10 Myths that Photographers Teach

photography myths

A young photographer who will probably fall prey to many myths before he learns (I had to do SOMETHING to relate the picture to the post!)

What is true for one person is probably not true for another person.  This raises problems in learning photography, because most beginners learn from the “famous” photographers.  The problem is that the solutions used by professionals to fix professional problems often aren’t the solutions that 95% of their listening audience should use.  This post is a list of a 10 things I’ve heard “famous” photographers recommend to amateur photographers in the last month, and why I think there are better answers for an amateur.

I don’t have every lens ever made like Scott Bourne, or a giant production crew like Jeremy Cowart, or the resources to travel the world for the best photography locations like Trey Ratcliff.  While I receive most of my income from photography, I am not all that different from most of you.  I do what I can to save money on gear, I don’t have an assistant for most of my shoots, I don’t own a studio, etc.

I mentioned these three photographers by name because I LOVE reading their stuff, watching their videos, and reading their books.  I’m a better photographer because of them and other photography instructors on the interwebs.  I’m grateful that they are willing to share their knowledge.  However, I believe that many (not necessarily the ones I mentioned) “famous” photography instructors are so out of touch with 99% of photographers, that they give advice that leads amateurs astray.  Most photography learners shoot for a hobby, and many of the photographers who earn money from photography do it only as a part-time gig.

Here is my list of 10 ridiculous myths that are often taught by “famous” photographers, which may be perfectly true for them, but which aren’t necessarily the best advice for 99 % photographers.

Photography Myth #1: You don’t need more than 10 megapixels. Without any doubt whatsoever, I would prefer one stop of increased low light performance to 3 more megapixels any day of the week.  Low light performance is extremely important; however, most photographers don’t have the budget to buy expensive $8,000 supertelephoto lenses, so when photographers go shoot their son’s football game or the owl in the city park, they need megapixels to be able to crop in tight.  Megapixels are extremely valuable to photographers who want telephoto results on a budget.

Photography Myth #3: You HAVE to shoot in RAW for quality results. I need to preface this point by saying that I shoot everything except sports in RAW.  I do that because I use Lightroom and Photoshop and I feel that I need the extra latitude in editing power.  Many beginning photographers will only be frustrated by the extra work that RAW requires.  JPEG is terrific for many beginning photographers, or photographers who aren’t technically apt.

Photography Myth #4: Shoot in RAW so you can change the white balance after the fact. Ugh!  You can easily change the white balance on a JPEG.  The only difference is that the edit on the JPEG file will be “destructive” whereas RAW editing is “non-destructive.”  The practical result in a white balance adjustment done to a JPEG compared to the same white balance adjustment done to a RAW file will be absolutely imperceptible.  (NOTE: Someone commented below to disagree with me on this point.  I simply emailed him 5 photos.  Some of them were white balance adjusted from the RAW, and some of them were white balance adjusted from the JPEG.  The results? Indistinguishable).

Photography Myth #5: You should buy X focal length. Over 70% of the readers of this website, and probably most photography websites, use crop frame cameras.  Many pros use full-frame cameras.  I often hear pros recommend a certain focal length and realize that they are not taking the crop into consideration, and thus their lens recommendation will lead the reader astray.  For more information about this, check out this article on full frame and crop sensor cameras.

Photography Myth #6: You need to calibrate your white balance for every lighting situation. Are you kidding?  I rarely feel the need to set a custom white balance.  In fact, the only time I do it is when working in a studio (how many of you are shooting in a studio?  Not many…) or when doing product or commercial photography.  In these situations, the lighting is being controlled by the lights and likely will not change (at least on quality strobes) during the shoot.  In these specialized cases, it makes sense.  But if I see one more of my beginning students whips out a gray card for a beginning landscape class, I’m gonna scream.  It will only distract you from doing the things that will actually improve your photo.

Photography Myth #7: You need to buy the full version of Photoshop. Most people who perpetuate this myth obviously haven’t read my article on the differences between Photoshop and Photoshop elements.  Again, I’m a hypocrite.  I use the full version of Photoshop because there are a few features that are convenient for the type of work that I do; however, most hobbyist photographers or photographers who only rarely do paid work will be perfectly happy with Photoshop Elements.  You’d be surprised at how slight the differences are.

Photography Myth #8: You want to know, in excruciating detail, their recommendations for packing thousands of dollars worth of photography gear for travel in an airplane.  Thanks for the advice, but most of us don’t regularly travel with 10 large packs of photography gear.  It seems that this is the most common blog/podcast/video topic on every “famous” photographer’s website.  How many times do we need to see the solution to a problem that most photographers will never face?

