When does representation become art?

I recently put together a short course for a couple of people who wanted to know a little more about editing photographs. One participant had requested I show him how to substitute a more interesting sky behind his photographs of birds, particularly those in flight.

Such a substitution is easily completed within Photoshop; but should we do it?

When does the cropped out branch in the corner of the photo become unacceptable? Is unacceptability the embellishment of a feather or of a whole wing? When does a faithful representation of ‘what was’ turn into something that is a representation of ‘what could have been’? To be fair … each to his own; and I really mean that. However, should if we alter a photo make it known or can we just accept that in this digital age the alteration of a photo is something to be expected and the representation has become art? I suspect the answer lies within the use of the photograph.


Kestrel with Substituted Sky

14 Responses to “When does representation become art?”

  1. Jan 18, 2014 at 7:18 pm

    Excellent answer, and I would add the necessity to be truthful about having done it.

  2. Jan 18, 2014 at 7:31 pm

    Nice topic. It does make you think about how far people have gone with photo alterations.

  3. 7 Carol haddow
    Jan 18, 2014 at 8:34 pm

    Prefer the 1st photo! It looks more natural. I had difficulty with this issue but gradually saw that altered photos can be an artform particularly when they are landscapes. Irene Froy spends hours playing with her photos with spectacular results which bear little resemblance to the origional landscape http://www.irenefroy.com. I now feel there are pros and cons for both altering and leaving alone depending on the subject and what the end product is trying to portray

  4. 9 Richard Palmer
    Jan 18, 2014 at 9:31 pm

    Personally I believe that wild life photos should as near as possible be as shot. Cropping in features such as Sky or background moves away from what was actually seen and become an art form, not a true record. The skill should be in getting the photo right in the first place. That is the great challenge for me. I shoot mostly in RAW and use Adobe Lightroom to “develop” my photos. I will sometimes alter exposure and clarity, but try to keep them as original as possible.

    But each to their own I suppose.

    Kind regards Richard

    Richard Palmer Farm Vision Arable Services Ltd 07831 111875 Sent from my iPad Reply to richard@farmvision.com


    • Jan 18, 2014 at 11:20 pm

      Absolutely Richard… each to their own. I also shoot in RAW format. It usually takes me around a minute to ‘develop’ a photo as all I apply are minimal changes in processing.

  5. 11 Malcolm
    Jan 19, 2014 at 10:04 am

    A very interesting post. I think the key difference is between making the most of what you have photographed as opposed to adding something that wasn’t there. With any image, you want to show off the subject to best advantage. Even such a basic edit as cropping is done with that in mind. So, I don’t have a problem with cloning out the odd branch or background distraction. But I would never add a new sky or cut out the bird and paste it on to a more pleasing background. Of course, if other people wish to do that, then fair enough, but I think such manipulation should be acknowledged.

  6. 13 np001
    Jan 19, 2014 at 10:19 am

    Hi Carl. It is very simple. You end up (how ever you like to do it) with the image YOU want. You can call it ‘art’’ if you like – it doesn’t matter. Any means to the required end is acceptable. People argue whether ‘painter artists’ should use photographs as an aid. Of course they can. Ask David Hockney! The only time you “can’t” do such stuff is in competitions I suppose – but they will have their own rules. Apart from that – anything goes. Simples – as the meerkat would say… Best Neil

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Jan 2014


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