Myths, truths and habits about photography (continuously updated)
Updated: Mar 2, 2020
Over the years, I've met many types of photography characters, many aspects and views on photography and of course, many misconceptions on subjects related to photography. This blog post is not a regular article per se. It is more about some quick facts that almost everybody accepts but few will declare so in public. Under the consensus that taking care of our public profile is a serious issue, we often do many (silly) marketing mistakes.
Apart from that, there are also some technical stuff that we photographers often argue upon with no real benefit on this. Still, there is light in the tunnel, so this post will also be about some technicalities that we often miss to interpret or comprehend. As the issues keep showing up, the list will be updated, so you may want to add this post to your frequents list if you like. Without any further ado, let's begin with some widely known myths, truths and habits...
1. Not everyone who deals with photography should/deserves to be called a “photographer”. False. This may come as hard to digest for some but eventually we ought to cut the bad habit of reckoning someone as a photographer only if he has spent at least 20 years in the field. This stance is totally unfounded. Also, nowadays there are many tools that we can use to get a good shot or make some nice edits later on. Some people have the bad habit of demonizing the fact that photography has now become a mass market product. It is the current zeitgeist. Everything has become incredibly accessible for everyone and the tool options are countless, so some people think that this is flooding the world of photography with incompetent wannabe photographers. If this is so, let natural selection do its magic in the art of photography.
2. Many photos come with the creator's indication that no filters or post processing was applied. Those who post them expect people to give them higher credit as if those photos are immaculate and unadulterated. But this is not the case. Usually, those photographers try to induce the sense that pure photography is only about not applying any obvious post processing on the captures (more on this, they strive to connect post processing with image manipulation trickery). But pure photography is not an easy thing to express and apart from that, almost always those photos really have nothing interesting to express your creative deviation upon them. Another fact: All (and I mean all) photos will pass from the post processing stage once you have a raw file to develop. Even jpeg files are considered to be post processed.
3. There is pro equipment and non pro equipment. False. Actually this term is a marketing trick to make you eager for the pro equipment. However, real pro equipment is only related to a pro photographer, aka a photographer that makes a living out of photography and this isn't related to what equipment you use. We should better rename all equipment to high-mid-low spec as what equipment you use is irrelevant to the income you earn (if any) by using them.
4. Awards are a clear reflection of your quality work. False. Even though I've post a thorough article on why I'm against photography contests, I'll just repeat myself here by stating that in fine art photography quality and awards are frequently unrelated. Just spend 5 minutes and read my respective blog post if you need to know more about my thesis on the awards issue. Fact: a "honorable mention", a "highly commented" or an "excellence" nominee are not awards. Just don't say or imply they are.
5. Software plugins make us lazy photographers. False. They are just suggestions of what is possible in editing, so you still have to come up with some creative ideas and have the ability to combine these together for a good result.
6. Some shots/subjects are done to death. False. Are you fed up with Kirkjunfel hill, Wanaka tree and similar shots? Are you frustrated by the fact that 2000 photographers before you took that exact same shot as you? Well you shouldn't be. Don't relate the need to be different with the need to express your experience and view on a theme and how it made you feel when you visited the place. Those two don't always walk together and when you put your experience on a photo, it makes it as good as the first one taken.
7. The works of past masters are of unquestionable quality. False. Quality and visual impact are subjective issues. I frequently find many works of the "past masters" to be alarmingly flat and (dare I say?) “mediocre”. Am I an art expert? No, in fact I don't have to be one but I am an expert on judging which photos touch my soul and which don't. It is just that simple. So, when you are about to take a close look at the works of some past/contemporary masters, do that because you love photography and you need to feed your soul, or because you will benefit from some technical stuff and not because you have to pay respect to any past master. Just remember that there might be thousands of other photographers, better skilled than the past masters, that remained unknown due to bad coincidences and lack of opportunities. So, the works of past masters are not a priori the synonym of quality.
8. You can fix it in post. False. My aspect on post processing is merely subtractive. If you take shots and think that it's ok to go from east to west in post processing, you are missing the point and purpose of photography. Having a clear vision on what to do with your scene after the shot strongly defines if you're doing photography or digital imaging. I surely prefer the former.
