Is Nature Photography Considered Art?

Thank you for your awesome note, Mark!

Yes, this makes a lot of sense, and public perception is problematic for sure, but it always has been with photography. “You must have a nice camera.”

I would love to see more of this project - it sounds really neat! I LOVE the homebrew example (I also homebrew and so did my dad).

This is the part that I wholly agree with even though most in this comment thread would probably disagree. :grimacing:

It’s a no brainer to me that what I’m doing is art. I was a painter many years before I took my first photo, studied fine art in college, and even had a few paintings hanging up in prestigious galleries. When I first took up photography seriously, 25+ years ago, my initial emphasis was on digital art created in Photoshop. Now that I make my living purely on landscape photography (with a clear distinction in my mind from ‘digital art’–because I am trying to capture a real experience and moment) it is in no way different than my previous pursuits–it is the same creative impetus and similar subjects, just a different method. Instead of creating light with a brush, I am anticipating it, scouting it, planning it, and trying to convey my own unique perspective on it. Much different approach, but seeking the same aesthetic and emotional result. The bigger challenge for me is to stand out from the crowd, since it is so easy for many to duplicate the same scene or subject matter, How does one be true to one’s own creative vision and still create something of value to others? So, as you said, it’s not about whether it is art but whether it is good art, something that makes people think and feel.


Thanks for starting this discussion/debate Matt. Very interesting reading everyone’s thoughts about this. Art is capturing the beauty around us, no matter the medium we use. No artist is truly original as it really is only mimicking what we see around us. But what is original is conveying how something makes us feel. Whether it’s through music, drawing, dancing, beer making, or photography. Taking a picture, even if it’s technically correct or in the most beautiful, popular place on earth, with the tripod in the right place, doesn’t always have feelings behind it. And can end up looking like a cheap facade of checking off the boxes of accomplishments.
One question I have for you… you seem quite adverse towards ICM photography. But what’s the difference between putting your camera on a tripod with a 3 or 4 or however many minutes you can do on the Milky Way and setting a slow shutter speed and moving the camera in a way that expresses how a scene made you feel? I love to draw and play guitar and write music and other forms of art. I’ve been doing photography for about 3 years. And have kind of recently discovered ICM and love it especially because I don’t have a great camera or a tripod and I feel like I can make a scene closer to how it made me feel with ICM rather than just a regular shot.
Anyway, I’ve heard some of your podcasts and love them and I love your work and am totally jealous that you get to hike all over the Rockies!


Argument maybe isn’t the right word - this discussion. If I’m a nature photographer am I also an artist? People have been flailing around with this for 150 years. That’s what I’m tired of. You’re an artist if you think you are. You aren’t if you don’t. I’m pretty obdurate when it comes to other people’s opinions. Unless I respect a person’s judgment where these things are concerned, I don’t really care what they think. When it comes to my work the most important opinion is mine. In some cases the only opinion. My need for validation is at an all time low.

In some ways that’s what makes the critique and conversation here on NPN more valuable for me - the caliber of photography is so high that I trust in the expertise here. I see that my fellow members’ approaches aren’t that different from my own even if their styles are. So when I do need some help working through a photo, I can trust a lot of the input I receive. It’s different than just looking for praise or approval; it’s creating a better final product. It’s up to me whether I think the advice better or worse in terms of a solution than what I could come up with.

Does art serve a purpose? Oy - let’s not go there!! :laughing:

Nope, I’m not offended. It wouldn’t be a good idea to hold up others’ work in this kind of evaluation and discussion. And we all start with our own work and then compare it to what things we admire or denigrate. But again, I think the biggest favor you can do for yourself is to get over what other people think. To realize and develop enough inner confidence to not need such external adulation and validation. It’s freeing, believe me.

Oh sure, we can go down the rathole of AI processing and composites, and those sky replacement skies have to come from somewhere, right? But we’re talking about the need some photographers have to be considered artists not the tools they use.

Defensive is probably not the right word. Or maybe it is. Maybe I just shouldn’t have jumped into this discussion since I’m clearly past it being important for me. It didn’t happen overnight, but it did and so I should probably just hold my tongue and let other people work through it themselves.

Glad you thought it was and didn’t feel bad about it.

Right on man, and it’s great to see you here on NPN my friend! =)

Thanks for chiming in Vanessa! I am not adverse to ICM, but I don’t personally usually find it to be interesting, with some notable exceptions of course. There is nothing different, to your point, and that is what’s great about this medium - we can all find something we enjoy that hopefully conveys something - if that is your goal.

To your question about ICM more specifically though - I suppose my preference of not really liking it much is because it usually just looks forced and contrived to me - like a giant experiment that “hopes” it accomplishes something. I know that’s probably not fair, but it is just how it usually comes across, to me :slight_smile:

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The idea that the label art is unimportant. That if it’s art to me than it’s art and if not then it’s not. Or even that the product doesn’t matter as long as an artistic process is experienced, doesn’t work for me. That should be obvious I think. There are museums everywhere. Something has to go there. They’re not just throwing a dart to decide which piece goes in. There are art movements in our history. Someone has decided what constitutes a movement and which pictures belong and define it. So Art is real but if you don’t want the burden of feeling you’re creating art or not then that’s fine. Most of the artwork in museums are made by people who know art and are purposefully creating it. Personally I think that understanding art is an enriching experience. It also helps you express who you are and what your likes and dislikes are. I think the camera can do that. Or better yet, you can use the camera to do that.

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Had to look that one up! :slight_smile:

Actually, yes, let’s go there. If someone creates “art” doesn’t that imply intent, and therefore purpose? And if there was no intent behind the creation, is it still art? I personally don’t really know the answer to that question. At the very least, IMO, intent makes the work stand out more.

