold lacquered wood, the presence of a person in time marking their visible presence". 'Breath on Piano' is accepted as photographic art because of the presumed statement the image delivers and more so because of the accepted personage of the artist. I am sure that many of the Orozco faithful will have a print copy adoring the wall of their modern house. If the image had been created by a student of Orozco, I doubt it would have reached such prominence?

There are very few photographers who have a eye for art in that 'Decisive Moment' and many will experiment and stage their photography in an attempt to create art; some will even spend hours in software post processing to create their own interpretation of art and some will regard the practice of 'The Purism in Photography' as art itself.


In the end, their print will sit proud on the walls of aficionados or lying in a dustbin upon their death.

This image was shot on a beautiful sunny day in the graveyard at Peebles in Scotland without a flashgun and the 'RAW' colour image was hacked using Adobe Lightroom 5 software and converted to black and white. Is it art - who cares, I remember the moment as clear as the day I captured it, my mother who is 92 years old was walking with her stick, the hot sun was beating down on her face and she was smiling -

It's a sobering thought that your lifetime of work could be chucked out in the bin on your death, all those hours at the computer, hacking away to create your ultimate 'work of art' and then thrown away along with the garbage!

A number of photographers define photography 'as art' but I think it has to go a little deeper for it to be called art? We are all creators, I think that is the mainstay of photography, we like to create images and no matter what some will say, we do appreciate them being admired. I could get into the debate on 'forums' about what defines any form of 'art in photography' but the subject invariably draws all kinds of answers and it becomes so complex and argumentative that a firm definition is never reached.

My own approach to art photography is the recognition that I will have to work very hard to achieve it and if I am lucky enough to develop the thinking of an artist in my photography then I may be successful? Most photographic art is actual in the subject material of the photography, rather than altering the photograph itself but the hardest part is in recognising that material. Emotion has always been associated with art, therefore I think that a photographer has to capture images that draw out emotion? It could be argued that all those black and white photographic images that were taken years ago (even today) are not true art by merely reflections or 'snapshots' of the past but then many do draw out emotion and enhance our perceptions of the past and the present. There are no conclusions in what I have just written, it only serves to open up an endless debate..........a debate about 'what is art' which has been going on for centuries!

One answer that does make sense...........you throw away the technical rules of photography and use the eye and mind of an artist who can visualise the image in software post processing mode or in painted mode.

When you visit other websites that specialise in photographic art you will find that they can be quite diverse. As I wrote above, art can be defined by a statement from the content of a photograph, similar to what you may find in a street image or the photograph itself can be turned into a work of art. This is one of my attempts to turn a camera digital 'RAW' image file into a different rendering, similar to a painting -

 

 

I often imagine that I am doing well with my little efforts at converting my images into works of art............then I visit some of these sites!

Twisted Tree is certainly a site that you can learn from. It is simply breath taking and the monochrome images will blow your mind! The site takes you through standard colour photography to monochrome HDR and into the realms of impressionist art..............worth checking out for any photographer who aspires to make a start in photographic art!

Geoff Simpson the well known British photographer has a website that at first glance you might not take for one that has art images but search deeper into it and the art jumps out at you. He has the uncanny ability to display his images with soft fine edges, moderate in colour saturation, yet they are tack sharp when required...........the overall effect is awe inspiring!

Joe Cornish is well known in the UK and his landscape work is very much in art form. You really don't have to search for it, it requires no interpretation, it is just 'art'!

Erwin Olaf has a site worth visiting for its examples of modern art photography. His work ( for me) is just a little bit of the wall but fascinating to view. It is very deliberate 'staged' art, although I am not qualified to quote any interpretation!

Rui Palha is a street photographer who has some very interesting work on his site. Enlarge his gallery images and then use the right click arrow to move through them. The full size on the screen effect is most excellent, especially his rainy days section which is simplistic yet the art in the photography leaps out............his site is proof that to produce photographic art you do not have to alter the original image!

Enzo Penna is a street photographer, his urban gallery is freaking amazing and so is the rest of his site............his street photography screams art.........I think I will purchase an old secondhand Leica M3, some black and white film and head out when its raining!


Forms of Photographic Art
There are many forms of photographic art on the Internet, soft flowers, abstract colour overlays of varying subjects, blue coloured nudes and half dressed women in old fashioned clothes standing in derelict buildings or in old world settings with scarlet dresses.............most images are planned, project managed and meticulously captured, sometimes hundreds of shots of the scene to deliver that one 'optimum' image that is acceptable as art.

