What is Photo Art?

Hello friends,
Lately I’ve been pondering what photo art is, since I believe we’d like all of our images to look as artistic as possible. In addition, we use many post processing techniques in our landscape, flora, macro, etc, work. Should photo art postings be only those whose manipulation in post is really obvious? Is In Camera Motion photo art or “regular” art? How about double exposures? And then there are all the many apps for phone art that are available and lots of fun. I assume those are photo art.
Would love to get others in on the conversation. Thanks, Kathy

Pertinent technical details or techniques to help others learn:

Please do not critique this image. Galleries are for sharing and discussion only.

Hi Kathy,

A great question and one I use to struggle with back when I was a moderator. I suspect this should be in a discussion forum, but I’ll let the mods do their thing if it should be moved. But I’ll still respond here.

This of course is my opinion on this. To start, here is the definition of Photo Art, as it has been carried over directly from NPN 1.0:

Digitally manipulated or multiple exposure images that are intended as obvious artistic renditions of nature.

Personally, I think the definition of Photo Art, specific to NPN might need to be updated. A couple of phrases are too broad and even outdated a bit. “Digitally manipulated” I think was inserted way back when film still may have been prevalent. Back in the day, you sent in a slide and got a print. Analogue darkroom “manipulation” seemed to be accepted - the old dodging and burning, etc. That’s why “digitally” was used to mean Photoshop manipulation; ie. replacing whole skies, stacking 2 different images, drastically altering saturation, blurring etc. Great confusion has been around that term, because that leaves the door open for “in camera” manipulation like zoom/motion blurs or now all countless things one can do “in phone”. Personally, “in camera” should have nothing to do with whether or not something is considered Photo Art.

Second phrase, “artistic rendition”. Well, this is 100% subjective, as is the word “art.” Very difficult to establish a rule or guideline with something so subjective.

“Manipulation” is also very difficult to define. I think all can agree that replacing a whole sky or inserting a caribou in to an Alaskan landscape that was never in the original scene - is clearly manipulating - altering the original scene. But there are also plenty of folks who will take the literal term “manipulation” and say adding an Orton layer, bumping up saturation, cloning out an errant branch, rock or beer can is manipulation. And they would be technically correct. Where does one draw the line?

So back to your question, “What is Photo Art?” (As it relates to NPN.) I’ll take a stab at it. At least this how I define Photo Art:

“Photo Art is the intentional alteration of an image/photograph to render that photograph in such a way that it no longer represents the original scene.”

I know there are any number of examples that one could put holes in this definition. But I think it holds up pretty well for most scenarios. One argument inevitably would be long exposures, silky water. Half the members will argue that we as the photographer never saw ocean waves flatten out, or waterfalls of pure silk from a long exposure. That’s true -we don’t/can’t “see” that. On the flip side, our brain doesn’t see moving water at 1/500th of a second either. The fact is that a 2-dimensional photography will never represent what we see or record in our brain.

A tough one for me are twilight/moon/starry night composites - where the camera never moves. A dawn/twilight landscape is captured to reveal some light and detail in the landscape. That image is then combined with a starry night and Milky Way image captured 3 hours later. Technically, this is manipulation and replacing one sky over another. On the other hand, one can easily argue that the scene never changed and is also another example of how our brain can record light and details in the landscape of a starry night, much better than a camera and it seems reasonable that these type images could be considered in the regular Landscape categories.

I think I’ll post an image to illustrate what I think should be Photo Art. Of course it’s just one example/scenario out of countless ones, but I hope illustrates my thoughts. I’ll start a new post for that in the Photo Art Critique gallery.

Thanks for posing the question Kathy. I’d like to hear your thoughts as well.


Interesting topic.

I’m not sure why images need to be labeled photo art? Like it’s some sort of disclaimer. I personally aren’t a fan of super saturated images with lots of clarity that do the rounds on social media but I just think that the photographer is going for something surreal that’s not to my taste.

Saying that I definitely don’t leave my images as they are captured in camera. I think realism, surrealism and romantasicm are all valid expressions in photography but I don’t require the photographer to label them as such to follow what’s going on.

Hi Nathan, thanks for your input…

At least the way I’m looking at it, the ONLY purpose really is for determining what NPN gallery to post in. Nothing more than that. Discussions about realism, Impressionism, “artistic rendition” are all valid discussions as you mention. Outside the walls of NPN, These have been discussed and argued for centuries.

Within the realm of NPN, I think Kathy’s question is as simple as, Where do I post my image?

