My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

Beauty is not art

Beauty is not art, something that I continually forget. So, even though I catch a fantastic sunrise, take care to get everything just right, and get what I think is my best image technically of a sunrise, getting the colors of the sunrise reflecting off not only the water, but some of the rocks and vegetation, it’s just a photograph.

Super sunrise

Super sunrise

I may have worked hard, very hard in fact, to get everything in that scene to look as close to what I saw at the time that I shot the series of images that I used to create the HDR image that you see here. I loved the colors, from the deep blue sky almost directly overhead, to the brilliant yellow-orange of the sun behind the clouds. I loved the way that the light played off from the rocks, and even the dark shadows within the rocks. I loved the tension between the very smooth water, and the crushed rock that made up the shoreline, but none of that makes this photo a work of art, because it is the reality that I saw at the time.

I am learning that when it comes to photography, reality isn’t considered art, you have to alter reality in your photos to have them thought of as works of art.

That’s a problem for me. I grew up admiring the artwork of John James Audubon, and the photographs of wildlife and landscapes as seen in the National Geographic magazine. You may remember that a few years ago, I had the opportunity to see a traveling exhibition of Audubon’s artwork, and even did a short post on it, and you can find that post here.

In that post I noted that Audubon was not the first to undertake the mission of painting every species of bird in the United States, he followed in the footsteps of Alexander Wilson. The difference between their works was that Wilson painted birds on a stark, bare background, whereas Audubon painted birds surrounded by their natural settings. He often portrayed them as if caught in motion, especially feeding or hunting. Audubon based his paintings on his extensive field observations.

I can do that.

Pileated woodpecker

Pileated woodpecker

Maybe not very well, but I can do that.

When it comes to the photos that I grew up with in the National Geographic magazine, I had heard that the photographers who shot the photos were considered to be some of the best nature photographers in the world, but that carried a caveat that I wasn’t aware of at the time. That caveat is that most of the photographers who work for Nat Geo think of themselves as photojournalists telling a story, not artists.

Because of the demands of the magazine that they shoot for, showing not only the wildlife itself, but where and how the wildlife lives, the photos that appear in Nat Geo are in the genre of natural history photos, not artistic photos.

I did not know that until recently. I thought that a good photo was a good photo no matter what, how little I knew, and they say that ignorance is bliss. I was very blissful, shooting photos in the same vein as Audubon’s artwork, and Nat Geo photographers. I thought that you were supposed to include some of the background in a photo to show people the types of places that they may find the wildlife in my photos. Not only that, but every once in a while, the colors in the vegetation around the wildlife are quite pretty as well.

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

 

Juvenile indigo bunting in a cornfield

Juvenile indigo bunting in a cornfield

I thought that it was even better to capture the critter’s personality in my photos, as this series of a bald eagle having a bad feather day does. The eagle was in the process of molting, which must be uncomfortable at times, for the eagle started out holding its wing out for a while.

Bald eagle having a bad feather day

Bald eagle having a bad feather day

It thought that it had found the feather causing the discomfort…

Bald eagle having a bad feather day

Bald eagle having a bad feather day

…but removing that feather didn’t help much…

Bald eagle having a bad feather day

Bald eagle having a bad feather day

…so the eagle thought that maybe if it moved around a bit, that would help…

Bald eagle having a bad feather day

Bald eagle having a bad feather day

 

Bald eagle having a bad feather day

Bald eagle having a bad feather day

 

Bald eagle having a bad feather day

Bald eagle having a bad feather day

…but a tail feather was out-of-place.

Bald eagle having a bad feather day

Bald eagle having a bad feather day

I didn’t put the photos of the eagle with its head up its tail in here, 😉 I waited until it was working on wing feathers again…

Bald eagle having a bad feather day

Bald eagle having a bad feather day

…until the eagle decided that soaring for a while may make it feel better.

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

 

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

 

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

 

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

 

Bald eagle taking flight

Bald eagle taking flight

Okay, maybe those aren’t great, but how could any one resist cute, as in a baby red squirrel?

Baby red squirrel

Baby red squirrel

Especially when it was obvious that the squirrel had eaten a few too many fermented berries, and was drunk….

Drunken baby red squirrel

Drunken baby red squirrel

…looking for a warm, sunny spot to sleep it off.

Drunken baby red squirrel going to sleep

Drunken baby red squirrel going to sleep

Even I knew that there was nothing artistic about the photos in either of those series of photos, they fall into the class of photos too interesting not to post. I have to ask myself how many people get to see the expressions on an eagle’s face as it preens, or see a drunken baby red squirrel?

But, what about this one? Is the bokeh smooth and creamy enough? Did I get too much of the stick that the dragonfly is perched on in focus?

Unidentified dragonfly

Unidentified dragonfly

I suppose  that I could shoot all the subjects against the blue sky, then I wouldn’t have to worry about blurring the background.

