Dimitri Vasileiou • How Much Is Too Much?

There is a trend for people to leave negative comments on a picture published in any public forum or social media. How can photographer artists express themselves? How much is too much?

There are many great artists of the past and many more in the present. Some of them are recognised for their talent in sculpture, pottery, others have made their name from their famous paintings.

Not all of them had a warm welcome from the public; some of them were considered weird, or even non-artistic. Yet, many of them have become famous and are recognised as amazing artists. And although some of them are not to everyone’s liking – Pablo Picasso’s latest style for instance – we do still see them as artists.

Every time I see a picture posted in a public forum or on social media and it is a bit different – different style or a bit more manipulated than it really should be (according to the specialists) – I read countless negative comments about the picture. Things such as “Too much Photoshop”, “This is not photography any more”, “Do you call this photography?”

Let’s take things from the start though and let’s move quite a few decades backwards. On 14 November 1840 on the 5th floor of 45 Rue Laffitte in Paris, there was a young boy born, a young artist. When he grew up, his father wanted him to go into the family grocery business, but he wanted to become an artist. His mother was a singer.

On 1 April 1851, he entered Le Havre secondary school of the arts. Locals knew him well for his charcoal caricatures, which he would sell for ten to twenty francs. On the beaches of Normandy around 1856 he met fellow artist Eugène Boudin, who became his mentor and taught him to use oil paints. Boudin taught him "en plein air" (outdoor) techniques for painting.

When he visited the Louvre, he noticed that painters were copying from the old Masters. Having brought his paints with him, he sat by a window and painted what he saw. He stayed in Paris for several years, this is where he met other young painters, including Édouard Manet and others who would become his close friends.

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From the late 1860s, he and other like-minded artists met with rejection from the conservative Académie des Beaux-Arts. They did not see them as artists who had their own unique style – not to everyone's taste, just very odd, different and not good enough. To them, these new guys were not artists, as simple as that. Probably what we would say today… “Too much Photoshop” perhaps.

However, this new artist, together with a group of others with similar style, organised the Société anonyme des artistes peintres, sculpteurs et graveurs (Cooperative and Anonymous Association of Painters, Sculptors, and Engravers) to exhibit their artworks independently. At their first exhibition, held in April 1874, he exhibited the work that was to give the group its lasting name. This new man on the block was Oscar-Claude Monet and this new rejected style? Impressionism. This is the man we all know today as one of the most influential painters of all time. And yet, he was (and many others too) rejected by a minority of the establishment.

There are countless painting techniques and styles but they are all included under the same word – Art.

There are countless photographic techniques and styles, why shouldn't they end up under the same word – Art? After all, to all photographers, photography is a form of art and every photographer should be allowed to follow their own unique style and express themselves as they see fit.

Ansel Adams was the biggest picture manipulator of his time, he repeatedly admitted that he manipulated his pictures heavily in order to achieve the print that he had envisioned on location – something similar to “Too much Photoshop”. Should we discard him as not one of the great Masters?

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About Author


Dimitri Vasileiou is a highly acclaimed landscape photographer, writer and photographic workshop leader. A professional photographer for several years, he was born in Greece and currently resides in Scotland.


  1. Avatar
    Elizabeth Moore on

    I completely disagree with Kevin. As a professional photographer, I have my tools at hand, and I learn to use them so that they capture what *I* want them to capture. Too many folks these days think that they can just set their cameras on “P”, and that, as Kevin says, the camera will capture what it will capture. There are so many tools inside your camera that you can manipulate to get what you want.

    The other factor is patience, and developing an eye for what you want to express. Artists are artists, no matter what medium they choose to express themselves. For example, there’s a place near where I live that has a natural spring. Every so often, when it snows and the conditions are right, there is a fabulous coating of hoar frost in the trees. I waited for weeks, going down every morning. Then, when I thought the conditions would be perfect, I stood there for an hour, in 20-degree weather, waiting for the sun to be in just the right spot. I made sure that my settings were just right to be able to capture just what I wanted. My reward? A two-page spread in Montana Outdoors magazine.

