Don't Get Sucked In! 5 Photography Myths :: Digital Photo Secrets

Don't Get Sucked In! 5 Photography Myths

by David Peterson 8 comments

Photography is a mysterious art. Somehow, by pressing all the right buttons and using all the right settings, you can turn an ordinary scene into a work of art. Because photography is so strange, so out of the ordinary, certain photography myths have grown out of our desire to explain what’s going on behind the lens of the world’s great photographers. Have you fallen for these myths? Let’s take a look.

Myth #1: “You must have a great camera.”

If you don’t own a digital SLR, you may not have heard this one yet. But, trust me, I hear it all the time. People assume that because I own some pretty high end equipment, all of what makes my photos amazing must be the result of my equipment alone. In reality, nothing could be further from the case. The equipment only plays a very small role in what I do as a photographer.

Your equipment can’t tell you which aperture will work best for this particular scene. It can’t tell you to step back a little bit when you’re using your camera’s flash. It can’t tell you to use foreground elements when taking landscape pictures. The list of things your equipment can’t do is much bigger than the list of things it can do. Whenever someone takes a great photo, the equipment is only partly responsible for it.

It’s the same sort of irony I face as a writer for the web. People always tell me, “you’re so lucky. You get to work whenever you want and live wherever you want.” But honestly, what does luck have to do with it? This blog is successful because I’m constantly working to provide you with content that legitimately makes you a better photographer. It’s good because I’ve thought it through and prepared what I need to prepare.

The same principle applies to photography. Your equipment will only get you so far. The rest is you. I could write this article on an old Windows 95 laptop. It would take more time, but I’d still get the same result. Similarly, there are a lot of good photos you could take with an old point-and-shoot camera. If you do your homework and think the shot through, you can make it happen. It might not be as easy, but you can do it.

So get it out of your head that you need a better camera!

Myth #2: You need to be somewhere beautiful to take nice pictures

I don’t care where you live, there is always something to photograph. I know, it’s not Macchu Picchu or the Eiffel Tower, but you don’t really need any of that. I’ve seen the best photographers turn a random small town upside down with their work, presenting it to the world in a way it’s never been seen before. And I’ve witnessed countless tourists taking the same boring photos of famous places over and over again. They had every advantage, and they didn’t take it.


Yet another “boring” photo from a “boring” part of the world.
Photo By Flickr User Fikret Onal

A place is just that. A place. As a photographer, learn to see the same place from multiple perspectives. You need to know it intimately, from the early morning hours, through the middle of the day, and into the night. A place is not just a place. It’s a setting that lives through multiple times, each capable of being captured in an interesting way.

Myth #3: There is one “correct” way to expose an image

Some people seem to think there is only one way to expose the shutter to light from the outside world. They say everything has to strike a certain “perfect balance” between lights and darks. While that’s true to a certain extent, it’s still entirely subjective. Sometimes you want one part of the image to stand out while another fades into the background. Sometimes you have to overexpose or underexpose a part of the image in order to make this happen.


The white background is “blown out”, but I don’t care. The overexposure really makes the color on this flower POP.
Photo By: John Morgan

It’s simply the cruel fate of using camera equipment that isn’t as adept as the human eye. Digital SLRs and point-and-shoot cameras don’t capture all of the highlights from a scene in the way the human eye does. What we see in real life is not at all like the picture a camera creates, and because it isn’t, we have to make some difficult choices about what we want to emphasize and what we want to keep in the shadows.

At the end of the day, the exposure that looks the best is the “correct” exposure. There is no right or wrong. There is only what we find beautiful.

Myth #4: Megapixels matter

I've debunked this one before.

This one goes right along with all the other computer myths. At one point in time, people thought processor speed was the only important factor in selecting a computer. They figured the faster the processor, the faster the computer. Not so. As it turns out, other things are just as important as processor speed. Without extra memory, your computer has to do a bunch of extra work, and that extra processor speed doesn’t help it along all that much.

