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.
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.
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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