7 Photography Myths Exposed

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Photographers, of all people, should know that the world is not black and white. There are many shades of grey between black and white, between good and bad, and between right and wrong. It’s all a matter of perspective and circumstance. Yet photography is full of blanket statements about what you should and shouldn’t do. In this article, I expose (pun intended!) a few of the most common photography myths every photographer should know.

North Algodones Sand Dunes, California - 7 Photography Myths Exposed

1. Full frame cameras are better

A full frame camera has a larger sensor than a crop sensor camera. That means you might get more megapixels or you might get larger megapixels or even both. But there are many more important factors to consider when choosing a camera than megapixels.

First, crop sensor cameras are generally smaller, lighter and much less expensive. Second, if you like to shoot wildlife, you’ll get extra reach with your telephoto lens on a crop sensor camera. A 400mm lens on a full frame camera is equivalent to over 600mm on a crop sensor camera. Also, if you like to photograph wildlife, a more important factor to consider above megapixels is frames per second.

A few years ago I went to Africa to photograph wildlife and took two cameras: a full frame Canon 6D and a crop sensor Canon 7D. I learned that the 7D was much better for my purposes because of the frames per second rate it was capable of shooting. The 6D (at the time) did 4.5 fps and the 7D did 8. That was a huge difference in the field.

Lion and cub at Ngorongoro Crater, Tanzania - 7 Photography Myths Exposed

2. Always use a tripod

A tripod is an essential piece of gear for any photographer and usually, you will notice a huge improvement in image quality when you start using one. However, “always” is one of those blanket statements that doesn’t always make sense (see what I did there?). I often notice photographers arrive on a scene, set up their tripod, and then try to find a composition they like. That tends to limit their possibilities since they are already stuck on the tripod.

A better approach is to go free hand until you find your composition. Then, when you find it, try to make your tripod fit in the exact position necessary. Sometimes you’ll find it won’t fit. Either the angle is lower than your tripod will allow you to go, or the tripod is not tall enough, or the position isn’t stable. When that is the case, ditch the tripod in favor of getting the composition.

Plateau lizard by Anne McKinnell - 7 Photography Myths Exposed

3. To make better photos, you need better gear

Undoubtedly, you will reach a point in time when you need better gear to carry out your vision for what you are trying to achieve with your photography. But the most important thing is to have that vision. Before getting new gear, make sure you exhaust your current gear. Use every single function and feature it has and know exactly what it is you need that your current gear doesn’t have before you move on. Blaming crappy gear is just a crutch. A really good photographer can make great images with pretty much any camera.

4. Never put your subject in the middle

Ah, the rule of thirds. The golden ratio. The fibonacci spiral. All good tools when it comes to learning composition. But don’t forget about the beauty to be found in simple symmetry.

When you think about a person’s face, the most beautiful face is the most symmetrical face. It’s all about balance, equality of proportion, and harmony. The key to making a compelling symmetrical composition is in the perfection of the symmetry. A composition that is almost symmetrical will seem off, but one that is perfect will seem awe inspiring.

Baobab tree in Tarangire National Park, Tanzania - 7 Photography Myths Exposed

5. Manual is the best shooting mode

It’s beneficial to all aspiring photographers to learn to shoot in manual mode so you have independent control over every factor in making your exposure including aperture, shutter speed and ISO. It’s no doubt that it’s one of the best ways to learn how your camera works. However, once you’ve learned how to use manual mode, why not let your camera do what it’s good at? Cameras these days are smart and the fewer things you have to do manually, the quicker you will be at responding to a changing scene.

When you are on a scene, decide which factors are important to you before you select your shooting mode. For example, if you are trying to intentionally blur a subject, shutter speed is important. You can use shutter priority mode and let the camera choose the aperture and ISO. That way when you want to shorten or lengthen the shutter speed, you only have one thing to change and the camera will figure out the rest. Similarly you might decide that depth of field is most important, and if you’re using a tripod, shutter speed might not matter at all. In that case, aperture priority mode is most convenient.

Summer flower in Butchart Gardens, Victoria, British Columbia - 7 Photography Myths Exposed

6. RAW format is better than JPEG

This refers to the image quality you select in your camera’s settings. You can choose to have your images saved as either RAW files, JPEGs, or both.

RAW is better than JPEG only if you are planning on post-processing your photos, which most people do. A RAW file contains more data and therefore you have more leeway in your post-processing. However, if you are just starting out and you haven’t gotten to the point where you’re processing your photos yet, it’s probably better to shoot JPEGs.

In JPEG mode, your camera will make some decisions for you when it comes to color and contrast and your photos will look better straight out of the camera. Ultimately you’ll likely come to the point where you want to make those decisions yourself. That’s when it is time to make the switch to RAW.

