There's plenty of dumb stuff that people say when they get into photography. So, let's dispel some of the common myths that are floating around.
These myths and other stupid things that photographers say to one another might seem harmless, but they can actually stop a lot of people from learning how to take photos and even un-inspire them. Those that think they can't take certain photos because they haven't got the latest gear, for example, are at risk of putting down the camera for good if they aren't confident enough to carry on shooting. So, let's stop spreading this lunacy. Here are my top eight stupid things that photographers say and why I think it's a bad idea to repeat them.
1. "My Camera's Not Good Enough"
Have you ever been with someone who looks at your photos and goes: "aw man, I wish I had your camera; your photos are really good!" and just rolled your eyes? If not, maybe you were the person who made that remark. Either way, that kind of remark comes down to one thing, which is the person doesn't think their camera is good enough to take good photographs.
I'll tell you now: you give a smartphone camera to a professional photographer and a Canon EOS-1D X Mark III to a beginner and nine times out of ten, the pro with the smartphone will outshoot the beginner with the pro-level kit. That's because the technology is now so advanced that whether it's in your smart device or a bespoke stills camera, the images are going to be sharp, exposed well, and high enough resolution to allow publication. In the right hands, even the simplest of cameras will forge incredible photography. So, next time you find yourself (or someone else) blaming your tools, take a step back and think about whether you need to learn and practice a little more instead.
2. "I Need Higher Resolution"
Back when digital cameras started rearing their heads in the industry a couple of decades ago, resolution was a big deal. Two- and three-megapixel digital cameras could only produce small prints, and the quality of the image sensors was in its infancy. When a new camera came out that could produce 12-megapixel stills instead of five, there was greater room for editing, cropping, and printing without losing detail.
Fast-forward a couple of decades, though, and even the entry-level cameras are shooting 20 megapixels and up. Pro-level cameras are shooting in the hundreds of megapixels, and they're still climbing. To show you how little the megapixel war means nowadays, let's take an A4 sheet of paper and print a photograph at 300 DPI (dots per inch), a standard resolution for high quality photographic prints. If we were to print borderless, it would equate to 3,508 x 2,480 pixels, or about 8.6 megapixels. Any camera with a resolution higher than 8.6 megapixels can make high quality photo prints up to A4 size if using 300 DPI. If you lower the DPI, you can go bigger; that's how printing for billboards and large posters works.
How often do you print your photos? And when you do, how big are they? Most would say 6 x 4 prints for family photo albums or to stick in a photo frame at home. So, you can see how pretty much any digital camera nowadays is capable of capturing enough detail for you.
3. "I Can't Do Macro Because I Don't Have a Macro Lens"
Also read: "I can't do X because I don't have X." These people may be right in that there are certain photographic subjects that you must use specialized equipment for, such as deep-field space astrophotography or microscopy. But for the most part, there's usually a cheaper, budget-friendly workaround that will allow you to achieve pretty close to perfect results without having to invest hundreds or thousands of dollars in equipment you'll only use once or twice. I picked the macro lens as an example here because you don't need a macro lens for macro photography; you could just reverse a standard 50mm lens or stick on a close-up filter attachment. The people that use this line are destined to develop gear acquisition syndrome (G.A.S.) if left unchecked, which can be fun for the photographer but perhaps not for their bank account.
4. "My Shots Will Never Look Like X's"
Not with that attitude! If you think about it seriously for a moment, a professional photographer at the top of their field won't have just been amazing at photography from birth. They didn't get born into the world with a camera in their hand. They couldn't walk, talk, or feed themselves on their own. So, anything the best photographer is doing is literally a learned behavior. If they can learn it, then you can too. Of course, money and sociopolitical issues will impact whether someone has the opportunity to achieve the highest level in photography (or any discipline), but the skill is there for the taking if given the opportunity. So, don't put yourself down if you're not shooting like Annie Leibovitz right now. These things take time; just keep learning and moving forward.
