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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.

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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.  

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Kav Dadfar
Kav Dadfar

is a professional travel photographer, writer and photo tour leader based in the UK. His images are represented by stock agencies such as 4Corners Images and Robert Harding World Imagery and they have been used by clients such as Condé Nast, National Geographic, Lonely Planet, and many others. Kav is also the co-founder of That Wild Idea, a company specializing in photography workshops and tours both in the UK and around the world. Find out more at That Wild Idea.

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