If you’re trying to learn as much as you can about photography, one thing you should become aware of besides the obvious are the large number of myths that exist about it. Why? Because although on the surface many of these photography-based half-truths seem pretty harmless in reality, they contain the type of misinformation that can not only limit you as a photographer but cause you to make bad decisions that can hinder your progress.
So what precisely are these myths? The ones I’d like to expose and debunk could fill a book. However, for the sake of brevity, in this article we’ll be taking a look at five of the largest myths in five specific areas of photography: digital post-processing, megapixel count, bad weather, flash, and studio equipment.
1. Post processing is cheating
Right now there’s a small but loud vocal minority in the photography community who seem to think that any tweaking of images done with Photoshop or a similar type of image editor is cheating. There are many reasons why they feel this way. One reason is that they think that any non-photographic technique used to enhance images is inauthentic, sort of like using steroids to win an Olympic competition. In other words, it gives otherwise mediocre photographers an extra edge or unfair advantage that puts them on par with legitimately good photographers.
Another reason why some people dislike post-processing is that they believe that the mark of a professional photographer is to take flawless pictures. So if you have to enhance an image beyond the picture taking process, this means that you’re just an amateur who’s using image editing as a crutch to cover up your lack of photography skills.
For whatever reasons people are against image editing, in my opinion it’s a lot of hogwash. For one, before photography went digital, it was common for photographers to use non-photographic techniques in the darkroom to enhance or correct their images– cropping, burning, dodging, exposure correcting: you name it, they did it. So what’s really different between these darkroom fixes they used to do as opposed to the digital correction techniques we use today? What’s different is the technology used, but not much else.
Secondly, the idea that professional photography is about taking perfect pictures right out of the camera may hold true for perfectionists, but it’s not true for the bulk of professional photographers who crop, sharpen, lighten, or darken their images on a constant basis. This is because no photographer is so technically proficient that he or she can turn out absolutely perfect images 100% of the time. Maybe near perfect, but not perfect. So in the case of the near perfect photograph this is where digital editing comes in, to take an almost perfect photograph and turn it into a masterpiece.
Third, the idea that digital processing can turn a horrible photographer into a brilliant one is nonsense. No amount of digital processing will be able to make a poor composition into a better one or magically restore blurry shots or take a really badly exposed photo into a perfectly exposed one. Digital post processing can only turn good photographers into better ones, but not an abysmal one into a professional.
So if you want to use an image editor to tweak your photographs, don’t feel burdened by this idea that you’re “cheating”. Not only won’t you be a cheater, you’ll be joining the ranks of millions around the world– both professional and amateur– who tweak their images on a constant basis.
2. Low megapixeled cameras take worse pictures than larger ones
It’s the persistent myth that just won’t die, thanks to camera companies that insisted on pushing out cameras with ever-increasing megapixels: the idea that the more megapixels a camera has the better pictures it will take. No matter how many articles have been written to correct it, no matter how many frustrated camera aficionados argue against it, not a day goes by when someone isn’t expressing it in some form.
Given how stubborn this myth is, it almost seems like a hopeless battle to try and debunk it since people insist on believing it. However, this is one of situations in which I believe that if you can save at least one person from having the awful experience of feeling “cheated” because of the poor performace of the 8-12 MP camera he just bought, it will be worth it.
So here goes: there is absolutely no direct correlation between megapixel count and image quality. This is because what determines the picture quality of any camera are two factors that have little to do with megapixels.
The first factor is optics– or lens quality. The better and sharper the lens, the better the pictures. You can have the largest mega-pixeled camera on earth, but if the lens is sub-par then the pictures will be subpar.
The second factor that determines picture quality in a camera is the size of its image sensor relative to how many megapixels it is forced to support. There are only so many pixels you can squeeze out of a sensor before the image quality degrades significantly. Once you start trying to make a standard-sized compact camera image sensor turn out images with megapixels past the 6MP point (8, 9, 10, 12 megapixels), you get noisier pictures. In fact, it’s a given that the new generation of compact super-megapixeled cameras don’t take as clean a picture as older generation 3, 4, and 5 MP cameras for precisely this reason. This is what makes this myth so ironic– the opposite of what people tend to believe about megapixel count tends to be true: the more megapixels a standard point and shoot has, the more susceptible it is to noise!
