Photography Myth vs Fact – Uncovering the Truth

I have been a photographer for quite a few years, and I have taught photography classes to a wide range of photographers, from beginner to advanced, with almost every camera on the market.

Over the years, I have occasionally discovered various myths photographers sometimes believe and are perpetuated in the photographic community.

I’ve noticed the reason behind the photography myths are varied:

  • They just  “guessed” something to be true and never tested their assumptions.
  • It might have been a standard practice that was relevant back in the old “film” days but is not relevant today.
  • Everybody in their camera club does it this way, but no one knows why.  (“Hey if everybody’s doing it, it can’t possibly be wrong.”) 😉
  • They had an instructor who taught them incorrect information. 
  • They read it in a camera user manual or photography book.

Believe me, this isn’t an exhaustive list. These are just some “off the top of my head” I am writing down on a Saturday morning.  I won’t bother with photograph illustrations of each, but if any of these don’t make sense, just ask and I can add an example.

Uncovering Some Myths I Have Heard… Here are 10:

  1. Myth: Some people are “just not creative.” 
    Truth: Brene Brown said it best:  “There is no such thing as creative and non-creative people, only people who use their creativity and people who don’t.” So don’t give up too soon by believing the myth that you just can’t be creative.  (I have a class that would help.)
  2. Myth: The purpose of Neutral Density Filters is to cut down on glare.  
    Truth: I hear this a LOT from people who were mistakenly told to use an ND filter on bright days to reduce glare. The purpose of Neutral Density Filters is to enable the use of slower shutter speeds.
  3. Myth: Keeping a Polarizing Filter on your lens all the time will make your photographs more colorful.
    Truth: Actually if you adjust a polarizing filter on a per-shot-basis, you might be able to get richer colors in blue skies and eliminate some glare and reflections, BUT you really should not just keep a polarizing filter on your lens all the time. Only use it when you need to. For removing reflections, it is great! For just enhancing the colors in the sky, you can do that easily in post processing without using a polarizer. Negative side effects you’ll get by shooting with a polarizer all the time is slower shutter speed or unnecessarily high ISO values just adding digital noise to all your shots. Only use it when you really need it. Otherwise, take it off!!
  4. Myth: The key to a more perfectly exposed photograph is to have a histogram that is a nice bell-curve in the middle range. 
    Truth: I actually read this in a camera manual, but that is not at all a universal truth. For a dark image, the histogram should have a hump on the left. For a bright image, the histogram should have a hump on the right. For an image that has both bright and dark areas, the histogram might have a hump on the right and left like an inverted bell curve. There is no one “right” histogram for all photos. It depends on each individual shot, and most importantly pay attention to the left and right sides to make sure you are not having the dark areas fall off into blackness (clipping) or bright areas blowing out to pure white.
  5. Myth: You should never use higher ISO values.
    Truth: While higher ISO settings do result in higher digital “noise” (a graininess), keep in mind that modern digital cameras are offering better and higher ISO ranges.  On a camera that goes up to 102,400 ISO, a value of 1600 is not bad and you can always apply noise reduction in post processing. If you have an older camera that only goes up to 3200, though, 1600 is not going to be very good. So it really depends on the camera you are using. Twenty years ago, I had a camera that was terrible at 800. Most modern cameras do much better, and note there is a REASON camera manufacturers are pushing their technology to higher ISO ranges. Higher ISO values allow you to take photographs that were much more difficult in “the old days.”  Higher ISO ranges allow you to ensure the shutter speed is fast enough to freeze action. If you are so afraid of high ISO that you don’t use it, you’ll get motion blur that might ruin the shot, and that is not nearly as fixable as simply applying a little noise reduction. The main point with ISO selection is do not be afraid to use higher ISO when needed, but don’t use it if you don’t need it.
  6. Myth: The best camera exposure mode to use is P (Program) Mode.
    Truth: I noticed a pretty prominent online photography instructor was saying this, and his reason was you don’t have to do any thinking and that the camera chooses the “best” settings for you automatically. That’s just not true.  It has no way of knowing what’s “best.” The fact is, the two most important settings that give you the most creative control in photography is the aperture (which controls depth of field) and shutter speed (which controls the freezing or blurring of motion). Program Mode surrenders those important decisions to the camera which has NO idea what would be the best choice for any shot. So actually it is not the best camera exposure mode at all!  Of the four modes, Manual, Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, or Program Mode, I’d say Program Mode is the one you should use the least if at all!
  7. Myth: When using a tripod, always make sure to extend the center shaft all the way up before extending the legs, to achieve greater stability.
    Truth: I started hearing this myth coming from various photographers a couple of years ago after a pretty prominent photography instructor at a well-known school was telling his students that. I heard this from multiple sources and was truly baffled. All I can say is that’s just wrong, completely wrong. I am not just a photographer, I have two engineering degrees, and speaking as an engineer, that’s wrong. And just because it was so startling that anyone would make such an erroneous claim about how to best use a tripod, I contacted the well known professional tripod manufacturer, Manfrotto to see what they said. They agreed with me.
  8. Myth: A good hand-held incidental light meter is essential for studio photographers.
    Truth: While it is true that they will give you very accurate information for adjusting lighting and camera settings, their greatest value was back in the “old days” of film where they were pretty necessary.  These days, with digital cameras, you have the ability to simply take a shot and look at the image on the back of your camera and check the histogram and that gives you even more valuable feedback than just a digital display on a light meter. So, I’d say you should save the $500-$600 you might spend on a light meter and instead put that money into quality lighting instead.
  9. Myth: You need a top-of-the-line camera to get the best quality photographs.
    Truth: You need to know how to use the camera you have really well. That matters much more than upgrading to the most expensive camera.  Your choice of camera settings, managing shutter speed and aperture, ISO, etc. is really the key.  I laughed one time when I saw an ad on Craigslist that said: “Camera for Sale – Takes great photographs.” That is like saying “Paint Brush for Sale – Paints great paintings.”  What matters most is how you use the tool you have. You’ll see that some pretty outstanding photographs out there on the Internet were taken with less than top-of-the-line cameras. Granted the higher end cameras may have better features, faster frame rate, more sophisticated auto focus capabilities, more durable, etc.  Still, the real key is you and how you use the camera.
  10. Myth: You need more megapixels to get sharper shots.
    Truth: Unless you are always cropping way in on the photos you have taken, OR you are making extremely large prints, several feet in width, you don’t really need all those extra megapixels in the 50MP and up range. If you make 16×20 prints, you would be hard pressed to even see any difference.  Instead pay more attention to ensuring your shutter speed is fast enough to eliminate any slight blur caused by hand vibration, and use IS/VR to further stabilize, and make sure you manage depth of field and focus carefully. If an image is not sharp, having 61 megapixels to record it won’t help at all. Besides, you’ll be filling your memory cards even faster, and you’ll have higher demands on card speeds since it takes longer to transfer from the camera to the card with large images, and then transferring the images to your computer takes longer, and you’ll fill up your hard drive faster. So you pay a real price for those extra megapixels. I am not saying the high megapixel cameras are useless. There are times when they are the right answer. But most folks simply don’t need them at all.  Oh and one other point about “sharpness.” Sharpness is really more about edge contrast than it is about megapixels.  You could just apply a little sharpening in post-processing your images and people will think you upgraded your camera. 😉

Let me know if you have heard other myths I should add to this list.  I am SURE I have heard others I am just not remembering at the moment.

Happy picture-taking my friends!

Kevin





Kevin's book "30 Practical Tips for Better Photographs" is available in print and on Kindle devices!
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