Photography as a Fine Art


I have discussed this topic before, but after a conversation I had about an upcoming photography exhibition in Kamloops with one of the judges and, of course, the heated debate now raging about that $6.5M photo of a canyon, I thought I would revisit it.

Wikipedia’s on-line encyclopedia says, “Fine art photography is photography created in accordance with the vision of the artist as photographer. Fine art photography stands in contrast to representational photography, such as photojournalism, which provides a documentary visual account of specific subjects and events, literally re-presenting objective reality rather than the subjective intent of the photographer; and commercial photography, the primary focus of which is to advertise products or services”.

Photography as art has changed since its beginnings in the mid 1800s, and, in my opinion, with the increased interest in photography because of the ease of making photographs since digital technology became the mainstay, photography as an art interests more and more people.

That art may be nothing more than a screensaver on one’s computer display. Some photographers go further and it is not unusual to see a personal photograph, or one of a friend, framed and hanging on the walls in someone’s home.

I have been interested in photography as an artistic medium for a very long time and have attended many exhibitions of artistic world-renowned photographers. And I think Wikipedia’s definition is worth noting because it separates what it declares as fine art photography from photojournalism and commercial photography, classifications that could divide those photographers in new ways for me.

By the middle of the nineteenth century photographers felt their art should be held in the same exalted status that painters claimed for theirs. Their contention was that it’s the photographer, not the camera that makes the picture. The goal was, and still may be, to convince not only the art community, but also those interested in creative arts that photography is art. Then, as now, the discussion was about whether the different aspects of photography, commercial, photojournalistic, or those created only as personal creative vision should be considered art.

The question photographers can ask is, whether the photograph’s goal is as “visual support”, to “sell a product”, as a “documentary”, or as a creative vision?

I have come to think that definitions like those of Wikipedia’s have changed. Maybe it is the way modern viewers see and use photography. That quickly-snapped portrait of a favorite pet displayed in the owner’s home probably needs an explanation to go along with it, but is cherished enough to be included with the rest of the owner’s art even though art scholars would disagree.

Remember, photographers are still contending with those critics that hold that only painting and sculpture are art and that photography is but a technology. For me the lines have become blurred, and I see photography as an artistic medium equal to others, although I am not altogether secure in categorizing any photographer’s work.

Debates like those in The Guardian newspaper, are fun, but in the end forget that the camera is just a tool, absolutely a high technology tool for sure, but a tool just the same, that helps any person to be creative and photographers only need to decide on their own particular style, and what, as Wikipedia states, is “created to fulfill the creative vision of the artist”. What that vision is should be entirely up to the photographer and the audience for whom the image is produced.


I always look forward to readers comments. Thanks, John

My website is at





A Photographer’s Walk on Snowshoes







Almost a year ago to the day I wrote that I looked forward to enough snow-pack on the hills to snowshoe in, and as then, after a morning of shoveling a deep path to my chicken coops, clearing the driveway, and another path to the front porch, I was again taking my first winter hike up to the high meadow above my home.

Last year my January walk up into the meadow’s deep snow was on a sunless, stormy day. And I recall setting a high ISO so I could get a shutterspeed that would let me handhold my camera, and then returning home in a snowstorm.

This time I mounted a light-weight, 18-105mm lens on my camera, stuck an old tea towel in my pocket in case I got my camera wet from the snow, and headed out in the balmy minus 3C day under a bright, almost-cloudless, blue sky. And instead of struggling with low, flat light, my ISO was set at 400; and I added a polarizing filter to darken the skies, increase the contrast in the scene, and suppress glare from the surface of the bright white snow.

I trekked up the hill, and as I had so many times before photographed everything. When I stroll up into that long meadow I rarely see animals, however, they are surely there hiding, and I did hear a snort from something as it moved through the trees, and when I began to cross the meadow a crow cried a warning to hidden watchers, then everything quieted, and the only sound was from my snowshoes and my camera shutter as I photographed the Thompson River valley far below and the tracks I made through the meadow.

My last article was entitled, “What Makes Photographers Happy?” Photographers wrote me noting that, “there is nothing like a new lens” or “fun day with my clients”, and I can’t agree more. I must include the words of three bloggers that sent their comments to me: Northern Desert photography, Nature Photography by Martin Ryer and Jane Lurie Photography.

The first from blogger Northern Desert says that happiness is “The process of being out in nature searching for the shot, be it landscape or wildlife. I love the post processing, editing job. So fun to see what you can do with software. Love talking with and interacting with other photographers about photography.”