Photography Myth #9: Your histogram should lean to the right. I can’t tell you how often one of my students asks for help in shooting a situation because the histogram isn’t leaning to the right.  Ugh!  If you’re shooting a gray card, then sure…  Your histogram should have one large hump leaning slightly to the right.  That’s true.  This is important to high-end photographers who need to capture technically perfect photos for commercial clients, but it only distracts amateur photographers from focusing on the important aspects of learning photography.  The truth is that all you need to look for in checking the exposure on your LCD is that the detail is kept in both the highlights and shadows.  In fact, I only check the histogram when shooting night photography and when taking landscapes that include the sun in the photo.

Photography Myth #10:  You need to have worked in a dark room to fully understand printing. Uh… nope.   You don’t need to have worked in a dark room to know how to print properly.  It’s pretty far-fetched to say that you need to know how to physically burn and dodge in the darkroom to know how to grab the burn or dodge tool in Photoshop to touch up a photo.

If you enjoyed reading this article, then check out this article about famous photographers.

Comments from the I.P. Community

  1. says

    RAW is not much more work, as it is quite easy to batch-process it to JPEGs in the computer (this can be done using the raw developing software you get with the camera) or taking both JPEG and RAW at the same time in-camera, while still having the opportunity to work with the selected photographs later.

    There is really no reason for not using RAW even for beginners, except in situations with limited space on memory card or need for faster shooting.

  2. says

    Well, I also heard that myths. I do not believe these myths because I learned more with advanced photographers.
    I much read their books and I learned from them. I agree with you if I do not need to buy X focal length. I think learning photography can be started with digital cameras. In my experience, I can adjust the lighting properly only by using a digital camera. I love photography, but I’m still learning how to adjust the lighting properly. How do I set the lighting at concerts? There are many colors spotlight and I still can not set it properly.

  3. says

    omfg how did anyone ever survive without a billion different camera settings tonnes of computer software, lenses, mega pixels get a grip, get a throw away. x

  4. says

    I am an advanced amateur. I agree with a portion, and strongly disagree with most of it. Each persons route in photography is passed off of what they feel is right. My only advice to those beginners reading this is to read the “myths” also. Read everything and choose what you feel is the right way. The people debunking the so called “Myths” are no better or worse then the ones teaching them. If you even want to call them Myths. They are mostly just opinions based off of there experiences.

    #1 makes sense to me if you don’t have the focal length to reach out like you would want. Most of my sports images are croped because 200mm is my largest.

    #2 Need a drobo? well no. Infact of all the pro, and non pros i follow only one has ever suggested a Drobo. At least two externals is a must if you care about your images at all in any way. I have three 1tb externals, and they are all exact duplicates. and the third one is only plugged in when i do a weekly backup, and the other one is automatically backed up daily. I have lots of images i dont ever want to loose, and its not a matter of if a hard drive will fail. Its when it will fail.

    #3 Fine for a beginner, and mostly personal choice. I know some pros that use only JPG, and some that never use JPG. But understand the difference before you make your choice. There is a lot of things you cant do to JPG. But you can to Raw.

    #4 You are not adjusting white balance when only in JPG. period no discussion there. Its just a fact. Not a Myth

    #5 comes down to being an informed consumer honestly. Take the advice that people give, pros or not, and use it in addition to your own research. The only thing i will say is true is to get the best quality Glass you can afford. Glass is to me <— opinion by far more important then the body.

    #6 again personal choice. I shoot raw so i can tweek in post. IF i only shot JPG i would. Even my point and shoot is always on RAW. and i have shot a grey card with that also. people look at me funny but i don't care.

    #7 I use full CS5, and lightroom 3, but elements would be just fine if i had to guess. never used it myself. So again do the research, and decide based off of your needs.

    #8 Well this is just silly. If people are asking it they are interested for what every reason. the person is giving advice to a question asked a lot. and i mean a lot. People sometimes just want to know how they travel with a ton of gear. Some need it some don't. Some just are curious!

    #9 The Histogram is a guideline.. i use it sometimes i guess. Bottom line is its a tool, and just like any tool you use what you are comfortable with. I also have used a light meter, and some say NEVER!! lol, but i have one and it has been used. USe what you like.

    #10 ok good point. but it doesn't hurt if you are interested in it. :)

    i read your post with an open mind, and i liked it. It made me think about a few things, but i will say it comes across as angry by the end. Like you are hating on people who teach your opinion. you teach your opinion in this post, and its no more right or wrong then the people who teach the things you are saying are wrong. I think you are as much misguiding your students as some of the people you complain about are. teach them the basics, and the options out there, and let them find there own path to happiness!

  5. says

    Love this article, you have a lot of valid points.

    The only point that I had issue with was concerning beginners shooting JPG.

    I absolutely recommend shooting RAW for beginners. Why? Because a few years down the line (hopefully when their post-processing abilities improve) they will have the opportunity to go back to their old work and re-edit with the flexibly that RAW provides.

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