Photograph versus Photographic Artwork - What's the Difference?

May 13, 2013  •  4 Comments

I definitely think of myself as more of a photographic artist than a photographer, but many people will look at me and ask, 'what's the difference?'

I can only give some thoughts according to the way I see it. As with many things in life, different people will have different views, so this blog post is simply my personal view. 

To me, a photograph is an image where the finished work is pretty much straight from the camera. However, this can include basic post capture editing which would be carried out for the purpose of correcting, as far as possible, any shortcomings of the camera's capabilities with a view to creating a more realistic portrayal. 

As soon as the photograph is 'taken' or 'edited' in such a way as to deliberately portray a more artistically optimal or alternative view than would normally be available straight from the camera, then I consider it to be a photographic artwork.

H o w e v e r, from a more general point of view and if you bear in mind the extremely varying levels of effort and expertise any one person might put into capturing and/or editing a photograph, I'm sure you'll understand when I say that I actually think there really is no exact definition between photograph and photographic artwork. The boundaries between the two are not only very blurred but opinions so varied as to render any definition irrelevant. There will always be plenty of scope for discussion and deliberation about this topic which is, of course, part of the fun of it all.  

For a visual explanation on how I personally see which work of mine I consider to be a photograph and which I consider to be a photographic artwork please see the images below.

Here is the image as it came out of the camera or SOOC as it's called - straight out of camera.













Here is the image complete with basic post capture editing to create a slightly more realistic representation of the colour and tone of the subject as I saw it. So this to me is my photograph of the scene despite the shallow depth of focus. 













And here is the image after I edited it to add my own artistic vision and creativity. This version of the image I would  then consider as being a photographic artwork.













Thanks so much for dropping by, please feel from to leave a comment or ask any questions you may have. Also, if you're on Facebook, do by all means swing by my page and give it a 'like'.



Karen Hyams(non-registered)
I don't think 'artistic' is the same thing as art. Art makes you feel, makes you think about something other than the image or object in front of you. That goes for any medium- painting or photography, film or dance. Art is made with intent, real artists successfully communicate their own vision and their thoughts on the things that matter to them in this world.
Edward Fielding(non-registered)
Certainly when a photograph goes beyond traditional enhancements such as exposure, contrast, highlights, shadows, clarity, saturation etc and into textures and other advanced post-processing it be comes photographic artwork where the photograph is perhaps the launching point for the overall piece.

On a more general level I believe a "person with a camera who likes to take pictures" becomes a photographer and artist when they start making photographs instead of taking photographs (and hoping one out of a thousand are good by luck).
Doreen Erhardt(non-registered)
Hi Natalie,

Very interesting subject and lovely examples. When I began using a Digital Darkroom environment and also adding what would be Digital Effects, this was a subject that had no clear line and in fact I worked hard in my own county many moons ago to establish a definition for when a photograph becomes digital art. This was needed in order to get a Digital Art category in our county fair art show submissions and our own Arts Council - mind you this was back in the very early 90's ... we've come a long way since then.

What was determined back then in my college classes, and what I've used as a rule of thumb is this:

"That which could not otherwise be accomplished in a TRADITIONAL darkroom environment, is therefore considered Digital Art".

Now for those who have not taken the courses or leaned on their own how to work in a real chemical-based darkroom, this would be difficult to understand But ... it has true value and merit as a definition in the art world, because photographers like myself who moved from a traditional film-based world into the digital era value the distinction this definition offers, and those Photographic Artists who still pride themselves in creating Fine Art Photos in a film-based environment truly appreciate the recognition of what they are creating.

Just my thoughts and experience.

Hey there, interesting post. As far as GCU goes, so called "photographic artworks" have ended up with my cards being put on hold... : ) but I do understand where they are coming from. I agree with your definition, though. Here is a link to a photographic artwork of mine that I have used on cards that have been put on hold: Still hoping they get my artistic vision and approve... lol. Though I'm willing to use a different image if necessary.
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