Hi Lon, Thanks for addressing this issue, and you are correct, my question does arise from questions I often have about where to post my work. I don’t tend to use lots of fancy filters, like the oil filters or fractilius, but I do like to experiment a lot and those often end up in Photo Art, though I am not sure many times if it is the right place, and often it isn’t. I look at the On Landscape e-magazine, and I see lots of images with in camera motion, double exposures, and even some iPhone apps. It all seems part of the overall category of “Landscape,” so I am sometimes puzzled by the categories we have here.

Hi Kathy
Im glad you posted this. I too am puzzled. There seems to be a fuzzy line and I don’t mean to fault the moderators on that - I’m not sure we can create a firm line. There is much that could go one way or another. I kind of like Lon’s definition but then again something can not represent the natural scene but still look like a natural scene or representation to a third party viewer.
We have Photo Art in one of my clubs and have the same conundrum.


I think that the photo art gallery is a misnomer that should be changed. It should be changed to Image Manipulation or some such thing.

Art is too broad a concept. All good photo images are artistic in my opinion. Take this recent image “Ribbons” by @Anil_Rao. It is clearly a “Fine Art” image and clearly belongs in Landscape:


As previously commented, the degree of manipulation to which an image is applied can be argued. But to call it Photo Art is clearly wrong in my opinion.

Personally I think that that the degree of manipulation that is acceptable before it becomes labeled as ‘Manipulated’ is a moving target that can only be temporarily defined. Another words, it will changed with time as the medium changes. I think Lon writes some good points about current boundaries of when an image is over processed.

I get the feeling that this Photo Art is a pet peeve of Kathy. I, too, have a pet peeve that relates to this. It has to do with the argument “I rendered the image this way because that’s how I saw it”. This opens a Pandora’s Box in that anything can be seen every way possible and cannot be critiqued because it becomes a personal view. Another words, everything is art because art is in the eye of the beholder. Evaluation and even appreciation becomes meaningless. Several months ago I reported a really heavily saturated image to the landscape moderators, that it should be moved to the Art Gallery. It was decided that it was his vision that it should look that way and was within the boundaries of landscape. Well, every good landscape image has vision but not every image shot “the way I see it” is a good image. It has become customary now for image makers who fail with a specific image to not learn about it’s deficiency by dismissing the critique as “it’s my vision”. This whole previsualization thing that is supposed to raise a photographer to another level (because art is an abstraction) has usually had the opposite effect. But again, it’s due that elusive notion - what is art?

Excellent discussion, let’s keep this going! I am completely open to making changes as I have questioned the need for this category as well. I think some additional tags in the other categories could easily replace this and not make it so separate, but let’s keep hearing your ideas.

1 Like

I don’t agree with this definition of art. If this is art then it follows that the less representative an image is of a subject the more artistic it is. And if that’s true then Jackson Pollock is a superior artist than Picasso, who is superior to Monet, who is superior to Rembrandt. But none of this is true. Art doesn’t have to be an abstraction at all.

Arguably the best photographer of all time was Edward Weston. Many of his best images were contact prints - glass plate negative placed directly on paper and the light turned on. That’s as unmanipulative as you can get. He was an artist because he chose compositions of aspects of subjects that disclosed how he felt about them.

Art is just effective non verbal communication between an artist and his viewer. The better it’s conveyed the better the art. Hitchcock, they say, was ‘the master of suspense’. Hitchcock was an artist. Instead of showing open wounds with gore he simply filmed a sequence of flashing knife thrusts and your imagination took you farther than anything visual ever could. Art photography is like that. Those bare cypresses peering out of the darkness told you everything about how Weston felt about Pt Lobos.

There is art in all of the NPN galleries. Some of it is better than what’s in the art gallery.

1 Like

To be clear, my comments on “photo art” are completely focused on the definition as presented here on NPN. Igor, you’re absolutely correct in your comments about the definition of “art” in general terms, and I don’t disagree. The issue and question raised is that of the definition of the “Photo Art” category (whether critique or gallery) in reference to whether or not an image belongs in Landscape, Avial, Flora, etc., OR the Photo Art category. This isn’t a discussion about the definition of “art” per se, but rather HOW NPN defines it for the purposes of where to post an image.

1 Like

Isn’t the the question as it relates to this site whether a photo art category is required or as this is an educated audience perhaps photo art images can be placed in their relevant category such as the landscape gallery?

There already is an option to notify viewers of a composite in the landscape critique forum. That’s all I need. I can assess the degree of manipulation from looking at the image