Why Do so Many Photographers Live in a Box?

Why Do so Many Photographers Live in a Box?

If you've been involved with photography for very long at all, you may have noticed that photographers have a variety of opinions — about everything. Unfortunately, many photographers appear as though they live in a box, where they can only see the things that they are personally involved in.

Certainly, it's just fine to have an opinion about something, we all do. However general opinions are not what I'm getting at. There are some photographers who simply can't see other photographers point of view or even understand their needs. It's as if they think their world of photography is the only way photography is (or should be) done.

One thing I learned early in life was to "think outside the Box." There are several areas that we see photographers living in a mental box, unable or unwilling to see from a new or differing perspective. Photographers can expand their skills by thinking outside the box, trying something new, or at least understanding things from another perspective.

The Creative Box

There's a type of photographer that lives in the box of creativity. Creativity is the heart of artistic expression. However, when you're working with a medium of technological hardware, ignoring the technical aspects of the craft can actually limit what you can do with your creativity.

I know someone who likes to present her photos as unedited, but I think it's just an excuse to not learn how to post-process. She claims to want to present the photos just as she saw the scene. The problem with this is that the camera doesn't always capture the scene exactly as you saw it. She doesn't even really understand aperture and shutter speed, shooting mostly in program mode. She has taken one great image that I know of. She could be so much better, but refuses to learn.

I've seen other photographers with an exceptionally creative eye (much better than mine), but they refuse to learn the basics of photography. They do create some great images, but they could be so much better with a little knowledge of composition and how the camera works.

Still, other photographers leave comments on articles that are trying to teach technical aspects of photography and just say "who cares, do whatever you want," "just bracket the heck out of everything," or "that takes the creativity out of it," as if straightening your photo somehow takes the creativity out of it.

Be creative, but use knowledge as a way to expand your creativity; there's no reason to believe that it will hinder your creativity.

One of the creative things that I like to do is play with the placement and variation of the out-of-focus background areas on shots like this. Canon 5D Mark IV, Canon EF 100-400mm f/4.5-5.6L IS II USM. 1/200 sec, f/14, ISO 400, 400mm

The Gear Box

Ah, the gear wars. There are many different areas that photographers are stuck in a photography gear box.

One such box is the "such and such camera is the best". I've said it before: use whatever tool works best for you. If you're shooting portraits, maybe a camera with eye autofocus is best for you. If you're shooting sports, a camera with a high frame rate might be best for you. If you're shooting products, your clients might require high-megapixel images.

I wonder if some of these people have stock in that camera company; they sure act like it. The way they try to convince you to shoot what they are shooting makes them seem more like salesmen than anything else.

Some photographers don't understand why anyone needs a high-megapixel camera. Maybe that's because they shoot portraits, and they can either move closer to their subject or ask the subject to move closer to them. That doesn't always work with wildlife, where a long focal length lens is expensive and costs in the range of $10,000 to $13,000. If they were to use a 60+ megapixel camera and a lens with a little less reach, they could crop and still have 20+ megapixels and save thousands of dollars.

I recently saw someone stating that photographers were using medium format cameras just so they could brag about it. No professional photographer spends money on gear just to brag about it. If they buy something expensive, it's because they need it for what they do. No sane individual is going to buy a $2,000 70-200mm f/2.8 lens if a $200 70-300mm f/4-5.6 lens is just as good.

Different photographers use different gear for different reasons. Just because you don't have a need for it doesn't mean someone else doesn't. If someone uses a different brand, it doesn't mean that your brand isn't just as good for what you do. Stop acting like the gear I use somehow affects your life, and just focus on mastering your own gear.

Perhaps the only gear photographers don't argue about is which lens cup to use.

The Post-Processing Box

Some photographers don't understand why others don't do all of their image processing in Photoshop, Capture One, Luminar, or some other program. They simply don't understand that some photographers prefer to do basic image editing. Some don't go over the top with their processing or make giant edits or composites. They don't understand that a simple image of a butterfly doesn't require 85 layers of masking, cloning, and what-not like your portrait or composite does. Lightroom works just fine for them.

Some photographers aren't going through the routine of presenting images to a client and then having to come back and make changes. They simply produce images for themselves. Your workflow probably isn't the same as their workflow.