9. The heroic posts. Just don't. Nobody really cares about how many hours you've spent on the post processing stage or about how early you get up in the morning to get the ultimate morgentau frame or about those heroic background shots of photographers struggling in deep waters to get a good shot or shamelessly covered in mud. No one will remember this after a couple of hours and no one is going to feel sorry for you because actually you don't in the first place. It is all part of the "job" and when you love what you do, these are no bad issues and nothing to feel heroic about. Through these few years of outdoor photography and behind some (me thinks) fairly decent shots, I've run into numerous instances of danger, went out shooting with fever, been soaking wet, almost got hit by a train, wounded my ankle, got sunburns, raided by mosquitoes, chased by wild dogs, stuck in mud, damaged 2 tripods and 2 ND filters, submerged a remote unit, scratched a lens and lost a pair of shoes in mud and yes, I've been awake at 3am editing a photo for 6 hours. I never made a reference to these issues because I don't see them as issues worth mentioning. Remember, it's part of the job so nothing special to talk about...
10. It’s all about the photographer, not the equipment. False. To some extend, equipment won't matter, more so if this is an intentional choice due to expressing a derivative of "decay" in art. However, if your work relies on technicalities and if you care enough about the perfect shot (specs wise), sooner or later you will do some product search to find equipment that meets your demanding criteria. Here I make a quick reference to specs like lens micro contrast/photorealism, sensor dynamic range, noise and captured detail. They all matter but still, what matters most is what you choose to affect your photography.
11. Editing a photo is a never ending process. True. You may see a photo like a painting and in painting, the well known motto is "a painting is never finished, it's the painter that quits". So this motto also applies to photography. The other truth is that in many situations, the editing workflow is determined at the time of capture. However, as our editing skills evolve and our impressions on a theme may vary, there is also the possibility of many editing variations on a given theme. As long as these variations are direct emanations of your thoughts and impressions on a theme, all edits are of equal value. Also remember that when a theme can bare so many editing versions, it means that it has an immense impact.
12. Fine art photography - there can be only one! Adding labels to photography might be like walking in a minefield. To cut it short, any deviation from an actual scene is considered to belong in the fine art category.Usually, photography is about what everybody sees. Fine art photography is about what you see. This and only this. So, next time you put this label on a classic landscape shot, a portrait or a street scene, think twice on these terms. Labeling will surely not save a low quality photo.
13. Stop ranting on social media about your photos being stolen. It happens to thousands of photographers, it is a common issue nowadays. When I see such posts, I translate them to "look at my photos, they are so great! I am a top photographer!" What a sly way to advertise your work or boast of yourself. If you happen to find out that your work has been stolen, deal with it in private.
14. Your years in photography. I've lost count of how many times I've heard the phrase that starts with "I've been into photography for 20/30/40 years so...". When such a phrase comes, rest assured, I prepare myself to be disappointed on what photographic works I'll see, so I keep in mind only the zeroes of the numbered years... So, your years spent on photography have nothing to do with quality works. Also, such a long time in photography doesn't always translate to good photographic experience. If I can make a rightful deviation, it would be that experience is part of our artistic self and in fine art photography, intuition, creativity and good photographic appeal are usually the outcome of making photography your second nature, a part of you that brings forth quality works by design and not by years spent on shooting.
15. Don't fabricate frame elements that are presented as a real part of the frame. I am strongly connected to long exposure photography and this is a good field to explain the difference between openly presenting a frame with artificial elements and a frame with elements which you pretend to be real. From overcooked sky replacements, to imitating the creamy long exposure sea, to gravity-defying elements of a 3-minute shot, to cast light fails, the list is endless. Again, my point of objection is that in many of such images, the creator omits to state that he/she is faking things. Simply put, I hate it when someone spends so many hours in editing to make an image look as an actual single shot and expect us to believe it is so. I am not a PS guru but I can surely spot a manufactured long exposure image, even by its bare basic elements.
to be continued...