A photographer who moves into the realms of artistic expression is more than likely to  dramatically alter an image
by using drawing tools such as tablets/pens whereby the digital image work is instantly 'recognised as art' as opposed to a photograph.  Many 'artists' take this a stage further and they capture the digital image with a camera, post process it to their desired level, print it onto canvas and then draw/paint over it whereby it becomes a painting. Some go even further and only use the photograph as 'a visual aid' to create a separate painting..........Rolf Harris the artist and painter is known to use this method.


Now that is one tough road to take, especially for me, as I have no idea about art never mind photographic art. To be creative with my photography is a pure joy, to technically setup the shot, try to get the framing right, the subject position and get the correct camera settings to make the capture. As I stated above, 'Photographic Art' is a whole new ball game, you have to throw away the rules and use the eye and mind of an artist. I know that my attempts at photographic art are going to be very mundane.


Camera + Lenses + Post Processing

Many photographers believe that the camera and the lens of choice can make the difference in delivering images that can be considered photographic art or fine art photography. The photographic equipment that is most mentioned for monochrome fine art photography and even colour art, are the Leica rangefinder cameras and Leica M lenses. 


I had read about the Leica Look or the Leica Glow and once believed that the 'drawing' of a Leica lens would somehow improve my images and make them more into an 'Art Form'. I have to admit this latest Leica M9 with the Leica 35mm Summicron f2 M lens and the Summicron 75mm ASPH f2 M or its neighbour the 90mm Summicron ASPH f2 M lens all display a 'draw' that is interesting. Certainly the Leica M9 Rangefinder's 'RAW' image files (I have read) hold up extremely well in post processing and convert into 'art form' images very well. In the same league for photographic art is the well received Zeiss 50mm 'Sonnar' ZM lens which is sharp and yet delivers beautiful smoothness away from the point of focus.............its 'RAW' images hardly require any work done to them. However, the best cameras and lenses in the world will not make an average photographer like me into a photographic artist.

Quality photographic art images are invariably achieved through skillful post processing and where possible utilising 'camera profiles' that are supplied by the manufacturer of the software or third party developers. The majority of photographers will shoot 'RAW' file images which are later developed in software. I believe that the skill is in capturing the basic 'RAW' image with the 'artistic eye' of a photographer who is viewing the scene in post processing mode before pressing the shutter. Thereafter, more than likely the post processing will deliver a 'work of photographic art' at least in the eyes of some people. I have started to use Adobe Lightroom Software which is very powerful but at least two other software packages could be added for more professional results, Nik Efex Pro for black and white conversions and Adobe CS5 which includes the ability to layer parts of an image or images for greater effect. I have now returned to HDR software in combination with other packages and I am interested in Corel Paint for using with drawing tools, such as tablets and pens.


Cropping is Essential
It is essential that I can crop my images for effect. Personally I love 35mm and a 100mm prime lenses..........35mm is wide enough for me and yet I can crop into 75mm and 100mm can crop into around 150mm which provides an overall reasonable field of view with optimum sharpness. It is great working with primes, especially manual ones, as the photography is slowed right down especially when you are searching for photographic art subjects and taking the time to capture them. I have found that shooting slightly wider offers me much more room in post processing to correct any distortion, straighten sides and yet still have enough room, especially in the height, to crop around the corrections to retain the essence of the image.


Film versus Digital

I am also trying out film as opposed to digital for my attempts at photographic art. Film already contains the texture that is often best suited for the medium of art and by digitally scanning in the negatives in 'Tiff' file format, I am able to work at very high levels of post processing and very often the dynamic range of the film image is superior to a digital one! Now this is definitely an area where a Leica Film Rangefinder camera and a 35mm f2 Summicron Lens would come into their own............the Leica M3, M6 TTL, M7 and the awesome MP, any of them second hand would do very nicely. At the moment I am using a Nikon FM3a Film SLR with Nikon AI-s Lenses and the results are most excellent.


This image was one of my first attempts at post processing and it was a red flower that I had captured in my garden with a
Panasonic GF1 micro four thirds digital camera and a Panasonic Lumix 14-45mm zoom lens. The GF1 combo is surprisingly adept at close up shots with the lens image stabilisation performing very well. The original colour 'RAW' image file was very sharp. The shot was taken hand held at 45mm (90mm field of view). The original shot settings are ISO:100, aperture f5.6 and shutter speed 1/160secs. I cropped and softened it in Adobe Lightroom Software and it seems fairly reasonable? I like the colour and the effect but I am not sure it can be called 'Photographic Art'? 


