One thing that differs art from technique is meaning. A technical photograph conveys a straightforward message, as in a plain photo of a person, a monument or a place. An artistic photograph conveys more, as in the person’s emotional condition, or some subtle significance behind the monument’s appearance, or by implying strong historical associations with the photographed place.
Here’s an example: a sweet Chinese hostess serves us tea in one of the many Beijing tea houses. We will sample some of her finest crop and then purchase packs of tea to bring back home. She obliges us, through her kindness, and we then reciprocate by purchasing her produce.
There are a few things in action in this photograph: the precise manner of the hostess, as can be seen by her delicate hand and the stream of tea poured into the porcelain cups. You see the juicy deep green tea-leaves receiving the hot water. You see the steam rising from the cup.
If that were all there was in this photo, I would consider it a mere technical shot of a Chinese tea ceremony. You could judge it more or less successful based on personal opinion, but either way, it would be regarded as impersonal and wouldn’t carry much emotion.
But in truth, this photograph is a family portrait. Mirrored in the silver teapot are myself (a Yuba City photographer in Beijing!), my husband (sipping tea) and my parents. So the photo captures a moment in one of our most special travels to China, where, after a long day of walking around, we stepped into a local store and experienced a serene tea tasting.
So if you’d ask me what qualifies some photographs to be considered ‘art’, this would be my answer: art is judged by meaning, and the more subtleties a photograph–or painting or sculpture or movie–convey, the more artistic they are.
Good luck creating art!