Digital Photography vs. Digital Art

When looking at art, we know it is something that is appreciated for its aesthetic value or emotional impact on an observer. Basing on the assumption that I will continue to hold that photography is an art I would like to see if it can be separated from digital art in a meaningful way. Digital photography has come especially close to blurring the lines recently, so let’s take a look at what makes these two mediums different. 

Digital Photography

Photography started out well over a century ago with various types of film exposed to light focused through a lens. Today, the practice is the same in principle while we replace the plastic with electronics and silicon they still capture light through a glass lens. All this means is that photography is defined by how light is captured on a flat plane and recorded over a moment in time. 

Since photography requires the artist to be on location to create it has to be some representation of reality. This prerequisite of traveling to different places has an impact on the photography being created because the artist, conditions, and location itself change over time. This also forces the artist/photographer to be bound to a timeline when expressing themselves through this medium.

The creative side of photography comes from the subjective experience of the photographer. The mood, scene, and artistic vision changes from one artist to the next in photography even when presented with the same location on the same day. These variables make it difficult to create consistently compelling photographs in landscapes where our vision will rarely line up with the reality of a scene. A photographer has to come back until everything works out while a digital artist might force things to work out in photoshop later.

The Grey Space

The purist in photography will say that any image that round trips to photoshop dips its toes in digital art. While this is true some of the time, I would argue there is some grey area in this matter. Some common practices in photography like HDR and focus stacking allow the artist to push the boundaries of their equipment. Taking multiple images and stitching them together through different techniques have been around since the darkroom days. So long as a final image is created through a process trying to show a scene realistically there can be some artistic leeway in how it was achieved. That is art after-all!   

When the work is done in post-production crosses a line for me is when it no longer accurately represents a location. Removing critical components of a scene, moving mountains, and bending reality makes me believe what is being created no longer firmly stands in digital photography and crosses into manipulation/digital art. Where you draw the line in this grey area between artistic mediums is for you to choose, but keep in mind there should be a little blurring of lines for intent as well. If the artist’s intent is to show a realistic vision vs the intent is more artistic the line may land differently.

Digital Art

When looking at things like digital art with photography as a context it typically involves a combination of many different elements/layers. The images created are more of a collage of things that work well together blended together seamlessly into a piece. Art is more loosely tied to the locations they might represent than the location is represented by the art. What this means is, the integrity of a location isn’t held in the way it is but more in how it can be beautiful or have a mood attached to it.

The pushing and pulling of what reality was in an image become what the art represents and not the reality itself. The artist in digital art is the one communicating everything and the light is no longer what they are capturing. Rather, in contrast to photography, digital art manipulates and creates the lighting, color, and elements in a scene. Digital artists are no longer tied down by what reality is and are free to change relationships between elements to how they best suit their own vision. The milky way can move around the sky and they don’t have to wait for a perfect sunset because everything can be blended later in photoshop. Who needs to keep returning to a location or wait around for the light as a digital artist? You don’t!

What does it really matter?

When these two mediums are mixed up or used in conjunction with one another to define images it can damage the reputation of the art/artist. A photographer will never be able to do the things a digital artist can because they morally are tied into showing reality. A digital artist should never be held responsible for holding the same values of a photographer because they don’t intend to show reality, it is about their vision.

It starts with the artist. We are responsible for being truthful and accurate with what we call ourselves and our images. If you manipulate scenes into showing something different than reality please be honest about it. Creating digital art through photography is not a bad thing. It is only bad if it isn’t candid or if it is bad art visually speaking. As photographers, we should let people know what it means to create photographic art. If we don’t educate those viewing our photographs in how it was done then there is little chance they will come to understand that value.

If you live in the grey area yourself and struggle with your art’s identity in the medium, be honest. It is key to be transparent in business and in art because letting others know everything and letting them be the judge will prove more fruitful. If the visuals you produce are compelling enough they should shine through anyways!

The Medium’s Merits

Photography has been around for a while now as a practice. It helps to show a vision that is grounded in reality. In this way, it can show how the world we live in is beautiful, terrifying, amazing, and awesome. The challenges of finding and waiting for good light and compositions in photography makes it all that much more interesting when good art is created. There is also a moral integrity that a photographer has to keep when creating new images from capture through to the digital darkroom where it is all too easy to stray into moving pixels around and changing reality. This all goes to create value in the end product!

Digital art doesn’t have to hold itself within any boundaries that can often pen in photographers creatively. It is freeing to be able to create anything that best fits your vision. Whether it is just changing a photograph slightly so that it gets rid of/adds various elements or creating an entire scene from scratch the possibilities are endless. The value in digital art that starts with or includes photography is that the artist can stay true to what they want to communicate with the viewer from start to completion without worry of breaking any rules. 

Final Thoughts

It is good to know what different mediums of art are, especially when they can be so closely related, as digital photography and digital art are. Many will mix and match these two together, but the better educated you are on the subject you will be better able to decide on what separates them. As closely related they are, there are key differences that are crucial in discerning between them. With photography grounded in its relationship with reality, anything that strays too far away must no longer be considered true to its origins, but it can still hold up value as digital art. There is a line to draw, it is up to you to draw where it is for you in that grey area between digital photography and digital art.