The same is true of megapixels. Just like processors, they do matter. But only up to a certain point. Once you hit 5 megapixels, other parts of the camera start to matter more. At that point, it’s more important have a real viewfinder that works through the lens so you can see what you’re about to get. You’ll also want the ability to control the exposure by changing the aperture or shutter speed. So far as digital photography is concerned, I would take those two over extra megapixels any day.

Cameras only need to be detailed enough. Once megapixels are accounted for, I want a camera that makes my job as photographer easier. I want something that takes photos faster and simplifies the entire process.

Myth #5: You don’t need to use flash in the middle of a sunny day

I can sympathize with this one. It chimes with our intuitions about light. Of course, it’s entirely false. Just because there’s a lot of light available doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use a flash to fill in the shadows, especially on a portrait photo.

As a matter of fact, it’s even more important to use a flash in the middle of the day. That’s when the light is as harsh as it will ever be. The shadows are particularly strong, and if you don’t get rid of them by using a flash, your portraits will look a bit off. I know your friends will question you on it, but that’s the life of the photographer. You have to go against the grain to get the good shots.

All myths are easy to believe. They spread because they seem to agree with other things we hold true. We know that a better guitar produces a better sound, so we assume a better camera produces a better picture. It's also partially marketing - the camera makers want us to purchase their shiny new models every year.

Instead, we need to turn everything on its head. Perhaps the only reason we ever thought a better camera produces a better picture is because good photographers tend to purchase expensive camera equipment. The same could very well be true of guitarists.

I can only hope that this article has turned your world upside-down. It’s a bit unsettling at first, but I know it will help you grow as a photographer.

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Comments

  1. Deb_ch says:

    Good article with some myths that need to be explored and discussed by every attempting photographer and sometimes also good for thinking about it again as an Amateur or Pro.

    My 5cents.. (well, it piles up to be more than just a few words, though I don't know about their value, it's just my thoughts coming from experience).

    1) You certainly don't need a great camera, same as you don't need a great stove to cook a decent meal (just read that somewhere and I like it). But: you need the right camera for the task you want to fulfill. By that term, you sort of do need a great camera for your purpose. There are limitations and possibilities to compact cameras as much as there are for the big ones, or the cheap or the expensive ones..

    And for those cameras that come with phone function: check out Ben Lowy's iPhone projects (but beware, he's a war photographer - there's really really really tough stuff, don't say I didn't warn you! So, that to the explicit content, but besides he's got some decent documentary (instagram!) pictures up on his website.

    Another thought: even if you don't already have a super expensive high end DSLR but entry level DSLR/or system camera: get some decent glass, which I really consider more important than the camera. Check for dual compatibility with better DSLR/maybe FullFrame ->like re-think buying EF-S for Canon when you might get some EF (L) glass (even used) in case you want to upgrade later. Some of the sunny-weather, please-don't-move lenses with their 3.5-6.3 f-stops have improved over the years but they really still can let you down once it's not so nice outside, resulting in blurry, grainy, disappointing pictures. You might not notice in the beginning, but what you think a great shot now will be a mediocre one once you advance with your skills as your demands at the quality of your own pictures will become higher.

    2) If you are somewhere beautiful it might actually be helpful to get decent pictures. Those Kitsch communes in the French Alsace eg are so picturesque you possibly cannot get a bad picture unless you really ef it up. And to Americans (and many other Nations) that is certainly not just another boring place in the world g.. So if you go for the beautiful spots, go for the extraordinary or unusual ones, not for just yet another palm tree or sun set. Don't forget that beauty lies in the eye of the beholder ,-)

    3) There's of course not only one way to expose a picture (the right way) but there are definitely at least as many and even more to expose a picture completely wrong. Nevertheless, nowadays you can just call it art, especially if you have the network and maybe even can sell it ,-)

    4) Megapixels do matter, but in digital age, where most of the pictures are shared and displayed online, it's becoming less important. Still, large prints need mpx, so if you want to print big, go big in megapixels. Also does it help if you cannot get close enough or see a detail in your picture that you didn't notice before but like: a good camera with a decent sensor and high mpx will allow you to crop and still have a large enough file that looks good on screen or maybe even is OK for a nice print.