I also had to pause and think a moment about the words of blogger Martin Ryer who wrote about when he has“…results that exceed or even completely differ from any preconceptions I may have had. It’s when this happens that I feel myself entranced by all of the possibilities that photography offers.”

Blogger Jane Lurie’s comment is delightful, “…I’m very happy when my final result is actually what I conceived in my head when I saw the shot. Capturing that small moment in time is a beautiful thing.”

What great thoughts on photographic happiness and I agree with everyone.  As for me, I will include the following from philosopher and theologian, Paul Tillich, who wrote, ” Language…has created the word ‘loneliness’ to express the pain of being alone. And it has created the word ‘solitude ‘ to express the glory of being alone.”   To those words I will add that my quiet, solitary walk and photo excursion on snowshoes made me happy.

As always, I look forward to your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at

What Makes Photographers Happy?


I have read that there are 12 states of happiness. What they are, or how “happiness” is determined and is then defined, is beyond me, but I did find a short article that said to be happy people need to “anticipate with pleasure, savor the moment, express happiness, and reflect on happy memories”.

I know there are times and things that make me happy. Nevertheless, there are moments that no matter what my surroundings are, or the circumstances, I am just not happy. And I am sure I am not the only one that gets in a bad mood (or good mood for that matter) without knowing why.

I doubt one can find any studies on the states of happiness for photographers. So while readers think about what makes them happy I’m going to delve into that mysterious state.  Is it happiness about how things like camera equipment make them feel, or about how circumstances such as creating a good photograph make them feel? Most photographers are devastated when they receive a poor review on a picture, so there is lots of ego involved in their happiness. And I know that sitting around with other photographers talking about anything photographic is just plain blissful for me.

I don’t know any social scientists that I can call up, and I haven’t discussed happiness with any philosophers. However, I have always felt that photographers have a culture of their own. There are those who might argue that concept, but I am absolutely convinced that it is so. I constantly interact with other photographers in online forums, blogs, or talk to them personally, and those photographers are always ready and willing to tell me when they are happy or not.

Some are actually more interested in the technology of photography then the actual process of making pictures. I recall a guy that was happiest when he found a problem with a piece of photography equipment. He delighted in making test after test to find if a particular camera matched what the manufacturer or other photographers claimed. I’m disappointed when something doesn’t work as described, but this fellow would actually be down right cheery.

I had a friend that spent all his spare time wandering back roads. He’d show up at my shop with a grin as wide as all outdoors and stick his ipad or ipone on the counter for me to scroll through and happily describe how he photographed that hawk on the wire, the owl on a fence post or that eagle fishing on the river bank. What made him happy weren’t his pictures as much as his process of making pictures.

I know photographers that are continually changing equipment. Not because they find problems with what they own, or because their equipment is limiting, but because they read something, or talked to someone, about a new addition from their manufacturer of choice, and can’t live with out it. They excitedly talk about how wonderful that new piece of equipment is. I know their choices don’t so much meet a practical need as an emotional one, but they make it easy for me, and anyone else they talk to, to observe how darned happy they are with their new camera, or lens, and with, for that matter, everything they own.

This exciting medium has many levels and outlets to make one happy. There are portrait photographers, wildlife photographers, scenic and landscape photographers, sports photographers, baby photographers, those that specialize in plant photography and, of course, many more, each with differing sets of skills, and, to my mind, their own states of happiness. I don’t know if photographers have twelve states of happiness, or only the four I found in that short article, but I will say that I meet lots of people that are happy to be doing photography, and being involved with it in their own, very personal, way.

Care to comment on what makes ya happy?

My website is at

Photography in the Fog

Farm & Pond in fog 2

Moving cows in fog 2

Horse in Snow 2

Owl on wire 2


Pritchard above the fog 2

The past snowfall gave us a grand depth of a bit over two feet. That exciting event included hours of shoveling and roads that were pretty much closed to driving for a while. I wonder why we “dig” dirt and “shovel” snow? Hmm…I remove the dirt from the hole and remove the snow from the walk. Yep, it’s the same thing as far as I can tell.  Both activities use the same tool and make my back tired.

Our yard now has deep three-foot deep trenches dug out and shoveled clear by me that lead to all the important locations. Basement door to chicken coops, front door to the car, and car to the road; however, I also made trails for the feral cats so they can come to the door for the food we leave them.

When the days of soft, cold snow finally ended, everything quickly warmed up and a suddenly a thick, damp fog settled in.

