Here Is What You Should Not Care About As a Photographer

In a recent article, I talked about upgrading your skillset and knowledge as a photographer. Continuing with that topic, I want to address some of the things that photographers seem to care about, but really shouldn’t.

Having a small presence on things like Instagram and Fstoppers, I get asked some questions that I admit bug me. Luckily most other ones are relevant and I take the time to respond to them in detail. Still, the ones that bug me seem to be all fairly standard across any forum, DM, or other means of communication. Even on this very site (and on many others), there is a place to put that utterly useless information. Here are things that photographers shouldn’t care about.

Brands

Probably the most annoying comments read something along the lines of: “oh, he is just trying to get us to buy brand name because he is paid to do it”. In truth, the brands that I use just happen to make it to the images and mentions because there is a brand name in the product name. I shoot with Canon, so it’s obvious that a Canon camera will be featured in my articles. If I were shooting with Pentax, it would be Pentax.

Spying on what camera other photographers use is rather strange, as I can’t figure out how that information will help you progress. Will you go and buy the same camera? Will you consider that brand better? Will you laugh at them for using a particular brand? I put gaffer tape on brand names on some of my gear in order to conceal them from unwanted attention partially for that reason.

Camera Settings

If there’s anything that is simply pointless to know, it has to be camera settings that a photographer used to take an image. Unfortunately, Facebook groups and other websites make it compulsory to reveal the settings, and photographers go searching for EXIF data on every image they like, only to say after that the person shooting could have dropped the ISO because their shutter speed is too high.

Camera settings are particularly useless as they really don’t say much. A lot of my work is done at 1/160, f/11 to f/13, and ISO 100. Yet, it all looks different at the end. If you want to recreate the exact same image, sure. But beyond that, it's not really useful. Still, I am yet to see an exact recreated copy of a photo.

Reviewing photos and checking the camera settings is irrelevant as the person reviewing doesn’t know the conditions. When I shot events, I sometimes forgot to switch settings from indoor to outdoor and ended up capturing a few outdoor images at ISO 6400. No one batted an eyelid. 

Light Settings and Setups

Another one in this category is light power settings. There are a lot of factors that influence how the light looks: 

  1. The distance

  2. The surface

  3. How efficient the modifier is

  4. How worn the flash tube is

  5. How tall the ceilings are

  6. What color the room is

  7. Flags, scrims, and more

Without knowing the exact conditions, the light power settings are useless information. For example, I have used fill light for images at power 10 and at power 5 with the same modifier. Me saying that the fill is power 8, while the key is power 10 will say that there is a two-stop difference between the two, however, what more does it say? If I add diffusion to the fill it will be power 9.5. Adding a scrim will cut parts of the fill on the subject. If you’re not taking photos in a huge black room with 1 light without a modifier, knowing the power settings is pointless as they have little to do with how the light was shaped.

The light setup used to create the photo is another one of that category. Although it shows how the light was positioned and used, it doesn’t teach you to make the same setup. It only shows you one out of a billion ways to shape light. That’s why I don’t believe in light setups and try to not show exactly what setup was used. Instead, what is useful is taking an image and breaking it down as such:

  1. How many lights are there?

  2. (For each light) Is it hard or soft? Is it gelled?

  3. (For each light) Where is it placed?

Chances are you will be able to draw the setup on your own. The number of lights is easy to tell by looking at catchlights and picturing how the image would look with 1 light only. The light quality can be learned by observing the shadow edges, while the placement can be determined by how the thrown shadow looks like.

What Camera and Lens Combo Were Used?

There hasn’t been a bad camera since 2009. A raw from Sony, Nikon, and Canon will look different, but after post-processing, retouching, and so on, it would be hard to tell. Lenses are a little different as they have some optical imperfections, however, I don’t think anyone can tell the difference between 70mm on a 24-70mm and 70-200mm. Different brands have slightly different lens qualities, however, the pro line-ups render images to a similar degree.

Criticism

This might be the most controversial one. So, before going further I will differentiate between constructive and destructive criticism. I covered this topic in-depth in one of my previous articles What I learned from not judging my work. Most comments in Facebook groups along the lines of “your work is crap” are not worth your time. Even Leibovitz has haters, quite a few actually. All great art has haters. If anything, the fact that you have them is a good thing.

Closing Thoughts

What do you think? Did you care about these things in the past? I know for a fact that I’ve been guilty of all of these. Especially when I published my first few articles online and had negative feedback. The most important thing was to persevere forward no matter the negative destructive judgmental feedback. As for the camera, light, and other settings, learning why they were used will get you much further. Finally, always practicing your craft, organizing shoots, and shooting higher and better will yield the best outcome in the future.