7. Good photography requires good light

All light is good light. The trick is to know what kind of images to make under the lighting conditions that are available. Do you have harsh (hard) light? Look for interesting shadows or photograph in the shade. Soft light? Perfect for macro shots. Looking into the sun? Find subjects with interesting shapes for silhouettes.

Saguaro in silhouette at Tucson Mountain State Park, Arizona by Anne McKinnell

Conclusion

Remember, as an artist, you are free to go about making your art any way you like. You can use your tools any way you see fit. The most important thing is to have a vision and then use your tools and techniques to help you achieve it.

Do you know of any other photography myths you want to expose here? Please share in the comments below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Anne McKinnell is a photographer, writer and nomad. She lives in an RV and travels around North America photographing beautiful places and writing about travel, photography, and how changing your life is not as scary as it seems. You can read about her adventures on her blog and be sure to check out her free photography eBooks.

  • Rebecca Behrent

    As a member of Viewbug, I find so many members are obsessed with “rules”, particularly the “rule of thirds” which so many of them seem to think is absolutely set in stone and you practically risk hell fire if you break! So many challenges and even contests seem to center around the holy grail of “rule of thirds”. Nonsense.

  • ernldo

    Define “better”….Only disagreement here is comparing raw to jpeg….RAW is better for too many reasons to list here.

  • Rodney B Rich

    Agreed!

  • Danielle Cundiff

    Thanks so much Anne McKinnell. All super reminders!! 🙂

  • Edward Millership

    You don’t get optical advantage simply because a 400mm lens is on a crop sensor. It’s just a smaller image.

  • Laurel Gate Photography

    Learn the rules for sure but it really doesn’t matter – take as you see, capture by fluke, execute with precision, use your phone, sell your sole to own a 135mm f2.0 L, switch to auto – export to .dng, dare to use Affinty, who cares – just enjoy your craft in the way you do and others will too

  • Ken Kemp

    No, not always.

  • Ken Kemp

    Anne, thanks for reminding us of what should be obvious, even though many photographic articles seem to relentlessly pound those “rules” and “best always” practices into us.

  • WillyPs

    While there are cases where it might be “better” to shoot in jpeg instead of raw, that does not change the fact that raw is a “better” file format. It just means you are willing to accept the compromise of using jpeg due to some unusual circumstance.

  • Joel

    Anne, it’s a breath of fresh air to read your article from the real world. So many photographers are full of themselves and their articles smack of stone tablets and a burning bush.
    Thanks for bringing some perspective into the process.

  • Chuckl8

    I’d agree more with the “myths” premise if each of the seven points contained the command “always”, as in “full-frame is always better than crop-sensor.” Just making the statement that “full-frame cameras are better is a myth” is very misleading, and inaccurate. The same applies to most of the other points.

  • David Gee

    Or is more efficient.

  • SigShooter23

    Agreed. This is a misleading statement – “you’ll get extra reach with your telephoto lens”. What you get is an angle of view that looks as though you had used a longer telephoto lens, but you do not gain any actual magnification. It’s effectively just cropping out the outer margin of the lens.

  • Carrie Staples

    I agree. No one likes a know it all. Some of them are here picking apart this article…lol It comes off to me as a little snobby. I just say “thanks” and walk away when they start. If I’m doing a job for someone, I will do it how they want it. If it’s for me, I will do what I like, period.

  • Kyle Wagner

    Those aren’t contests, those are scams. lol

  • Jack

    Thanks, your take is a refreshing change and instructive as well.

  • Jack

    Sounds compulsive! Besides it is the photographer, not the camera that is “always” more important.

  • Jack

    Sort of compulsive approach! I like her approach better as it is more flexible. I was an engineer for many years and rules matter. In art rules and absolutes are less important. The photographer trumps the format any day! So relax!

  • IshaRa Deborah Coulthard

    Awesome!!! A lot of these “myths” seem to be the basis of put-downs delivered on photography sharing sites online…”oh you’re only using a crop sensor, no wonder the image isn’t tack-sharp” etc, etc, etc. I’d like to throw another controversial photographic convention into the mix……the myth that the only “good” photo of running water or the ocean is where long exposure has been used to obliterate every sign of texture and achieve the “milky” look. I actually don’t like that look….and if you sit and observe water in action it doesn’t look milky and smooth – it’s often highly textured and MOVING. Smooth water is simply an artistic effect, and whether photographers use that effect should be up to individual choice, not peer pressure 😉

  • Chuckl8

    Thanks for the perfect setup for one of my favorite sayings; …

    “Even Michelangelo couldn’t work with bad clay.”

  • Thanks for the article. Rules can be a great help but often thinking more before shooting and applying
    the ‘That looks about right’ method gets great results.
    For me the important things to remember about rules are:
    The great masters throughout history are known & remembered not just because of the quality of their work but because they broke the rules or standards of the day.
    Can any body remember any of the rule makers?