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    Kevan Brewer on

    The analogy between painting and photography does not really hold. A painter is capturing their interpretation of what they see using their chosen media and has infinite freedom to express themselves DURING the process. A photographer, on the other hand, has much less control over what they capture, as it is their camera’s sensor or film that is recording a scene, and many people expect a photograph, especially a colour one, to closely resemble that which was seen through the lens. Photography’s strength is its ability to accurately record the world, however, in terms of art, that is also its weakness.

    Deviations from what the viewer considers to be within the bounds of realism are viewed with suspicion when is common knowledge that images can be so easily hugely altered by the quick move of a slider. The digital age brought in great power to manipulate images but of course that comes with great responsibility and it’s not hard to find examples where that responsibility, it could be argued, has been abused. As a prime example, ramping up the saturation to produce social media-friendly eye-candy might garner lots of attention but simply labelling it as “self-expression” might draw scepticism from a more discerning viewer.

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      Weldon Thomson on

      Quote: “The analogy between painting and photography does not really hold. A painter is capturing their interpretation of what they see using their chosen media and has infinite freedom to express themselves DURING the process. A photographer, on the other hand, has much less control . . .”

      Not So! It is just different tools for different artists. Except for the ability to completely create a scene that doesn’t exist anywhere at all using just a camera and lens, the way a painter can on canvas with just a brush and paints, the photographer and painter have very similar control and freedom to express themselves during the process, even without photoshop manipulation.

      Quote: “Photography’s strength is its ability to accurately record the world, however, in terms of art, that is also its weakness.”

      The “Accuracy” of photographic recording is always subject to the interpretation of the person behind the lens and the many choices they make, even subconsciously, in visualizing and creating the image. Understanding this is often what delineates the difference between a photographic technician and a photographic artist.

      “Accurate” is also subject to the medium itself, whether it be photography, painting, or even writing. Choices such as where to be and when, focal length, exposure, shutter speed, etc., all alter the scene in some way, just as choice of words can alter how a reader perceives a passage in a book (or news article). What is more accurate, for example, a waterfall blurred by a long exposure, frozen by a fast exposure, or somewhere in-between?; The perspective of a wide lens, a “normal” lens, or a telephoto? Most people “see” the world from a height of between about 4 feet and 6 feet, or so. Should a photograph captured by a camera on the ground, looking up, accurate? Perhaps “realistic” might be a better word to use in evaluating images but even that concept is subject to much of the same individual interpretation, certainly if not carried to extreme.

      Some would acknowledge that we see with our hearts and emotions as well as with our eyes, and that any number of people viewing the same scene may not see it in the same way evoking the same sense. Thus, an image I create may not be an “acurate” representation of what anyone else saw even if they were standing beside me at the time of creation. In fact, how well an image even represents what I saw will depend considerably upon my skills as a technician, limitations of my equipment, and choices made in capturing the image. It is all about what one is trying to communicate to the viewer using what we have available to us as the changing scene presents itself.

      The “responsibility”, to many who consider themselves “artists”, is to accurately communicate what they see with thier hearts and souls; the feeling, emotion, and romance of being there in the moment. Accurately capturing the physical “reality” of what is in front of them may, or may not, be only a small part of that.

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      While there are examples o overly saturating, too extreme HDR and the likes (likes produces as you wrote), still 100% of magazine pictures are extremely processed. No portrait that looks reasonably good did not go through post processing. No landscape image has not absurd a near by anchor out of proportion, used some Orthon effect or long exposed water into flat or milky look. No architecture image has escaped sharpening, no night sky photography left the milky way for its natural pale look. You see where I am getting to? In fact I would argue 100% of well appreciated images brings something out of the ordinary to the viewer eye. A moment in time, a perspective that is uncommon for us to see. So why is the unrealistic result of lens and camera distortion of ‘perfect art form’, and all the genres mentioned above are perfectly legitimate and strong manipulation with Photoshop is not? I personally not skilled enough for heavy manipulation of an image in Photoshop, though some ‘experts in their own eyes’ sounded a disrespectful dismiss of over manipulation, followed by their own post of impossible to achieve look image with any possible set of light sources.
      You may under appreciate one’s work, or even think it is tasteless. I also think some work is such. That does not mean it is not an art.
      If we go back to more established area of art, Music, then is every radio hit a master piece in it’s poetry or tune? Probably not. Do we all like all the possible genres of Music? Probably not all. Are the musicians, singers and performers not artists? Yes they are.

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