Is Photography an Art or Science?

What is the real difference between art and photography? And is there any real difference at all? According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary the definition of art is, something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or expresses important ideas or feelings. If we take the Webster view, then photography must be art, but there are many that do not class it so. So perhaps we need to take a closer look into this debate.


Basically, photography is made up of two elements, art and science. If this statement is true it puts the definition of photography as art in question, why? The answer is simply that science can never be classed as art. Most dictionaries define science with words such as: study, intellectual, system, laws, facts, truths, and none of these can really be associated with art. Art and science differ greatly in what they hope to achieve and in their practice. In fact they could not be further away from each other in terms of terminology and meaning that it is hard to associate them together. So perhaps we have to accept the premise that photography is an oddity, it refuses to be cornered and classed as one thing or another.

The Science of Photography

The science part of photography includes all the technical equipment and the techniques required to produce an image. Unlike painting a landscape in oil, taking an image can be highly technical and there is one huge interference, and that is that the camera is between the subject matter and the photographer. An artist does not have this alien device separating the two elements, all he has is the canvas, his subject and a brush.

The Art of Photography

The artistic side of photography includes the photographer’s feelings, his vision, goals, inspirations and concepts. Also, the use of colors, lines, textures, light and composition are all part of a photographer’s palette. Knowing the technical side of taking an image without the human element is pretty useless, the final product will be lackluster and poor.

A Complete Photographer

Being a technically proficient photographer is only addressing half of the situation, photography is without doubt the sum of two parts, art and science. Focusing on one of the elements is to the detriment of the other.

An infected male sheep crab is feminized by a parasitic barnacle. It stops developing fighting claws, and its abdomen widens, providing a “womb” for the barnacle to fill with its brood pouch. Nurtured by the crab, the eggs hatch. Thousands of baby barnacles disperse to infect anew.

What is required from the complete photographer is a combination of the two. The best photographers have all the technical know how they could possible want, this is stored in the brain and is used almost mechanically without thinking. What sets the really best photographers from the rest is not their technical knowledge, it is their natural gifts. The way their instincts can lead them to the best locations, or their intimate rapport with their sitters, in other words……their art.

There is no doubt that photography could be filed under art or science, but as we have proved the driving force behind the best photographers that produce the finest images is their art. Without art a photograph is soulless, it will remain in its confines, flat on the paper it was printed on.