5. "I Can't Afford to Become a Professional"
This is one comment that on the face of it sounds stupid, but actually has a huge undercurrent of truth. For the rich, white, middle class male in a position of privilege, this might be a stupid line to use, but there are many other situations where it resonates with truth. I totally hear where these people are coming from. If you don't agree, then you may not be aware of the injustices and inequality around the world that prevent people from achieving their potential. For example, the child of a family stuck in the middle of a war zone probably won't have the resources to learn how to become a professional photographer because they have other, more pressing priorities all around them. This is something the photography industry has to be more aware of. There are grants and bursaries out there for those less fortunate, which enable people to achieve things they wouldn't be able to do alone. And there are awards given for groups of people that have been oppressed; just look at Sony's Alpha Female Plus program to see this in action.
6. "I Only Shoot Natural Light"
A quick alternate version of this line could be: "I don't know how to use flash." Most of the time, photographers who prefer to shoot natural light (especially beginners) are simply unaware of the incredible power of artificial lighting or perhaps haven't learned how to use it effectively. Sure, natural light can have some wonderful qualities. Window light from a north-facing part of the building, for example, can give a soft, wrapping quality, which looks stunning, but so does a big softbox with off-camera flashgun inside. The difference? The flashgun can keep firing as long as there's power, whereas you're limited by the sun position, weather, and time of day with natural light. To only shoot natural light is to bind your legs before you go for a run.
7. "This Lens is Rubbish"
A bad workman blames his tools, and when I hear others complain about the quality of their glass, there's a pang of ingratitude that hits me in the belly. That's because it carries with it an unawareness of how amazingly clear we are able to see things since the advent of lenses.
Once upon a time, no life on earth had eyes, and over millions of years, light-sensitive cells turned to slightly more complex visual systems, until we reached the peak of vision as we have it now in many types of animals, such as mantis, shrimps, and hawks. Here's evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins discussing the evolution of the eye for more context. The fact we can make images that are sharp, regardless of just how sharp those images are, is incredible. We're now comparing the sharpness of one lens to another in scientific laboratories with tiny discernable differences between one and another, studied through modulation transfer functions, among other methods. Lenses are really now so good, with electrical connections to automate aperture control, focusing, image stabilization, subject tracking, and more that it should be difficult to say that a lens is rubbish.
After all, we can make photos without lenses, and we call that type of photography pinhole photography. In its simplest form, a dark box with a small hole in it can project a view of the outside world through the hole and inside the dark box; this is a camera obscura. From there, we developed a small amount of transparent material, made out of glass or plastic, which then focused the beam of light to make things sharper and more defined. Even the world's cheapest camera lens is able to focus light and produce a sharp image onto either photographic film or an image sensor, which is much, much better than just a pinhole. So, while there is a difference between that entry-level kit lens and a $10,000 super telephoto, it probably won't make much of a difference to the hobbyist or beginner enthusiast.
8. "I Don't Like to Edit My Photos, It Feels Like Cheating"
Another version of this that I hear is "It's like lying." So, what do these people mean? It probably comes down to embellishing a photograph to look dramatically different from what you captured at the source. Traditionally, although film photography was doctored and altered, it was a lot more difficult to do than with digital photography. And although developing film and slides is necessary to produce photographs on analog media, it's not done to the same level that image-editing software now allows us to do. I get that, but to say it's cheating or lying is to not understand the full story.
By editing your images digitally, there's a further opportunity for artistic expression. This step in stills image production is as creative as the photo-taking process. It's a mixture between photography and painting in my eyes. Think of any photographer that isn't a documentary or news photographer. They've each made a conscious decision to portray a subject in a certain way, whether it's through lighting, color reproduction, set design, costume styling, or anything else. So, if there's "untruthful" expression at this stage, why not in the image-editing stage? At least when editing images, you can find a style you're happy with and produce images that look distinctly like they belong to you. Just as a painter would stroke their paintbrush in a certain direction, so would we process our photos in a totally legitimate step.