  • Joshua Huang

    Highly disagree. JPEG forces you to take better pictures and in-camera settings, thus making you a better photographer in the end. Just like shooting with cheaper lenses forces you to become a better photographer since you don’t have the luxury of nice lenses. RAW is better in some ways, but JPEG also has too many advantages for me to list here 😉

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  • Blessed to know such things truly. Welcome Anne McKinnell.

  • Mark

    Just shoot RAW + JPG. You can pull literally zero out of the shadows of a JPG. RAW is clearly a far superior format in terms of its ability to capture the information available within the scene.
    The statement “JPEG forces you to take better pictures and in-camera settings” is in most cases simply not true. As it is only 8-bit the amount of exposure latitude available within the format is minimal. You will not be taking better images you will be forsaking either highlights or shadows. A “better” photo is normally a compositional construct not entirely an exposure one. Even the greats used to do a fair bit of darkroom work – dodge and burn anyone? I’d rather learn about tweaks to settings from photos that weren’t a write-off due to compression.

    Would you use JPEG to capture images from a once in a lifetime trip? I doubt it.

  • Joshua Huang

    Actually, as long as I keep my shadows within the range of the histogram, I can pull plenty out of my JPEGs. Oh, and I’ve taken many once-in-a-lifetime trips and been very happy with my JPEGs. So maybe you wouldn’t be happy, but I certainly am!

    One more thought…do you print your pictures in RAW? Probably not. Most people print from JPEGs. So what are we doing? We’re editing RAW photos and then compressing them, losing information, and printing them with lost information. I strive to capture photos in-camera that are good enough to print immediately or close to that (needing only a little adjustment, which is possible with JPEGs). What does that do? It forces me to be a better photographer, capture images in JPEG that aren’t clipped on either side. Is that always possible? Of course not, and in situations like that, I can see why you would want RAW. But many times, if you work hard to get your settings right, especially with the dynamic range of today’s cameras, you can shoot a satisfactory image in JPEG. Well, some of us can 😉 It takes effort- effort that is worth taking.

    I’d rather spend my time shooting better pictures than shooting good pictures and spending more time in post. Just my preference, and I know it’s not for everyone!

  • Robert Carter

    Outstanding article, Anne . . . and, by the way, I agree with your comparison of raw vs. jpeg for ‘beginners’ . . . if they are not going to do any post-processing, it would be silly for them to shoot in anything but jpeg.

  • pincherio

    To add to this, you’ll actually get a better image (resolution-wise) if you cropped a photo taken with the same lens on a 6D compared to one taken with a 7D.

    p.s. This statement has nothing to do with the abilities of the photographer, just the information contained in the image.

  • Randy Beers

    There is definitely room for both schools of thought on moving water photography. I recently took an interest in making some long exposure silky waterfall images, and posted them along with some stop-action shots of the same waterfall. The frozen images have gotten more likes in this instance. I like them both!

  • pete guaron

    I love this article, Anne – thanks for posting it – you’re going to drown in comments, I suspect!

    When I started, there were no photography courses that I was aware of – it was ages before I found any books on it – and I was floundering around on my own, with a second hand Kodak Box Brownie I’d been given for my 10th birthday. It all changed in my teens, when I finally got a 35mm cam and – wonder of wonders! – a book on composition! And before the text even starts, the preface cautions the reader that “We can . . . have too many rules and follow them too slavishly. [The] intelligent photographer learns early in his career that there are many cases when rules can be broken; it is, however, necessary to know them first if they are to be intelligently broken.”

    The underlying message is that to make a successful composition, if you want to break the rules or ignore them, you must have a good reason to do so – and one which even an uninformed viewer will find sympathetic to the image you have created. The uninformed viewer will have neither your knowledge of the rule, nor your reason for departing from it – but commonly, his or her reaction will be much the same as the art critic’s.

    I found it was a bit like “leaving the nest”. Initially, a study of composition was extremely helpful. As my skill set increased – supercharged by the acquisition of this knowledge – I gained in confidence, gained in creativity, gained in experimentation – and eventually ditched the “water wings”, so that I could swim for myself.

    At the other end of my life, what I find now is quite simple. The person who ceases to learn – to learn new things – has, to all intents and purposes, ceased to “live”. Life is a constant learning process, and this applies as much to our photography as to any other aspect of life. And in this context, one of the greatest pleasures I now get from my photography is this very thing, of setting out to learn more – to try something different – to review what I’m doing, to see where & how I can improve it – to start different “projects”, to explore fresh ideas or fresh ways of shooting images of the same subject – or simply to study and learn more about differences in light, in atmospheric conditions, and how they affect the images.