I think you meant ‘you’ in a broad sense, but just in case, I don’t really care what other people think about my work though, minus close friends or other photographers I respect. In fact, this is something I discuss regularly on my podcast. But your point about comparing our work to others is an interesting and good one - because if we don’t have any basis of comparison, how do we know where we stand based on our own goals? I think it’s good to have something to hold your work up to, but we shouldn’t also let that be the only barometer of our own success in our minds, which I think is your point. However, if we have been told our whole lives our art is amazing and we just believe that, is that a good thing? I can go either way there, but I see people’s egos get shattered pretty frequently when they are recipients of solid and objectively sound critique of their work because they have been used to people telling them “banger,” “awesome work” etc. on social media. This is probably the subject of a whole other essay though!

That makes sense. I’m a very introspective person in most aspects of my life. Am I a good friend? Am I a good father? Am I a good husband? Am I a good artist (or am I even an artist to begin with)? I think this is healthy if approached from a desire to improve. I think that’s what I love about photography - it offers so many paths for self-improvement, not only through the work but also as a reflection of yourself through the work. Hope that makes sense!

I do appreciate the detailed note you posted, @Matt_Payne . Clearly, the topic has crossed several people’s minds based on the ongoing discussion here.

I truly feel like an outsider in this discussion. First, I do not consider myself a professional photographer. By that, I mean I don’t make a living on photography. It is a hobby for me and something with which I have fun. Whether what I do is considered art or not is irrelevant to me. I do it because it pleases me. Second, if I post a photo here or in any other medium, it will be up to the viewer to think whether that is art or not. There’s nothing I can do about that. In brief, art is in the eye of the beholder as well as the creator. Sometimes those two individuals have similar views about a particular photo and sometimes they do not.


Interesting thought, Matt. Then would I be correct to conclude that you mainly only like photography that you can purposely control, with a tripod and or exact composition that you know what your end result will be? And is that how it needs to be to be considered art? Which I guess would eliminate any kind of wildlife, astro, basically anything that moved into or around the frame would be an unknown as far as results go. I know with wildlife you can plan to a certain extent, I’ve been doing that with turkey vultures in my area because I know a lot of places to possibly find them and kind of understand their flight patterns but really never know what I’m going to get. And I think that’s part of the excitement of ICM and animal photography or anything moving is the surprise of seeing what you got. Of course, I wouldn’t have the freedom to do that with film, but with digital I can just click away and delete away too! :sweat_smile: Maybe I’m just trigger happy! Oh and by the way I agree with Matt, that art does serve a purpose @Kris_Smith . All living things need to have their emotional needs met and art is one medium that fills those needs. Not just humans, but animals too appreciate beauty around them and create art and music and plants thrive on music. Science proves it.

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Oh I know, Vanessa, I do. I was joking because that’s and even older chestnut.


Hi Matt - I sent an email to your gmail account with two links that might be of interest. Thx!

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Hmm… don’t know about the chestnuts! But I’m glad you do agree, I didn’t know you were kidding because you strike me as a very brainy analytical type! ( that’s a compliment) I have a lot of friends like that and they don’t think that animals have emotions, as if it’s unscientific to think so. When there’s actually tons of proof that they have all the emotions we do and they appreciate and make art too! Sorry @Matt_Payne to have a conversation in your conversation! :flushed:

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Really good stuff, Matt. As always, I might add. I have started to see more and more people consider photography art in the last year. An interesting poll I did on both Instagram and Twitter asked this question. It was interesting that it was about 50/50 yes and no on Instagram. On Twitter responses were more along the lines of 75% yes on Twitter.

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To me, that is the beauty of ICM. Something around me gets my attention and motivates me to create art with mundane things (generally). However, the end result is never what I truly conceptualized because it simply did not exist until I created the ICM shot.

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Matt, I was of your perspective on ICM for quite a while, until we had @alfredomora’s article. I have tried ICM since then and have found that while it can be somewhat contrived at times, I think that there is a lot of value in the artistic, impressionistic experience.

@Vanessa_Hill inspired me to explore this avenue even more, and I have found a lot of personal joy in it. Do I think it’s art? Well, yes, in the sense that the resulting image can show some of the aspects of art and photography. An ICM image only works if there is an underlying structure (Composition, Contrast, Color, Sense of place. I think of Monet’s paintings as abstract and I could see him using the camera and ICM to communicate his “meaning.”

I also don’t think that art can be restricted…Like beauty, it’s in the eye of the beholder.

Finally, as Scott Adams (The Dilbert Principle) said, “Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.”



Love this quote =)
Yes, I’m a big fan of @alfredomora and his article - we chat often! I think ICM has a lot of potential and like you said, it can be expressive. I just have not found it to be for me FWIW. I will try again someday, perhaps. :slight_smile:


I love that! :slight_smile:

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Yes - I think intention for me is an important variable in my process.

No. Two separate ideas, I suppose. But - I do think intention, as it relates to artistry, matters, at least in my opinion.

To your question about wildlife - I think intent matters here too, as it relates to whether or the final image can be seen as elevated to good art (do you like that qualifier?) - I think ‘hoping’ something good will happen lowers the cieling a bit for me in terms of how good the artwork is. Kind of like a musician playing random notes and hoping it sounds good - it might - but that lack of intentionality for me makes it less “impressive.” It doesn’t mean it’s not art, it just doesn’t really check some boxes for my own personal tastes in consuming artwork. That being said, I love astro and I love trying to capture wildlife when I can too - but I would rarely call what I do art. Again - that’s just my own personal thought process for me. 90% of my work is not all that artistic using my own standards. Maybe my standards are too high!

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I guess, though, when you have high standards that can be good, because you always challenge yourself to get better! And that’s not a bad thing in any aspect of life! There’s always room for improvement and it makes life more fulfilling when you are constantly learning and growing.