Is Photography Really a Form of Art?

Some people claim that Photography isn’t really art. They say that since that photography is effortless compared to other art forms, and that you merely take pictures of something already created, it is not a form of art.

I’m going to show you, in 3 steps, with 3 solid arguments, why these people are wrong.

First, photography is not effortless.

trance_by_john77-d676aslPhotography is a medium, and it can be effortless, if all you wanted is to take snapshots, but if what you wanted to do is create art, well, it sure as hell ain’t effortless. Let’s look at the image to the side (copyright Ion Trifu). Do you think it was just a piece of cake point-and-shoot? I’m sure not. Photography is an art if you know the technical aspects of it, and know how to use a camera properly. It takes a lot of effort to know what shutter speed and aperture to use in order to capture the movement of the hair without obtaining a motion blur effect.

It also takes knowledge and experience to know when to press to button in order to capture the exact moment of the movement – no sooner and no later (and believe me, it’s a matter of milliseconds). Moreover, it takes photographic knowledge to obtain the right white balance and colors, fit for this kind of shot, in a cloudy day.

Now let’s think of a different example. A studio photographer spends hours figuring out how to do the shoot, getting supplies, building the set, getting everything ready…all before even starting to set up the lights. Then there’s at least 30 mins of setting up lights, but sometimes he spends another couple of hours figuring out the best way to light it, all of that before actually pressing the button on the camera! Then there are a few more hours of work in Photoshop, and before you know it, the shoot that started at 10 am will end with the final result at 8 pm. Sometimes, photographers deal with projects that take up several days.

Basically, pressing the shutter requires no effort, but everything that happens before it does. Normally, the difficulty of an artwork does not define whether it is ‘art’. Art can take five minutes or five days – it’s about being creative and expressing yourself. However, it is true that pictures who took longer time to prepare (both as a concept, gear adjustments and post processing) are usually better.

Second, photography is not a perfect reflection of the reality as we see it.

surreal_seduction_by_john77-d3h0buhLet’s think about surrealistic and abstract photography. To create a photo like the one from the side (copyright Ion Trifu), a photographer typically visualizes how he wants the photo to look like (for eg. what distortions he wants to try), finds a subject that the works well with a certain effect, and then shoots for that effect.

Now, if you want to argue: “what about nature photography?” then let me remember you an old saying: “a picture is worth a 1000 words.” You can take, let’s say, 100 photographers in front of the same scene, and you will probably have 80 different views of the same natural environment. Only something called ‘art’ can produce such different results. More details here.

The Photographer (artist) observes and shows emotions which normal people wouldn’t look at. Let’s say you see a tall glass building reflecting the sky. A photographer will see a pattern in this, and his picture will express what he saw, not the exact replica of the building. He will cut out the sky around the building and will keep inside the frame only the windows. A point-and-shoot-er will only produce a city landscape, like a postcard you can buy in the store next to the building. My point here: there are two types of photographers: the artists and the commercial photographers. The existence of commercial photographers does not mean photography is not an art.

Apart from knowing the technicalities behind the process of shooting a picture (a thing that camera manufacturers made it simply year by year), arranging a scene that could be called breathtaking takes genuine insight. The first part – the technicalities – is the craft. The second part – the scene setting – is the art. So, from this point of view, photography is both craft and art.

Third, a photo follows all the rules of what “visual art” implies.

autumn_is_here_ii_by_john77-d5i2ujnIf you let aside all the subjective opinions (and my subjective opinion is that Photography IS an Art), and focus on what traits define the words “visual arts, you will see that all of them apply to Photography in the same manner they apply to other visual arts.

Let’s take painting for example. When you paint something, you need an appealing composition, a clear subject, a combination of colors based on “the color theory”, a perspective, a depth of image in which the background is clearly blurred and the front objects are more vivid, a depth of shadows to create a sense of dimension, and so on. All of these apply to photography as well. The only difference is: it takes longer to paint than it takes to shoot a picture. But even so, while you spend time stroke after stroke, you also take shot after shot until you obtain the final “almost perfect” image.

Photography literally means “drawing with light”. A photographer has to understand light and how it interacts with subjects, just like every other type of artist.

If you want to create something that you have imagined with a brush or a pencil, you just sit down and do it. If you want to do that with a camera, you first have to rack your brain for a few hours figuring out how the hell you are ever going to manage to create this fantasy thing that only exists in your head. There’s always a way, but it may very well break you to figure it out and do it. When shooting a picture in the outdoors, you might have to move some branches, hand of a cliff or dive your feet halfway through the water.

Of course, not all photos are “artistic”. Like not all paintings are “valuable”. We are bombarded with photography quite literally 24/7 so it’s easy to take it for granted. It is so accessible to everyone that they find it almost impossible to separate people taking snap shots and photographers.

We now come to the understanding of the difference between ART and ARTISTIC.

ART = the expression or application of human creative skill and imagination, typically in a visual form, producing works to be appreciated primarily for their beauty or emotional power.

ARTISTIC = having or revealing natural creative skill;  showing imaginative skill in arrangement or execution<artistic photography>


Disclaimer: the photos used as examples in this article belong to Ion Trifu.

By Laura

I started photography as a hobby in 2005, during college. My passion slowly became a more important part of my life since 2008. Because of using a combination of my photographic knowledge, with those of internet marketing, I like to call myself a "photomarketer".

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