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41 Comments

Jan Holler's picture

It is hard to deal with criticism. My brother once told me that the worst thing to some actors in a theatre is, when someone leaves during the performance: "Oh my god, we had a walk out" is a sentence he often heard and added with a smile: The person probably only had to go to the toilet.
I often wonder why people want to know the details of the settings when the photo is right in front of them showing them all more or less.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Depends on what the criticism is really, some of it is rather destructive and downright offensive. Knowing what is useful and what is not is perhaps one of those soft skills every photographer must have.

Charles Haacker's picture

Illya, I absolutely agree with every single point you make. Sometimes I reveal what my settings were for a particular shot, knowing that the information is useless without context, but it often seems expected, even, as you write, mandatory in some venues. Every half-skilled photographer has been told what a wonderful camera they must have since their pictures are so good. That's often compared to the chef who might be told what a wonderful stove s/he must have since the food is so good. Of course it doesn't matter and the questions are silly, but the problem is very old and will likely never end. Still, good on you for saying it. 👍

Illya Ovchar's picture

Thanks for reading, Charles! Good equipment opens up possibilities, but one must know what they even are haha.

Tom Reichner's picture

When I see an image that really pushes the limits of what can be captured with "normal" photographic gear, I am often interested in knowing what sensor size, focal length, and settings were used. I also want to know if focus stacking or other post-production editing was done, or if the image mostly appears the way it was originally captured.

To the author:

Why do you think I am so wrong for wanting to know this information?

Thatcher Freeman's picture

Tbh I don't think the author would disagree with that: focal length strikes me as fair game when asking about a picture, and what post-production techniques were used I think is also an insightful thing to find out. I think the "settings" complaint in the article was mostly about exposure settings and the "camera+lens combination" was more about discussions related to 'did you use the Tamron 24-70 or the Canon?' and that sort of thing, where in practice the difference doesn't really matter.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Focal length could be interesting if it's something unusual. Post-production could also be useful to know, for example, I couldn't figure out how Annie Leibovitz got her iconic lighting look until I learnt that the modifier is removed in post and backplates are used.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Thanks for reading, Tom. Most of the time it is fairly easy to tell settings, for me it came from experience and trying different stuff. In terms of sensor size, I think if the photographer is harnessing the power of a medium-format sensor that will show in the images, however, a crappy photo will not look any better even if it was done on a Phase One.

Tom Reichner's picture

When I want to know what sensor size was used to take an image, it has nothing at all to do with image quality. It has to do with field of view.

If I know what focal length was used, as well as what sensor size was used, and whether or not the image was cropped, that gives me a really good idea of how close the photographer was able to get to the subject.

Knowing how close other photographers can get to wild animals at a given location gives me an idea of how habituated the animals are, and that lets me know what type of image-making opportunities I am likely to experience if I go to the same location to photograph the same species.

Knowing the sensor size also helps me with macro work, with very small animals such as Spadefoot Toads, Grasshoppers, etc.

If I see a super-dramatic image of a really tiny critter, but that tiny critter looks HUGE in the frame, yet with a VERY wide field of view, then I am very interested in knowing what lens, focal length, and sensor size was used.

This is because my current gear is incapable of producing such photos, due to the limitations of minimum focus distance and magnification ratio. Because I'm shopping for a really wide angle lens that has a macro-like MFD, it really helps to know what lenses other photographers used when they made the types of images that I would like to make.

Ali Choudhry's picture

Spot on, mate!

Illya Ovchar's picture

Thanks for reading, Ali! Glad you liked it.

Michael Houston's picture

Another useless bit of information: how many megapixels in that image? Unless you can see pixelated jaggies, it doesn't matter if it's 12 or 24 or 50 or whatever.

Illya Ovchar's picture

I've shot my first events on a 1D Mark II with 8 megapixels and no one bat an eyelid haha.

Tom Reichner's picture

If I see a super close-up photo of a bird's plumage, in which every little hair-like filament of every feather is clearly and distinctly resolved, you can bet that I will want to know how many megapixels were used for that image.

Why would I want to know that?

Because if I cannot get similar results with my gear, I want to know if the resolution of my sensor is holding me back, or if it is another factor that is keeping me from getting such extreme feather detail in my photos.

I mean, if a guy is getting some very fine feather filament resolution with a 60 MP sensor that I can't quite get with my 30 MP sensor, than at least I know that I shouldn't expect to get exactly as much detail as he is getting unless I upgrade my sensor or try other methods, such as multiple-frame stitching and compositing.