    And then there’s post processing. What you do here depends very much on what you intend to do with your images. Personally, I like to print my photos. Too many forms of digital storage have ended up being obliterated by technological change, and the prints I make now will last decades longer than I will. And the printing process brings with it something people who store their work digitally cannot enjoy – digital images depend on transmitted light, prints rely on reflected light – and no two digital screens have the same qualities of light, tone and colour, while the print is what it is – it is exactly the same in my hands as it would be in yours, if I send it to you. That is something digital imagery cannot guarantee.

    Everyone is free to make their own choice of course – that is simply my personal preference. But I would add that the transfer of a shot from screen to paper adds another stage to the process of evaluating your work. On occasions, it is surprisingly difficult to make an acceptable transfer from screen to paper, and requires a lot of effort – and the underlying reasons may point to something you would miss, in your photography, if you stop at the stage of creating an “acceptable image” on screen.

  • Charles

    People shoot in raw, also, because it is a lossless format. Every single time a jpeg is saved it gets compressed more and more. Not so with raw. If a person wishes to archive… shoot raw. Save as raw. Will shooting jpegs rather than raw force a person to become a better photographer? Nope. A person is either motivated to get better or not. Jpeg shooting sure ain’t no magic pill for paying attention to detail, good composition, good exposure, etc. That’s like people who say a prime lens forces a person to pay attention more and be better than using a zoom would. It ain’t true. Satisfactory jpeg image? Big deal. jpeg vs raw has nothing to do with whether an image is satisfactory or not. Nothing. Shooting in jpeg only doesn’t make anyone better. Shooting in raw only, doesn’t make anyone better. Understanding light, composition, and the limits of your gear… that makes one better. Also, converting from raw to jpeg takes almost no time at all. That whole reason for shooting jpeg only is just, well, silly.

  • Charles

    I was a member of Viewbug. I decided a long time ago to not let others tell me what is good or bad about my photos. What do they know? Most of them can’t take a decent photo themselves. If I’m happy with my photos, that’s all that matters. 🙂

  • Joshua Huang

    I archive…and I archive JPEG because I don’t need to save RAW. It’s pointless for me. I save my pictures in the format I want to save them in, and I don’t need RAW files. Yes, it makes me a better photographer because it forces me to pay attention to good exposure more readily than the RAW shooter who knows they can pull out shadows and everything else. It forces me to get my picture as close as possible to my final product so that I don’t have to spend time doing a lot of editing. Understanding the limits of JPEG and still being able to take an outstanding photo with it without needing lossless format? That makes one better 😉
    You’re entitled to your opinion, and I’m entitled to mine. I have many happy customers who don’t know that I don’t shoot RAW, and I aim to deliver what above and beyond what my clients expect, and I have done that for years with JPEG. I’ll happily let you take your great pictures in RAW! Meanwhile, I’ll keep taking great pictures in JPEG and keep proving that it can be done 😉

  • jwnssi

    more pixels on smaller space

  • Charles

    To be honest, customers have no idea about the various formats. jpeg is the wrong format to archive… but that is your decision. However, it doesn’t make you a better photographer. That is a fact. Joshua, send me a link to your work. I’d love to take a look. 🙂

  • Shamanda Canterbury

    i think you do not have a full understanding of RAW files…..jpeg,raw both have their place…shooting jpeg does NOT make u a better photographer..i shoot RAW+JPEG together so if i want to do post i can and if i dont want to do any post then i have the jpeg ready to go…shooting raw does not make anything easier if anything it creates a challenge….my NYIP instructor explained raw like this…RAW files are just like your film and u must take film into the darkroom to process…therefore taking a raw file into an editing program is similar to taking film to the darkroom (yes ive worked in darkrooms..4yrs with the newspaper and in HS) a lot of MAJOR editing can be done in a darkroom..post processing is not new its just digital nowdays….when u shoot raw and take the file to post you are actually completing the photo raw files have missing info that u must add in post….for me shooting raw & and post processing is the same as taking film to a darkroom. A raw file is an incomplete file so it has to be converted to jpeg after post…Try shooting JPEG+RAW u will need a large SD card to do so but it is worth it….also you educate yourself a bit more on what RAW actually means….shooting raw or shooting jpeg neither one
    make u a better or worse photographer.

  • Shamanda Canterbury

    Right!

  • Shamanda Canterbury

    Rules of Photography were made to be broken

  • John Aspden

    I don’t understand this. If you shoot with a 20MP full frame and a 20MP crop sensor, the cropped photo with the full frame will contain fewer pixels (because it’s cropped) than the same angle of view on the crop sensor which yields the full 20 MP. The “quality” of the pixels may be better on the full frame, so dynamic range may be better, but not the resolution.

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