I like this purple flower image, another garden shot using the GF1 camera and the Lumix 14-45mm Lens. The original shot settings are ISO:200, aperture f8 and shutter speed 1/80secs. Again this was softened and modified using Lightroom software to develop the 'RAW' file. I like the way the colours have blended in whilst the centre of the image retains a reasonable sharpness. With the correct GF1 profile in Lightroom the conversion produces a very nice effect.

It could be argued that even a point and shoot camera is capable of capturing images whereby they can be turned into works of art. I believe
for a great number of images such as landscapes and images with a reasonable depth of field a point and shoot camera could be used, providing the photographer has a good eye and is proficient in post processing software. I would add that a point and shoot that can capture 'RAW' files would be preferable!

This image of the beach at Bridlington on the East Coast of England was taken using a Canon IXUS 12MPixel sensor 960 IS digital camera. It is a standard camera colour jpeg developed again in Lightroom, softened and cropped for effect. I also converted it to black and white using Lightroom. It becomes alive when it is blown up to about an A3 size print and you stand back from the wall to view it. The beach shot image settings are ISO:80, aperture f5.8 and shutter speed 1/400secs.

This image of Frances and Alistair was captured using Kodak colour film and a film SLR camera. It was digitally scanned using a Canon FS4000US scanner and then post processed
in Lightroom 3 software. The resulting image was heavily softened and the eyes of the child were sharpened for effect. This image comes alive when it is viewed from a distance and in particular when it is a large print on the wall. The poignancy of this image is that I captured it back in 1980 and tragically a few years later, Alistair, a beautiful child, passed on.

This next image was captured using a Canon 5D Mk1 DSLR and a
Canon 24-105mm L Lens. It is a picture of a girlfriend and yes, it is posed for deliberately. Carol is attractive but the desired effect was for her to gaze out on Lake Garda showing her back to the camera. I called the shot 'Distant Memories'. This is one image that I think is close to what I would call 'Photographic Art'. It is minimalistic and it could be interpretated as a woman sitting quietly, gazing out onto the still expanse of water and reflecting back on the expanse of her life and the poignant memories. The original shot settings are ISO:200, aperture f4 and shutter speed 1/1600secs. 

When you start out to change your style of photography and attempt to move towards more artistic images it can be extremely difficult to find the material. A lot of the images in this article were shot a while ago for effect and feature in my web as standard colour images. I had tried my hand before at modifying them using 'Buzz Software' which was a failure but it was only when I started to use Lightroom that I had some software tools to create some sort of artistic effect that could hold up on the wall as a print. I have a feeling that once this terrible winter is over, photographic art images, may be thin on the ground. I am sure this is why so many photographers 'stage' their art photography
.
 

Resolution V Noise v Print Size

Like every other image, I determine the final size by the required print size or perhaps by the size it will be displayed on a digital screen. This for me is what determines the noise versus resolution quality because a great deal depends on the actual viewing distance? Fortunately with most photographic art, the resolution versus noise ratios are less of a problem as most images are reduced in resolution for effect and for greater viewing distances. I am sure that many professional photographic artists who modify their images use soft lenses on their cameras. Some lenses like the Zeiss 50mm 'Sonnar' ZM (Leica mount) actually deliver crisp sharpness but with a very smooth outline, which can with the correct settings, take the image a long way into an art form, even before post processing is applied.

Street Photography & Varying Tastes
People have varying tastes as to what image can be classed as photographic art and very often it is not the finish of the image but what it portrays that dictates its acceptance. Street photography can be hit or a miss, especially in monochrome and the accepted image can be sharp, hazed, blown out.................it seems to be the message that is delivered more than the quality of the image? Personally, I have never been in the mindset of the art critics and sometimes they seem to lose the plot in their endeavors to explain the art form.
I often imagine that Picasso, once he was accepted, was often 'doubled up with laughter' at the thought of what art critics would 'exclaim' regarding one of his wayward brush strokes.

I captured this image in Venice and I admit, I have messed about with it for years in software to achieve some sort of effect. When I saw her sitting there, she really looked fed up and she had a piece of paper in her hand. I figured the paper was a note from her boyfriend giving her the brush off. She is a beauty and I am probably completely wrong but 'Dumped in Venice' is what I saw in the shot. The image was captured using a Canon 5D Mk1 DSLR with a Canon 24-105mm L Lens. It was converted to black and white in Lightroom and softened for effect. The 'art' is supposed to be in the interpretation, so I guess it could have left it sharp? The original shot settings are ISO:200, aperture f4 and shutter speed 1/1600secs.

