Is it a photo? Or art? Or something else altogether?

Okay, I admit this is not strictly to do with video (but parts of it could be included in the loose term of “filmmaking”), but I think the subject matter still relates.

When I started my photography hobby, we had no digital anything. It was all stills with real, proper film. Motor drives existed, but were horribly expensive, and so in my chosen area of motor sport photography, the skill to get the shot right first time was paramount. And of course, with film not being reusable and coming in chunks of 36 frames, you could not afford to just hold the shutter down every lap hoping Mr Brock or Mr Dunkerton or Mr Moffat would so something silly or spectacular.

I have some good mates in the photography field who are at the very top of the game in this country and their own disciplines range from motor sport to National Geographic. In each case, they strive to faithfully capture exactly the scene in front of them. They might use some interesting angles or lenses, but the shot is still essentially what they see and what is happening in front of them.

And, yes Photoshop or an equivalent such as Corel PaintShop Pro (my preference) may be used to tweak things ever so slightly, but the basic shot is still the same.

Sometime back though, my motor sport mate asked my thoughts on a specific photo. He hadn’t taken it, someone else had. It was recognisable as the main straight at the Philip Island motor racing circuit in Victoria with two V8 Supercars on it.

What had drastically changed was the atmosphere around it. It looked to all intents and purposes that the cars were driving into a HUGE setting sun, and the air all around them was a sort of foggy orange colour. The cars were almost in silhouette and shown from the rear at the exact middle of the image and looked around 50 metres away or so.

A spectacular shot for sure. BUT, not a true depiction of the actual scene at the time of the shot. Photoshop or Lightroom, or something else had been brought to play with I am guessing a myriad of filters to create this montage.

So, the question is, is this now still a photograph, or is it art? Or something else entirely different again?

I know there is an element of “traditional” photographers who claim that the likes of Photoshop make it too easy for snappers these days to correct errors compared to the “old ways” with a darkroom, chemical baths and enlargers. And of course, digital does allow you to hold the shutter down, overlay shots and dozens of other electronic trickeries.

The digital enthusiast will counter with the “you could still do it back then with analogue methods” and yes, yes you could. Albeit taking a lot of time and skill. (My mother used to paint sepia photographs!)

So, has digital taken away the skill of photography, or indeed even video, and replaced it with Photoshop and After Effects experts? Is it still a requirement to intimately understand ASA, shutter speed, focus and aperture or is simply putting the camera on “A” for “Automatic Everything” sufficient and the eye of the photographer / videographer is now the main thing to simply (?) frame the shot?

And is a photo is doctored by straightening a horizon and sticking a wedge tailed eagle high up in the sky pulled from another image, still a photo? If a video has a frame or two removed, where a seagull peskily appeared and the sky darkened still a video?

My mate who shoots for National Geographic can’t suddenly stick an extra elephant in a shot and present it as “real”. Any more than another can Photoshop tyre smoke into a skidding car to make it look better and submit that as a newspaper / magazine photo for the sports section.

I’m not saying YOU shouldn’t. But if you do, and someone exclaims “what a fantastic shot!” and you don’t fess up that there was a little more than a photographer’s skill involved and that is not really the exact shot you took, don’t you get a teeny-weeny bit embarrassed and feel guilty?

I’m interested in your thoughts with regard to this debate.

(And yes, the Beatles Abbey Rd cover WAS doctored in some markets. This is the doctored one. Can you spot the difference?)



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