Song sparrow

Song sparrow

 

Cedar waxwing

Cedar waxwing

It seems to be working so far.

Multiple mallards in flight

Multiple mallards in flight

 

Red-tailed hawk

Red-tailed hawk

 

American kestrel

American kestrel

I’ll bet that the blue background doesn’t work well with birds that are mostly blue in color though.

Blue jay in flight

Blue jay in flight

 

Blue jay in flight

Blue jay in flight

But for most birds, the blue works well enough.

Rocket robin in flight

Rocket robin in flight

I wonder if it would work for dragonflies?

Dragonfly in flight

Dragonfly in flight

 

Dragonfly in flight

Dragonfly in flight

Fair, what about butterflies I wonder?

Monarch butterfly in flight

Monarch butterfly in flight

Monarch butterfly in flight

Monarch butterfly in flight

Not bad, but I need more practice on the insect in flight photos.

Of course I’m being silly again, but having tons of fun while I’m at it. 🙂

Along with more practice shooting insects in flight, I need more practice when it comes to black and white photography. I did shoot this weathered stump in color…

Weathered stump

Weathered stump

…intending to convert the photo to B&W.

Weathered stump B&W

Weathered stump B&W

But, the B&W version still doesn’t look the way that I wanted it to. I may need to do more playing in Lightroom, more so than when I’m shooting with an eye towards B&W.

I need a few flowers in this post to finish it off.

Asters

Asters

 

Bindweed

Bindweed

 

Dandelion

Dandelion

Okay, so beauty may not be art, so I’ll finish this one off with a subject that sure isn’t shot in an artistic style, and I think that we can all agree that it isn’t beautiful either.

Turkey vulture

Turkey vulture

 

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

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24 responses

  1. Wonderful post.

    September 28, 2015 at 4:07 pm

    • Thank you very much Victor!

      September 29, 2015 at 10:21 am

  2. Jerry, first of all, your photo at the top of the blog is definitely a piece art. If you would frame it, you would probably sell it.

    Secondly, the photographs by the National Geographic photographers are not intended to be art. They are meant to be informative and educational. To tell the story. Those photographers had art farthest from their mind when they shot them.

    Whoever told you that photography can’t be art is dead wrong.

    September 28, 2015 at 4:14 pm

    • Thank you very much Bob! The photographers for Nat Geo are often thinking of art as they shoot their subjects. I’ve watched presentations by several of them, and most of the time, they shoot more artistic photos of the same subject, and are a bit dismayed over which version the photo editors at Nat Geo pick. However, they do understand the standards that Nat Geo has for photos, which is why they shoot both versions in the first place.

      September 29, 2015 at 10:44 am

  3. After reading this post, what can I say – you’re a genius, man! PS I loved the drunken baby squirrel.

    September 28, 2015 at 4:29 pm

    • Thank you very much Susan! I’m happy to report that after napping for an hour or so, the squirrel was back to its normal self.

      September 29, 2015 at 10:23 am

  4. That sunrise shot is fantastic and if I saw it framed and hanging in a shop I’d buy it, so that would make it art. Photography is a form of art so the subject in the photo must be as well. I think I lean more toward photo journalist than artist though, and maybe you do too.
    I’ve never seen a baby squirrel, much less a drunk one. Mom and dad should have warned him about those fermented berries.
    Nice shot of the flying monarch too, and I think I like the color version of the stump. It is also artistic.

    September 28, 2015 at 5:01 pm

    • Thank you Allen! If only that first photo hadn’t been of a wastewater storage lagoon, but then, most people seeing it would never know. 😉

      I do lean toward the photo journalist side of photography, always have, always will. That’s why I included the photos of the baby squirrel, other than the subject, the photos are rather boring.

      I was hoping to get more sunlight coming through the wings of the monarch as it flew over my head, so I may have to keep trying that shot until I get it right.

      September 29, 2015 at 10:34 am

  5. I have always liked art that makes you think, tells a story, conveys a simple thought. It’s my belief that art runs the gamete from Salvador Dali to National Geographic; photography follows that same tortured path…Photography to me is a lot like the women that attract me; they come without makeup, the real thing, full of spit and gumption. Your photo series is amazing, to me it’s art.

    September 28, 2015 at 5:36 pm

    • Thank you very much Charlie! Women are a subject that I know nothing about despite a lifetime of trying to understand them.

      September 29, 2015 at 10:37 am

  6. Love your 1st image of the Monarch in flight!

    September 28, 2015 at 5:46 pm

    • Thank you very much Bob!

      September 29, 2015 at 10:23 am

  7. Someone has obviously been bugging you but you don’t need to worry. Your photographs are almost always interesting and sometimes quite pretty too. We like them. What more do you want?
    Seriously, you have to decide for each and every one of the pictures that you take, whether you want the image to be more important than the subject or the subject to be more important than the image and adjust your shooting method accordingly….and then, if once in a while you get an interesting subject and a beautiful image, you will be doing better than most.