This image was again captured in Venice and it was originally a colour shot using
Canon 5D Mk1 DSLR with a Canon 24-105mm L Lens which is not half bad for out of focus shots and makes a great travel lens. The girl appeared to be having a break or perhaps she was fed up with the lack of customers, in any case it captures a nice moment and the image has  some background depth which I like. I am not sure that it is photographic art? The image was captured in colour, converted to black and white in Lightroom and softened for effect. The original shot settings are ISO:200, aperture f4 and shutter speed 1/1600secs.


The 'Artists' Eye for Interpretation and Post Processing
Throwing away the technical and concentrating on the art composition with an eye for the final post processed product is extremely difficult. I keep seeking 'the minimalistic' image that conveys a message and yet is simplistic in its content to deliver that message. Whether it is a street image or landscape or sometimes a combination of both the road is a troublesome one..............whoa, I'm turning into an artist, I'm going to cut of my ear and freak out with the load I carry for my art..........I don't think so!

This image was originally captured in colour and was extreme in its sharpness. Its my idea of minimalistic content but has so many facets to take in. Taken a few years ago at Lazise, Lake Garda, Italy, I recently re-visited it with Lightroom and softened it for effect. The choice of scene was deliberate but unlike the image of Carol above, it was not staged. The original image was a nice picture and captured the moment well, the baby buggy, the kids at the edge of the walkway overlooking the lake, the yacht with the red sail, the young lovers on the chair with their cycles parked up and the tree with the litter bin. I think the ornate lamp posts finished it off nicely and yet it remains quite uncluttered.

I also converted it to monochrome in Lightroom and gave it a
slight glow in the softening. It looks a bit more 'old world' which I prefer to the colour conversion. The image was captured using a Canon 5D Mk1 DSLR with a Canon 24-105mm L Lens.  The original shot settings are ISO:320, aperture f14 and shutter speed 1/250secs.

I used the same approach for the next colour shot which was taken in Cairo but again Carol was deliberately placed into the scene with her floppy straw hat. The sun was bouncing off the buildings and the shadows created a nice effect around the chairs. I called it 'A Girl in Cairo' although perhaps 'Alone in Cairo' would have suited the image better
but she was not alone, she was with me, so it did not fit my perception of the moment.

The modified colour version warmed up quite
nicely but I also converted it to monochrome in Lightroom.  The original image was captured using a Canon 5D Mk1 DSLR with a Canon 24-105mm L Lens.  The original shot settings are ISO:100, aperture f11 and shutter speed 1/125secs. Both images have been softened, cropped and the highlights lifted to create more of a glow.

The above shots at Lake Garda and Cairo could be 'classed' as street photography but the next image
moves away more towards a landscape. It was taken in Rome within the grounds of the forum and it is a picture of a Roman villa. The ruins in the foreground provide some depth and I think add character to the scene. Its not so minimalist but it is timeless in appearance, unless you look very carefully at the people in it.

The original colour image was captured using a Canon 5D Mk1 DSLR with a Canon 24-105mm L Lens.  The original shot settings are ISO:100, aperture f8 and shutter speed 1/160secs.

This next shot was opportunistic as I stopped the car and snapped it as I walked back towards the bridge.
I spoke briefly to the couple, who were Americans, visiting Peebles on holiday. The sad part regarding this image is that the 'Manor Bridge' near Peebles in Scotland is an extremely old bridge with a couple of centuries flowing under its arch and now it is boarded off and declared unsafe.................so much for the protection of heritage!

The original colour image was captured using a Canon 5D Mk1 DSLR with a Canon 24-105mm L Lens.  The original shot settings are ISO:200, aperture f8 and shutter speed 1/60secs.

During the heavy snowfall in December 2010, I was out in the fields with my GF1 camera and Lumix 20mm f1.7 Lens when I captured this next shot. It was a glorious day as
the sun shown through the clouds, blue sky and the snow was reflective.

I love that GF1 camera a
nd lens; compact, light and yet it delivers awesome sharpness in the 'RAW' file images. A classic 40mm field of view from the 2x crop sensor and some say, me included, that 40mm is the 'sweet spot' between the 35mm and 50mm focal range.

The original shot settings are ISO:100, aperture f4 and shutter speed 1/1600secs.

I converted the colour 'RAW' in Lightroom to monochrome, softened it and I think it displays enough depth of content to draw in the viewers eye. It is a timeless image as the barns are derelict and ruined, the large trees are over 2 hundred years old and it is in a conservation area. The scene has hardly changed, even the original stone dyke remains from yester year.

Its hard to determine if any of it would pass for photographic art, does it make a statement, does it have hidden content...............I guess it is just different to what I usually produce and I remain content with that!

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Richard Lawrence
Scotland
United Kingdom

 

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