I try to be as open as I can when it comes to my art or photography. I have several styles of what I try to do. Quite a range of definitions exist when it comes to photography vs. fine art. I get asked this question a lot, so I decided to write my thoughts on it.
Photography is something that can really be defined into a few parts, in my opinion. Documentary, Style and Fine-Art. Documentary is where I don't edit anything, no Photoshop, with the exception of standard color, contrast and sharpening.... something your camera does anyway if you shoot in JPG. Style is where I will remove things like construction cones, cars, fire hydrants, and do various clean up on the image. This is generally something someone will want to hang in their home or put on their desktop wallpaper. In my opinion, most people don't want a picture with caution tape, orange cones, etc. on a picture they will be looking at almost every day. Fine-art is something where anything goes. It's as equivalent to art as you can get, digitally. Images such as these can include swapping or replacing a sky from boring to dramatic. Dodging and burning, fine texture details, adding elements into, and compositing.
The Celestial Series of Temple Images are what I would consider Fine-Art. They are a composite of two separate photos. One for the sky, and one for the temple and grounds. Most that do photography understand the limitations of cameras and their inability to capture a wide dynamic range. In the case of the Milky Way shots, the sky is way too dark and the temple with its lights on is way too bright for a camera to capture in a single shot. Furthermore, the likelihood of having the Milky Way in the right place requires too much time than I could put into it.
To shoot the stars, it requires you to gather as much light as fast as possible into the camera without making the stars leave trails. I won't go over the math or specifics. I have other posts about that. However, when you photograph a lit-up temple, the bright lights actually force you to do the opposite and let less light into the camera. So you have extremes on both ends. This is where compositing comes in.
Composites are nothing new. The concepts and practices have been in use for quite some time. Mostly in the advertising industry. But we see it in photographs and images a lot more. While we are not adding people or cars into the scene, we are adding the temple and sky together. You shoot the stars and Milky Way completely separate. Then you photograph the temple completely separate. You end up with two different photos, which need to be merged and matched to make a piece of art. Originally I wanted to make it a bit more "realistic" but came to the realization that it was a bit bland. So the idea was to turn it into something a bit more artsy.
After I started creating a few of the images, I realized that the milky way itself is always the same. The stars are always the same. The only thing that changes is the position of it in the sky due to the earth's position/tilt/etc. in orbit. My decision was to make the image appealing to the eye and stray further from the realism. I also decided that instead of photographing the sky 100 different times, I would just use the same photo. After all, they really are all the same photograph, even if you have 100 of them. At first I thought that would be a problem because it's the same, however I had to look at it as if I were the person that wanted this on my wall. Sure there are eighty-something temple images, but only one (maybe two) will hang on someone's wall.
Many other photographers ask me how this is done. I can respond with "it's a composite" and most will understand. But I also get a lot of the buzz-kills that come in and pick apart the image because it's scientifically inaccurate and how the Milky Way band would never be in that position, lol. Hey, I get it. Trust me I do. But this is fine-art, not a documentary.