Chapel at Lake Braies, Dolomites, Italy

There is a trend for people to leave negative comments on a picture published in any public forum or social media. How can photographer artists express themselves? How much is too much?

While I was walking and photographing around Lake Braies at the Dolomites of Italy, I couldn't help thinking about a conversation I had with someone a few days prior to this trip. There is a trend for people to leave negative comments on a picture published in any public forum or social media. How can photographer artists express themselves? How much is too much?

There are many great artists of the past and many more in the present. Some of them are recognised for their talent in sculpture, pottery, others have made their name from their famous paintings.

Not all of them had a warm welcome from the public; some of them were considered weird, or even non-artistic. Yet, many of them have become famous and are recognised as amazing artists. And although some of them are not to everyone’s liking – Pablo Picasso’s latest style for instance – we do still see them as artists.

Every time I see a picture posted in a public forum or on social media and it is a bit different (different style or a bit more manipulated than it really should be – according to the specialists), I read countless negative comments about the picture. Things such as “Too much Photoshop”, “This is not photography any more”, “Do you call this photography?”

Let’s take things from the start though and let’s move quite a few decades backwards. On 14 November 1840 on the 5th floor of 45 Rue Laffitte in Paris, there was a young boy born, a young artist. When he grew up, his father wanted him to go into the family grocery business, but he wanted to become an artist. His mother was a singer.

On 1 April 1851, he entered Le Havre secondary school of the arts. Locals knew him well for his charcoal caricatures, which he would sell for ten to twenty francs. On the beaches of Normandy around 1856 he met fellow artist Eugène Boudin, who became his mentor and taught him to use oil paints. Boudin taught him "en plein air" (outdoor) techniques for painting.

When he visited the Louvre, he noticed that painters were copying from the old Masters. Having brought his paints with him, he sat by a window and painted what he saw. He stayed in Paris for several years, this is where he met other young painters, including Édouard Manet and others who would become his close friends.

From the late 1860s, he and other like-minded artists met with rejection from the conservative Académie des Beaux-Arts. They did not see them as artists who had their own unique style – not to everyone's taste, just very odd, different and not good enough. To them, these new guys were not artists, as simple as that. Probably what we would say today… “Too much Photoshop” perhaps.

However, this new artist, together with a group of others with similar style, organised the Société anonyme des artistes peintres, sculpteurs et graveurs (Cooperative and Anonymous Association of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers) to exhibit their artworks independently. At their first exhibition, held in April 1874, he exhibited the work that was to give the group its lasting name. This new man on the block was Oscar-Claude Monet and this new rejected style? Impressionism. This is the man we all know today as one of the most influential painters of all time. And yet, he was (and many others too) rejected by a minority of the establishment.

There are countless painting techniques and styles but they are all included under the same word – Art.

There are countless photographic techniques and styles, why shouldn't they end up under the same word – Art? After all, to all photographers, photography is a form of art and every photographer should be allowed to follow their own unique style and express themselves as they see fit.

Ansel Adams was the biggest picture manipulator of his time, he repeatedly admitted that he manipulated his pictures heavily in order to achieve the print that he had envisioned on location – something similar to “Too much Photoshop”. Should we discard him as not one of the great Masters?

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  1. Avatar
    Russ Saunders on

    Ever since the invention of photography, photographers have manipulated images either by using on camera filters to adjust light and exposure or in the dark room, dodging and burning to reach the desired effect and influence the finished print. The advent of the digital revolution made it easier to do this and for most of us who are not professional photographers and learning as we go, using powerful tools such as Photoshop etc, it’s a steep learning curve so inevitably some shots will over processed but so what. Even the very best artists mentioned in this article had to learn and hone their skills usually over a long period of time. The photographer is using an electro/ mechanical tool to capture the image and the ‘art’ is not just about the finished print or image but the process that the artist has gone through to get the image I.e. Choosing the subject, lens, time of day, lighting, depth of field, shutter speed, aperture – that’s when it starts to become art for me – we can all set our cameras to auto, snap away and get decent results, results that might be absolutely fine for the occasion, but then plan a trip into the wilds to capture the natural world in all it’s glory – planning location, whether sunrise, sunset, Astro, nature etc or creating specific lighting in a studio to capture a portrait. Whatever the medium or however achieved the artist will be visualising the completed composition and working towards that finished idea but for most of us it’s a long journey but hopefully one of continuous improvement.

