7 Photography Debates – Which Side Are You On?


Photography is a diverse profession/hobby, and as such there will always be debates around some of its more controversial topics. The important thing is that there is no right or wrong answer, just differences of opinion and ways of working. There have been numerous debates over the years and some of the most famous photographers have taken criticism for their decisions over a photo.

For example, South African photographer, Kevin Carter was criticized for his famous Pulitzer Prize winning photograph of a starving Sudanese toddler with a vulture lurking in the background. People felt he should have been helping the child rather than taking the photo. Whether his actions were right or wrong will no doubt be debated for many years to come.

Here are both sides of seven photography debates. Which side do you agree wit or relate to in each?

photography debates

#1 Should you ask permission before taking someone’s photo?

YES – Taking someone’s photo is a personal experience and if someone doesn’t want to have their photograph taken they should have the option of being able to refuse. By asking permission not only are you showing courtesy and respect, but you are also often able to capture more candid and personal photos. People will be more accommodating, and it will also means that there is less chance of offending the person you are photographing which in turn mean less chance of a confrontation.

NO – By asking permission to take someone’s photo you are missing the opportunity to capture them and the situation in its natural state. When the person you are photographing is aware of the camera it might make them nervous and the photo will feel staged. Asking permission also means you might miss the key moment which makes the photo powerful. The other advantage of not asking permission is you can work quickly and so won’t have to answer questions regarding the purpose of the photo.

photography debates

#2 Should you tip someone who poses for you?

YES – If you photograph someone they are giving up their time (no matter how little) for you, so they should be rewarded for it. If you are planning to sell the photo then you are basically gaining commercial value out of that person’s time, so it’s only fair that they are compensated. But even if you are planning to use the photo for your personal use, it is still right to offer that person some payment as a thank you.

NO – Unless that person who is modeling has done so under an agreement with you that they will be paid, then they are doing the modelling out of kindness. Even if you are planning on selling the photo, there is no guarantee that the photograph will sell and so it isn’t fair for you to have to pay for something that may not earn you any money.

photography debates

#3 Is a model release necessary?

YES – Not only will a model release make the photo more valuable commercially, but it means having to either ask the person permission before taking their photo or after you have taken it. It also means that they can be compensated for their time and have agreed to let you use the photo. This will also protect you from potential usage issues.

NO – Unless you are planning on selling the photo for commercial purposes (i.e. advertising a product or service) then a model release isn’t necessary. It also opens up a whole new potential problem of having to explain to that person what the model release is and why it’s needed. This will be difficult if they don’t speak the same language as you.

photography debates

#4 Post-production – is it cheating or not?

YES – A photograph that has been edited in post-production isn’t a true representation of what might actually exist. For example, removing objects that are in the frame (such as dustbins, power lines, etc.) is basically creating a fake scene which is misguiding the viewer. Even enhancing saturations and adjusting highlights and shadows is manipulating a true reflection of the scene and what has been captured.

NO – Even the most advanced cameras are not capable of capturing images like the human eye sees, so any enhancement or adjustment is needed to make the image feel more real. Also, any editing or enhancement of a photo is simply improving on what’s already been captured and not a figment of someone’s imagination. A photographer is trying to capture their vision in a photo and sometimes that may not be possible without post-production.

photography debates

#5 Better gear equals better photos?

YES – Simply put, the better quality of camera and lenses you have, the better the quality of your images will be. For example, a full frame camera will give you more pixels which in turn means more detail and sharper and more vibrant images. This means your images can be made bigger. Better quality lenses also help the sharpness of your images. There’s a reason why professional photographers use expensive camera equipment.

NO – While a better camera and lens might give you bigger images that can be blown up and used in a larger size, it’s the quality of the composition, lighting, and creativity that matter more. Even the most basic camera is capable of capturing amazing looking photos that will wow people. But a mundane or poor photo will still be a poor photo even with the most expensive camera equipment.

photography debates

#6 Photograph for yourself only

YES – You should always photograph what you like and what you enjoy doing. After all, photography is an art and in the same way a dancer would specialize in something they love so should a photographer. Listening to other people only sets you up to become something you’re not rather than being yourself.

NO – As much as everyone would love to just do what they enjoy like any profession, sometimes you have to make sure you take photos that will sell or what a client has paid for. That does mean listening to others, looking at trends in the market, and going beyond your comfort level. But even if photography is a hobby, you will still benefit from taking advice and trying new things that might end up improving you as a photographer.

photography debates

#7 Digital photography has made photographers better

YES – The explosion of digital photography has meant that photographers have to become better and see and photograph things in new ways. The advancements in digital cameras and lenses have meant more control for the photographer and as a result, images that portray their vision better.

