The great debate… Photograph or Digital Art?

Oh yes, the great debate of whether an image is a photograph or digital art erupted in our house last night.. Well it started by me reading a blog post by Glen Hannah about the Toolwiz Pic App and me downloading it and trying it on some of our photographs. After I processed a couple of photographs and showed him… he came up with a comment, along the lines… “That is no longer a photograph but digital art.”


And after he explained his reasoning… I could not falter his logic, especially with this photograph, after I added a water reflection..

Ashenbank Woods - Digital Art
Ashenbank Woods in Cobham, Kent, processed using ToolWiz Photo App


He said… “Even though the original image was taken with a camera.. you have altered the image by putting in water.. so it now becomes digital art because there are no lakes or water features like you have created in the photograph above, at Ashenbank Woods.”

So his logic is simply this… if you add something that changes the whole dimension of the photograph i.e a water reflection when there was no water in the original image.. then you can’t call it a photograph of such and such place… because people will never find  the exact location of where that photograph shot because you are giving a false illusion of there being water at the location…  Yep I agree with that.

Adding a texture etc. is still a photograph in his opinion because you are not altering the concept of the photograph… you are enhancing it.  Enhancing the image by altering, exposure, contrast, colours and white balance still makes it a photograph, simply because, people can easily locate the place at where that particular photograph was taken.

So I processed this photograph taken at Doddington Place near Sittingbourne, Kent.. and asked, “Is it a Photograph or Digital Art?”

Daffodils at Doddington


To which he replied, “Photograph.”

So I thought I would test his logic on this photograph…

A photograph of an orange flower, processed using ToolWiz Photo App


“Digital Art,”… he proclaimed.  Again simply because the flower was not laid in water to create that reflection…

To be honest.. I have never thought about his logical concept of photography before.. when processing images… and yes I suppose if you add something to a photograph – ie a water reflection, when no water is present – then you really can’t say it is a natural photograph of that particular place.

So I have altered my profile.. and added Digital Artist… because Digital Art is something that I do create with our images..  But I am still a photographer, albeit an amateur one, because I am the one that takes the initial image… I am the one that works out the settings for my camera and I am the one that finds the composition aspect for that particular photo.  So by doing digital art, with my images, does not take away the fact that I am an amateur photographer.

What do you think?  Is he right?  Or is his logic flawed?

Now on another note… that app is absolutely fantastic and it is available on both Android and IOS.


Written by Bren (Ryan-Photography)

Bren Ryan is a female amateur photographer and blogger who along with her husband, Ashley, have created a photography blog called Ryan Photography which showcases the places they've visited on their photography journey. Bren and Ashley primarily concentrate their photographic skills on landscape, architecture and floral subjects. Based in the South East of England they hope to give their readers an insight into the wonderful and beautiful landscapes, buildings and places that the South of England has to offer.


  1. You are a photographer and you produce digital art. Both are fine. I just want to know what am I looking at. That’s all. I advocate photo ‘labeling’. Some photographers take manipulation to such an extreme that I call it optical illusion.


    1. Thank you nijad for your comment… yes I think you hit the nail on the head there… viewers want to know what they are looking at … whether it be a photo or digital art. I think ‘labelling’ is the way to do this…


      1. Very true Leanne… I think what my other half was trying to get at.. is the term ‘Photograph of’ because technically he said it is not a photograph of Ashenbank Woods simply because there are no water features at Ashenbank Woods and therefore the person who views the photograph should be told so. Simply because they might love to visit the place and expect to find a the exact location and could be walking around for days… because that location doesn’t exist.

        I think the best way of describing it is this.. if someone asked for a Coke and you gave them Pepsi… and tried to pass it off as cola they are not getting what they asked for… so when photos are manipulated to the extent that I did with the first image.. it is not a true reflection of the location… it is what I have turned that photograph into and that is when it becomes Digital Art.