Okay, so now you’re wondering: if megapixels have no real relationship to image quality, then what is their purpose? Are they pure marketing gimmick? No, not at all. Megapixels are an important concept for those who intend to print their images. You see, they determine how large a print you can make from an image before it loses print resolution. The higher the megapixel an image is, the larger a print you can make without it becoming pixelated, and vice versa.
So in choosing a camera, never go by the idea that it’s bound to take excellent pictures because it has a high megapixel count, because they are not a determining factor in picture quality. Always research the lens quality as well as the sensor size. Otherwise, you’ll join the ranks of countless disappointed consumers feeling cheated that the brand new camera they bought is turning out average pictures.
3. Rainy days are the worst time for taking photographs
With the gorgeous photographs you can yield on a bright sunny day with plenty of light, it’s all too easy to write off a cloudy, rainy, or stormy day as a day of picture taking opportunities. But if you do, you’re missing out on one of photography’s best kept secrets– that overcast, rainy and even really stormy days can be an excellent time to take photographs.
Why? For many reasons. On an overcast day, you don’t have to worry about the washed out palette, backlighting, harsh shadows, and blown highlights that tend to come with bright sunlight. Everything will more or less be evenly lit, and colors will be natural looking.
Two, rainy days give you the chance to capture cool textures that make for interesting photographs, such as wet surfaces, puddles, and rain drops.
Lastly, stormy days can ironically yield some of the most beautiful and dramatic colors and lighting you have ever seen, especially if the sun breaks after a major storm. Not only is there a chance for rainbows, but if the conditions are right, post-storm clouds combined with sunlight will often create a once in a lifetime Kodak moment, as evidenced by the breathtaking mammatus clouds that appeared in NYC in late June 2009.
In short, don’t be so quick to dismiss less than optimal weather conditions. When you see rain, grab an umbrella and your camera. You could wind up taking some of the coolest, most interesting photographs of your life.
4. Flash is only good for low light settings
If you’re a novice, it’s very understandable to assume that flash’s only purpose is to light up areas that are too dark to take pictures in. But believe it or not, flash has many handy uses beyond lighting up a poorly lit environment.
For example, let’s say that you want to take a picture of a friend in bright daylight, but because it’s so sunny out, dark shadows fall on her face, obscuring features and making her look unflattering. You can force the flash to turn on so that when you take her picture, the dark shadows are eliminated.
Another example– you want to take a photograph of something against a bright background. But the light from the background is causing the object to come out darker than usual, in turn causing it to lose important details. Once again, you can use flash in this situation, even though there’s technically enough light to take a picture of the object without it. In doing so, you will be able to eliminate the backlighting effect that results from the bright background.
Fill flash (the name given to flash that’s used in circumstances like these) is not only good for dealing with tricky light situations. You can use it for creating interesting image effects that can make a picture look surreal and dreamy. As an assignment, go out about an hour near sundown and take photographs of objects with the sky as a backdrop using fill flash. You’ll see that some of the images taken with flash will have an interesting, cool look to them.
If after all that’s been said you’re still skeptical about flash and its expanded usage, that’s okay. All I ask you to do is just experiment. Take pictures of objects in bright daylight with both flash on and off. Do the same of backlit objects. Hopefully, the difference will be enough to convince you to see flash as a valuable tool outside of low lit environments.
5. You need expensive studio equipment to make studio-quality images
Many people would like to create very slick professional images, yet think that they will need to purchase thousands of dollars of expensive equipment in lighting, reflectors, backdrops, and tables to do so.
If you’re one of these people feeling like your dreams are about to be deferred by cost, you shouldn’t. You really don’t need to go all out to create a photography studio. Inexpensive lightboxes are great for shooting objects with a white background. Cloth, special types of papers (such as marbled or rice), and other commonplace items can make great backdrops. Streaming sunlight from a window through a curtain or blinds can make a terrific light source and create interesting, dramatic value patterns in the process– the sky’s the limit in terms of studio makeshift equipment using common, everyday items. Just take a quick look around your place for ideas, grab what you think will work, and start shooting. Experiment to see what works and what doesn’t. And if you get stuck or need inspiration, don’t despair– there are tons of websites out there that can give you some help and ideas. Just Google!