Is it Photography or …. & Bald Eagle Sharpness Comments « Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

Is it Photography or …. & Bald Eagle Sharpness Comments

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My right-hand man Jim Litzenberg and I traveled down to Naples, FL on Friday afternoon so that I could help out my friend James S. White on Saturday morning. Jim was leading a photo group at the Naples Botanical Gardens. This beautiful place exists only because of the vision and hard work of Jim’s wife Linda. Though I brought my macro lens on the walk, I never used it, turning instead to my trusty super telephoto lens. This water lily image was created in the pre-dawn light with the tripod-mounted Canon 800mm f/5.6L IS lens and the EOS-1D Mark IV. ISO 400. Evaluative metering +1 1/3 stops: 1/30 sec. at f/8. Rear button focus with the star and AF-On buttons switched as detailed in the recently updated Mark IV User’s Guide.

Is it Photography or ….

I presented four programs on Sunday morning at the FCCC statewide convention teaching pretty much non-stop to a standing room only crowd for 4 1/2 hours but for a 3-minute pit stop. My spiel was very well received. Jim Litzenberg manned the BIRDS AS ART table and did a land-office business with the books and educational CDs. After lunch I helped judge a print contest. And after the keynote presentation I was asked to join a panel discussion. I am not positive of the topic but I think that it went something like this: Is it photography or is it graphic art?

The other three panelists were Photoshop expert Jane Zizer, veteran Sarasota photographer Carmen Schettino, and renowned black and white fine art photographer Clyde Butcher. Though Clyde’s work is breathtakingly spectacular, the term “fine art photographer” always sticks in my craw. What are the rest of us doing; not-so-fine art photography? I met Clyde a good five years ago at a similar conference in Florida. He attended my program and I attended his. Afterwards I went up to him, shook his hand, and told him how much I had enjoyed his program. To the very best of my memory, his response was, “Bird photography is easy.” Then he turned and walked away….

As I walked up to my seat on the panel, I was mentally pulling on the gloves, getting ready for battle as the moderator mentioned something about digital manipulation. Is what folks are doing today photography? Within minutes I was amazed. First Clyde Butcher stated that if he noted a cigarette butt in one of his masterpieces that he would remove it. I almost fell off of my chair. Then Carmen said that when he was judging–something that he does quite often, that he was fine with whatever you did in Photoshop as long as he could not tell that you did anything. I commented, “So it’s not digital manipulation that you are against, it’s bad digital manipulation.” That got a big laugh. Someone asked me what a photograph was. I answered, it’s what you get when you push the shutter button, whether a piece of film or a digital file.

I explained that 99% of my images were true to the natural history of the moment. That I often used present day technology to remove distracting elements from my images and to add canvas and occasionally a wing tip. That I labeled my images honestly and always let folks know what we did to create an image. And that whenever I entered a contest I followed the rules to the letter.

The moderator asked whether I was a graphic artist or a photographer. I said, “Both. Just like all the other photographers gathered here.” That brought a big cheer. Good questions from the audience brought the four of us closer and closer to total agreement. And that is just what the four of us did. We agreed that it was only the end result, the final photograph, that mattered. Did your creation move folks? Did it have impact? Was it beautiful? Did it make people smile, or make them think?

What you choose to call the final product did not matter to any of us. A photograph? A photo illustration? A manipulated image? A digital creation? Who cares? Is it beautiful, dramatic, interesting, thought-provoking? If yes, then it’s art (whether or not anyone ever buys the print!)

Feel free to share your thoughts below with a comment.

Bald Eagle Sharpness Comments

The wide variety of opinions as to whether or not the Bald Eagle image in yesterday’s post was sharp or not was amazing by not surprising. To me, the JPEG looks plenty sharp. The eye of the eagle is razor sharp. The black feathers are sharp. The head feathers in the presented JPEG might not look very sharp, but in the optimized TIFF, they are. Creating a JPEG always increases the contrast in an image; that might account for some folks stating that white head feathers are not sharp.

