Digital Photography – Art Or Science?

Working on the basis that digital photography is just a natural development of ‘standard’ film photography should mean that it is an art form. However, with the advent of digital capture and processing many would consider it to be a science. So is there a definitive answer as to which it is?For me, art is all about expression, freedom to create, and in many ways it’s the embodiment of chaos; you may start out with an idea of what you want to create, but something might happen along the way to change the final outcome. With photography in mind, you may change the composition of the shot at the last minute, nuances in the natural light that you are shooting in may change the tone or feel of the image captured, there are many variables that you simply have no control over – and some you do.Science on the other hand doesn’t deal in chaos or expression. It is too exact in its desire to define and create a given result. The dictionary definition of science contains a few tell tale words; Objective, systematic, formulated, organised… Look up the word ‘art’ in a dictionary and words such as; Creative, imaginative, ideas, skill, workmanship, expression… See where I’m going with this?I’m not knocking science here, I’m a fan. It’s just the overlay of the word science with photography simply doesn’t sit right for me. The act of taking a stunning image requires an artistic eye; it’s not a formulated, objective and organised act. It’s one of chaos, and choice and changing your mind about the F stop or the ISO at the last minute. But wait, is it?Any photographer will tell you that you need to know what you are doing. You can’t just pick up a camera and start randomly shooting and expect to create perfect or even interesting images. A group of researchers gave a group of chimps a video camera recently. The chimps walked around and shot video with it and yes, it was pretty chaotic, but was it any good? Well no, not really. So organisation and a systematic and formulaic approach are needed after all.Maybe what I’m actually saying here is that we shouldn’t be so hung up about sorting one from the other; maybe the two can and in fact do coexist in digital photography. Think about this for a moment. The ability to create a truly stunning image requires an artistic eye, it demands creativity from the author, an idea, the use of imagination and skill, but it also requires structured knowledge. The ability to organise and operate all of your equipment, select the right F stop or shutter speed, and even to be able to apply a tried and tested formula to get the style of image that you desire. There you have it; both science and art working together hand in hand.Even if you were to argue that the actual act of photographing a subject is artistic, the processing of that captured image must follow a scientific approach. Any image manipulation software that you may use requires an organised, formulaic and often systematic approach to get the best results. Even if you use it to just tweak your levels or highlights. Try putting one of those chimps with a video camera in front of a video editing package and see what results you get. Interesting? Yes. Usable and watchable? No.For me, it’s a balance, a collaboration if you will, even though the two seem miles apart. Digital photography needs artistry from the photographer, but it also needs science to compliment it. It’s not as clear cut as you may think.

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