Top Five Photography Myths
There are many photography myths, so I decided to expose five that I’ve witnessed in my four decades as a photographer. As you read these explanations, hopefully you can gain something useful that you can apply to your photography. Please feel free to share this information on photography myths with other photographers too, especially through your social media friends; I thank you in advance, now on with the lore.
Professional Photographers Get Paid, Amateurs Do Not
One of the biggest photography myths is based on the question, “What is the difference between a professional and an amateur photographer? Normally the number one answer is “a professional gets paid, an amateur does not.” There is some truth in that professional photographers get paid, but that is diminishing today as I outlined in my recent article, Photography Is At Its Worst Ever, and it’s not uncommon for amateurs to sell photos through Flickr, Instagram, and other image hosting websites as reported by the New York Times and outlined in one of my previous articles, Professional Photographer, An Ambiguous Breed.
While I’m a firm believer that all professional should get paid for their talents, in reality, the real difference between a professional and an amateur photographer is that the professional photographer knows what makes a great image, and those are the only photos a professional will show you, while an amateur shows you practically everything, the good and the bad.
An amateur is still learning what makes a great photo, and how to make a great photo. It’s this inexperience that usually causes an amateur to show their subject or client every photo they took on a shoot. I’ve seen more than one photographer give models every photo they took on a CD—don’t do this! Only give your subject your best. You took those photos and that is your name, or brand you are negatively impacting if you let your bad photos circulate at will. A professional stands out because they only share their stand out photos!
The first step at transitioning from an amateur to a professional in photography is learning to distinguish what makes a great photo and what does not. You can reach this level by following the flow in my last article, 10-Steps to Critique Your Photos, then after reading all four parts, request at least a photo critique or portfolio review. This is how you transition to another level as a photographer and truly improve your photography, you must invest in your knowledge; doctors don’t become doctors with just a high-school education.
Professional Photographers Don’t Take Bad Photos
Now this is probably the biggest photography myths of all time, “professional photographers don’t take bad photos.” Before I go any further to explain this, let me start first by saying if you ever meet a professional photographer that claims a real pro doesn’t take bad photos, well let’s just say that person is full of him/herself. There is no perfect photographer out there anymore than a perfect human. You could say that “a perfect photographer” is one of the greatest photography myths in itself.
We all take bad photos; even professional photographers take bad photos. In the old film days we called this “burning film.” Like all photographers, a professional has to get the flow going on a photo shoot. While great photographers will normally pre-visualized their intended result before the shoot, this is merely a starting point for a pro. Once the flow gets going, things like lighting can change, or worse, you forgot to shoot in manual mode—yes, manual mode is the mother of all camera modes to a professional photographer, especially the ones that live by the mantra, “get it right in the camera.”
Pro Photographers Are Not Students of Photography
I’ve taught over 600 photography workshops and seminars plus lectured at universities and major photo events like Photo Plus Expo in New York in the past 16 years, yet I still consider myself as a student of photography, not just an instructor. The photography myth here is that many photographers think they have it all down pat and don’t need to learn anything else in photography. Even professors, doctors, nurses, lawyers, financial advisors, etc., take continuing education courses and photographers are no different.
Being a student of photography non-stop for life doesn’t make anyone less of a pro. But seriously, I haven’t met one professional photographer, no matter how big-time they are, that isn’t still learning or asking questions. If you’ve got to ask, you’re still a student of photography.
There are probably a few pros out there telling me to shut it up, oh well, I’m not going to name names, but when digital photography came into reality, I saw many professional, published photographers laugh at digital; in fact, many pros got left behind while the whipper-snappers that adopted the technology early on shot upwards in their careers.
One personal experience for me was a top celebrity photographer, one with many published how-to books in photography; he called me because he wanted to know how white-balance worked in the camera—he’s been left behind because he was happy where he was at the time and probably had heard photography myths of digital technology. It’s so bad for him today that the majority of people I mention his name to, wouldn’t recognize his name—and that’s not a photography myth, that’s the truth.