        Basically it is the adding of things (ie the water reflection) that takes it from a true reflection of a place to a mythical reflection of the place.


  2. To me digitial art is something that is produced souly on the computer, no outside input. We don’t say films are no longer films or movies because they are done digitally, there is a lot of digital manipulation in them. We don’t say, Oh I’m going to see Dr Strange, it is the latest digital art film at the moment, I can’t even think what the equivalent name would be. I say just call it a photo, it can be printed, why not. Who cares, did they say the same thing about photos that were heavily manipulated in the darkroom? No, they didn’t. It is amazing when you look at what photographers used to do in the darkroom. Photography has always been changed so why do we need to give it another name now.


    1. Do you find that a painting made by a brush on a canvas is the same as one designed and printed, say, by a 3D printer ? Am not trying to take credit away from anyone, only the digital age has created more forms of art.

      I have seen so called ‘photos’ that have shots of 2 skies and 2 mountain ranges and God knows what. I just need to give the photo the proper appreciation whether be it hard old-fashioned photography, with some PP similar to old dark room tools, or it’s a photographic ‘creation’ .

      Some might not bother and just appreciate. Well, they have every right to. Only I don’t like being taken for a ride. I might be looking at a fake Mona Lisa which is still a beautiful painting, but wouldn’t you want to know if it’s an original or not.. !!


      1. Obviously only one is a painting, it has been painted, the other has been printed, obvious differences. One is done with paint the other not.

        Perhaps the problem here is you, more than anything else as well. Why do you need to have to define everything, just accept what it is and whether or not you like it. YOu really should look into what they used to do in the darkroom, it was incredible. the skill and what they were capable of was amazing. YOu still accept that as photography, even though what you are looking like may not be reality at all. Why are you being taken for a ride, it is what it is. If you look at my work, no where, does it say it is reality, but I work with photos, everything is photographic, if I put something else in an image it is another photo. I then enhance and do what I do with photoshop, the same as I would in a darkroom, if I had the patience.
        The Mona Lisa is something else again, you are talking around real and fake, that is different.


        1. Your are right, a brush is not a printer. Similarly, a camera is not a laptop. The similarity between a darkroom and laptop is a bit far fetched.

          The ‘defining’ am looking for is to appreciate the respective skill. For me it’s simple. I can appreciate BOTH. The Mona Lisa may be a fake, but it’s a real painting and the forger is a skilled painter.

          To properly appreciate something I just have to know what it is. Am I asking for too much.! Why do you insist that we should not be informed. Consider a photo collage. Is that a photo ? What is done using laptops is sometimes more a collage than photo enhancement.

          Frankly, the argument here is not about appreciating the art, it’s about a form of digital art that uses photos as raw materials. You want to throw a large moon and some clouds and a fence and then call this just a photo.!


    2. My other half wasn’t complaining or mocking what people do.. and I am a firm believer like you, it is your image do what you like with it.. what he was trying to get at is with regards to the photograph of Ashenbank Woods, that location doesn’t exist. What you see in that photograph you will never find at Ashenbank Woods and therefore it is not Ashenbank Woods… It is a landscape photograph with a water feature added.

      He said he would hate to see a photograph like that… and think I live near there we will visit and admire the view … and sit by that lake and have a picnic…. and then get there and find out the photograph that lead him there was manipulated to add the water reflection..

      He fully appreciates what was done in the darkroom… and with processing an image on a PC with regards to contrast, exposure, colours, texture etc but when something is added to a photograph which is not there that gives a false illusion of the place then it becomes digital art and you shouldn’t use the term A Photograph Of


  3. I love the logic and agree that I simply want to know what was involved in achieving the result. At his point in my development I don’t possess the skills to produce digital art and I consider myself more of a journalistic photographer which is neither better or less than a digital artist in my humble opinion.


    1. Thank you Steve for your comment… totally agree with you on the fact of something being neither better or less than something else… each and everyone of us has our own skills.. and at the end of the say it should be our own choice to use those skills.