NO – Digital photography means that photographers can be lazier in both the composition and the taking of the actual photo. With photo editing software photographers don’t have to wait for the clear shot as they can simply remove that person that’s in the way in post-production. Digital photography has also meant that photographers can be less sure about a photo as there is no cost implication of just snapping away. In the days of film, every photo wasted was a few cents gone so as a photographer you had to be much more selective.

Kav Dadfar-Debate-Article-DPS-Debate


There’s no doubt that everyone who reads this article will have different opinions on these debates. Like all topics which drum up a debate, there is no right or wrong answer. So, what do you think? Which side of the arguments do you sit on?

Share your thoughts, reasons, and arguments for and against below.

Editor’s note: Let’s keep it friendly and be kind to others though please – even if we disagree, we can still act like adults and keep it civil.  

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Kav Dadfar is a professional travel photographer based in the UK. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images, Robert Harding World Imagery, Getty and Axiom Photographic and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Wanderlust travel magazine, Lonely Planet, American Express, and many others. To keep up to date with his latest news follow him on his Facebook page

  • Joel

    Another good article from Kav. Thanks!

    1-3) No,no,no.
    4) Maybe. Most RAW images need some adjustment straight out of the camera in my opinion, but sometimes I feel like over processing (HDR, matte and desaturated looks in particular) is just a way of salvaging weak shots.
    5) No. It’s the archer, not the arrow.
    6) Yes. Just think Picasso.
    7) A little, but after you start tossing enough shots into the bin you will start to tighten up your shooting methods.

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  • JOHN

    By what or whose rule does photography always have to be an accurate representation of reality?
    This is simply ignoring the sensual or emotive experience of seeing something beautiful in it’s best possible “light”. If I was a pro and asked to shoot a brochure for machinery then that is one thing.
    Fortunately, it is not my profession (I really admire pros as I could not do it as they do), but as a hobby I’m consumed only with making images which attempt to imitate good art. (I also admire artists as I cannot do what they do).

  • Gregory Andrus

    #6 Yes!!!

  • Lee

    1-3 – No
    4 – Definitely not. Isn’t photography, after all, an expression of art? (and I’m a terrible artist)
    5 – To some degree, Yes. I’m starting to find limitations of both my body and my lenses (d5100 and mediocre lenses). Astro photography (something I’ve recently started getting into) being the perfect example. Grab my camera, then grab a D810a and tell me there’s no discernible difference.
    6 – Yes, for me personally.
    7 – No, although I never really did anything with film. Didn’t start shooting until the digital age.

  • Eddie Rist

    It would be interesting to debate shooting in RAW vs jpeg. In shooting in RAW the file size is 5-10 times as big as big. 18 meg vs 3 meg. and the RAW is dull flat and needs to be corrected. In a jpeg, many of the corrections are all ready made. Consider this, Almost all commercial images posted on the internet are about 300K. The only rational I’ve ever heard for RAW was that you can change the white balance. Guess what, you can change the white balance on a jpeg in Lightroom.

  • drdroad

    Is there really any argument over #4 anymore?? Is there a Professional Photographer alive that doesn’t tweak/correct his photos in Lightroom or Photoshop, at least a little?

  • Jack Doy

    Re starving Sudanese toddler with a vulture lurking in the background People felt he should have been helping the child rather.
    You could say the same about this one from the Vietnam war, in fact the photographer, Nick Ut, saved Kim Phuc’s, the little naked girl, life by taking this shot and undoubtedly hastened the end of that war.

  • ObservantAussie

    Go read the TRUE story behind that photo.

  • Jack Doy

    I know it by heart. Are you one of John Pilger’s followers if so don’t bother to reply.

  • Rohinton Mehta

    I do not agree with # 4. Some people think that editing is cheating – that you should not add or remove anything that was in the original scene. To them I ask, a sculptor removes bits and pieces from a block of stone and creates a masterpiece. By their own logic, would this be cheating?
    A painter (an artist) starts with a blank easel. If you say that you cannot add anything to the ‘original’, (in this case the original is the blank piece of paper), then by their own logic, is painting cheating?
    Remember what Ansel Adams had said: “We do not take pictures; we make them”.

    Going by those who consider editing wrong, even selecting a particular focal length lens, should be cheating. After all, you see a very wide scene with your eyes, but by selecting a particular focal length, you are telling the viewer that I only want you to see what I want you to see.

    No one has any right to tell you what you can and can not do with your images. The exception to this would be if you are a documentary photographer, a sports photographer or a scientific photographer. As long as you don’t claim that the (edited) photo is as you saw it with your eyes, you are doing no wrong.

