Craggy Gardens - Blue Ridge Parkway, June 2017Craggy Gardens - Blue Ridge Parkway, June 2017

Should Photographs Represent Reality or Are They Art?

July 21, 2022  •  1 Comment

With the advancements in post processing software and tools, there are varying opinions on what photography should represent.  For the sake of this discussion, let's focus on landscape and macro photography.  Some feel photographs should represent the reality of what the photographer saw through the view finder while others view photography as an art, where the photographer is free to interpret and present the scene as they imagined it.  For example, my two siblings view the soft silky look of a waterfall shot using a long exposure as not real life and would prefer seeing the individual droplets of water splashing about.  My clear preference, if you've seen my waterfall photographs, is one using long exposure to give the illusion of movement and the flow of the water.  Recent advancements in the tools available to photographers such as sky replacements and textures provide even more opportunities for the creation of "art".


So who is "right"?  My personal belief is that, as a photographer, I'm creating art.  Using my imagination to not only present my subject but to present it in such a way that I believe represents all it could be.  This could simply be increasing the color saturation a bit or erasing distracting elements.  It may mean replacing a totally blown out bright hazy sky with one having nice puffy white clouds.  


No digital photos are produced without some post processing.  Even when you snap off a photo with your camera set on "auto" or with your phone, the camera is doing some processing automatically.  But with today's cameras you can take photos in RAW format vs. JPEG, which provides much more information to use in post processing.  This allows photographers to use every pixel of information in the original image whereas a JPEG photo only has a fraction of the information.


One reason I may do some "extra" post processing is that most times I visit a location hoping for exceptional conditions which does not really materialize.  Let me give you an example.


Last weekend I visited a new waterfall, the Lower Waterfall on Hungry River.  This was after we stopped at Case Falls just outside Hendersonville, NC.  By the time I reached the Hungry River, the sky was very bright and there was no way of getting an evenly exposed photograph with an even range of brights and darks.  Even by blending an underexposed photo for the sky with another image processed for everything else would leave a totally boring sky.  I made the decision while shooting that I would likely  need to use the sky replacement tool in Photoshop to save the photo.  Here is the unprocessed photo.

As I tried various skies with nice clouds, the photo looked much better but just was not making a great image.  The main reason was the waterfall itself.  It did not look great with its water flow.  I then thought about using a night sky.  That presented challenges by "matching" the surrounding landscape to a nighttime scene with the proper color temperature.  I tried a sky with the Milky Way in it and that led me to this final image.

Lower Falls on Hungry River  July 2022Lower Falls on Hungry River July 2022

You can probably see the extensive dodging and burning that was needed to arrive at a believable lighting scheme.  Another issue was adapting the color temperature to that of a nighttime photo.  I lowered the color temperature more to the blue or cooler part of the spectrum.  I also had to be sure to adjust any areas on the trees or elsewhere that had some brighter sunlight hitting it.  Then, finally, to add a bit of mystery to the image I added some light to the window of the abandoned building.  This is the image that showed the full potential for this scene in my mind.


Then another question comes up when you want to post the photo online.  Do you indicate that the photo was processed with a replacement sky or allow the viewer to think this is the actual scene you saw?  While I would like to take credit for taking the image like it appears I always give an indication that I creatively used Photoshop to get the result.


Let me give you another example of another method to enhance a photo but without any post processing.  My interest in macro photography, especially with flowers, is increasing.  But often times the background of the image, even after using a wide open aperture to blur it, detracts from the image.  To provide a more pleasing background, I purchase textures which, in this case, appears to be a nice blurry green.  These textures are printed and glued on a foam board.  Then, while taking the photo, I simply hold the foam board behind the flower.  The result is shown here.

Using this technique removes the ugly brownish background and replaces it with a pleasing background that looks like you were in a plush garden.  This can also be accomplished in photoshop but I find this approach much easier.  I have about six of these printed textures with me all with a different pattern and color.


So is photography as discussed here supposed to present realism or should it be considered art and its many creative possibilities?  Each photographer needs to answer that question for themselves.  There is no one answer for everyone.  It is your photo after all.  Do what YOU like.


Enjoy your photography journey!!



Artistic photography is one that makes use of the viewer’s imagination. The photographer takes us into his/her world and allows us to experience what they see in their mind’s eye. Photographs that depict reality are those that capture things as they truly exist in the world around them. Click this link for more details. These photographs are not creative and do not use the imagination of the viewer.
No comments posted.
January February March April May (5) June (4) July August (6) September (2) October (6) November (3) December
January February March April (4) May (4) June (2) July (1) August (2) September October November December
January February (2) March (1) April (1) May June July August September (1) October November December
January February March April (1) May June July (1) August September October November December
January February March (1) April May June July August September October November December
January February March April May June July August September October November December