  2. Avatar
    Chris Simmons on

    If you post an image you are effectively placing it on display in a continually conveying gallery, by virtue of displaying your work you effectively challenge the viewer to have an opinion. Whilst taking a picture and then processing it you are in full control but once posted you are not in control, I am not a professional but a keen enthusiast, I find my work has changed a lot from the first 35mm film rolls of 30 years ago, I have moved from recording scenes in my life to I hope creating slightly more emotive images, like many things we are the product of our experiences and so comment on our images preferably constructive and considered on balance is a necessary part of development, if we have no feedback to our work then how do we confirm where to improve, I got bad comments on my early work, it is just part of the learning process, being honest about your images I think is the best thing, have them measured for what they are.

    • Avatar
      Dimitrios Vasileiou on

      Hi Chris
      Thank you for your comments and I agree with you. While any kind of feedback is more than welcome, bad criticism and being nasty to others is not acceptable.

  3. Avatar
    sohail Ahmed on

    i am capturing natural pictures from more than 5 years…if you are going to see people everyone will not satisfy with you whether picture is good or not good..your pictures are nice…be positive…i am doctor in major but i learned about art too…your pictures are nice..don’t think about others…do whatever you want to do..

  4. Avatar

    “Art IS in the eye of the beholder”
    I love the Art of photography and every day there is something more to learn, for me it is about how beautiful the flowers, the ocean, the sky and so much more of the beauty around us…
    My photographs are a record of that for me, if it means someone else likes my interpretation of a particular subject – great –
    If not I can appreciate that too.
    Harsh criticism gives nothing but hurt… just acknowledge that thankfully we are all different, but the same..
    Thank you Dimitrios for the opportunity to express our thought and feelings..

  5. Avatar
    Kate Cummings on

    With Photoshop we have the tools to produce ART – taking an images or images and letting my imagination go wild – it gives me enormous pleasure
    that I am suddenly an artist. Even the straight forward tweaking of a RAW image is our interpretation of a scene or our best attempt to reproduce exactly
    what we think we saw. The choice is ours.

  6. Avatar

    I think if you shoot for the appeal of other photographers, you’re going to be disappointed. The general public doesn’t care, they just want to be moved by an image. It has to spark imagination and emotion. As long as it isn’t being passed off as something it isn’t, I personally don’t care if the image is manipulated.

    I’d like more articles! 🙂

  7. Avatar

    In photography you have truth documentation and you have creative/manipulative imaging. If you express a composite image as truth it loses all integrity. If you alter a documentary photo it also loses integrity. “all photos are altered by the device(lens, exposure)”. The answer to this is not really because the device from the factory is designed to give the most accurate results(truth) it possibly can. The operator then either operates within that “accurate results” principle or creatively controls the camera to give obscured results. The end result becomes obvious that the camera was not operated to document accuracy in time. Must note that i clearly define that a documentary piece is a photograph and something that is manipulated or composited is no longer a photograph, It is an image. As for levels, dodging and burning, contrast, saturation etc my position is these are adjustments made to a photo to make it look closer to the original scene, but if levels have been boosted to much to the point of looking unnatural then it becomes an image and no longer a photo.

    As for art, it is much easier for us to define what it is not isn’t it? This is because we all have vastly different backgrounds to determine what has value and what does not. However for me to call something art regardless if I like it or not it must come from and inspire imagination inspire emotion and show technical skill. If it is aesthetically pleasing but does not move me intellectually or emotionally then it is nothing more than just a pretty picture with no soul, and their are a lot of these.