Brian Egerton's picture

Really bugs me when groups ask for exit data, useless unless you were there, at the same time, shooting the same image from the same spot with the same set up ( last one is a maybe ).
Be had people tell me I should have done this or should have done that, WHY? If you don’t like the photo, fine, that’s your prerogative, what matters is if I like it not you.

Tom Reichner's picture

EXIF data can be quite useful. Suppose I see a photo from a rodeo of a barrel racing horse coming around the barrel, and the horse's head and body are sharp and detailed, but the legs have a slight bit of motion blur, and I really love that look ..... in such a case, it is helpful to me to know what shutter speed was used. Will that one shutter speed give exactly the same result every time? Of course not. But knowing the shutter speed does help one get close to the results they are looking for when it comes to intentionally capturing subject motion blur to a particular extent.

There are other cases in which knowing the EXIF data can help one know what kind of look one can expect from a given combination of gear, settings, and subject matter at a given distance in similar lighting conditions.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Settings can be an indicator of what was used, but far from the full picture. Say with racing: settings would be the gear selected at the moment: no info on track conditions, car mass, driver performance, etc.

J.M. Kariuki's picture

With how varied modern cameras perform it still would be a broad suggestion rather than an exact measure. E.g. you might know the shutter speed but unless you have the exact same camera and lens combo, shooting said rodeo in the exact same environment, lighting and atmospheric conditions, you would still need to adjust the settings to recreate the image.

ISO performance, lens stabilization, IBIS, dynamic range varies greatly between manufacturers
Light output, light quality, modifiers also varies if you're using those.
The location on the earth and time of year will impact how you capture the image.
And finally post processing, if any, is so subjective.
Even SOOC depends on the different brands colour science.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Yeah, never found too much use in knowing camera settings. Tips such as don't use 30sec shutter speed for astrophotography or f/22 will be less sharp than f/14 are useful though.

Richard Twigg's picture

Thanks for this. I've never understood the "SETTINGS MUST BE POSTED OR ELSE!!" rules in some groups.

Illya Ovchar's picture

Haha, or certain YouTubers (e.g ...knows photo) obsessing over settings ;-)

Kevin Moore's picture

I feel like in his case (..knows photo guy) it is somewhat relevant since he is guiding the photographer or explaining where they can improve. Exif info is the only way to really see if one is shooting something at at unreasonably high ISO’s and supper fast shutter speeds for a subject that’s just standing still. He would then explain that lowering one’s iso would improve the color and dynamic range of the sensor, something the photographer may not have known.

While I do agree with the article wholeheartedly I also feel it’s just as silly to be befuddled when asked for settings from others (not referring to user groups that require posted settings). Tom reichner makes several valid points above at when it’s useful to know the settings. What’s important is for the photographer to know what they are looking at and what settings are relevant to them.

Robert Strasser's picture

I am very new to this community (literally about half an hour) but I can understand the irritation quality of the questions mentioned. Eventually it would seem that they miss the point-look at the photo and be inspired. Then learn as much as you can about your own equipment and find what you can use to create your own art.
Asking similar questions as a beginner (like me) can be legitimate but the same thing applies to your own journey-learn what you need to and then make up the rest your own way.
Looking forward to many more discussions in the future!
Robert

Charles Haacker's picture

Welcome, Robert. I've been a member for a while but only very recently became active. It's a good community. I agree with you and Illya--the point is to appreciate pictures rather than ask what settings were used inasmuch as the information is generally useless unless the conditions are exactly the same. I do think there is value in knowing the size of the sensor and the focal length of the lens together with the crop factor. I use Sony APS-Cs, crop factor 1.5, so my 300mm lens performs as if it were a 450. That could be useful to know. but the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO are less to not at all useful without knowing all the conditions.

dale clark's picture

Many years ago I was asking about something or another about an exterior house photo I took. Anyway, the photo was taken at f7.1- 400 iso which showed in the EXIF Data on the forum. Of course I did not get an answer to my question, I got a bunch of negative comments on why am I shooting on a sunny day at such a high ISO (Back then, I shot Real estate at 400 iso because I would take handheld shots -exteriors, small areas with a flash, etc every now and then. I could leave the iso set and forget it.). The trolls taught me a lesson...stop giving a F*&K about what others think. Do what is best for your workflow and clients.

Charles Haacker's picture

Boy have you got that right! Simone Elkeles — 'Opinions are like a**holes, everybody's got one and everyone thinks everyone else's stinks.' I have a few years in this racket but I not only don't know everything, sometimes I am sure I don't know anything. I continue to strive to learn. BTW, your reasoning for standardization on 400 is rock solid, but you know that.

Mike Ditz's picture

Sometimes talking tech is done because so much of photography is tech. And people want to know more about how a pictures was taken. That is how beginners learn. OR maybe they are just curious and chatty.