    5) I like to use the flash on a sunny day, sometimes with a diffusor, and I think I would really love to try out some "outside" studio lights/external flash beams. Although the setup isn't that easy and it doesn't always work with the flash (practice, practice). Also consider using a reflector - imagine your friends questioning holding up that huge white or golden disc in front of them or their friends while you're taking your pictures..

    The most important thing in photography is to take pictures. Take many. And look around you, look at different angles, look at other peoples' photography. Try settings, if you can. Develop "an eye" and find your own niche. Besides, don't travel with people who don't share your passion if you want to take pictures, don't let them hassle you. Go out with those who share your passion or sometimes just leave the camera at home.

  2. Lorraine says:

    I'm almost scared to coment here - but here goes. I have just returned from the Kruger National Park - my main aim was to photograph 'Birds' in all forms, nesting, fishing, flying, wading. My camera 1000D and I have 2 lenses 15mm-55mm and 55mm-240mm plus tripod. For me this was to be a learning lesson exactly what the camera could do. I soon learnt that some shots had to be 'manual' whilst then again I had to resort to leave the tripod and follow the birds in 'flight' using the 3fps. I was pleasently surprised that of the many photo's I took of each individual quite a few were to my thinking 'great' whilst others were very mediocre. Then again I'm only a beginner and the tips from David certainly seem to be paying off.

  3. Thomas Strome says:

    5 Photography Myths rings absolutely true !
    Although I had not previously quantified my thoughts relative to specific discoveries I had made over the 35 or so years I've been a photographer, I recognize this article as being "on the money" with regard to factual accuracy. Good job.

  4. Elvin says:

    Hi, well in my opinion a good equipment can realy help to get the right (artistic) photograph.
    For example, with my point-and-shoots I cannot do manual focussing which I use a lot (really, a lot) especially on those little things with little contrast like small insects.
    For others, 'special gimmics' like face-detection can help a lot if you want to be fast in groups and need to take sharp pictures of the faces (I almost never use this in my work; I only have it on some point-and-shoot camera though).
    If I need to go with 600mm to take a star, a birth or the moon, I want some good equipment too... since I cannot fligh myself.

    On the other myths, I agree quite a lot. On myth no. 2: if you are in a gray cell with 'gray light', even a picture of an insect - the only object to be found - will be hard to get nice. If you can go out, there are a lot of subjects that can be really good (by the way, I use a wheelchair so somedays it is really hard to go out if even possible).

    Elvin

  5. ChrisJ says:

    I don't agree with Myth#3, there is only one level of light on a sensor that will record the most detail, including detail in the whites. You can always get burn't out highlights in post processing simply by altering the Exposure slider in your Raw software, but if you shot it that way you can't go back.

    Getting the exposure spot on just means you keep all your options open. Bracketing increases even further your options.

    Shooting digital is like shooting with fast slide film there is little exposure latitude, +/- 1.3rd of a stop makes a difference, with film even over-exposed you can get some detail back in the highlights when you print (the film version of post processing), but with digital you can't, if the detail in those burnt out pixels is not recorded it's never going to be there.

    Chris

  6. Clem says:

    The comments are quite right. I had an Asahi Pentax Spotmatic F and won a few comps. Went to a Canon G5 (fantastic lttle unit) and outdid some serious friens. I have just purchased a Canon 7D and hope to become efficient (could take 3-6 months) but lots of fun along the way.
    Thanks for all the great tips.

  7. PaulO says:

    Usually I have only one answer when they ask me why I take (some) fantastic shot: "I can't use my camera as a phone ..."

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