Photography has evolved since it’s inception and it will continue to evolve as technology, equipment, and techniques develop. We are all students of photography, and feel free to quote me on the latter. That said, one thing to remember is that “technology changes every Monday when the Board of Directors meet.”
Every Photo is a Photograph
Every photo is a photograph is a photography myth. Every photo is not a photograph, especially today when everyone’s smartphones have built-in cameras. Don’t get me wrong, you can create masterpiece photos with smartphones too, but unless you’re an experienced photographer in this genre, selfies aren’t masterpieces; they are photos, images, or pictures. A “photograph” is not a picture. A photograph is a masterpiece or image that either followed the photography fundamentals, principles and rules to a tee, or broke them all effectively.
Photographs also provide great impact to the viewer in strong mental forms. Photographs are powerful and thought invoking, pictures are found more on Facebook while photographs are found more in publications, museums, or art galleries. Photographs are iconic. According to Wikipedia, “the word ‘photography’ was created from the Greek roots φωτός (phōtos), genitive of φῶς (phōs), ‘light’ and γραφή (graphé) ‘representation by means of lines’ or ‘drawing,’ together meaning ‘drawing with light.’”
A photo, or an image, comes from the Greek word eikṓn, “meaning ‘mirror-like representation,’ referring to what is very close in resemblance.” Does an original “drawing with light” sound more artistic than a mirrored-copy image? This is why a photograph is art worth framing and a photo is just a mirrored memory stored on your smartphone. People put more value in an original vs. a copy.
The Smallest Aperture is the Sharpest
One of the biggest photography myths is that the smallest aperture opening, i.e., the highest f/stop your lens will go to number wise like f/16, f/22, etc., will provide your sharpest image—not so, it only provides the greatest depth of field. The sharpest f/stop, or aperture opening of your lens is know as the “optimum aperture” of the lens and normally it’s not a whole number, in fact, its possible that the lens your holding now has an optimum aperture of f/8.976 or f/9.375. This sharpest aperture of your lens is more commonly called the sweet spot of your lens.
If you play tennis, golf, or even baseball, then you’ve heard the term sweet spot. Whether it’s a racquet, club or bat, professional athletes amongst others, know their equipment has a sweet spot that can help them move to the top of their game. Photography is no different; there is a sweet spot on your camera lens that can make a noticeable difference in your photos, especially when photographing women.
That sweet spot is located on every lens you mount to your camera and varies from lens to lens. For most genres of photography, we want to capitalize on that sweet spot so our images are their sharpest. Unfortunately though, because smaller apertures like f/11, f/16, f/22, etc., provide more depth of field, our natural perception is that these aperture values also provide for the sharpest photos, this is not true as most lenses at higher aperture values are less sharp than f/8 on the average. Even wider apertures than f/8 on some lenses provide sharper images than these smaller apertures, but obviously with less depth of field.
There are a lot of variables that determine the sweet spot, including front and rear focus, manufacturing variables in every camera body and lens, focal length, etc., but as a rule of thumb, most sweet spots reside between f/5.6 through f/11, thus f/8 is the happy medium average. You would normally avoid this sweet spot and use wider aperture values with longer lenses when photographing women, though with all other subjects the old saying, “F/8 and be there” serves a sharp purpose. You can find more in-depth information about this in my past article, Sweet Spot in Photography.
Ultimately it comes down to what’s best for your shooting style and genre of photography. There are times I want to capitalize on maximum sharpness of my lens, such as shooting products, travel photos or landscapes, or even a portrait of a man. However, as outlined in the article, Sweet Spot in Photography, when it comes to female subjects we’re going try to avoid the sweet spot to use the lack of sharpness, other than being focused tack-sharp on the subject’s eyes, as another layer of makeup for my female subject.
So those are top five photography myths I’ve encountered in four decades of photography and hopefully one explanation helped you in this article, and if it did, let us know in the comment section. With that I close and ask you not to forget the men and women in uniform who serve our nation to protect our freedoms; God bless them, their families and friends, Rolando.