  8. Avatar

    Do we really need to be judged and why? Do we have to judge the others? Or just express ourselves? These are my simple questions. I just take pictures because I like to, ever since I was a child. I do like to learn, to experiment and while getting older seeing things under a different perspective.You can call this evolution, hopefully for better! Yes there are basic rules since antiquity, mostly mathematical ratios, about every expression of art. We might try to brake some of them sometimes. Just an experiment. Sometimes it might work. Most of the times it does not. The way to the end matters. Critique and analysis though make us better.

    • Avatar
      Dimitrios Vasileiou on

      A very thoughtful reply, Ioannis. As to your first and second questions, and as you already know my views, I can’t stand ‘judging’ or being ‘judged’. This does not mean that I am not open to constructive feedback, of course – which we can learn from.

  9. Avatar

    There is always much talk about whether it is acceptable to take things out or put things into a photograph or how much processing is allowable. People who don’t have an artistic eye take terrible photographs, it’s not a matter of just clicking a button. Painters alter what they see, so why can’t we? One of my favourite photographs is a mountain range which I changed to blues and I was accused of photoshopping. Yes, that was the look I wanted, I could never have gotten that picture without it. But the comment still irks me.

  10. Avatar

    I’m a professional landscape photographer. In college I majored in communicating arts and minored in photography, but the photography minor in my school was based as much in fine arts as it was photography. I had to take as many art classes (drawing, painting, design 101, art history, etc.) as I did photography (I’m not saying photography isn’t art, just saying that we had to take a wider variety of classes than many other schools that offered photography).
    My photography instructor always said “Photography is the bastard child of the arts,” which he admitted was quite harsh, but often true. Basically, photographers had to work much harder to be accepted into the fine arts community than artists of other mediums. I believe part of the reason for this is that many artists don’t understand all of the creative decisions that photographers have to make between visualizing an image to printing and presenting it –many believe we are merely documenting truth, and therefore not true artists. Of course, if you’re an experienced photographer you know this to be untrue.
    Photography is a unique medium in that the degree of artistic influence (or some would say manipulation) on the final image can vary. For some, such as many National Geographic photographers, the goal is closer to documenting the truth than it is for others such as Jerry Uelsmann who combines multiple images in the traditional darkroom using heavy manipulation.
    Like painting has, photography also follows trends. Take for example the impressionists mentioned in the above article or in photography the relatively recent fad of highly processed HDR imagery.
    When offering constructive criticism of photography I think we need to take into account the skill that was required to create an image. Like many other professionals I believe that HDR has been overdone and especially with amateurs done poorly. Anyone who can bracket exposures, load the images into an HDR program and click some sliders is able to create images that don’t look like traditional photographs. I don’t think this necessarily makes them art. Many are poorly done and speak more of them being highly processed than of being uniquely created pieces of art that invoke strong emotions. I’m not saying HDR photography can’t be art, but that we must take into account the intention of the photographer –were they intentional in their creation or just doing “push-button” work that they thought looked different.
    Another reason I believe photography gets a bad reputation in the art community is the tendency to go for low-hanging fruit. By this I mean photographing the same locations that many others have, without much effort to offer a unique perspective. Don’t get me wrong I’m guilty of this as well, making variations of the ‘classic’ images of Mesa Arch, The Watchman in Zion National Park, Multnomah Falls, Yosemite Valley, and the Snake Overlook in the Grand Tetons. In the same way painters have still lives of fruit and vases of flowers. No two bowls of fruit look exactly the same, but none of them really excited me anymore either.
    The point of my comment here is that as photographers if we want to be accepted into the fine art world, we have to strive to create unique images that evoke emotion and offer something fresh to the viewer. I believe this is harder with landscape photography than other genres, but it can be done. Keep shooting and stay creative!

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