I will be back with the answers to questions 2 and 3 asap. If anyone wants to go to Greece in late February with Robert O’Toole and me to photograph the spectacular Dalmatian Pelicans, please e-mail me tonight for advance notice of the details at

Shopper’s Guide

Here is the gear that I used to create the water lily image:

Canon 800mm f/5.L IS lens
Canon EOS-1D Mark IV professional digital camera body

And from the BAA On-line Store:

Gitzo 3530 LS Tripod
Mongoose M3.6 Tripod Head
Double Bubble Spirit Level

If you are considering the purchase of a major piece of photographic gear be it a new camera, a long lens, a tripod or a head, or some accessories be sure to check out our complete Shopper’s Guide.

8 comments to Is it Photography or …. & Bald Eagle Sharpness Comments

  • Jay Gould

    Hello Artie from the middle of almost nowhere – Norfolk Island off of the coast of Australia where I have been participating in a week long “photograph everything” from BIF to landscapes to macro with Trekabout.

    Is it beautiful, dramatic, interesting, thought-provoking? If yes, then it’s art (whether or not anyone ever buys the print!)

    Totally agree!!

    Come on Down Under!!

    Love, Jay

  • For me, the water lily creates a sense of cognitive dissonance. The water behind the lilypad appears to be turbulent while the reflection is absolutely glassy smooth. It creates tension in my mind. Not a critique, just an observation of my reaction.

  • Beautiful flower and the reflection is lovely.

  • Keith Reeder

    Oh yeah, “fine art”: it just means “print big in black and white” as far as I can tell. I’ve seen some real dross masquerading as “fine art” – as long as it’s large and (more often than not) monochrome, it’s supposedly imbued with some implicit claim to quality that – as an image (much less as “art”) – it often hasn’t remotely earned.

    “Fine art” is precious, pretentious and self-serving as definitions go, and the idea that bird photography is “easier” is self-evidently risible.

    Very interesting discussion about it here:

    Wish you’d been able to challenge the guy to a shoot-off, Art!

    Yes, it’s a term that sticks in my craw too, and I also agree that – as I believe to be the case for most bird photographers who are beyond a certain level of technical ability and who have developed something of an “eye” – our efforts often fall within the definition of fine art as being “created in accordance with the creative vision of the photographer as artist”, the definition used by Wikipedia:

    Certainly I know that I routinely go out with a specific image in mind (not just a specific bird, but a particular scene and composition – like drake Eiders on my local river in the reflection of well-lit colourful boats moored across the river from me) and then take appropriate steps to achieve my – ahem! – “creative vision”.

    The difference, I guess, is that a 20 x 30 monochrome image of (say) a Ruddy Turnstone, would just be pointless and silly.

    The bigger difference is that *we know that*..!


    As to the wider “is it photography..?” question, I’ve already stated my view in a bird photography context, but to reiterate: it can’t not be, if the end result represents the image which was envisaged at the time the shutter clicked.

    Because bird ‘togs have no control over their subject matter, the arguments that apply when shooting easy (joke!) subject matter like landscapes (which, let’s be honest, tend to stay put) don’t easily carry across to other genres like ours.

    So – given that bird/wildlife photography generally isn’t reportage or an exercise in absolute photo vérité – exercising our ability to copy and flip a wingtip to replace the one missing on the image the camera has captured, in no way diminishes the validity as a photograph of the original capture, because it goes without saying that the intended image as envisaged by the photographer would have included the other wingtip…

    • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

      Hey Keith, You write well and I am really liking what you have to say. Great to see you here. I had a pretty good idea of risible….

      risible: (ADJ): arousing or provoking laughter; especially : laughable

      From the late Latin risibilis, from Latin risus, past participle of ridēre to laugh

  • If you are adjusting an image for a better final image, I would call it a photo/art. if you are using pieces from other images,that were not taken at the same time or place to create a final image, it is graphic art. Many people have never printed in a darkroom, and do not realize that a large number of the things that can be done on a computer could have been performed in a darkroom, if you had the mental ability to figure out how to do it.

    The eagle photo looked sharp to me. There are to many variables to guess camera and lens combos, since they all will produce sharp images, and it all depended on how close you were to the eagle.

  • Arthur Morris/BIRDS AS ART

    Time will tell 🙂

  • Artie – It was because the image was so sharp that I dismissed the use of an extender. But knowing how close one can get to eagles in Minnesota (or not) I thought you might have used the 7D for a bit more reach. Nice shot no matter.