Photography is like cooking, the law, car racing, etc all have jargon exclusive to the genre, people want to learn and asking "how did you do that" is the most direct way.
As a professional fashion photographer, you said "A lot of my work is done at 1/160, f/11 to f/13, and ISO 100, and that it all looks different...well for one thing they are all probably very sharp images with a lot things in focus. But I have not seen alot of your work.
Do you explain why you settled on those settings? Did you determine those settings on your own, or did you learn from another photographer?

Why Profto? Many people bought it because they can rent them all over the world. Some because of the way modifiers fit on them. Some buy them cuz they see others using them.
Why Canon? Why not Nikon or Sony. There were reasons why I have used all of those at one time.
Plain folk look at social media people as experts so they ask questions, don't be above it all and imply "only my vision is important nothing else matters". Or worse, figure it out yourself...

IMHO when you have a crapload of grip equipment, lights, models and people standing around doing videos of each other working on a shoot, putting tape over a camera name is a bit precious. I see you're proudly flying the profoto flag ;^)

Charles Mercier's picture

His work is mostly in a studio with lighting but when doing outside, low light or indoor photography without any control over the lighting, some people want to know camera settings, especially newbies, e.g. waterfall photos. It can be useful.

Mike Ditz's picture

If you work in a studio you know there are many tips and tricks with things as simple as f stops and shutter speeds with different light sources...
IMO too many social media/online photographers say "I do it this way" without really saying why they do it this way.

Tundrus Photo's picture

Too true.

J.M. Kariuki's picture

Couldn't agree with you more.
Every time I see comments sections with self professed 'pros' asking the photographer what camera combo they're using or what their settings were, I just wonder why? They're so many variables that even if you have the exact same gear you still wouldn't recreate the same image just because you know the settings.

Gary McIntyre's picture

Great article!

Graham Taylor's picture

100% agree with all of this article. People want the end result of being a successful photographer without putting the effort into actually learning. Unfortunately it says a lot about fstoppers as a site when every article is related to equipment and what you 'should' be doing or buying...

Lyle Mariam's picture

Great article and spot on. I agree that the camera manufacturer is pretty much immaterial. But, as a photographer, I like to know things like the ISO being used, lens etc. which don't affect judging the photograph but I like to know to understand the technical data behind a picture.

Tundrus Photo's picture

It is perfectly reasonable for people to ask these questions. It may annoy you, but for many the answers can be helpful. For example, understanding which brand or the name of the manufacturer of a piece of equipment can be very helpful.. A camera or lens manufacturer may make exactly the type of equipment you need or want. Settings are helpful as general guidelines and may serve as a shortcut or a starting point. Lighting setups can be complex and difficult to master for a particular look. The choice of lens can make all the difference and that's why there are countless articles discussing the merits of various focal lengths. In short, it may be aggravating to have people as these questions, but being dismissive of them won't help.

Malcolm Wright's picture

I simply smile when a judge at my photography club says they've looked an image at 100% and it's whatever..

As the competiton DPI photograph entries can only be 1600 x 1200 pixels maximum and the most common computer monitor size is 1920 x 1080 pixels, I'm always left wondering what size the judge's monitor is and whether the judge thought we'd would have expected them to look at the pictures using 5% or 500%...

The 100% is completely meaningless.

Tom Reichner's picture

Instead of simply smiling, I would tell the photo judge the pixel dimensions of the original image, then remind him/her that the contest rules required you to submit a severely downsized version, and then ask, "So, how did you view it at 100 percent???"

People's misinformed ideas and words need to be called out and challenged, rather than quietly accepted and/or ignored. We all have a responsibility to correct those whom we interact with who are incorrect.

David T's picture

Usually it's better to ask "Why?" not "How?".
The "how" is usually trivial.

Mike Ditz's picture

Totally, I recall some guy either here or PPiixel would compare 3 or 4 Mola and other big reflectors. He shot all kinds of different setups and then compared and said, "I like this one, that one is better, not sure about that one" but gave no reasons why...

Captain Jack R's picture

I stopped giving students my settings because yes it's totally worthless. I even proved my point by making 3 photos that look nearly exactly the same yet the settings were different. I said to them they need to be asking about the position of the lights and what modifiers I was using. I tasked them to reverse engineer a photo. Try to figure out how set up the shot. It was then they really started to get the concepts of how to create an interesting photograph. They now we're able to guess what settings I was using and where all the lights were. They only missed the little slivers of light I had placed to make the image pop out more 3D-like.

Mike Ditz's picture

Well Capt Jack, it seems that if you make three identical photos at different exposures that is something for the newbie to understand.