    I would add that I think that your sunrise pictures are very pretty but they don’t interest me anything like as much as a drunken squirrel. Keep shooting.

    September 28, 2015 at 6:28 pm

    • Thank you very much Tom! I guess that you could say that the world has been bugging me lately, and I’m just blowing off some steam. I can promise that any time I see a drunken baby squirrel, there’ll be photos of it in my blog. 😉

      September 29, 2015 at 10:52 am

      • I am sorry that the world has not been kind. Just remember that your many readers obviously enjoy what you are doing.

        September 29, 2015 at 6:15 pm

  8. Quite a number of your shots (well most) are what I would regard as works of art Jerry. I admire your skill in the way you use your camera and lenses. You are skilled in tracking and finding creatures to photograph and you have an artists eye which is evident not only in many of those shots of creatures but in your landscapes too.
    I think I will always prefer nature shots in colour though I can see that some shots work extremely well in black and white. The grain of the wood on that old stump shows up so well in b/w. That baby squirrel is so cute!

    September 28, 2015 at 7:00 pm

    • Thank you very much Clare! I also prefer color for almost all nature photos, but some patterns do show up better in B&W. The other night, as I was trying to capture photos of the lunar eclipse, it hit me, I can operate my camera gear in nearly total darkness when I have to. That’s just a sign that I have come close to mastering part of the puzzle that is photography, knowing one’s equipment. I’ll continue shooting what I see that interests me, hopefully the images will continue to improve as well.

      September 29, 2015 at 11:21 am

  9. Gawd, Jerry. Please don’t give your blog over to the What Is Art conversation. The discussion is endless, and probably rather nonsensical to your reading public who faithfully check in to see your gorgeous, realistic photographs. Are they art? Who cares? They are beautifuI, realistic captures of the natural world we inhabit, but most of us rarely see.

    Now, off my soapbox, I loved the surly eagle sequence. It’s very powerful. And, the first dragonfly shot is exquisite. Love seeing every detail in those intricate wings.

    They are all creative, beautiful photographs. Art.

    September 28, 2015 at 8:38 pm

    • Agree.

      September 29, 2015 at 6:58 am

    • Thank you Judy! No, I’m not going to go down the what is art road, but you’re fortunate to be out of town right now, and you’re not getting hammered over the head with the crap that passes as art for Art Prize 7 right now. I’m glad that you liked the first dragonfly image, it’s one of my all time favorites and one of the best that I’ve ever shot in my opinion. As you may have been able to tell from all of the non-artistic type photos, I’m not changing my style to make some pompous art critic happy. 😉

      September 29, 2015 at 11:02 am

      • I can tell that you’re not changing gears, and that makes me happy. You do, however, sound like a guy who feels less accomplished than an ‘artist’. On that front, I believe you are mistaken.

        Keep up the conversation. I love it.

        Missing ArtPrize not important to us. It was fun to wander around for the first year or two, but I hate the ‘huge has to be better’ mentality that goes with the public voting on this.

        September 29, 2015 at 5:44 pm

      • Thanks again Judy. It’s not that I feel less accomplished, it’s that I have little use for art or photography critics that demand certain things in order for the art or photo to be considered art. That results in cookie cutter clones where everything looks the same. There’s no true artistic expression allowed.

        September 30, 2015 at 2:46 pm

  10. Coming from a bit of an artsy background, I can tell you that what people regard as art varies greatly. It’s extremely subjective. Just as in the world of painting where there are those who do abstracts, realism, impressionism etc, in the world of photography there are many kinds of art. We also have the art of writing which includes many genres covering non-fiction and fiction. Whenever we take pictures, write words and paint we include something of ourselves in there. We share our impressions, personal observations, imaginings, reflections and emotions. The audience reacts in their own way to this. At the heart of it, this is what art is about. People take away something from what has been offered to them. You already DO art, Jerry, in a variety of forms. Sharing a beautiful sunrise creates an emotional response in the viewer. Sharing the behaviour of an eagle like you have in this post affects people. I still regard a realistic painting of a person as art just as much as the more impressionistic rendering. There will always be people who argue and judge. Your photography is varied, interesting and constantly evolving and you can be proud of what you’ve achieved so far. Your nature photographs are also very educational. The role of teaching is something to be highly valued and appreciated as well. There are many people who will never be able to see what you see and to share these observations is a generous thing indeed.Thank you for all the passion that you share in your art and education. 🙂

    September 29, 2015 at 10:50 pm

    • Thank you very much Jane! I really appreciate all the encouraging words. I think that I want too much, I would like to have all of my photos, even the ones that do teach people about things in nature, to be the very best possible. That may not be possible, but it won’t stop me from trying. I have a few more tricks up my sleeve, I just have to learn how to integrate them into how I photograph wildlife. I also need to continue working at my skills and learning my equipment as well.

      September 30, 2015 at 3:26 pm