What, exactly, is a photo?

Steamboat Slough at sunset, near Isleton, Sacramento County, California

This question comes up every so often in the photo community.  You would think it’s an obvious answer, right?  What is a photo?  Not what makes a good photo, just what is a photo in a tangible sense?  I got sucked into this question… again… on a Photoshop and Lightroom page on Facebook recently.  You’d be surprised how many varied opinions there are about this.  Then again, knowing human nature, maybe you wouldn’t be surprised.  Some of the perspectives are quite interesting.

Some feel that a photo must be ‘pure’, SOOC (straight out of camera).  Others point out there is no such thing.  One person says there is no such thing for film, as film must still be developed and developing makes changes, but there is such a thing for digital because you can take it straight from the camera to the printer.  That’s one perspective.

Others feel that the concept is wide open and pretty much anything involving a camera is a photo.  This can include end products that are far beyond anything that is even possible in the real world.  For example, I once saw a winning photo in a national magazine photo contest with a 6,000 mile tall woman standing on top of the Earth in a James Bond-like pose.  Another perspective, and many other viewpoints in between.

Here’s my thoughts, and they are based on a simple benchmark.  The standard should be the same for film and digital, so SOOC is really irrelevant.  My base criteria is that a photo must be something that actually exists as viewed in the photo, to a reasonable extent.  That means that changing the mood or colors via dodging-and-burning with film, or Photoshop manipulation, is fine, as long as it’s “real”.  Changing the sky from blue to orange is still a representation of the sky.  The final photo must have started as a photo.

The photo contest winning “photo” I mentioned above is not, in my opinion, a photo.  Just because a camera was involved somewhere in the process does not mean the end result is still a photo.  You can call it a work of art in its own right, and it may very well be well done, but a 6,000 mile tall woman simply does not exist.  Not a photo.

The photo I include with this post IS a photo, and is pretty much SOOC.  I shot it on film in roughly 2001, developed it, scanned the slide into digital several years later, and didn’t feel the need to manipulate it beyond that.  That’s what it looked like to my eye.

Scouting

Trees in silhouette with downtown in background, Des Moines, Iowa

Yesterday was a rainy and windy day.  Missy and I had been planning a road trip for over a week.  I had decided that I wanted to look and try to find some wildflowers and/or prairie that might make a good shot.  We decided to take the road trip in spite of the weather.  Packed up the car, packed up the gear, packed up Wesley, packed up Missy, and off we went, into the wilds of Iowa.

We didn’t take a single shot, it was too rainy and windy, but that didn’t matter.  We found a really cool old cemetery in Rochester Township near Tipton.  It was a very charming place, both old and new, and still maintained.  If a cemetery can be charming, this was it.  We did stop and look and scout, and Wesley had a great time… especially when we visited Missy’s work and dogs are allowed.  It was still a fun day and we made plans to go back when the weather is better.  It takes only about 45 minutes to get there.

Since we didn’t take photos I don’t have a new one to share, but I will post some when we go back.  The photo here is a sunset photo in Des Moines from a couple years ago during another road trip.

Another information source for the cemetery can be found here.

Courthouses and Musings

Benton County courthouse and bell, Vinton, Benton County, Iowa

Sunday evening seems to be my most productive time for updating blog posts and processing photos.  Which kind of makes sense, if you think about it.  The weekend is over, I’m relaxing and winding down getting ready to tackle a new work week and everything that entails.  I’ve never been one to complain about Mondays, or to get all giggly over Fridays.  They’re just days to me… though I do admit I would like to transition to a three-day work week.

You’re probably wondering what a courthouse has to do with this.  Well, in the interest of full honesty, the courthouse has absolutely nothing to do with the days of the week.  I was just randomly musing.  Some friends have described me as a “folksy” person, and I would tend to agree with that.  This is a good example.

This particular photo, however, has always been a favorite of mine.  I like the exposure, the colors, the composition, the perspective.  It all comes together for me.  This photo was shot during a photo club photo shoot.  I just happened to catch this one just right… the week before and the ween after there was scaffolding around the clock tower as it was undergoing a lengthy renovation.

Vinton is a neat little town.  The downtown area has a lot of good photo opportunities.  I need to get back there sometime soon.

Something new from something old

Old windmill silhouette at sunset, Ely, Linn County, Iowa

In my continuing quest to go through old photos and update my website and selection, I took this never-before-published photo and worked it out as a panorama.  I took this nine years ago… on 8/8/08… and another shot has always been one of my favorites.  I love the reflection of the sunset on the clouds, and the old windmill in silhouette.  As I was set up taking shots I still remember a car driving by, slowing to look at what I was looking at, and giving me a smile and a ‘thumbs up’.

Is it obvious that this scene was the inspiration for my logo?

Anyway, as I was reprocessing the other photo I looked through the others and this one intrigued me.  The upper sky was open and plain and boring so I didn’t know what to do with it.  It had never occurred to me to make this one a panorama… until last night.

The other photo I processed to have the silhouette and foreground areas to be more of a stark black, but I allowed a bit of color… the foreground greens… to come out in this one.  I like the effect.  It’s still dark in those areas, but is also a bit more natural.

This photo is almost like “photo nirvana” to me.  It has all the elements that appeal to me… panorama, silhouette, sunset, low-light.  What could be better?