Digital dexterity

I read Forestrat’s philosphical opinion on the use of digital photo manipulations. Forest rat’s observations can be found at . I had not really thought it out too much before.
I do a lot of photos of my own artwork for use on the Internet and sending out for submissions, so I often crop off edges or skew the image back into it’s original shape when I’ve not got a truly “squared” image of the work.

I work with a Sony Cybershot digital with 12 time optical Zoom. It was a choice I made in preference over the SLR digital cameras because I’m finding heavy equipment more difficult to cart around now that I’m getting old and creaky. This camera is light and does most everything I need it to. He mentioned that he only used a fraction of it’s features and I ditto that. In fact, when I had some difficulty with it, my nerd nephew said,”Auntie, have you read the manual yet?” and this was two years after purchase. I don’t think I know where the manual is!

That being said, I use Adobe Photo to enhance my work. I’m not a professional and don’t know how to get around some of the results that the mix of my good camera and my point-and-shoot techniques produce.

Especially with art work, I will readjust the colours to come back to what the image really looks like. That’s one of the major advantages of the digital camera, for me. It makes up for my lack of technical savvy in lighting things properly. I’ll sometimes sharpen images as well, but only very slightly with the intention of coming closer to my vision of the original object.

I take landscape imagery primarily for painting notes where I don’t have enough time to make sketches. I may use three or four or more images to assist me in remembering colour or shapes as I recreate or synthesize my emotional response to that image in a painting.

Every once in a while, I will get a great image out of my photos, not just an informational one, and it goes untouched, unless I’m cropping out an unfortunate car part or window frame, since I take a number of photos while waiting at red lights or quickly from the side of the highway as I’m going somewhere. Until lately I’ve not had the time to get out of the car to photograph and my purpose was not for publication in any case.

I use cropping to edit out parts of an image that I will not want in a painted composition. It helps me focus on what my eyes were selecting, not what the camera format allowed me to select. Not everything in the art world is in a 4 to 6 ratio or proportion.

aab-056.jpg aab-056-crop.jpg

Sometimes when I see an image at a distance too far for my digital camera to frame, I will crop out the extraneous which may be a major part the original image. It leaves me with the image I was trying to capture. But of course, this remaining image would only be good as reference material for a painting and never good enough to publish as a photo. These crows are an example. The 12 times optical zoom just couldn’t bring them close enough and I wanted to capture their different poses as they hung out in the tree.


On the other hand, I enjoy totally transforming an image with digital pyrotechniques. I’m just dabbling with it, so I’m not producing anything stellar, but it’s fun. From an artists point of view, it’s far away from being photography and becoming something else. It can prod an artist from sheer copying of an image to creatively experimenting with other backgrounds, pushing limits on light levels and isolating shapes. There is so much more, once one goes exploring.

Here is a series that I worked with and then, lack of time, did nothing further with. Each of these digital images is still sitting on my hard drive waiting for me to decide what its final destination will be, if any.


In Art, there are difficulties in defining what the limits of any media are. Is a painting a painting only if paint is the only media used. If so, then what is the nomenclature for a painting that includes sand; or one that uses photocopy material in its base layer; or has collage of other materials included. Is it a painting when the major material is paint? When does it become collage? Will everything become “mixed media”, the convenient catchall, when more than one material is used to make a creative image?

When is a photograph a photograph? It’s simple to say it is one if there is no other manipulation at all. But where does the dividing line come when an photographer or an artist begins to lean heavily into digital manipulation? And if it exists only in digital photographic form, what new name do we give it? And if it is never printed, is it a photograph (like the sound of one hand clapping, or the sound of a tree falling in a forest if no one is there to hear it).

There are many questions. Sometimes (as with the Impressionists) a name is applied to a way of working only after there is enough of it to garner attention by the pundits. Someone throws a slur at it and it sticks. The slur takes on a different meaning as the work becomes recognizably acceptable. No one thinks that Impressionism is an insult anymore, especially now that a van Gogh commands millions from art loving investors.

I’m all for experimentation at whatever level you start at. I like keeping an open mind and not limiting things too much by giving them a name with an unforgiving definition. I believe that we need to play with materials and not make one variation but maybe ten or twenty or more until something else develops in a way that we hadn’t expected.

Please feel free to leave your comments and opposing views.

All images are copyright of the artist.


2 Responses to “Digital dexterity”

  1. forestrat Says:

    “When is a photograph a photograph? It’s simple to say it is one if there is no other manipulation at all.”

    At the moment you press the shutter all sorts of manipulation have already taken place. Obviously there is the compression from 3D to 2D. Then there are the choices of aperature effecting depth of focus and brightness, shutter speed effecting brightness and movement, ISO which effects grain even in the digital world where we call it noise, framing which includes and excludes certain elements, even the choice of film changes color rendition and a host of other things.

    Maybe at the point of shutter release too much manipulation has already taken place? I don’t know. There certainly is no hard and fast rule. I think too that the subject matter often dictates things. Everybody has to draw their own line even if it is largely arbitrary.


  2. Kristin Says:

    Thank you for this most insightful comment.
    I look at things from an artist’s view point and a generalist’s, so I hadn’t thought through the points that you have expressed. It gives me some more room for growth in this medium of photography that I have come to love very much.

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