  • Frescarosa

    Doing the corrections the way YOU want (and not the way the camera wants) is 50% of the photography fun!
    BTW changing the white balance on a RAW and on a jpeg will not give you the same results…

  • Frescarosa

    1. Depends on who, where, when
    2. Same
    3. No
    4. No, for me PP is a need. I never post (let alone sell) a picture without PP. Retouching, ie. adding or removing elements in the picture is another story.
    5. Usually no, yet some special subjects need special gear.
    6. No. When I was young and photographying just for myself, I was a really bad photographer. Try new things, listen to people, take up challenges, attempt to reproduce works of known photographers, until you find your own personal style. But even then never stop experiencing and pushing beyond your confort zone.
    7. Digital can make better pictures but photographERS aren’t any better than before

  • Frescarosa

    Plenty among sport photographers or news reporters, their pictures are sent to their agency through wifi as soon as they are shot, and displayed on the web a few minutes later…

  • Albin

    Not so sure these are “debates” so much as different contexts that any photographer might find herself in from time to time, and come to a different decision for different circumstances. Geoff Dyer’s fine recent book “The Ongoing Moment” notably looks at series of classic photos with “same” or similar subjects by photograpers working from very different artistic premises, with various or inconsistent approaches to the above “debates” – even when they’re aware of and reacting to each other. Diane Arbus posed her “street” subjects and sometimes went to bed with them, Walker Evans hid his camera to snap subway riders.

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  • drdroad

    Good point. I used to shoot Sports for LA Times, but those were film days.

  • drdroad

    HDR isn’t in itself ‘over processing’. I do HDR all the time and do everything I can to make sure colors are natural. But you’re right, we see tons of over processing. Actually, its sorta become a category of photos all by itself now.

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  • M Geiger

    All of these examples are comparing apples and oranges, so it can hardly be called a debate.

    Having said that, regarding #1: when getting permission beforehand is not an option (eg., the ‘moment’ would be lost),use these two features: the post view screen, where you can approach your subject after the fact, share the picture you took, ask them if they are okay with it. If they are not okay with it, you can delete the picture. Most of the time, people will be fine with having their picture taken and let you keep the shot. Unless you work for National Geographic, or the like, It is a very rare occasion when taking or not taking a candid photograph will change or endanger a person’s life.

  • OldPom

    dPs – will somebody in the office please monitor comments more closely. This thread has two blatantly commercial entries. From Reneeehill and Andrew Walker. Each has a link to another site which only the foolhardy would use ! There should not be these sort of self-serving irrelevant entries on such an excellent website’s comments column.

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  • Bill Murray

    I think the premise of an either/or argument is misleading. Every one of these items should be looked at in terms of context and situation.
    #5 equipment vs composition. Both are right. Great equipment with a well composed image makes a great picture. A well composed image certainly would look better with high quality equipment (unless trying to achieve a particular look).

    #1 Asking permission – depending on context, both arguments are correct.

    I think the discussion should not be either/or , but when, or where, or to what level each of these items should be addressed.

  • Jefferson Ashby

    RAW allows for so much more freedom in editing. With jpeg, the camera makes assumptions about what you want and applies them. In RAW, there is flexibility, a blown out image can be recovered, but not with a jpeg. If you shoot RAW, white balance is a variable that can be changed after the shot is taken, with jpegs, you need to get it right in camera. You can somewhat change WB in post for a jpeg but you will get much better results with RAW. The only advantage I see to jpeg is smaller file size, which I solve by bringing multiple memory cards.

  • Hello – we do monitor comments. We can’t always get to them immediately but usually within 48 hours or so such posts will be removed. I see no such comments above here, so our moderator has likely removed them already.

  • OldPom

    Thanks Darlene for taking the trouble to reply. Just goes to show how quickly I jump on the dPs mail out ! An excellent site.

  • Mervyn Halsey

    #4: I am a photographer of the old variety (90). I shot for many years with film cameras until it became too expensive. I hasten to add I am not – or even close to – a professional photographer. By the time I had spent (latterly) $50 for a roll of film and the cost of developing and printing, for what turned out (or could turn out) to be mostly rubbish, I became disenchanted with my efforts and put my SLR aside. Much later, when I was given the chance to play with an early version of a digital camera I was hooked again. I am still not a good photographer – but getting better, but I really enjoy the chance to improve my efforts with post processing. I also add, I am not a painter, but I can change some of my ‘creations’ to show what I would have liked it to be (as in the case of a castle I captured with a bland white sky). In this instance I changed the sky to one of my liking. This is not cheating – it is creating or artistically improving and is something I really enjoy doing – I think of it as ‘painting with my camera and computer..

  • Sure, you can adjust the white balance of a JPEG in Lightroom — or
    anything else, for that matter — but it’s not as precise or smooth,
    because the camera had thrown away the needed information.

    people want the crux to be the camera (“The CAMERA takes great
    photos!”), but really the artist is the photographer and the camera is
    the recording device. As a photographer, my “job” is to create great
    images, according to my interpretation; artists interpret the world and
    reproduce that for preservation. As the artist, I want ALL of the
    information about the scene and its light available for me to interpret.
    That means shooting RAW and not allowing a soulless electronic device
    to “decide” for me what data I don’t need.

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