Let them use what they want and when they get to the point that they "need" Photoshop, they can then decide if they want to go that route. Once again, your needs aren't the same as other photographers.

The Genre Box

A quick stop by the Fstoppers Groups will certainly show you that there are a great number of different genres in photography with just about every imaginable aspect of life is represented. Someone who shoots one of these genres may have absolutely no idea about the challenges of another genre or the skill required to master it.

Isn't macro photography just zooming in close and snapping a photo? No, it often involves photo stacking, unique lighting challenges, etc. Product photography? Don't even get me started on how much a pain in the rear that dust on a glossy black surface is!

Each and every one of these genres could probably go on for hours about the challenges they face and the skill level they require to master that type of photography. Even within a single genre, the challenges that someone faces may be very different for someone who lives in a different area of the world.

There's nothing wrong with shooting just one genre, but variety in this area will help to build your skillset.

This is just some of the many groups on FStoppers.


Don't get stuck in a box. Strive to expand your knowledge, expand your creativity, expand your horizons. Realize that what works for one photographer may not work for another. Your needs may not the same as someone else. Branch out, and try shooting another genre; what you learn there may be useful in your other photography.

Mike Dixon's picture

Mike Dixon is a Muskegon Michigan based landscape and nature photographer who's passionate about anything photography or tech related.

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Because it’s easier to judge someone’s else’s technique than it is to learn why they employ said technique.

I agree.

I shoot a lot of night photography and in the community for that genre there always seems to be an overwhelming debate about “should I use lighting, or should I use long exposure and stacking” for foreground noise reduction. I prefer the ladder, but that’s just because 9/10 I find the results to be more pleasing and natural looking. That said, I came to that judgement from my experience trying the lighting techniques out there. A lot of people are fur one way or the other, but to me it’s foolish. You do what you need to in order to realize the vision you are trying to put out there for your audience.

I also find, that because of my experience with night photography and how I need to push my camera further than I would during the day, that some of those techniques come in handy when applying to my day job, commercial real estate work.

At the end of the day, it’s wiser to be informed than it is to just poo-poo things just because it doesn’t fit your abilities.


This article was WAY overdue, as even during my short time in the FS community, I've come to know a few posters / photographers who not only have blinders on to other possibilities, but are down right vicious when their little realities are challenged as being totally wrong.

This, like you said, can encompass everything, from gear (GAS is strong with many on Fstoppers), technique, genre, post-processing, the list goes on.

Photography is an art form, emphasis on ART, and by that definition, it requires creativity and imagination, which leads to active thought to achieve your creative vision, not to mention a lot of problem solving along the way to get there. Anyone who closes themselves off from this aspect, and the need to grow and adapt to different situations to expand your horizons and capabilities as a photographer, is, IMHO, not a good photographer.

A prime example with gear... So what if someone choses a Sony MILC, or a Godox strobe, over a Canon DSLR and a ProPhoto strobe? They are TOOLS, and tools are very personal to the photographer, as a means to bring their creative vision to life.

When Joe Edelman switched from Nikon (my previous DSLR brand since day 1), to Olympus, I personally didn't agree with his decision, nor some of the justifications he gave for the switch, but guess what? At the end of the day, it was his choice, and I could tell how enthralled he was afterwards, and it allowed his creativity to flourish and continue producing stunning portraits. So, it worked for him, good on him! Yet many left less than enthusiastic comments on his YouTube channel that really irritated me, and I'm sure Joe as well, and for what?

Anyways, good on you Mike for this article, very much needed around here!

Lmfao, I have a Sony and a Godox 😅 Are you looking in my windows? I knew I should have got new curtains....

HAHAHAHA!!! Well hopefully you're not in the line of sight from my living room window ;)

Oh yeah...... The gear wars and gear trolls. SO much negative BS everywhere. Must be the trend. I long since quit going to DPReview because of it. I still see too much of it on here. Some people just can't help themselves.

Personally I don't care what gear people use or software. I want to see what they can do and have done with it. ;-) I want to be inspired! :-)

That's why I tape over gear logos and never use a company strap. It's not that I am worried about somebody stealing it. It's because I don't enjoy gear discussions.

Just reading the headline I was gonna say, "Because we make a photographer's salary."