My first thought was to get out my snowshoes and head up into the hills surrounding our home. I mentioned that to my wife, but not in the mood for trudging through the snow she suggested we get our cameras and go for a drive around the now foggy neighborhood in Pritchard instead. So we bundled up, grabbed our cameras and took off.

Our car is perfectly equipped for photography with beanbags. Just set them in the window and nestle the lens on them to reduce camera shake when using our long lenses. However, on this day my wife set aside her 150-500mm, and decided her light weight 70-300mm would be better suited for the foggy landscape, and I chose my 24-70mm. But it’s good to always have the beanbags in our car even if we don’t need them.

Fog is a tricky business because contrast is all but lost and the moving mist reduces sharpness. Everything is so flat that it’s hard to get definition.

I enjoy fog and recall the imagery of a poem from Carl Sandburg.

“The fog comes

on little cat feet.

It sits looking

over harbor and city

on silent haunches

and then moves on.”

I think that description is pretty good and I enjoyed how the fog obscured my view of things in the distance and created a mystical looking world as I drove along our snow covered rural road.

Years ago when photographers were making exposures of foggy landscapes with film the best way to increase contrast was to use yellow, orange, or sometimes red filters. We could also over-develop the film, or as a last resort process it in hot chemicals. There were also filters that could be used while printing to reduce the tonal values, and some specialized chemicals would help also increase the contrast. All that was lots of work and if you screwed up the negative…well, you were screwed.

Today we have software like Photoshop (and lots of other programs available that are just as good) to help us out in those flat, foggy conditions, and when Linda and I drove off into the whispering fog I knew I would be spending a short time sitting at my computer increasing the contrast and reducing the grey tonal values.

It is now all so easy and it doesn’t take much time. As I sat manipulating the hazy images I thought about all the hours I used to put into producing our photographs. We have it pretty good these days.

Fog is fun in which to shoot. All one has to do is find subjects that are distinctive enough to be understood through the quietly creeping and silent fog. My suggestion is instead of drinking your chocolate and staring out the window on the next foggy morning waiting for the sun to come out, get your camera, go out, and see what you can do.

As always, I really appreciate your comments. Thanks, John

My website is at



Photographer’s 2015 New Years Resolutions







It is time for me to write about New Year’s resolutions. The prospect of new opportunities is always exciting and jotting down a personal list of goals (resolutions) at the beginning of each year is a good idea if one wants personal growth.

This past month I have been asking people that come into my shop what their resolutions for the New Year would be. Here are a few from the many I heard that, in my opinion, are good solid resolutions.

Use a tripod more.

Turn off Auto mode.

Buy a new camera or lens.

Try shooting RAW.

Learn more about lighting.

Take more photos.

Learn about Composition and the Rule of Thirds

Learn to use Photoshop or Lightroom.

However, as good as those are I am adding seven that are a bit more inspirational (is philosophical a better word?) New Year Resolutions that I have put together (seven is a lucky number after all) this past year from all the long, coffee fueled discussions on ways to make improvements in the future with this exciting medium.

  1. Pay more attention to creative ideas. Without creativity a photographer doesn’t have a chance at moving forward. “This could be the year to begin evolving creatively”.
  1. There is too much focus on what is the best camera. When we spend too much time worrying and making everything about the camera we forget about the story. How about this year being more concerned with making images that tell a story”.
  1. Take risks photographically and move away from always trying to please. Make this the year to push-the-envelope beyond the comfort zone without being concerned with other’s opinions. Maybe this will be the year to put “me” in the photograph.
  1. Learn a New Technique. I think it’s as simple as experimenting, and definitely taking the time to “read up on some technique and then give it a try”. Photographers should always make the effort to learn new techniques, maybe by taking a class, or at least buying some books, or CDs, written or taught by experienced, educated photographers.
  1. Choosing new subjects to “get out of the rut of shooting the same thing over and over”. While practicing portraiture or landscapes is good, photographing the same thing the same way over and over can result in a lack of inventiveness and creativity. Sure it’s nice to stay in a comfortable rut, but as with Resolution #4, “Maybe this will be the year to put “me” in the photograph”.
  1. Make every shot count and stay away from the “spray and pray” shooting style. It should be about making each image a quality photograph, not massive picture snapping sessions hoping that a few to turn out.
  1. Become more ruthless with one’s photography and what is done in post-production; conditioning oneself to throw out the crap is the only way to keep improving.

Finally, I’ll wish everyone a great 2015, and end with a quote by award winning English author, Neil Gaiman. “I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes. Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re doing something.”

Do you have any to add? I will be happy to read them.

My website is at Thanks, John