Friday, November 27, 2015

Top 8 Photography Myths

Guide in the Sahara Desert, Morocco, at dawnLike many fields of endeavor, photography has many misconceptions and myths which can hold photographers back from producing their best work. Here are my top eight photography myths.

8. Never shoot into the sun — Most photographers will tell you to always shoot with the sun at your back, so that your subjects will be well lighted with few shadows. The problem is that precludes getting wonderful backlighted images, especially portraits with great backlighted hair which can make very interesting and outstanding portraits possible.

7. There is only one correct exposure for each scene/subject — Many scenes which photographers attempt to capture, have light ranges exceeding their camera's ability to record and reproduce them. Exposures of these scenes are generally a compromise determined by what the photographer tries to show and/or emphasize in the scene. Therefore, a group of photographers may chose very different “correct” exposures for the same scene.

6. Real photographers don't postprocess their images — Were America's greatest photographer, Ansel Adams, alive, he would be laughing his head off at the photographer purists who keep spouting this nonsense over and over again. Adams spent hour after hour in darkrooms perfecting his images, and I for one, am very happy he did. Were he alive today, Adams would be a major proponent of Photoshop use.

Even news and documentary photographers postprocess their images to ensure they reflect what they saw when they made their photos.

5. Almost every shot professional photographers make are great — I've met naive people who actually believe that. Let me assure you, it's not true. We make plenty of stinkers just like every photographer.

4. Nikon is “better” than Canon — As a Nikon user for most of my adult life, I always get a chuckle when people tell me this. After all, we all know that Canon represents “The Dark Side.” The reality is both manufacturers make terrific cameras and lenses, as do some other manufacturers. The cameras from these companies have differences which make different models and brands more or less suitable for each individual photographer, but neither is “better” than the other.

3. Don't bother shooting in bad lighting — On its face, this is poor advice as there's really no such thing as bad lighting. As long as there is sufficient light you can make great images with it. It may take a great deal of skill, but that's why photographers can never stop learning and experimenting.

2. Real photographers only shoot in “manual” mode — Real photographers shoot in whatever mode is best for the scene and situation they are shooting. Real photographers don't have to prove they fully understand the exposure triangle of shutter speed, aperture, sensor/film speed (sensitivity to light).

I don't know any professional or advanced amateur photographers who use automatic exposure mode, but most, like me, use a mix of aperture priority, shutter priority, and manual shooting modes.

I do a lot of shooting where the light is rapidly changing. I shoot moving subjects, which have me moving the camera/lens rapidly between different lighting conditions. In these cases, for example, with two of three exposure settings preset by me, its advantageous to let the camera's metering system set the final exposure setting.

As crazy as it sounds at first blush, that doesn't mean I'm ceding the exposure decision to my camera.
For example, when in aperture priority, I'm setting the ISO appropriately for the available light and to keep noise to a minimum, and setting the aperture for the depth of field desired, while the camera chooses the appropriate shutter speed. I don't understand how that's different than twirling the shutter speed dial until the needle on the meter in the viewfinder is dead center. If I feel conditions warrant, I use my EV control to over or under expose.

I look at aperture and shutter priority as my “automatic -manual” exposure modes.
There are times when manual exposure is the way to go, but the point is real photographers use the tools they have to the greatest effect and don't allow themselves to be trapped into being handicapped by what others think.
1. “I'd make better photos if I had a better camera” or “Your camera takes great photos” — Nothing drives me up a wall faster than these two statements, which discount the value of the photographer entirely. Cameras are tools for photographers to use to make great photos.
I've seen it over and over again that many with more expensive cameras with superior sensors and feature sets don't make better photos than others with lessor cameras. The skill and experience of the photographer is what really makes the photos.

I've swapped cameras on occasion with photographers in workshops or photowalks I've led who've made the observation, “If I only had your camera…” The quality achieved with their cameras in someone else's hands have surprised attendees. That said, in difficult lighting circumstances, and in special situations, having a professional level camera can make a difference, a major difference, but even so, without a high quality photographer behind the lens, it won't matter. The image will still be so-so.


Unknown said...

For my final portfolio presentation this semester, I shot into the sun frequently (#7 & 8) with excellent results. The subject matter is Light in the Season of Dying. Worked well, especially printed using a matte ink set on Epson Fine Art paper.
Thanks Ned for you always good advice.

Ned S. Levi said...

It sounds like something worth seeing. Thanks Fred.

Marge - Boise said...

I took a workshop a couple of years ago and said something similar to #1. Like you did the instructor swapped cameras with me for the afternoon shoot. I was shocked how much better her shots were compared to mine. At that point did I ever know how much I had to learn.

Thanks for the great blog Ned. I keep learning much from you.

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