Making a living of your craft requires efficiency which is generated by finding your own routines. Our brains try to conserve energy by routinization. Boxed thinking could be some sort of side effect of such routinization. Gathering that extra mental energy to jump outside of the Plato’s cave might not be super easy, but this article definitely gives a potent impulse to do so. Thank you, Mike! Good read.

Somehow I knew I would find you here, preaching the gospel of the medium format for professionals. You need a choir.

Every preacher needs a choir.

And every looney an asylum, perhaps we should give mark mark some recommendations? :)

Yes, sooner or later, I always manage to run into the troll nut jobs on any site I visit, that have difficulty comprehending what is said to them, and like to twist words to suit their own made up reality.

You’re right.

Let's get something clear... I NEVER told you how a P1 camera works you dolt! I only told you I don't like the colour science of the files. YOU came up with this BS about me telling you how to use your camera!

My chat history will exonerate me on this if anyone is interested. This guy has been trolling threads on here for a while now, and called me a liar because he apparently has trouble reading what people say to him, so be warned.

Oh just stop, your idiocy is really becoming annoying.

Last time, I NEVER told you how P1 works, to you or anyone, EVER. I just mentioned colour science, and how I'm not a fan of it on the P1. Now quit it, you're really making yourself look like a total tool.

Actually, I'm starting to think English is not your first language, because either you ARE a total tool, or you just have trouble understanding English.

I would like to see you in one of those preachers robes as well, with the choir singing and swayin and dancing and clappin in the background. Maybe some light filtering through from camera right through stained glass windows, some dust in the air making the light turn into perceptible streaks. Maybe some old ladies in the first row getting the vapors and nearly passing out with excitement. You should also be dancing around with your hands in the air.

Just to point out, you are more than free to move on yourself, and not continue to engage people in discussion. You do not have the right to force other people to stop, but you are more than free to stop yourself and leave. Pretty egotistical to tell people to move on because you are not interested anymore. NO. YOU move on, change yourself, not other people.

You really cannot help yourself, spewing your MF nonsense every chance you get?

Never fails, whether DPReview, PetaPixel, or here, you always find the trolls who just like to make crap up...

You’re such a troll, and a bad one at that...

No, I stand corrected, a GAS MF troll.

I'm trying out something totally different (for me) this end of Sep, whale watching photography.

You are going to take pictures of whale watchers?!?

HEY I was gonna ask that same thing!!!

I did say I was going to do something a little different. haha j/k :D

Why are so many Fstoppers articles just opinion pieces that rant about arbitrary issues that are referenced with useless facts and resources such as "many photographers appear...," "I know someone who...," and "some photographers don’t understand..." Wish there was a more professional news source about photography in my news feed, sick of lazy opinion pieces from these resources.

Fstoppers isn't just news, but I'm game. Can you be more specific about what would you like to read about?

I think you just kind of proved the point of the article in a much broader sense than photography. You don't like it, you don't agree and don't think any of the rest of us who enjoyed the article should be allowed to.

The subject line of this article made it abundantly clear that it wasn't going to be news.

Blogs are very easy. If someone doesn't like the content then they should stop reading it. It is kind of stupid to continue to be sickened by it.

This article really has me feeling so boxed in right now. O wait, no its this dam box. Photo with Olympus OM-D E-M5 with the M.Zukio Digital 1.4X Teleconverter MC-14 with the Metabones N/F-M43 mount and my favorite lens, Nikon Nikkor 35mm F2.8 @ F5.6 1/15 ISO800 35mm

Are you listening to Alice in Chains' - Man in a Box? :-)

I hope ‘she’ doesn’t read this page, or it will be a case of ‘used to know’ haha

The genre box is a big one I think most people get stuck in. I can see why some people do it, it’s easier to grow a fan base if they know what to expect, and it’s a good idea to focus your efforts on one style at a time, in order to grow. Also, once you’re pro, it’s a good way to ensure your work always remains to your standard.

However, I always encourage people to try something new, hobbyists and pros alike. I always enjoy when I see pros I admire failing to capture a good image because they decided to try something different. Not because I enjoy watching people fail, but I enjoy watching people challenge themselves. It’s also a good way to remind myself that even if they are really good at what they do, they may not be really good at what I do.

Personally, I switch between landscapes, building abstracts, cityscapes, and fireworks. Honing my skills in each of these areas has allowed me to shoot year round and has helped me see everything differently. I’m not the best at any of these, but I’d like to think I’m at least “pretty darn good”, some of the time. This really helps with my limited schedule, as well.