    1. Yes very true but there are different forms of art.. like drawing, painting but does adding something extra to photograph does it then make it more digital art than a photograph of a specific location?


  4. Bren, how about a label of say ‘O/x’ where ‘x’ is the number of objects added to the Original photo.! That will give us something to think about when we look at photographs. At least I feel the artist is being honest and I can enjoy and try to understand the artistic result.!


    1. I am all for that nijad.. thinking about this I would be totally gutted going to visit a place to find it doesn’t really exist. I am all for enhancing a photograph to enhance clouds and reflections.. contrast etc.. but I don’t think I’d like to be mislead. Thank god that was my first real photograph where I added something that wasn’t really there 😃😃😃


    1. Yes.. but I think what my hubby’s logic is.. you can’t say it is a photograph of…. if you have added something that wasn’t in the picture that dramatically alters the true portrayal of the image. And instead of it becoming a Photograph of …. it becomes digital art…


  5. I pretty much agree with Leanne. As long as no one states ‘it is X ‘ when it isn’t it doesn’t matter to me. I don’t see why it matters for appreciation but would agree with the classifications of your husband if I had to classify for some reason.


    1. Exactly – it is the classification that is the problem, when someone manipulates a photograph and then says ‘it is x’. When in fact it is not.


  6. IF someone was writing about a trip to a particular place and posting photos of that place, then it would be good idea to note any photos that had been digital enhanced. Wouldn’t want people traveling to a particular place in search of a ‘mythical’ spot under the trees with beautiful calm waters that do not exist. I certainly would be sad when I couldn’t find it.
    Which makes me think of all the air-brushed models in the magazines.
    You would think that most people would know that these perfectly sculptured ladies and men are not completely ‘real’ —but some people don’t know understand the awesome power of digital art. Because it is often hard to discern what is real and not real, some young girls out there are literally starving themselves to death, in an attempt to achieve impossible body shapes that actually doesn’t exist. It would be good if these magazines would put a note by their altered photos that says something like: “The photo images of these models have been altered/digitally enhanced. In reality, no physical human being can achieve or maintain this sort of unblemished perfection.” 🙂


  7. Ooops…in my reply above…I was altering sentences and thoughts after I had written them and messed up my English in the process!
    In one sentence, it should have been ‘don’t know (OR) understand’, and in the other sentence it should have been ‘actually don’t (not doesn’t) exist.’
    I also wanted to add that I have had Adobe Photoshop for years and I love to create new and different realities. However, because Photoshop is always so time-consuming, I don’t use it that often. I wrote a post back in July 2015 that had some photos with Photoshop filters applied. The first photo is untouched–there was a water reflection there. On the other 4 photos, I used the oil paint filter and a few other filters that I can’t remember. None of my altered photos actually ended up looking like oil paintings, but it was fun trying.


    1. Hi Mary, firstly sorry for not replying sooner… busy weekend and intermittent internet. I totally agree with what you say about young people and how the ‘stars’ and ‘models’ are Photoshopped to give them the perfect body – which makes others want to achieve that… All this airbrushing that is done to photos make those who are easily influenced jealous and it also makes them ashamed of what they look like and strife to create the perfect body.. which involves them being bulimic or anorexic. And I too, would hate to visit a location, thinking I was going to see such a beautiful place to find it doesn’t exist.

      And that is what my hubby was saying… he doesn’t mind things being photoshopped but when it totally alters the location and includes features that are not there.. say so. Adding in some clouds is one thing.. because clouds come and go and they don’t spoil the actual scene of the photograph.. they just enhance it if you add them. But to change the actual concept of a location to include elements which are not there and not say so is wrong in his opinion.

      Thanks for you comments… I know about the altering of things… that is the problem with these blog platforms sometimes.. you only have to hit enter and your comment is sent off without you having the chance to proof-read it.. and then you find your mistakes.


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