Does artistic value diminish with ease of creation?   1 comment

I am a frequent reader of a variety of blogs that provide helpful tips on how to use tools like Photoshop and Lightroom, two of my primary post processing tools. I recently commented on one of those blogs on the topic of  the authorship of an image which can be found  here.

My response, as you can read below was my attempt to bring to light a broader issue facing photographers today. The question of “ease” and the value we place on our images relative to the circumstances which placed us in front of a scene and in front of our camera, pressing the shutter release at a moment in time. The photographic community apologizes far too quickly for the ease with which the art we create is in fact created. I think that fact is what devalues the art form and it is time we allow the image to speak for itself and we stop speaking for it or at the very least excusing it.

Before I get to my comment, I thought I would share the before and after of a picture I recently took on a visit to Gibbs Gardens with my wife this past weekend.

Before – Straight Out Of Camera (SOOC)

© 2013 Paul Coffin Photography


© 2013 Paul Coffin Photography

It is clear (at least it is to me) that  the second image is superior in many ways to the image that is not processed in any way. If I said I worked on it for 8 hours perfecting the color and contrast would that mean it had more artistic value than the first? If I said it took one click of a button in Photoshop would that devalue it? What if, as it happens is the case, that it was my wife who suggested I take this particular picture from this particular angle. Does that fact make me any less a photographer and the image any less brilliant? I think not.

Perhaps I have been hanging around other photographers too much and my bias on ease is formed from that dialogue.  In the end, I would suggest it doesn’t matter any more or less than the size of the paint brush for a painting or edge of a chisel used on a marble sculpture.

I am thrilled with the latest technology and relative ease with which an image can be truly transformed in post processing and make absolutely no excuses for it. All I can hope for is that when you look at the second image you say wow and that it moves you emotionally in some way. At that point, I hope, how I made it is less important than that I made it in the first place.

Here are my comments from the blog I mentioned above.


You pose a great inquiry and offer an even better debate on the very nature of photography as a form of artistic expression. I would suggest this predicament is no different than the much debated question “is photography art”. The availability of the tools to the masses to make photographs has been around since the time Kodak gave away thousands of Brownies. Anyone can “take” a photograph but not very many can make art from a photograph. That for me is where the line is drawn.

Whether in the plane or on the conference floor, the real question is not “the how” but “the what”! As photographers we seem to be constantly apologizing for the how or at a minimum explaining it. Why does the how matter to anyone but ourselves as artists. The how is a mystery for me when looking at the folds of fabric carved in marble, and while fascinating, my mind dwells more on the subject, the pose and the beauty of form than the chisel, hammer and sand paper.

So it is with your photo from the plane. The fact is, the very moment you finger pressed the shutter release, something special happened. Could the person beside you have pressed their button at the same time pointing their lens in the same direction, sure. Does that make it any less special, I would suggest not.

It’s true, there is a technical element of the mastery of photography that we all must overcome to create great art, no different that the mastery of hammer and chisel or paint and paint brush. The various incarnations of David each with its own unique interpretation of the “original”, and I use that term carefully, are masterpieces in and of themselves. The ability to repeat “the how”, as is the case with the wedding photographer example, is meant only to demonstrate to the consumer the ability to achieve the technical capability of the toolset and nothing more. The real mastery comes from the subtle use of these tools to capture a moment in time that reflects back to the audience an image the moves the viewer with emotion.

That it was “easy” for you to press the shutter because the circumstances that put you there were not of your own doing is no different than the presence of a magnificent sunset that just happened to occur when you were about to press the shutter. The difficulty of the capturing of the moment, for me at least, is of much less importance, than the fact that you captured it in the first place.

Here is something else to wrap your noodle around. What if you had a time machine and went back to the very second Henri Cartier Bresson pressed the shutter on his infamous photograph, Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare, in 1932 and took the same picture with your D800. Which photograph do you think would be considered a masterpiece, yours or his and would the other be any less for it?

As always, thanks for stopping by and please, your comments are most welcome.


One response to “Does artistic value diminish with ease of creation?

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  1. Art is not about what it is made of or how many hours was spent creating it, nor is it merely the beauty of the subject material or how pleasing to the eye the composition is. It is the impact it has on the audience. Art that invokes heartache, anger, pity, self-loathing or fear are just as valid as those that make me admire the beauty, harmony or serendipity of a work. I am sometimes a bit loathe to share the images I take that have negative feelings attached to them, but these are some of my favourite shots. I guess I worry that they will be too morbid to be interesting, but maybe I should post them anyway.

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