Sunday, August 3, 2008


I was struck with the conversations on some bulletins boards where people use some words rather loosely. Sure I'm being a curmudgeo because it's often easy to determine what they mean from the context and sometimes I get picky about words, being an old-school film photographer and learning to write in graduate school where specifics matter. So, the fuss?

Well for one, to me, the difference between the words photo(graph) and image, which is why I make the distinction.

A photograph has several definitions but mostly it means the original capture, the film itself. The second use is to describe a print, but now can mean a Web (digital) image, which is what's meant when someone says, "Nice photo." They're referring more to the idea of and in the scene than the medium.

While you can be specific when viewing slides or negatives, the general definition of photo(graph) means both the scene and the film, an inclusive definiton where the viewer is referring to both the scene and the exposure. They're meaning the whole of it, the photograph as seen at the time and captured in the film.

An image is the digital variant of a photograph, but has varied meanings. For one, it's the original digital capture, the digital image from the original raw or jpeg file from the camera. It's not the same as a film photograph because you can't alter film once processed, which is close but not the same as a raw file.

It doesn't apply to a jpeg unless it is the unaltered original from the camera. I try to do the same since I shoot jpeg's 95+% of the time. For images I want to archive, I make a copy so I can work on one to wherever it takes me with it and still have my original image, even trash it if I don't like it and start over.

A second definition of image is the digital workflow, the image, either from the original camera image or the scanned digital image of film, used with photo editors to produce the final medium image, which is a Web or digital display image or a paper/publication print.

Scanned film and digital camera images have different workflows though production process with the photo editors. But the goal is the same, to produce the display you want, which leads to the third variant of image, the non-paper display. This is because it's almost always these days in a digital format including the display.

The definition of print is self-evident, meaning it's a photo or image on paper. But, to me, it varys calling it a photo or image based on the source of the original capture. But a traditional darkroom print is just a print, no qualifier are necessary, history has and should still call them prints. I prefer to use digital prints to qualify those over traditional methods.

In the end, where photographers lump the idea of photo and image into one concept, and then merge them into the the same conceptual workflow to the resultant display or print, I make distinctions, from the source through the production to the final product.

So, if I ask questions about a photographer's photos or images, I just want to know the distinction. It's not a judgement or being snobbish, just informative to understand.

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