A huge benefits for pros sticking to one style has more to do with public perception as well as general skill level. You are not going to go see a general practitioner if you get cancer, you will go to an oncologist, someone who specializes in specifically what you need. A high end wedding is not going to hire a generalist, they want someone that spends all their time on weddings for the same reasons. They want someone that shoots 50-100 weddings a year, not someone that shoots 6 weddings, dog portraits, landscapes, some real estate, etc....

Its more than OK to shoot more than your specialty, but humans developed specialization thousands of years ago for a reasons, which is to get radically better at something.

Though I use both, I prefer the white 70-200 mm lens cup.

LOL - I have one of those also, I just don't know where the box is. It's good to see that some people are actually reading the photo captions. :)

Old news rehashed by a new article.

Sometimes, I would like to be in one of those boxes. Maybe then I would be really good at one thing instead of just passible at so many things.

What stops you from doing it?

I just get distracted so easily. New techniques, subjects, styles ....

This is why I find photo "critiquing" fairly useless. The "macro guy" is critiquing landscapes, the hi-res, modern, HDR guy is critiquing the retro, wet-plate guy, the studio-portrait guy, is critiquing a street photographer, etc... It at least should be done from someone within the same genre.

To be honest, even if I do not really like those particular ways of thinking towards picture making, I am actually glad that there are so many discussions about all that - gear talks/gear wars, varied opinions, art and lack of art. It means that people still care about all this and it makes it much more interesting to see people defending their points. That's why being different is interesting in the first place - having people not to agree with you and setting you in a position to stand up for your values.
I am a long time music fan and I used to spend so much time in forums discussing about bands, genre comparisons, song structures, meaning of lyrics, craft of artwork and I really miss all those heated internet debates. They used to say back then - why wouldn't everyone agree to appreciate different genres, all that stuff. Now since forums are long dead, you don't see any real discussion, nobody cares now. Imagine happening the same for photography.

Multiple genres; well my PR person says I dilute "my brand" by doing experimental work or work that doesn't stay within the lanes. So, I play around and don't tell her...but she's right when it comes to marketing.

I blame it on that song.

I stopped reading and lost all respect for this writer, when I read that you could just use a high megapixel camera and crop in place of a super-tele lens. For someone who say's they know about photography or is a professional photographer, that's a really sad and moronic statement. You'll never be able to substitute focal length by cropping and there is a reason why a 400mm 2.8 acts like an 600mm F4.2 on a DX sensor. You can't just use a 70-200mm and then crop the image and get the same look as you would have if you started with a 400mm 2.8 or 600mm F4. I mean really?

Wait. So, you disagreed with one of his articles and you come here to whine about it? I mean, really?

I'm not whining and I think this article is about people like you! I just can't stand reading articles that have wrong or misleading information in them as it does no one any favors. It misleads beginner's and wastes the time of professionals.

Man, you must have been losing sleep over this for you to rant a hearsay statement in a different article. To be clear, I'm in agreement with you as far as cropping cannot replace a super-tele-lens, BUT, you seem like the type that would have misconstrued a statement.

I sleep great at night and trust me I would never lose sleep over someone like you. You were rude to me so I responded in kind. I am actually a nice guy and try to help people out all the time, because I have been doing this a long time. However the article is very correct in saying this photography industry is full of people who treat other's like crap online and I am sick of it. People come here and other places to learn, not to be attacked and talked down to. You called me a whiner and that makes me pretty upset, because I was actually a Green Beret for 2 years of the 6 years total I spent in the U.S. Army. Did three tours in Afghanistan over the course of my service and someone calling me a whiner, well couldn't be any further from reality!

I live in a flat...

I encounter the "genre box" often, even on photography websites (similar to, but not...) like Fstoppers. When I check out an article to see their "generic" photography tips, they so often focus on things like: "place your model.../light your model.../tell your model to..." etc. Just like out in the real world where people learn that you're a professional photographer and always ask, "Oh do you shoot weddings?" For some, photography always automatically equals portraits. So thanks for this.

To me much of this comes down to the highly annoying tendency of many people who have some weird need to think they are right all the time. You know them. The ones who listen to respond and rationalize instead of listening to understand.